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Alternative fuel technologies

Since its discovery 150 years ago, petroleum oil has become lifeline of the world. The entire structure of the modern mechanized world, consisting from transportation system, automobiles, airplanes, railways, ships to space rockets today operates primarily on the energy derived from the fossil fuels/petroleum oils. Apart from being mainstay of the transportation sector, petroleum products have also found wide application in a large range of core infrastructure industries that are essential for survival of industrial processes and basis of existence of modern world.

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This dependence on exclusive use of petroleum resources of world has become cause of serious concern among policy planners. Petroleum resources are very limited and they have cannot be continuously exploited to meet human demand. According to varoius studies and estimates, the total oil stock of world t is expected to last for another 50-75 years if world continues to consume them at present rate. After that the cost of extraction of remaining petroleum products would rise greatly. It would become so costly that benefits obtained from oil would be lower than expenditure incurred on them.

Thus world may need another resources of energy to exist. These fears and concerns have already generated intense research in alternative technologies to meet the future energy needs in the face of an overhanging petroleum crisis. The large part of the oil consumption takes place in the transportation sector, which accounts for the 69 percent of the total oil consumption in the US alone (Basic Petroleum Statistics, 2007). Overall there are five major sectors accounting for petroleum oil consumption. These sectors, along with their consumption share in year 2005 are (Petroleum-EIA, 2006)

1. Domestic/Household: Consumption in 2005 was 869 thousand barrels of petroleum per day 2. Commercial: 386 thousand barrels of petroleum per day 3. Industrial: 5061 thousand barrels of petroleum per day 4. Electric Power production: 545 thousand barrels of petroleum per day 5. Transportation: 13, 825 thousand barrels of petroleum per day. The consumption pattern in the transportation sector shows that consumption is highest for motor gasoline. Average daily consumption of motor gasoline in U. S, according to Petroleum data (EIA, 2005) is 8933 thousand barrels per day.

Distillate fuel oil is the second most consumed petroleum product with daily consumption at 2817 thousand barrels. These figures show that U. S would be dependent on oil imports for present and future if it carries on the present rate of consumption. U. S has a fleet of 210 millions vehicle that depend entirely upon motor gasoline for their functioning that makes it very difficult to reduce oil consumption. (Hirsch R. L, Bezdek R, Wending R, February 2005, 4). As on 1st January 2006, the total proven oil reserves with U. S was just 21. 6 billion barrels, which means that in future U.

S would be forced to rely almost completely on oil imports for its entire transportation requirements. As the closer sources shall run dry, U. S’ would be dependent on distant sources from where oil must be transported. The supply lines may become vulnerable to leakage and terrorist attacks and it would lead to rise in global oil price. The greater risk is certainly compromising with U. S national interests. The oil supply lines would always be at risk against subversive elements requiring another set of huge investment in ensuring safe transportation of oil to U. S onshore facilities.

It will also place U. S interests in the hands of oil cartels such as OPEC that may freely manipulate oil supplies according to their own interests. The shortage of oil would increase greatly in coming times as oil demands are growing worldwide. Meanwhile China and India are also expanding their economy, transportation system and hence they would need more oil in future. Even at present rate there are serious doubts on the secure prospects of future supplies within next 50 years time frame, and the rising consumption rates threatens to bring the approaching crisis nearer.

United States has thus a great responsibility to secure its future interests without sacrificing its present requirements and needs. This issue forms the topic of the next section. Alternative fuel technologies The forthcoming oil crisis has finally moved policy makers in US. A number of approaches are suggested that include a. imposing taxes on oil consumption b. using tradable gasoline permits and c. exploration of new sources of oil ( Deutch J, Schlesinger J. R, Victor D. G. 2006 ).

However, the urgent need of situation demands methods that would sustain the present structure while safeguarding the future against depleting sources and rising petroleum prices. As the world’s oil reserves are limited, even measures such stagnating oil consumption and using oil more efficiently are just helpful in delaying the inevitable without offering any permanent solution to the issue. Oil reserves are going down steadily and within a couple of decades prices will soar up inexorably disrupting the economy, industry and society in turn.

The only practical solution to this problem is technological innovations in energy field that can reduce dependence on petroleum oil by providing alternative and sustainable sources of energy. It shall serve two immensely useful purposes that are a. minimizing U. S dependence on foreign oil and b. preventing the environment from damages associated with use of petroleum oils and products. The certainty of oil exhaustion has inspired efforts from both government and corporate sector to research and develop the new fuel technologies as a providential measure for survival, growth and progress in forthcoming days of oil crisis.

Past decade has seen great move on technological researches in alternative fuels. Various new techniques and models have already been introduced in the market to test their viability and capacity to successfully replace petroleum as chief source of energy. Most of these innovations are specifically aimed at transportation sector because it is the chief consumer of petroleum oil and as principle cause of increasing oil imports. Due to distinct requirements of different sectors in transportation, there are various technologies.

Passenger vehicles, public transport vehicles and freight transportation carry specific needs that are difficult to be met by a single alternative fuel technology. Some of the major and most popular of these technologies, where majority of research and development has taken place, are (Aldrich, 1996) 1. Hybrid Vehicle 2. Bio-diesels 3. Ethanol 4. Hydrogen and 6. Solar energy Following section discusses the technology used in each of these new vehicle-systems and their benefits over conventional gasoline based internal combustion engine.

Hybrid Vehicles: As the name suggests, hybrid vehicles combine dual technologies for their operation. Technically they are hybrid electric vehicle with an electric motor that drives the vehicle (Hoogma, Kemp, Schot and Truffer, 2002, 41 ). In the case of a typical electric vehicle, hydrogen fuel cell or chemical batteries such as advanced sealed lead battery, nickel cadmium and lithium ion are used for auxiliary power (Aldrich, 1996). However in the hybrid electric vehicles, the electric drive technology is combined with a gasoline-based power generator for running the electric motor and charging the batteries.

Hybrid vehicles are either full hybrid or mid hybrid. A full hybrid vehicle can move forward from standstill purely on electric power while a mid hybrid requires gasoline power for initial movement, although both technologies concentrate on maximum utilization of electric motor power while reducing the use of gasoline as far as possible (Hybrid Terms, 2007). The electric motor and internal combustion engine (ICE) are connected either in parallel or in series in a hybrid vehicle.

In parallel hybrid cars, power to engine is supplied by both the electric motor and internal combustion engine while in the series hybrid car the gasoline engine powers the electric motor and batteries to generate electricity, without directly providing power for the vehicle (Hybrid Electric Vehicles, 2007). There is another category of hybrid vehicles, called as ‘plug-in hybrid’ that can operate as a full electric vehicle. They require some additional batteries and use electricity net to charge the batteries thereby minimizing gasoline use to its lowest possible levels (Hybrid Terms, 2007).

All hybrid electric vehicle use computer that constantly monitors speed, power required and charge conditions of batteries (Hybrid Electric Vehicles, 2007). Hybrid vehicles offer numerous benefits over the conventional gasoline based ICE, some of which are (Hybrid Electric Vehicles, 2007; Sanna, 2007, 12; Aldrich, 1996, 88 ) 1. Hybrid vehicles are extremely fuel efficient, with most of the driving thrust coming from electric power. 2. Unlike electric cars, they offer unlimited range of traveling and transportation 3.

Hybrid technology is combination of the proven technology of ICE with electric motors, thus giving it reliability in the market. 4. Hybrid technology can be used in various sectors of transportation, from personal vehicles to heavy duty vehicles. In fact, both the major US car manufacturers, GM and Ford have come out with a range of hybrid vehicles, that are successful in market. 5. Plug in -Hybrid technology is even more fuel conserving and environmentally benign, cutting down CO2 emission by more than 30 % while using minimum possible use of gasoline.

Hybrid vehicles offer the most reliable alternate technology which US can capitalize upon without risking any major upheaval in its current fuel-technology structure. These vehicles promise to drastically reduce fuel oil consumption, reducing the needs of oil imports, meanwhile purchasing time for completely oil free technology. Bio-diesel: Bio-diesel, as the term suggests, is a type of renewable fuel obtained by agricultural products and used as fuel in heavy-duty vehicles. The major sources currently under research for bio-diesel are soybean, rapeseed, corn, cottonseed, peanut, sunflower, and canola (Aldrich, 1996, 85).

The process of making bio-diesel involves use of an alcohol such as methanol which is treated with oil of selected agricultural produce to form glycerin followed by separation of fatty esters, recycling of excess alcohol and purification of esters to produce a fuel that bears remarkable closeness to diesel, however with higher octane number (Aldrich, 1996, 85). Currently bio-diesel is used when blended with petroleum diesel, especially in European markets, with commendable results. Bio-diesel offers a host of benefits over conventional petroleum diesel, some of which are (Faupel and Kurki, 2002, 1).

1. Reduction in vehicle emission leading to environment safe emission standards 2. As bio-diesel is an excellent lubricant it helps to prolong engine life 3. As the fuel is non-toxic and easily biodegradable it presents high safety standards in storage and transportation. 4. It will give boost to agricultural productions 5. It poses significantly lower health risks than petroleum diesel, successfully meeting health requirement standards established by Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990. 6.

The technology of bio-diesel doesn’t require any major altercation in present engine technology and infrastructure models, making it a popular choice in alternative fuel category. 7. The fact that bio-diesel can be completely synthesized domestically gives US a great opportunity to curtail its dependence on fossil fuel, curb imports, optimize its economy and make a transition towards a secure and sustainable future. Bio-diesel has gained wide acceptance as a viable alternative for fossil-diesel and it is increasingly used in mass transit system, freight transportation and heavy duty vehicles

Ethanol: Ethanol as a very long history as an alternative fuel, and it was tried in even 1880 as a fuel option for Ford cars (Aldrich, 1996, 51). Ethanol is derived from agricultural produces by process of fermentation and distillation to form a high-octane liquid fuel. Normally ethanol is not used alone as a fuel, instead it is blended with gasoline in ratio of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline to form a fuel E-85, which is approved as an alternative fuel in US (Ethanol, 2007). The vehicles run on this fuel are called as flexi fuel vehicles.

Ethanol has emerged as a successful alternative to fossil fuels in Brazil where more than 4 million vehicles on ethanol based fuel and it is finding increasing application in US as well. The benefits of using ethanol are multifold and they include (Ethanol, 2007) 1. Ease in use: Although E85 engine is somewhat different than ICE, it is possible to alter the existing ICE to accommodate E85 as the fuel 2. Reduced petroleum consumption: Increased use of E85 promises considerable reduction in use of fossil oil. 3.

Renewable and sustainable fuel: E-85 is organically synthesized. It is renewable as ethanol can be made from waste bio products, optimizing the energy sector. 4. Environment compatibility: Vehicles using E-85 produce around 50 percent less smog in emission 5. Flexible fuel options: Vehicles using E-85 as fuel can also operate on gasoline, which is useful in case of non availability of E-85 Hydrogen: There are great interests in using hydrogen as fuel in transport industry due to the great flexibility of options and performance it offers.

Hydrogen can either be used as fuel in place of gasoline in internal combustion engine or it can be used as energy carrier in fuel cells, the latter being the major research area in automobile sector (Aldrich, 1996, 87). Generally, hydrogen is obtained by decomposing hydrocarbon fuels, electrolysis of water and photolysis. It is stored directly in form of gas, liquid or as chemically with metal hydrides (Hydrogen Economy, 2002, 2). Due to its low energy volume, direct use of hydrogen as a fuel would require considerably large volumes to fuel the vehicle.

On the other hand, hydrogen is extremely efficient in fuel cells. In a fuel cell, hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce electricity, Use of hydrogen offers following advantages (Hydrogen Economy, 2002; Aldrich, 1996,87) 1. It is the most abundant element in universe and hence practically inexhaustible as a source of energy. 2. When burned it produces water vapour as only by product. 3. Hydrogen can be used a fuel directly in ICE, requiring no modification in engine design. 4.

Hydrogen fuel cells involve no pollution, and provide higher efficiency of the order of 45 percent in combustion. 5. In case of any accidents, hydrogen powered vehicle are likely to cause less damage due to light chemical nature of hydrogen. Solar Power: Use of solar power as energy in transportation sector has been subject of intense technological research. While the solar energy has found wide application as domestic energy supply, there are difficulties in their application in transport sector.

Photovoltaic cells, that absorb sunrays to provide electricity, are inefficient under the current technology strains and unable to generate even a fraction of required power to drive a normal passenger vehicle. However, solar power has turned as a dependable source of energy in areas other than transport. All the initial costs are high in maintaining a solar energy power plant, its been shown that with increasingly sophisticated technology and wider application the cost of installation as well as generation of electricity can get comparable to normal power plants (Borowitz, 1999,112).

Conclusion When fossil fuels were discovered around 150 years back, the existing technologies of steam engines were unable to utilize them. However, soon completely new technologies were developed as new energy sources were discovered. They started to use the energy content and efficiency of fossil fuels. Soon petroleum fuels revolutionized the way the world moved and worked. The past 100 years of consumption has comprehensively depleted non-renewable petroleum deposits and estimates give another 50 more years before the remaining available sources would get almost exhausted.

US has the capacity to read these signals and develop reliable intermediate technologies and systems such as hybrid electric vehicle, ethanol and public transit systems that would considerably reduce fossil fuel consumption without adding to infrastructure cost thereby extending the life period of petroleum reservoirs. Meanwhile research is continuing on new age technologies such as fuel cell and solar photovoltaic cells to complete replace fossil fuels as a source of energy.

It is possible that if government and industry institute providential policy measures, there would be a host of alternative technologies in transportation sector by the time petroleum oil would get exhausted. Economic advantage of using alternative fuels Alternative fuel technologies carry great economic benefit for US. Presently USA is heavily dependent on imported petroleum fuel that accounts for massive expenditure in the federal budget. Increased use of alternative fuel technology would reduce this dependency, saving billions of dollars annually.

Further, the domestic production, processing and maintenance of alternative fuel resources and vehicles would create more number of jobs, thus strengthening the economic conditions. Alternative vehicles would also create far less air pollution, which would help the quality of life with reduced lungs diseases, cancers, asthma and various other problems. It would also bring down the need as well as the cost of environmental cleanup, adding to economic benefits further (AFV-2000) Reference Alternative Fuel Vehicles, 2000, Climate Change Technologies, 21st Feb, 2007, http://yosemite.

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