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Alternative Fuels: The Need for a Change

The rising prices of gasoline and how many miles per gallon a vehicle can achieve are large concerns for today’s drivers. Automobile owners are also reconsidering the impacts of the pollution their vehicles are having on our environment. Automobile manufacturers have been scrambling for more fuel-efficient engines and diving into the development of alternatively fueled vehicles. People are trading in their old gas-guzzling cars for newer more efficient ones. Taking all of these statements into consideration, alternative fuels and when we will begin to use them on a larger scale have become a topic of discussion around the world.

Why are we putting so much effort into finding viable sources of energy?
There are three main reasons why we are looking for viable alternative sources of energy. The first is that the use of gasoline and diesel fuels has always been known to produce harmful pollution to our environment. Only in recent years has it been realized how seriously detrimental it has been to the ozone layer and health of the planet’s population, among many other things.

The second concern is the fact that there are finite amounts of these non-renewable fuels. While the number of vehicles and the demand for these fuels continue to increase, the supply will conversely dwindle. As J.G. Speight states, “we have seen a gradual acceptance by the petroleum industry and the general public of the inevitability that petroleum and natural gas will, at some time within the foreseeable future, be in very short supply” (1999, p vii).

The third is the price at the pump. Even though this should be the most insignificant concern, in terms of the health of every living thing on the planet, it is actually quite the opposite. Most people that pull up to the pump are not thinking about how much petroleum is left in the ground or how much the use of petroleum is polluting, they are thinking about the dent this fill up will put in their wallets. Given the basic concept of supply and demand, the prices of fuel will likely continue to rise. The continuously increasing cost of fuel is what motivates today’s drivers to consider a more fuel efficient or less expensive alternative fuel.

What efforts are being made to solve these problems?
In 1970, congress passed “the first major Clean Air Act, requiring a 90 percent reduction in emissions from new automobiles by 1975. Congress also establishes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), giving it broad responsibility for regulating motor vehicle pollution” (Environment Protection Agency, 2006). In 1974 congress adopted the “Energy Policy Conservation Act, setting the first fuel economy goals” (Environment Protection Agency, 2006).
Since then there have been many steps taken to cut down the amount of pollution and conserve energy. Some examples include the introduction of the catalytic converter, unleaded gasoline, and the phase out of leaded gasoline (Environment Protection Agency, 2006).

In 1992, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT) was passed by congress. There were multiple reasons for adopting this act. One purpose of this act was to accelerate the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) by federal fleets and fleets in large urban areas. Another was to eliminate the cap on credits offered to manufactures for producing dual- and flexible-fuel vehicles (Environment Protection Agency, 2006). According to a business journal in 1997, it also “establishes tax incentives for purchasing AFVs, converting conventional gasoline vehicles to operate on alternative fuels, and installing refueling or recharging facilities by the private sector” (p 16). The latest major effort to reduce pollution and energy use is the introduction and continued research and development of hybrid vehicles (Environment Protection Agency, 2006).
What are alternative fuels?

As cited in the Alternative-fuel glossary of terms (1997):
“Alternative fuel: As defined pursuant to the EPACT, methanol, denatured ethanol, and other alcohols, separately or in mixtures of 85 percent by volume or more with gasoline or other fuels; CNG; LNG; LPG; hydrogen; ‘coal-derived liquid fuels’; fuels ‘other than alcohols’ derived from ‘biological materials’; electricity; neat biodiesel; or any other fuel determined to be ‘substantially not petroleum’ and yielding ‘substantial energy security benefits and substantial environmental benefits’” (p 16).

What alternative fuels are currently being used?
As stated by the Energy Information Administration in 2004, the majority of alternative fuel powered vehicles operate on liquefied petroleum gases (LPG), ethanol 85 percent (E85), compressed natural gas (CNG), or electricity. It should also be noted that hybrid vehicles powered by both gasoline and electricity are considered alternatively fueled vehicles.

In addition to the alternative fuels currently in use, “leading companies in a variety of industries, including chemicals and oil, are competing hard to secure a position in the market for alternative fuels, particularly biofuels… The production of biofuels in the U.S. is based mainly on corn at this point in time. However … a small number of companies say they are developing novel processes that can convert non-food or waste biomass, such as stalks, into ethanol… The first technologies for processing non-crop biomass are about to hit the market, firms say” (Scott, A. & Bryner, M. 2006, p 17).

Will conventional fuels become a thing of the past?
John Zumerchik wrote an article in 2001 detailing the money, time, and resources invested in the infrastructure already in place for petroleum fuel. The infrastructure encompasses every aspect of oil, starting with the extraction from the ground, to refining, delivery, storage, and its various uses. He pointed out that any major change in the existing infrastructure would be hard to accept due to the money invested. In addition he stated, “There are personal investments in over 200 million vehicles on the road that are designed to consume either gasoline or diesel fuel, and a dauntingly immense and specialized infrastructure of industry building these vehicles and small businesses maintaining them. Since so much of the economy has a vested interest in the internal combustion engine burning gasoline or diesel fuel, a market transition to alternative fuels and vehicles is likely to be gradual” (p 69).
Although Zumerchik is partially correct, he did not take into account the speed at which technology is advancing. It will only be a matter of time before viable alternative fuels will be on the market using the existing infrastructure of gasoline and diesel fuels. Petroleum fuels may not run out for many years, but as big oil companies see their oils wells produce less, the prices will rise. The rise in price will motivate people to seek cheaper sources of fuel. Eventually, when petroleum sources are depleted or the cost is too high, we will be forced into using alternate fuel sources. In a survey (April 3, 2007), it is clear that our society has already begun to witness the use of alternative fuels. Unleaded gasoline and conventional diesel fuel vehicles will either be replaced or converted as leaded fueled vehicles once were.

Alternative-fuel glossary of terms. (1997). Business Journal Serving Southern Tier, CNY, Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes, North, 11(23), p16. Retrieved March 22, 2007, from EBSCO Host Research Databases.
Energy Information Administration. (2004). Estimated number of alternative-fueled vehicles. Retrieved March 22, 2007, from
Environmental Protection Agency. (2006). Mobile source emissions – past, present, and future. Retrieved March 28, 2007, from
Scott, A. & Bryner, M. (2006). Alternative fuels: rolling out next-generation technologies. Chemical week, 168(43), 17-21. Retrieved March 22, 2007, from EBSCO Host Research Databases.
Speight, J.G. (1999). The chemistry and technology of petroleum: Chemical industries. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.
Zumerchik, J. (2001). Alternative fuels and vehicles. Macmillan encyclopedia of energy. Ed. John Zumerchik. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. 66-69. 3 vols. Retrieved March 24, 2007, from Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomson Gale. New Hampshire Technical Institute.