How Can Alternative Fuels Help Save the Environment

Developing Countries And Their Dilemma

In today’s time, with ‘development’ comes ‘growth’ and with growth comes an increase in the number of motor vehicles leading to urban congestion and unhealthy air quality. In the United States, the motor vehicle emissions account for all the criteria pollutants except sulfur oxides. Talking about China, vehicle growth is projected to rise from about 30 million in 2005 to over 180 million by 2030. Eventually, vehicles are becoming a principal cause of China’s air pollution problem, which results in 4,00,000 respiratory attacks and as many as 50,000 infant deaths per year. The growth in the motor vehicle means an increase in the demand for imported oil, much of that is expected to come from the Middle East. It is expected that China’s Persian Gulf oil imports will soon exceed those of the US, hence explaining the “expansionist” attitude.

Fuels of the Future

The idea behind developing fuels and vehicles capable of running on these fuels is to mitigate air pollution and more importantly reduce our dependence on petroleum. Here are some of the alternative fuels that are either developed or being developed:

  • Ethanol

Ethanol (CH3CH2OH) has been used as an oxygenate to reduce CO emissions, ethanol is also known as grain alcohol. Ethanol can be blended with gasoline, the most common in the United States is E10 (Ethanol 10 percent and gasoline 90 percent) and E85 (Ethanol 85 percent and gasoline 15 percent). The main modifications done to convert a gasoline vehicle into an ethanol flex-fuel vehicle include a sensor that detects the type of fuel being pumped to the engine, higher flow-rate fuel injectors needed to accommodate the lower energy density of ethanol relative to gasoline, electronic and software modifications to ensure proper operation of the fuel injection system, certain inexpensive modifications like fuel lines, fuel tanks, and fuel pumps. All these modifications often offer flex-fuel vehicles at no extra cost. An interesting figure about E85 is that the energy density of E85 is 29 percent less per gallon.

Presence: Model T and Model A (Henry Ford) were flex-fuel vehicles running on Ethanol or Gasoline.

  • Methanol

Wood alcohol or Methanol (CH3OH) burns with lower flame temperature resulting in the reduction of NOx, HC, and CO emissions, methanol has a higher octane rating than gasoline that enables engines to be designed with higher compression ratios for increased power.

Drawbacks: It is difficult to start the engines in cold weather due to the low volatility of methanol. The emissions are much higher in formaldehyde (HCHO) which causes irritation in the eye and is suspected to be a carcinogen. It has an invisible flame that can lead to dangerous fire accidents.

Solution: The blend of Methanol and gasoline can be used to overcome or eliminate certain problems, like M85 (85 percent methanol and 15 percent gasoline) can eliminate the cold start problem and yield a visible flame.

Presence: Not widely available.

  • Electric Vehicles

In 2006 a small start-up company “Tesla” changed the fuel game by introducing all-electric roadster with a 250-mile range that accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds, the idea behind EVs is to replace the internal combustion engines with electric motors that can be charged using the Grip power or power generated by photovoltaic systems (Solar).

Status: The Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles can be easily seen on the roads.

  • Biodiesel

It is a fuel that can be created by using vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant greases. It is a biodegradable, domestic, renewable resource of energy whose production requires no fossil fuels hence lowering the net carbon emissions to one-fourth of that of standard diesel when blended with conventional diesel such as B2 (2 percent biodiesel and 98 percent standard diesel). This makes it quite popular due to its superior lubricity compared to new ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuels. Biodiesels are free of cold-start problems and can be used for home heating systems leading to the mitigation of high sulphur content.

Presence: In India, Jatropha Oil has been used as biodiesel in diesel generators and engines.

  • Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)

It is a futuristic ideal fuel that gives out pure water as an emission. It converts hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity. A lot of different technologies for electric vehicles as well as stationary applications have been under development for several years but the most appropriate one for vehicles is known as a PEM – Proton Exchange Membrane or Polymer Electrolyte Membrane. Several cells each producing 0.5 volts are stacked in series to produce a sufficient voltage to charge batteries or power the electric motor in the vehicles.

Presence: The technology is under development.

Apart from these alternative fuels, the use of CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) has been pretty common these days.

Why does India need to Switch?

Around the end of June 2020, the Nation witnessed the price of diesel overtaking the price of petrol. For the first time there was an increase in excise and value-added tax done to cover the revenue gaps due to COVID-19. A report by Kirit Parikh Committee in 2010 had worked out that the international petrol price (for deregulated market) should be $165 per barrel for the current petrol prices of INR 80 per liter in Delhi, and the international prices for diesel had to be over $170 per barrel for the current prices that we are witnessing in mid-2020. According to NITI Aayog the final energy consumption in our country is the transportation sector and by 2042 the level of energy consumption is expected to increase three times, thereby making the transport sector to be the highest contributor to GHG emissions and air pollution. So now would be the right time to make the paradigm shift from conventional petroleum to some promising alternative fuel sources that would provide citizens with heavy pockets and healthy lifestyles. All we need to do is to educate each other and try to change the mindsets of people along with helping each other when we are trying to implement new eco-friendly projects at home. It might seem to be a herculean task, but years later there might be enough air on Earth but none left to breathe! 

So people keep doing your bit, together we can and we will Save the Environment.

Sources and References:

  • Introduction to Environmental Engineering and Science, Gilbert M. Masters and Wendell P. Ela
  •, Article- Fuel Prices Hikes and Choices for Sustainable Transportation In India
  • A Viable and Sustainable System of Pricing Petroleum Products. Kirit Parikh Committee Report.

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