When it comes to alternative energy sources for transportation, electricity seems to be the rising star, at least for the moment.
But in Britain this month, a stock VW Beetle was showcased, one that was happily running around on a fuel sourced from human poo poo…
The firm, GENeco, who concocted the fuel, noted that previously this type of methane “biogas” oozing from the sewage of a human waste treatment plant wasn’t “clean enough” to run properly in a normal vehicle. GENeco figured out a way to make it work (using micro-bugs, hence the choice of the “Bug” test vehicle), and now claims that this fuel could be a viable way of powering cars in the future.
Well, whether this thing flies, or ends up back from where it came, the toilet, the “Poo Bug” is nonetheless an excellent reminder that the internal combustion engine can burn lots of different “gases,” and that many of these gases are plentiful and clean.
Here then, is a brief snapshot of alternative gases that are working their way into our future.
Clean Petroleum Diesel
Modern turbo-diesel engines running on the new “low sulphur” diesel fuel can be 30 per cent more fuel efficient than comparably powered gas engines. While they are also cleaner in some regards, they require more elaborate emission systems. Another downside: North American refineries are currently set up to produce way more gasoline than diesel for any given barrel of oil.
Diesel can also be made from animal fat and/or vegetable oil. Not only is this the best smelling fuel on the planet, it contains no sulphur, so is very clean. Downsides: Contains less energy than petroleum diesel; Limited supply, though research is being done to see if large amounts can be sourced from algae.
We can turn natural gas, methanol or coal in a diesel-like fuel? But do we want to? North America has lots of those three source elements, but we get little or no “net environmental” gain by converting them over to synthetic diesel.
When corn-based ethanol is blended with gasoline, at an 85:15 ratio, you get a fuel called E85. It’s renewable and powerful. And clean too, until you consider all the energy and emissions entailed with producing and distilling corn. It’s more efficient and cleaner to make ethanol from sugar cane or algae or certain grasses or waste plant material. At this point, more discussion than production.