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Alternative Fuels and Carbon Footprints

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 21 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Carbon Counted Co2 Carbon Dioxide

For the most part we use petrol to fuel our cars. The move to unleaded petrol has certainly helped reduce the CO2 emissions of vehicles but we still put a lot of carbon into the atmosphere from driving – you only have to consider how clogged our roads are to understand that.

But petrol isn’t the only game in town. There are several alternatives these days, each of which has plenty to offer, but which also has its disadvantages, meaning taking a different fuel route might not make you as green as you imagine.

Diesel
As a general rule, those who don’t use petrol, use diesel. It’s quite common, and some people prefer it for the better mileage per gallon and smoother running. They also emit 10% less carbon than a conventional petrol engine, which is a significant saving. On the downside, the particulates diesel engines produce (which aren’t found with petrol engines) have the potential to cause health problems, which means you’re a little damned either way.

Hybrids
The hybrid car, which runs on a mixture of battery-powered electricity and petrol, has found plenty of popularity among the Hollywood glitterati. But the cars are finding a wider fanbase among those concerned with carbon emissions and climate change. Prices have come down, making them more affordable. But are they worthwhile? Since they use petrol on the motorway, when the engine is efficient and electricity in slower city traffic, the answer is yes. However, good as they are, they’ve yet to become widespread, perhaps since very few models are offered. That may well change in the near future, and in many ways needs to if we’re about to reduce the carbon footprint of our cars.

Biofuels
Just a few years ago there was much talk of recycling chip shop oil in cars, and vehicles can be easily adapted to run on them. These biofuels were hailed as a green alternative to petrol, and certainly there was no use of fossil fuels involved in the process, meaning far less carbon emitted.

They’ve taken off, even more in Europe than in the UK, but their popularity has begun to pose a major problem. To meet demand, more and more farmers are turning arable land over to rapeseed, from which oil can be produced. That means less land available for food production, and food, obviously, is needed.

But now there’s a bit of a backlash against biofuels, since some feel the energy taken to grow and process with them might be more than their value. However, it also takes a lot of energy to make petrol, so you should make your own choice.

Electric Cars
Electric cars have come a long way from small vehicles with very limited rang and top speed. That doesn’t mean they don’t still have a long way to go. They remain very much a working progress, probably not ready for mass sales yet. Don’t forget, too, that it takes energy to generate the electricity the car consumes, although the vehicle itself is emitting no CO2, so it’s not quite as carbon neutral as some might claim.

Gas
Yes, cars do run on gas, and LPG gas is a very viable alternative, with similar CO2 emissions to diesel (i.e. about 10% less than petrol), but no particulates, making it an attractive option, especially as it’s easy to have your vehicle adapted.

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