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In 2003, George W. Bush said that America was going to push the use of hydrogen as a fuel source in the future. In the years after that announcement, it started to become rather obvious that in order to entice new car buyers, these buyers would have to be certain they could actually refuel their vehicle when they needed to. Building hydrogen fueling stations across the nation would take billions of dollars and perhaps decades, and so the idea began to take a backseat to other concepts, such as electric cars.
What does this all mean? The future of alternative fuels in the automobile industry is entirely uncertain. So much goes into determining how to wean Americans off foreign oil, which is a fact that could help America in the future because it means people have increased incentive to think outside the box.
- National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation – Find out how you can take part in the future use of alternative fuel vehicles.
- International Fuel Quality Center – IFCQ offers a global alternative fuels service, providing countries around the world with the analysis and recommendations needed to move toward the future.
- ProCon.org – This site lists all the pros and cons of the future use of alternative fuels for automobiles in America.
- Auto Alliance – Promoting the advancement of alternative fuel use through promotion of the auto industry.
- eGFI – Brought to people by the American Society for Engineering Education, this site offers lesson plans for teachers looking to give lessons on alternative fuels.
- Alternative Fuels for US Transportation (PDF) – The Committee on Alternative Transportation Fuels put together this study on transportation in the new millennium.
- Southeast Alternative Fuels Task Force – North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina began working together in 2001 to promote the advancement of alternative fuels.
Where’s My Hovercar?
Watch any science fiction show or movie from the mid-twentieth century, and it becomes clear that the transportation of modern reality pales in comparison to what we once thought it would be. Lost in Space, a show about the colonization of deep space which aired in the early sixties, took place in 1997. Hovercars and flying saucers may be as yet non-existent, but there are some reasons we still rely on the same fuel we have for the past century.
Solar Energy –
- Cost – At the moment, the cost associated with the production and application of solar panels is prohibitive. It simply does not make economic sense yet for car manufacturers to implement solar energy into the design of cars when most consumers are still content to purchase gasoline.
- Power – While strides are being made to address this issue, but solar cars tend to have less power and be less able to reach and sustain the high speeds of a gas-powered vehicle. Asking consumers to sacrifice two of the major considerations of purchasing a car is often too much of a deterrent to mass production of solar vehicles.
Electric Cars –
- Range – The driving range of most electric vehicles is less than 150 miles. While cars of the near future simply transfer power from being entirely electric to being gas-powered, this technology has only been viable for a short period of time. Therefore, until very recent times, people driving an electric car could only do so if they lived near everything they could need.
- Price – The government has offered pricing incentives for buying electric cars in the past, but these have simply not been enough. Because carmakers are forced to still allow the car to transfer into gas-powered mode, they must still make the car in the traditional way. Then, in addition, they produce a car which mostly uses a very expensive battery pack. The upfront cost of a comparable gas-powered vehicle could be up to 10,000 dollars less. This may change in coming years, but to this point it has been a deterrent.
- Cost – Developing secondary biofuel processes could cost up to 700 million dollars if these fuels would be more efficient and clean than current methods. Simply being as efficient and clean as fossil fuels is not enough because the infrastructure for fossil fuel drilling, refining, and transporting already exists. In order to convince private industry and the government to spend what might amount to a billion dollars for biofuels, there must be enough evidence that that money could be made back in future savings. Thus far, enough of that evidence does not exist.
- Is it really better? – There is little opposition to the stance that burning biofuels is cleaner than burning fossil fuels. The problem is, the transportation, fertilizer manufacturing, and increased fuel used to harvest the biological material (corn, sugarcane, etc.) would actually meet or even exceed the amount of fuel that was burned in order to produce the cleaner fuel. Therefore, the manufacturing of biofuel may produce as many or more pollutants as fossil fuels.
- Solar and Electric Cars (PDF) – A resource for classrooms and teachers on the future of automobiles.
- EV Maine – The Electric Vehicle Enthusiasts of Maine are spreading the word about the need for fully electric automobiles
- Stanford Solar Car Project – Learn about the history of this group and how they plan to shape the future.
- The World Solar Challenge – Think building an electric car to drive down the street is tough? The World Solar Challenge requires you to drive one across Australia.
- MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team – This group of students receives an invaluable education building a solar electric car, and might end up teaching car makers something along the way.
- American Solar Challenge – The Formula Sun Grand Prix brings together some of the brightest engineers in the country to complete this challenging road course with a vehicle entirely powered by solar energy.
- The Electric Auto Association – Formed in 1967, this educational organization seeks to spread the word of Electric Vehicles and increase the usage thereof.
- International Solar Energy Society – ISES is a non-profit working toward a sustainable world of clean energy.
So… What are the Advantages?
While the disadvantages of alternative fuel vary according to the method, all these methods are working toward a few universal advantages.
- Reduced Emissions – One of the major reasons for the push for alternative fuels, reduced emissions are part of a general environmental agenda about which much of the country has a vested interest. Increased concern about global warming and general pollution has even brought about governmental mandates regarding emission standards.
- Decreased Dependence on Foreign Oil – With increased instability in the Middle East, the area from which most of the world obtains their fuel, being dependent on fossil fuels is perilous. A refusal by any of the countries from which America receives its oil can mean a drastic increase in the cost of oil caused by the drastic decrease in supply. Therefore, much of the cause for the increased interest in alternative fuels has arisen from political considerations.
- Mileage – On January 1st of 2001, the average American spent about $1.37 for a gallon of gas. On May 2nd of 2011, that number had increased to $3.90. That is an increase of 184%. To put that into perspective, in the ten years between August 20th of 1990 and August 21st of 2000, the price of gas increased from $1.19 to $1.44, an increase of 21%. The miles per gallon a vehicle can attain is more important today than ever regardless of your opinion on the environmental considerations others may espouse.
- Future of Hydrogen Cars – According to The American Prospect, you’ll get your hydrogen-powered car right after your jetpack.
- Alternative Fuel Types – A list of, and information on, the different types of available alternative fuel types.
- The American Petroleum Institute – This national trade association focuses on more than just petroleum, leading the way to the future of fuel.
- Natural Gas Vehicle Institute – While a future of all electric vehicles may be on the horizon, the reality of the current situation is that natural gas is not going anywhere. NGVi believe in refining what technology is already available.
- Consumer Reports – Check out this guide to alternative fuels and see what the future has in store.
- US Department of Energy – The Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center
- The Heritage Foundation – David Kreutzer, Ph.D. considers the impact of the use of alternative fuels as a military strategy.
- Driving with Ethanol – Where is it used? How is it made? Learn all you can about how ethanol is used every day.
- AllSAFE – This organization’s mission is to make sure alternative fuels are promoted in safe and responsible ways.
- BioDiesel.org – Answers to some FAQs about America’s advanced biofuel.