Alternative fuel vehicle

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Alternative fuel vehicle

Conventional fuels such as gasoline and diesel are gradually being replaced by alternative fuels such as gaseous fuels (natural gas and propane), alcohol (methanol and ethanol), and hydrogen. Conventional fuels can also be modified to a reformulated gasoline to help reduce toxic emissions. Technological advances in the automotive industry (such as in fuel cells and hybrid-powered vehicles) are helping to increase the demand for alternative fuels.

Vehicle emissions from natural gas and propane are expected to be lower and less harmful to the environment than those of conventional gasoline. Because natural gas and propane are less complex hydrocarbons, the levels of volatile organic compounds and ozone emissions should be reduced. Both of these fuels are introduced to the engine as a gas under most operating conditions and require minimal fuel enrichment during warm-up. Leaner burning fuels, they also achieve lower carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels than gasoline. However, because they burn at higher temperatures, emissions of nitrogen oxide are higher. An important property of gaseous fuels is their degree of resistance to engine knock. Because of their higher-octane value relative to gasoline, there is less of a tendency for these fuels to knock in spark-ignition engines. To achieve the optimal performance and maximum environmental benefits of natural gas and propane, technological advancements must continue to reduce the costs of dedicated vehicles to be competitive with conventional vehicles, and the necessary fueling infrastructure must be ensured.

The most significant advantage of alcohol fuels over gasoline is their potential to reduce ozone concentrations and to lower levels of carbon monoxide. Another important advantage is their very low emissions of particulates in diesel engine applications. In comparison with hydrocarbon-based fuels, the exhaust emissions from vehicles burning low-level alcohol blends (such as gasohol containing 10% alcohol by volume) contain negligible amounts of aromatics and reduced levels of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide but higher nitrogen oxide content.

Exposure to aldehydes, in particular formaldehyde which is considered carcinogenic, is an important air-pollution concern. The aldehyde fraction of unburned fuel, particularly for methanol, is appreciably greater than for hydrocarbon-based fuels; therefore, catalytic converters are required on methanol vehicles to reduce the level of formaldehyde to those associated with gasoline.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles can use internal combustion engines or fuel cells. They can also be hybrid vehicles of various combinations. When hydrogen is used as a gaseous fuel in an internal combustion engine, its very low energy density compared to liquid fuels is a major drawback requiring greater storage space for the vehicle to travel a similar distance to gasoline. Although hybrid vehicles can be more efficient than conventional vehicles and result in lower emissions, the greatest potential to alleviate air-pollution problems is thought to be in the use of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles. Though currently very expensive, fuel cells are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engines. They can operate with a variety of fuels, but the fuel of choice is gaseous hydrogen since it optimizes fuel cell performance and does not require on-board modification.

Conventional gasoline is a complex mixture of many different chemical compounds. The U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) have served to increase interest in using regulated changes to motor fuel characteristics as a means of achieving environmental goals. The reformulated gasoline (RFG) program was designed to resolve ground-level ozone problems in urban areas. Under this program, compared to conventional gasoline, the amount of heavy hydrocarbons is limited in reformulated gasoline, and the fuel must include oxygenates and contain fewer olefins, aromatics, and volatile organic compounds.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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