As we look for new ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lower polluting vehicle emissions, alternative fuels have emerged as a viable alternative. Today, more than a dozen alternative fuels are in production or under development, though not all are yet available for consumer use. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand the major players in the alternative fuel landscape.

Biodiesel

Produced domestically and manufactured from animal fat, vegetable oil, or even recycled restaurant grease, biodiesel is a clean-burning and safe alternative to petroleum diesel, both of which are used to fuel compression-ignition engines.Studies have shown that biodiesel outperforms regular diesel and gasoline in everything from fuel-efficiency to carbon dioxide emissions. Pure biodiesel is sensitive to cold weather and may require some engine modification before use. For that reason, blends of pure biodiesel and petroleum diesel are often used. Be sure to check your vehicle and engine warranty statements before considering biodiesel.

Electricity

Today, all-electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicle sales are on the rise. These cars draw electricity either directly from plugging into the utility grid or through other electrical power sources. With electric plug-in cars, rechargeable batteries are used to house energy and keep the motor running. Public electric charging stations save plug-in owners the expense of recharging at home and are an increasingly common presence at grocery stores, libraries, and shopping centers. While hybrid electric vehicles still use some gasoline, they increase overall fuel efficiency and significantly lower vehicle emissions.

Ethanol

Made from corn and other plant materials (known as “biomass”), ethanol is a domestically produced, renewable fuel already used as a blend in 97 percent of gasoline sold in the U.S. Using ethanol blends can help conserve petroleum and reduce overall carbon emissions.

Hydrogen

Although considered a relative newcomer as a transportation fuel, hydrogen is powering Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), the zero emissions electric vehicles that use hydrogen power cells as fuel. Hydrogen is stored in water and other matter and must be extracted from these compounds in order to be used as fuel. Wind and solar-produced hydrogen are seen as especially desirable, since those methods avoid creating some of the harmful emissions associated with other extraction methods. 

Renewable natural gas

While most natural gas in the United States formed millions of years ago in the earth and is therefore considered a fossil fuel, renewable natural gas (RNG) can be produced from organic materials  like animal waste or even garbage from landfills — and then either compressed or turned into a liquid before use in certain vehicles.

Liquid petroleum gas

Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), also known as propane, can be used in certain vehicles for better fuel economy and lower emissions than vehicles using a standard diesel or gasoline-powered engine. Because most of the propane we use in the U.S. is also produced domestically, powering vehicles with propane helps improve our overall energy security.

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about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.