These days there are many alternatives to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. Eco-friendly transportation is gaining in popularity, with hybrids, electric, and plug-in cars becoming more readily available than ever. Alternative fuels are also gaining ground-ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas, and biodiesel are all viable options. There are many choices available for the environmentally-conscious consumer, so read on to learn about the pros and cons of each.
Hybrid cars are defined as having a traditional fuel engine and as well as an electric motor and battery pack. These types of cars are different than full electric cars because they are able to collect and utilize energy leftover from the traditional fuel engine. Hybrids can easily get up to 50 mpg and are readily available from Toyota, BMW, Audi, Porsche, Lexus, Honda, and many other well-known car manufacturers. Many insurance discounts are available for hybrid cars, and some states even offer tax incentives for those who purchase a hybrid.
On the downside, hybrid cars have an upfront cost that can be a deterrent to many drivers. Maintenance and servicing can also be difficult because they require an expert who may not be available in your area. Replacement parts can also be expensive.
There are many reasons consumers would be drawn to the electric car, with energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions at the top of the list. Electric cars get up to three times the amount of energy to the wheels than a traditional engine, and since they do not use gasoline, there is only a small carbon footprint. There are also a few tax credits available (up to $7,500) for certain electric cars purchased after 2010.
Fully electric vehicles however, are usually more expensive than other alternative-fuel cars and typically have a shorter range per charge than the mpg of conventional vehicles. The efficiency of electric cars is also dependent on driving conditions-high speeds, quick acceleration, and extreme heat or cold all dramatically affect battery life. Since electric cars are not commonly used, they may be somewhat of an inconvenience to operate because public charging stations can be difficult to find.
Plug-in hybrid cars are popular because they have the added bonus of being able to connect to standard 220 or 120 household outlets, making them easy to charge at home when not in use. This is convenient, saves fuel, and increases mileage. Plug-ins are also beneficial over regular hybrids because drivers can switch between "electric only" and "blended" modes. Being able to switch between modes is a huge advantage because drivers do not have to worry about finding a charging station when the battery is running low; they can simply change to the gas engine. Common complaints about plug-in hybrids are the initial upfront cost and higher price of replacement batteries, but tax incentives (available until 2017 for up to $2,000) may help offset the cost.
Ethanol is a natural fuel made from corn, sugar cane, and grain. Because the leftover byproduct can be used as feed for animals, it is highly sustainable and a great alternative to fossil fuels. Ethanol can be used in all gasoline vehicles, so there is no special car required. It is clean-burning, inexpensive to produce, and increases state and local tax revenue. Many farms in the United States are taking advantage of government subsidies, with 41% of corn production being used for ethanol in 2010.
Even though ethanol is increasing in popularity, there are still significant downsides that must not be ignored. It can be more expensive and is not available nationwide-right now E85 (gasoline that is 85% ethanol) is only widely available in the Midwest. Ethanol also does not have as much energy as gasoline, which will affect gas mileage. Although it is not yet a perfected resource, ethanol can still play a significant part in reducing the world's dependence on fossil fuels.
Hydrogen is a wonderful choice for alternative fuel because it is the most common element in the universe. Hydrogen is being explored for use in fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), which operate by turning oxygen and hydrogen gas into electricity to power the motor. Hydrogen can be produced domestically and emits no pollutants. Unfortunately, right now hydrogen is too expensive to produce and FCVs are not affordable for most drivers. Like ethanol, hydrogen contains less energy than gasoline, which would not be easily accepted by consumers.
Natural gas vehicles are another great alternative to traditional cars because they produce less greenhouse gas emissions and cost less to maintain over the long run. There are additional tax credits for purchasing vehicles than run on natural gas, and you can even buy a conversion kit to transform your car into a hybrid that takes a combination of gasoline and natural gas.
Natural gas vehicles are much more expensive than their traditional counterparts because like with other alternatives, they are not as readily available. They are also not as fast as traditional cars and do not perform as well, which results in less miles per gallon. There is also a safety concern with these vehicles since the storage tank is large and located in the trunk.
Biodiesel is a natural fuel produced from vegetable oil or animal fat. It is much less toxic than regular diesel and is biodegradable and renewable because it is made from vegetables. It is also better for engines because it provides better lubrication. Biodiesel also has an advantage over other alternative fuels because it is relatively cheap to produce and can be made at home.
Because it has not been perfected, there are several downsides to biodiesel. It is not compatible with all vehicles, so it could potentially cause engine problems. It is also not widely available since it is still a new resource. Filters will also need to be changed more often because biodiesel is a solvent and will eventually cause blockages.