Environmentally sound alternative fuel options offer great emissions savings over traditional gasoline, but what are they all about? Here’s a roundup of each:
Battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles:
Battery-electric cars draw all their power from an onboard battery, while hybrids use a combination of battery and gas motors to drastically increase fuel efficiency.
Both types produce much lower emissions (or virtually none at all, in the case of battery-electric cars), but hybrids are substantially more expensive than gas-only cars.
Battery-electric cars need to be charged every 100-200 kilometres (charging takes around 8 hours) and the entire battery needs to be replaced after 400-500 charges, making maintenance expensive.
A non-toxic fuel made from vegetable oils, animal fats and waste cooking oil. Biodiesel can be mixed with regular diesel fuel in just about any diesel engine and helps reduce emissions by about 60 to 80 per cent in respect to the quantity mixed (a 20 per cent mix will give 12 to 18 per cent lower emissions, for example).
Engines running on biodiesel deliver similar performance to regular diesel engines, but the fuel itself still isn’t commercially available on a large scale.
Biodiesel also tends to freeze (or turn to gel) at higher temperatures than regular diesel in colder weather.
A fuel made from the fermented sugars and starches found in agricultural products like corn and wheat. Ethanol burns with roughly 40 per cent lower emissions than gasoline and is a renewable fuel source.
Most modern gasoline engines can already run safely and effectively on a blend of up to 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent gasoline and many gas stations across Canada already offer gas with 10 per cent ethanol content.
Ethanol does contain slightly less energy than gasoline, increasing fuel consumption marginally (by about 2 per cent) compared to the same amount of gasoline.
Fuel Cells & Hydrogen:
Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electrical current, with the hydrogen capable of being sourced from a variety of fuels.
Engines running on hydrogen produce virtually no emissions other than water and vapour, and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 30 and 90 per cent depending on the source fuel used.
Unfortunately, the technology is not available commercially and no public refuelling system exists in the market.
Popular in Europe and Asia, natural gas is abundant and runs cleaner than gasoline. Many taxi and bus fleets already run on the fuel. Regular gasoline vehicles have to be modified to run on natural gas, but conversions can average $6,000 in costs. An increasing number of gas stations in Canada offer natural gas at the pump.
Propane is a clean-burning fuel that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 per cent and also contains many fewer toxic pollutants than gasoline. Contrary to popular belief, propane is actually less likely to ignite in a car accident than gasoline, due to requiring higher concentrations and a much higher temperature to ignite. Tank-filling requires more care, though. Propane is about 25 to 30 per cent cheaper overall than gasoline for travel but converting a car to run on it averages about $4,000 dollars. Roughly 3,000 gas stations offer propane refills around the country.
– Source: National Resources Canada
Office of Energy Efficiency
Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada say they’re putting bets on renewable biofuels as the most viable alternatives to gasoline. “Currently, the most accessible alternative fuel source that is easily integrated with our existing vehicle and fuel infrastructure is biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Renewable fuels contribute to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time offer a great economic opportunity for our farmers and rural communities,” they said in a joint statement to Metro.