Why do we need alternative fuels?

Over the last one hundred years of automobile technology, there have been a number of advancements in size, power, speed, efficiency, to name a few. Of course people want to get from Point A to Point B faster, so that’s a good reason for advance. Maybe you move something heavier from Point A to Point B, so that’s also a good reason for change.

In the beginning, it seemed like the sky was the limit, building engines bigger and faster had no discernible cost. In the 1920s the cost of a gallon of fuel was just shy of 30 cents per gallon. 2008 saw a peak of over $4 per gallon, more than 1500% more expensive. The 1974 oil crisis effected the beginning of a push for more fuel efficient vehicles or even fossil-fuel-free vehicles. The average vehicle still doesn’t even get over 23 miles per gallon today. Of course, the price of a gallon of gas isn’t the only reason we should be interested in alternative fuels.

Most scientist agree that the increase of extreme weather conditions and catastrophic storms is one of the symptoms of global warming, the cause of which is man-made carbon-dioxide. There is some disagreement on how much time we have left before we as a species have done irreparable harm to the atmosphere, estimates ranging from yesterday to one hundred years from now. One thing that everyone agrees on, though, is that something needs to be done, and the sooner the better.

Carbon-dioxide is released as part of many natural processes, even breathing, but the trouble comes from how much other carbon-dioxide is released by power generation, manufacturing, and automobiles. True, about 275 million automobiles on the road today only produce about 31% of the entire carbon-dioxide output of the United States, but that is a significant number that must be addressed. It is only a small part of the solution, and carbon-dioxide emissions are being addressed by other sectors as well.

Put simply, burning fuel is a chemical reaction. Under ideal conditions, Fuel combines with Oxygen when ignited and produces Carbon-Dioxide, Water, and Energy. Less than ideal conditions lead to the production of other pollutants such as Sulfur-Oxide, Nitrous-Oxide, Carbon-Monoxide, unburned fuel, and others. While most of these other emissions can be mitigated mechanically, electronically, or chemically, the only way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions is to reduce or eliminate the burning of fossil fuels.

The ideal solution would be to completely eliminate fossil fuel utilization altogether. Alternative fuel vehicles aim to, at a minimum, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. There are a number of technologies being developed to address the problem, but the question remains, will it be too little or too late?

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