What Is Alternative Fuel?

The main purpose of fuel is to give out energy, normally in the form of heat, to run engines or heat buildings. Conventional fuels generally include fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, propane, and natural gas. Uranium which is a naturally occurring material is also considered a conventional fuel. Alternative fuels are those materials or substances that can take the place of conventional fuels and be used for the same purpose in engines or other purposes. The best known alternative fuels that are in wide use today are biodiesel, bio-alcohol such as methanol, ethanol or butanol. Methane and natural gas that are produced by using sources that are non-fossil, hydrogen, stored electricity in the form of batteries and fuel cells, vegetable oil and various other biomass sources are also considered as alternative fuel.

The need for alternative fuel sources was largely felt due to environmental, economic and geopolitical reasons. Burning of fossil fuels gives rise to greenhouse gases that greatly contribute to global warming, and this awareness has led to trying to find alternative fuel sources that do not produce so much of greenhouse gas while maintaining the required efficiency.

The limited reserves of oil available in the world have led to increase in prices and for purposes of economy other sources that can replace petroleum have been developed so that the high prices of petroleum do not force countries into an economic crisis.

Oil reserves are the biggest in the Middle East, and the extremely fragile nature of the politics in that region, has forced other countries to look for alternative fuel sources so that any conflicts or political happenings in that area which will almost affect the supply of oil, do not affect the consuming countries to that extent.

In America, tax payers can claim rebates if they use alternative fuels. A fuel that contains more than 85% of ethanol, natural gas that is compressed or in liquefied form, hydrogen, or any petroleum product that contains at least 20% of biodiesel are all considered as alternative fuels for purposes of qualification for this tax rebate.

There are however, other effects of the production of alternative fuels like ethanol have had. The large diversion of corn which is used to make ethanol has led to a drastic increase in prices of corn as this has caused shortages in the market and other users for corn have been affected.

A lot of research is nowadays being conducted to increase the availability of bio fuel from other plant sources that are not otherwise widely used for human or animal consumption. Various wild grasses and plants which can be grown on land that is otherwise not cultivable are being considered for this. Using the dead plant material and also other waste products to produce methane or even oil products which can serve as alternative fuel.

Hydrogen is considered the best of alternative fuels due to its high energy content and non polluting nature. But the production and storage of hydrogen has largely inhibited this and limited the use of hydrogen in a very limited manner.

Bio fuels using plant sources are considered as renewable energy sources and this advantage over fossil fuels, whose availability is limited to the reserves available below the earth's surface, make it the most promising of alternative fuels. The use of electricity as an alternative fuel is being limited by the requirement that batteries require to be charged at frequent intervals, and the limited range of batteries and their weight have led to a constraint in its use as alternative fuel.