THE NEED FOR ALTERNATIVE FUELS
Since the 1970s, America’s fuel imports have almost tripled. The country is now importing over 12 million barrels of crude oil a day. That’s just over half of the oil we are currently using in America — over 20 million barrels a day. The majority of this fuel is going to power transportation, most of which is used in consumer motor vehicles. The more America increases its dependence on petroleum, the faster oil reserves become depleted. We are only decades away from the point at which there is too little petroleum left to make gasoline a feasible fuel. Americans cringe at $4.00 per gallon gas prices, but cringe is all we do. We continue to pay the asking price for the only fuel that can make our cars run. But what happens at $10.00, or $25.00 per gallon? The rate that gas prices have raised in the past couple years show us that these extremes are chillingly close .
While several fuel alternatives have begun to show promise, they all seem to also have distinct drawbacks. Some fuel alternatives could be too costly to become a commercially viable alternative to gasoline. Other more cost effective fuels do not appear to meet the range of requirements demanded by consumers. Few of these sources currently appear to be capable of matching the energy output of gasoline. Best estimates suggest that within 40 years, crude oil resources will be sufficiently depleted as to render gasoline commercially unviable. It is crucial that we quickly find an acceptable replacement for gasoline.
In addition, it takes no stretch of the imagination to understand what levels of pollution are being created by our nation’s oil addiction. One only has to look at the skies above New York City or Los Angeles to see where we have come in past century of automotive transportation. It is easy to see that fuel cell air compressor alternative fuels will be needed very shortly to replace gasoline. Still, it is equally important that the next fuel we rely on does nothing more to pollute the environment. In the best-case scenario, our next national fuel should assist in alleviating our current levels of pollution.
WHY SHOULD ENGINEERS CARE?
Because of the booming industries that alternative fuels are creating, many more engineers will be required for research and development. These engineers will play principle roles in the biggest breakthroughs in alternative fuels in our lifetime. Furthermore, engineers will be needed to design the new infrastructure that will be used for the transportation and delivery of new fuel systems. With this in mind, it is imperative that engineers continue to invest time and intellectual capital to further scientific developments of alternative fuels. The research of today will be the answer of tomorrow.
WHAT ARE OUR OPTIONS?
Research in the field of alternative fuels is a booming industry. There are dozens of potential fuels that show some potential as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. For the purposes of our paper, we will review the six fuels that we believe to have the greatest likelihood of replacing traditional fossil fuels. These are: biodiesel; hydrogen; methanol; ethanol; electricity; and natural gas. Each of these fuels has had extensive testing to demonstrate substantial potential as an answer to America’s quest for a replacement of gasoline.