Measurement and Testing
3 Alternative Fuels for Engines
Nov 27 2022
The British ban on sales of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars is looming. By 2030, the government will begin to phase out internal combustion engine (ICE) cars as part of a plan to address issues like air pollution and the energy crisis. Countries around the world are expected to follow suit, with the EU set to ban sales from 2035. While electric vehicles (EVs) are hailed as the transport of the future, there are serious concerns about the environmental and social costs of transitioning to all-electric cars.
According to Imperial College London researcher Professor Aruna Sivakumar, less than 2% of cars on British roads are powered by electric batteries. While the percentage is climbing, many experts are skeptical uptake will increase enough to justify the 2030 deadline. Barriers to ownership include the cost of EVs, as well as problems like lack of charging network infrastructure and supply chain issues.
Research group NimbleFins maintains the average new EV sets British motorists back around £44,000. In comparison, new ICE cars cost roughly £24,000. There’s also the longstanding debate about the “green” credentials of EVs. Factors like raw materials mining, energy used during the manufacturing process and the source of electricity needed to charge electric batteries all contribute to questions about the eco footprint of EVs.
So, what’s the solution? Combustion engine advocates say alternative liquid fuels could be the answer. They’re designed as ‘drop in’ solutions and offer the same performance as fossil-derived fuels, without the environmental footprint.
Thanks to advanced chemistry techniques, scientists can transform CO2 and H2O into ethanol. This ethanol is used to create carbon-neutral synthetic gasoline. During the manufacturing process CO2 is captured from the atmosphere. While greenhouse gases are released during combustion, the carbon capture process means synthetic fuels don’t increase the net amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere.
On average, it takes around 60 million years for plant and animal matter to become liquid hydrocarbons like oil. Biofuels mimic the process but in a fraction of the time. A variety of different feedstocks are used to create biofuels, including purpose-grown crops and organic waste.
Ethanol has a higher octane number than standard gasoline, which makes it a good drop-in replacement for combustion engines. The renewable fuel is created from plant derived biomass, often sourced from agricultural practices. While pure ethanol can technically be used to power ICEs, the organic compound is usually blended with other fuels to improve energy density and eco credentials. For example, in North America E10 grade fuel contains 10% ethanol and 905 gasoline.
Synthetic fuel manufacturers aren’t the only ones reimagining atmospheric pollutants as feedstocks. Find out more about how hydrogen sulfide (H2S) emissions are being used to isolate solid sulphur and hydrogen in ‘H2S Splitting to Produce Hydrogen From Sour Gas’.
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