Six Types of Fuels Used in Today's Vehiclesby Lee MorganUpdated July 25, 2023
Today's fuel vehicles employ a multitude of fuels, some of which may be novel to many people. While it is accurate that a large proportion of vehicles operate on gasoline, technologies that utilize alternative fuels and byproducts have been developed and are continually being refined, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Gasoline, sometimes referred to as petrol, is the predominant type of fuel used in vehicles today. This distinct fossil fuel is engineered for four-stroke internal combustion engines commonly found in new cars and SUVs. Gasoline is known for facilitating quick starts, swift acceleration, easy combustion, and quiet operation. However, it has its shortcomings, such as the hydrocarbons it contains and its carbon dioxide emissions when burned, which contribute to smog, global warming, and overall greenhouse gas emissions. Despite its ubiquity at gas stations, it is often seen as a temporary fuel source due to its cost, environmental impact, and finite resources.
Diesel fuel is another common fuel source, especially for diesel engines found in transportation vehicles such as trucks, buses, boats, and trains. Diesel, like gasoline, is a non-renewable fuel. Although diesel emits less carbon dioxide, it releases more organic compounds and nitrous oxide, causing smog. Diesel vehicles, however, typically have a longer lifespan and exhibit 30% greater fuel efficiency than their gasoline counterparts.
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or propane, serves as a cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel. It's utilized in some hybrid cars and in vehicles whose gasoline engines have been converted. This type of fuel, when burned, emits fewer toxins and contributes less to smog. Propane also tends to be more economical than gasoline.
Compressed Natural Gas
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is another alternative that can power converted gas and diesel vehicles. This clear, non-corrosive gas can be used in a combustion engine, either in liquid or gas form. Vehicles fitted with a CNG fuel system produce significantly fewer emissions harmful to the ozone layer, contributing to their growing popularity, particularly in California.
Ethanol, a biofuel derived from sugar cane, corn, barley, and other crops, is gaining acceptance as an alternative to gasoline. It's typically used as an additive in fuel blends, though many models can run on 100% ethanol. The widespread use of E10 (gasoline mixed with 10% ethanol) in America helps mitigate the harmful emissions from pure gasoline components.
Biodiesel, derived from vegetable oils, animal fats, or used oil from restaurant fryers, is another option. It burns much cleaner than standard diesel or gas and produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions. However, concerns over deforestation associated with its production need to be addressed.
The New Frontier: Electric Fuel
Electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrid and hybrid electric vehicles, represent another direction in vehicle fuel technology. These vehicles use electricity stored in batteries, offering zero emissions during operation and improved fuel economy. Fuel cell vehicles, running on hydrogen fuel, represent a future trend promising zero emissions as well.
In summary, while gasoline and diesel fuels derived from crude oil remain common, a variety of alternative fuels are increasingly being used. Whether it's higher octane ethanol, clean-burning propane, or even electricity, the choice of fuel source for road vehicles continues to diversify. This trend towards more diverse and sustainable fuel types, from biofuels to hydrogen, aims to reduce the environmental impact of our transportation needs.
Supplemental List of Common Fuels
Here are 6 common types of fuels used in today's vehicles:
Gasoline - The most widely used fuel for internal combustion engines. Gasoline engines dominate the passenger vehicle market.
Diesel - More efficient and powerful than gasoline engines. Used in many trucks, buses, SUVs, and cars.
Hybrid Gas/Electric - Combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor and battery. Used in many hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric - Has a larger battery than regular hybrids that can be charged from an outlet. Examples are the Chevy Volt and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid.
Battery Electric - Runs entirely on electricity stored in batteries charged from the grid. Popular EVs include the Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf.
- Ethanol (E85) - Made from renewable sources like corn, usually blended with gasoline.
- Biodiesel - Derived from fats and oils, can replace or be blended with diesel fuel.
- Natural Gas (CNG/LNG) - cleaner burning than gasoline or diesel, but lacks infrastructure.
- Hydrogen Fuel Cell - Electric cars like the Toyota Mirai run on hydrogen thanks to fuel cell technology.
Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.