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Which Clean Fuel Will Drive Your Future Car?

The ideal clean fuel for future cars will be affordable, easily available, and will produce zero CO2 emissions into the environment. So why not pick a clean fuel and develop it to the nth degree? Sounds simple enough. Unfortunately, it’s as complicated as a Chinese puzzle. We need fossil fuels to produce the clean fuel that allows us to use an alternative fueled future car. There are clean fuels like electricity with zero CO2 emissions, but the majority of electricity is produced at power plants that use fossil fuels.

Which fuels are really clean?

In the pageant of competing clean fuel, synthetic fuels come in last place. Although only slightly better than fossil fuels, they may work as a transition fuel since they can be blended with gas or diesel to produce lower levels of pollutants. With gas pipelines already in the ground, another transition fuel is natural gas. Both natural gas and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) produce fewer emissions and are clean-burning fuels that don’t threaten soils or ground or surface water. Biogas is another semi-clean fuel that can be blended with hydrogen to create fewer emissions. Ultra-low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) can be blended with biodiesel to reduce emissions, but burning 100% biodiesel may release excess nitrogen oxides, and fossil fuels are used in the production process.

How does bioethanol fare in the clean fuel lineup? Although a renewable fuel, it still releases CO2 into the atmosphere. With more corn than ever being planted in the U.S., there is also concern about nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers being leached into the ground and streams.

And the clean fuel winner is….

Solar energy in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells might be the academic clean fuel winner, but that’s as far as it goes at this point. While PVs are a clean fuel option with zero emissions, a low 15% energy conversion rate isn’t an efficient option. Whether your future car completely utilizes a fuel cell or is a hybrid, electricity is the most viable clean fuel for the immediate future. Increased development of wind and solar generated power plants, combined with improved fuel cells, will encourage production of these clean fuel cars.

Who’s in the running next time around?

It’s still early days in the development of potential clean fuel like Hydrogenation-Derived Renewable Diesel (HDRD) or Dimethylfuran (DMF). Assuming appropriate energy crops are used, HDRD has zero net CO2 emissions, and environmental effects of DMF are not yet known. Other fuels like Dimethyl-Ether (DME) are reported to have low emissions and have potential for use as a hydrogen source for fuel cells.

To end our reliance of fossil fuels scientists need to create a two-step plan. First, we must significantly minimize the amount of fossil fuels needed to fuel cars. Second, we can then develop a clean fuel that reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels to produce clean fuel.

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