Five Up-and-Coming Alternative Fuels

taxi driver filling up with corn fuel

Renewable energy sources that promise to protect our planet

A majority of cars on the road today are fueled by gasoline and diesel fuel, both of which are considered fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are derived from the natural resources of buried dead organisms that lived millions of years ago.  Because they take millions of years to develop, they're considered non-renewable energy sources. These resources are being used much faster than new ones can be created. What's more, fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases, contributing largely to air pollution and the global warming crisis.

The fossil fuel predicament has led to the research and movement toward alternative fuels and renewable energy sources. We've identified five up-and-coming alternative fuels that promise to do a better job of protecting our natural resources.

Ethanol (E85)

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is made from plants (typically corn), and is a high-octane, clean-burning alternative fuel. It can be used to fuel cars when added with gasoline, producing a renewable fuel with low emissions. Ethanol-based fuel is sold in the United States as E85, and is a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Currently, flex-fuel vehicles are designed to accept regular gasoline or E85. In order to maximize the use of your flex fuel vehicle, you'll need to fill up with E85, which may or may not be available in your neighborhood. E85 is prevalent in the mid-west where corn is most abundant.


Just as E85 is a substitute for gasoline, biodiesel is a substitute for petroleum-based diesel fuel. Biodiesel is a renewable liquid fuel derived from plant oils. It is renewable and biodegradable. The common base for biodiesel is soybean or canola oils. Like E85, biodiesel also comes as a mix -- most commonly 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel. Biodiesel burns clean and emits fewer pollutants, such as those that contribute to smog and global warming. Currently, biodiesel is not widely available but in the future, it's expected that more and more fueling stations will offer it.


Electricity, when used to power cars, releases virtually zero air pollutants and emissions. There are several electric powered vehicles, or EVs, available on the market today. These cars contain a set of batteries, or a battery pack, and an electric motor. They do not make use of an internal combustion engine, nor do they need fuel. The battery pack must be recharged from an electric power source.


Hydrogen can be used to power some cars. It is not a pre-existing source of energy, rather, it is an energy carrier when extracted from compounds like water. Fuel cell vehicles create mechanical energy from hydrogen to propel it forward, while producing nearly zero or more environmentally-friendly emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are very limited in availability, and only in certain U.S. markets. They are refueled with gaseous hydrogen, also available on a very limited basis. However, this emerging technology could mean a future with many more hydrogen powered vehicles on our roads.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

An environmentally cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel, compressed natural gas, or CNG, is made by compressing natural gas to less than one percent of its volume. In doing so, it reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 20 percent. Natural gas has a high octane rating and can produce a significant amount of energy, with CNG powered cars representing some of the cleanest on the road today. CNG fueling stations can be hard to find in some areas of the country, however, consumers have the option of buying a home fueling system which borrows from your home's natural gas supply to refill the car's tank overnight.

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