Fueling Cars with Renewable Energy

Drivers have several options when it comes to renewable energy for transportation, including hydrogen, cellulose ethanol and biodiesel.
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photo: Nate Brelsford

by Michael Sharpe, NetQuote

It doesn't take much to convince drivers that in order to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, reduce harmful emissions, and protect our natural resources, more renewable energy needs to be harnessed for transportation. Although drivers' auto insurance rates are unlikely to decline, surely their carbon footprint can shrink if drivers committed to using renewable fuels.

Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen shows great advantages over gasoline in terms of mileage, availability (it is derived from water and hydrocarbons) and emissions, it is far superior when it comes to helping concerns of global warming. Hydrogen fuel can power to not only cars but larger vehicles like buses, boats, and planes. Most of today's hydrogen-powered vehicles are buses and electric cars that don't burn the hydrogen directly but store the hydrogen, in either gas or liquid form, and convert it to electricity via a fuel cell.


Ethanol can be made from the sugars of common crops such as corn, sugar cane, potato, and other starchy crops. The raw materials are fermented and distilled into an alcohol-based fuel. Although the use of E10 (or gasohol), which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline is most common today, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, called E85, can be used by certain fuel flex vehicles.

It's been hard for ethanol to catch on because although the price is cheaper to the consumer, mileage is lower and it takes too much energy to produce so it's not such a great bargain. Cellulose ethanol–made from inedible fiber in switch grass, wheat, rice straw, stalks of corn, and wood chips–is more promising. Researchers predict that using cellulose ethanol would emit substantially less greenhouse gas emissions than even corn ethanol.


Made from animal fats, vegetable oils like canola oil, or recycled cooking oil and grease, biodiesel is biodegradable and emits fewer greenhouse gases relative to petroleum-based diesels. Currently, vehicle manufacturers do not recommend using diesel/biodiesel blends where biodiesel exceeds 5 percent and it can only be used with diesel engines.

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