What are Some Alternative Fuel Vehicles?

J. Beam

As gas prices continue to rise to all-time highs and more Americans cry for reduced dependency on foreign oil, vehicle manufacturers have begun to address consumers' desire for an alternative fuel vehicle (AFV). A variety of vehicle makes and models have been redesigned as an alternative fuel vehicle and are now available. The 2007 manufacturing year includes alternative fuel sedans, trucks, mini-vans and sports utility vehicles, with more more makes and models slated to come. With new government issued tax breaks acting as incentives for consumers to purchase an alternative fuel vehicle, AFVs are gaining more attention than ever before.

Biodiesel may present a green alternative to traditional diesel fuels.
Biodiesel may present a green alternative to traditional diesel fuels.

An alternative fuel vehicle is defined as any vehicle designed to operate on at least one form of alternative fuel, or a fuel source not derived from petroleum. There are flexible fuel vehicles and dual fuel vehicles currently in manufacturing status, along with hybrid electric engines and biodiesel engines. The most common alternative fuel vehicle in the United States is the flexible fuel vehicle (FFV).

Solar power is one potential power source fof vehicles.
Solar power is one potential power source fof vehicles.

Flexible fuel vehicles are designed to run on both gasoline and E85, an ethanol fuel. The engine can alternate between the two, allowing the driver control over the type of fuel used, along with the ability to fuel the vehicle when alternative fuel is unavailable. More and more filling stations are adding E85 pumps to their stations, but a great many have yet to convert any existing pumps, making it sometimes difficult to find the fuel when needed. Most manufacturers, including Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, and Chrysler, make flex-fuel vehicles that look just like the gasoline only versions, but have the necessary engine, fuel lines, and other components to work with E85 fuel.

The hybrid electric vehicle is an alternative fuel vehicle that combines the use of electricity with gasoline for power. The engines in these vehicles utilize less gasoline and run more efficiently during low-speed driving, idling, and acceleration by drawing from electric power rather than gasoline. Currently, Honda, Toyota, and Lexus are manufacturing hybrid electric sedans, and Chevrolet manufacturers two hybrid electric engine trucks.

An alternative fuel vehicle with a biodiesel engine can be powered by biodiesel fuel, which is derived from vegetable oils and animal fats rather than petroleum. Biodiesel fuel burns cleaner than petroleum-based diesel fuel. Biodiesel is not yet a widely used form of alternative fuel, because vehicle manufacturers do not warranty diesel engines fueled with biodiesel. As engineering and manufacturing technologies are examined, biodiesel fuel may become a better alternative in the future.

Similarly, other power sources currently being investigated may increase the possibilities for a new type of alternative fuel vehicle. Water, air, and solar power are just a few potential sources of power for vehicles. In the mean time, flex-fuel and hybrid electric engines are both readily available. Some vehicles have been manufactured with flex-fuel engines since the very late 1990s, but many makes and models are available from the 2004 manufacturing year and on.

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