Alternative fuels

Alternative fuels: What’s available now and what’s being developed

Conversations around alternative fuels are increasing, but what are the most viable options right now and are these alternatives really going to become the norm any time soon? Before anyone can answer that question, it is worth taking a moment to define what an alternative fuel really is. Generally speaking, traditional fuels for cars are petrol or diesel—so an alternative fuel is anything else that can power a car.

Why do we need alternative fuels?

The majority of scientists and governments agree that climate change is happening and that it is caused by greenhouse gases. These gases have a nasty habit of trapping long-wave heat radiation in our atmosphere rather than letting it back out into space. We need a certain amount of these gases to keep us warm but having more than we need is dangerous for the planet.

The main gases in question are Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide. Sadly, traditional fuels and engines emit lots of these gases and the goal of alternative fuels is to lessen our reliance on petrol and diesel so we can still run our cars while emitting fewer greenhouse gases.

Below is a look at the main alternative fuels that are in use now.

Electricity

This is the most commonly used alternative at the moment and one that is expected to grow hugely in popularity in the near future. In fact, a lot of industry leaders think electric cars will become the default car type over the next 10-20 years, especially with technology improving to increase the range that these cars can drive. There are three main types of electric vehicle (EV):

  • True EVs which only have electric motors
  • Hybrid cars that use a traditional engine and an electric motor
  • Plug-in hybrids which are just like normal hybrids but allow the user to plug the car in to charge it, rather than just the engine

The main benefit of true EVs is the total lack of any emissions from the motor as there is no fuel being burnt. Hybrids get to share this trait but not all the time. They tend to have great mileage and low CO2 emissions because they are able to run on part electric and part traditional fuel.

Charging points for electric vehicles are also popping up in large numbers all around the UK, which is likely to result in more drivers choosing to go electric over the coming years. The app Zap Map helps you locate them and has calculator tools to help you find out how much it would cost to charge your car and how much full journeys will cost.

Fuel Cells

Without getting too technical, a fuel cell allows chemicals to react in the right conditions to create enough electric power to be used to charge a battery to power the wheels. The fuels that can be used in these cells do vary and new fuel cell types are being created all the time.

Fuel cells could be a big future power source for cars as well as homes. The most common type of fuel cell for cars is hydrogen. The only output from a hydrogen fuel cell is water so it’s very environmentally friendly. There are some petrol stations offering hydrogen, but it is still in the very early stages of development.

Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Liquid Petroleum Gas is exactly what it sounds like. When subjected to high pressure, gases that have been by-products of the petrol industry for many years can be turned turn into liquids. These liquids can then be stored in tanks and used to power cars.

You may know this fuel as butane or propane as it has been used in many other ways. It still produces greenhouse gases and it won’t make your car more efficient, but it is a useful way of reducing waste and cutting down the amount of new petrol that needs to be produced.

Looking ahead

While electric cars may be considered the ultimate future, there are some current and future choices that might suit more people. Many manufacturers are producing small petrol engines with turbochargers to make them great to drive and fantastic when it comes to CO2 and fuel economy. By driving carefully, you will also find you can do your bit to help without having to rush out and buy a new electric car. The hybrid option really is the best of both worlds for many people and one well worth considering.

Green cars available on the Scheme

There are many green car options available to lease with the Motability Scheme. Browse the full selection using our car search tool, filtering your search by ‘fuel type’.


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