Numerous modes of transportation do not require an internal combustion oil running on fossil fuels. If you are thinking of making the switch to a vehicle using alternative forms of energy, there are numerous choices. Essentially, any vehicle can operate on just about any energy source one can utilize, the trick is in what automakers are manufacturing, and the availability of fueling support for those vehicles. If you want to use an electric vehicle, you will need charging stations. If you want to operate your car using vegetable oil (biodiesel), you generally need to start with an engine that runs on diesel fuel, then enact some engine modifications either from a kit or at your local auto shop. Your auto technician can give you more information regarding retrofitting existing conventional engines to run on alternative fuels.

Here is a quick list of the more common variations of alternative fuel vehicles:

  • Battery electric
  • Plug-in hybrid electric
  • Hybrid electric
  • Compressed air
  • Clean diesel
  • Neat ethanol
  • Natural gas
  • Hydrogen
  • Fuel cell
  • Flexible fuel
  • Solar and wind powered automobiles (Up and coming)

In Colorado, and the US in general, hybrid electric vehicles are a popular choice. Electric cars in general require a charging station or pack. Until more infrastructure is in place for recharging electrically powered vehicles, hybrid’s fill the gap.

When electricity is used to power automobiles no carbon (tailpipe) emissions are produced from the car. The environmental impact of using an electric car is almost zero. Generally, they cost more to purchase  than conventional gasoline powered cars. But, the overall operating cost is quite low. It is more economically efficient to charge your vehicle as opposed to filling the tank with gas. A disadvantage lies is the need for frequent charging (like our cell phones.) If you run your vehicle solely on electricity, it usually needs to be recharged for several hours every 100- 200 miles. Until charging stations are as abundant as gas stations, this presents a handicap.

Consequently, most green cars on the market are hybrids. Hybrids combine two or more sources of power that provide propulsion power to the engine. Most hybrid cars on the market right now are gasoline-electric hybrids, although French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen is currently developing two diesel-electric hybrid cars. Even high end luxury cars are offering “green” models for the consumer who wants to reduce carbon emissions, a major source of harmful environmental impact. Another perk is that anyone purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle will get a tax deduction come tax time. Apart from lowering carbon emissions, alternative fuel reduce dependence on oil, a non-renewable energy resource. For now, you are most likely to find Hybrid vehicles at your auto dealer.

Popular Mechanics has a great comparison chart on fuel cost comparing the price for varying types of energy for your vehicle.

In addition to the cost comparison chart, Popular mechanics evaluates different alternative fuel types, and what each offers:

Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, often referred to as grain alcohol; E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Most ethanol is made from grain, just as moonshine is, though there is also research into making ethanol in commercial quantities from cellulosic plants—a complex process that uses plant matter such as switchgrass as a base feedstock. A gallon of E85 has an energy content of about 80,000 BTU, compared to gasoline’s 124,800 BTU. So about 1.56 gal. of E85 takes you as far as 1 gal. of gas.

Methanol is methyl alcohol, commonly called wood alcohol; M85 is a blend of 85 percent methanol and 15 percent gasoline. Methanol is produced through a steam and catalyst process that reconstitutes methane gas as methanol. Currently, virtually all methanol produced in the States uses methane derived from natural gas. However, methane also can be obtained from coal and from biogas, which is generated by fermenting organic matter—including byproducts of sewage and manure.

Fuels for diesel engines made from sources other than petroleum are known as biodiesel. Among the common sources are vegetable oils, rendered chicken fat and used fry oil. In fact, Rudolf Diesel’s demonstration engine ran on peanut oil at the 1900 Paris World Exposition. Processing these oils into fuel involves removing glycerin and other contaminants through a process called transesterification. Unlike spark-ignition engines, diesels rely solely on high compression in the cylinder to raise the temperature of the air enough to ignite the fuel. Consequently, diesels are tolerant of varying-quality fuels and the high compression results in high efficiency. Diesels extract more energy from each gallon than gasoline engines, and less energy is lost as heat leaving the exhaust pipe than with a gasoline engine.

If you are seeking to reduce environmental impact and get off dependence on fossil fuels, namely oil, for energy needs, alternative fuel vehicles are a great place to make that change.  They are a win-win for both the consumer and the environment.