• What Are the Characteristics of Alternative Fuels?

Biofuel Industry News

What Are the Characteristics of Alternative Fuels?

Aug 01 2022

From recreational vehicles to jumbo jets, alternative fuels will play a critical role in slashing global emissions and addressing the climate change crisis. The industry is continually growing and evolving, with exciting breakthroughs reimagining the potential of alternative fuels.  

The characteristics of alternative fuels can vary enormously, though all share one core similarity – they are all alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. This means they’re derived from sources other than crude oil. Generally, alternative fuels are considered cleaner, greener and more ecofriendly.

The US Department of Energy currently recognises six core categories of alternative fuels:

  • Ethanol

Generally produced domestically using corn and other cellulose-rich feedstocks. Ethanol is considered eco-friendly and generates less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based fuels.

  • Electricity 

New battery technologies have helped establish electricity as a genuine alternative to gasoline. Electric Vehicles (EVs) have no tailpipe emissions, though overall environmental footprint does depend on how the electricity was produced. For example, coal-generated electricity releases a significant amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. In comparison, wind-generated electricity has a minimal environmental footprint.

  • Biodiesel 

Derived from primarily from vegetable-based oils such as canola and soy, biodiesel powers heavy-duty engines, without polluting the atmosphere.  

  • Natural gas 

While natural gas is considered an alternative fuel, it doesn’t have a squeaky clean reputation. Burning natural gas releases large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. It also pollutes the air with sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide.

  • Propane

Also known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), propane is a clean-burning fuel with low emissions.

  • Hydrogen 

While hydrogen produced from fossil fuels such as coal has a big environmental impact, “green” hydrogen leaves no trace. When produced via electrolysis powered by renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydropower, green hydrogen has a virtually non-existent eco footprint.

Transitioning from “alternative” to standard

Currently, fuels derived from sources other than petroleum are considered “alternative”. However, moving forward, the goal is to establish them as standard. For example, a recent report published by not-for-profit clean energy trade group RenewableUK says that with the right government support, the country can generate at least 5GW of green hydrogen by 2030.

“If ever there was a time to step up our efforts to replace expensive gas with a clean, flexible fuel which fulfils the same role but uses cheap renewables instead, it’s right now,’ says Laurie Heyworth, author of the report and a policy analyst at RenewableUK.

“This report explains how we can start to switch,” she adds. “Expanding our capacity to produce green hydrogen will enable us to make full use of the enormous amounts of clean power we’re producing from renewables. Making hydrogen using renewables is set to become cheaper than using fossil fuels, which are prone to volatility and global price shocks.”

A multitiered approach to slashing emissions

Alternative fuels aren't the only solution to the climate change crisis. New carbon capture technologies will play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the world transitions to clean energy. Find out more in 'How Do You Capture Carbon?' 


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