The Rise of Alternative Fuels, Such as Hydrogen and Biofuels

The development of electric vehicles has pushed the conversation regarding alternative fuels to the bottom of the pile, but they could be something to them.

In most cases, when you speak of alternative ways to power the vehicles we have on the roads, most people think of electricity, but hydrogen and biofuels are also up for consideration. Any fuel that is renewable, recyclable, and environmentally-friendly, allows us to enjoy the forward movement away from gasoline and diesel. Will these new fuel sources replace the fossil fuels we’ve used for more than a century? It’s possible.

Where Could Hydrogen and Biofuels Show Up Soonest?

Although some companies, such as Tesla, have already developed semi-trucks that use electricity as the fuel, an EV semi that has a range anywhere near the current diesel models hasn’t been made yet. These electric big rigs are great for that last mile delivery and some companies, such as PepsiCo are beginning to utilize them for delivery routes that are shorter than the stated battery range. This means driving these Tesla Semi Trucks for less than 500 miles for an entire trip or for a few short-range 100-mile or less deliveries.

Its entirely possible we could see biofuels and hydrogen used in semi-trucks to replace some of the diesel-powered models before EV trucks are used more often. The greatest difference between using electricity and these other alternative fuels are the refueling time and fuel capacity. The EV trims are limited to 500 miles from a single charge, but current diesel semis can travel up to 2,100 miles between fill-ups. The fact that hydrogen and biofuels are more physical fuels and can be stored in tanks the same way diesel it now means semis can carry enough of these fuels to drive as far as current diesel models.

If commercial fleets are where we might first see these new fuels used, it makes sense to think fleet operators could be the first to consider this change. Of course, these fleet managers need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of these fuels.

What are Some of the Advantages of Hydrogen and Biofuels?

The Transition to Biodiesel is Pretty Simple

All diesel-powered vehicles can run on biodiesel without adding any special equipment to the vehicle. Some large farms now make their own biodiesel to power their diesel-powered farm equipment. This is a huge advantage for fleet managers that might want to use this type of fuel instead of regular diesel.

Hydrogen Only Expels Water Vapor and Fills Like Diesel

The hydrogen experiments we’ve seen in California have been successful. While there isn’t much of an infrastructure for this type of fuel, the advantage is that a hydrogen tank can be refilled the same way a gasoline tank is. The only exhaust is water vapor, which is good for the atmosphere. Some automakers are working on hydrogen-powered semis to offer one of the most plentiful alternative fuels for use in long-range trucks.

What are Some of the Disadvantages of Hydrogen and Biofuels?

The Added Cost is a Serious Issue

Until the use of hydrogen and biodiesel is more widespread, the price of these alternative fuels will continue to be much too high to replace gasoline or diesel. These fuels are often much more expensive than what’s widely acceptable today. This might change, much as other technology and advancements have changed over time. Think about the cost of the first of anything, and you’ll remember the high cost compared to how much the same item costs today.

Some People Still Fear Hydrogen

The Hindenburg disaster involved an airship powered by hydrogen which exploded in midair. Considering this disaster took place in 1937, it seems that some people still point to that explosion as the main reason not to trust hydrogen. Some automakers have made hydrogen-powered vehicles without any problems from the hydrogen fuel used. This fuel is also made from natural gas, which doesn’t actually make it one of the sustainable alternative fuels. Even though hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements in the atmosphere, we don’t yet have the technology to farm it from the air and not from the natural gas sources in the Earth.

EVs Still Could be the Future, Technology is Moving Quickly

The gas tanks in our vehicles are limited by the size of the vehicle. It truly doesn’t matter the size of the tank because it only takes a few minutes to refill and stopping every 400 miles isn’t a big deal. The same can’t be said for electric vehicles, but that could change quickly. In less than a decade most EVs have moved from questionable driving ranges of less than 100 miles to more than 300 per full charge. Electric semi-trucks now have much longer ranges that could increase as battery engineers learn how to pack more electrical power into the batteries.

In addition to the increased electric range of most EVs, the charging time has decreased. So far, we don’t see EVs with charging times that make us truly want to choose them over gasoline-powered vehicles, but that could change in a few years. Right now, DC Fast-Charging stations can bring an EV battery to 80 percent in as little as 30 minutes in most EVs. For the Tesla Semi Truck, the same percentage can be returned in only 45 minutes. This time could be reduced and the range increased to make EV semis more viable for long-haul trucking needs.

Lower Maintenance Costs Point to EVs

Electric vehicles use fewer moving parts than any other type of vehicle in the market today. This is true for passenger cars and semi-trucks alike. Electricity costs less than diesel, gasoline, or any of the other alternative fuel sources mentioned. Although large trucks can’t carry enough electrical power to travel 2,100 miles yet, that range could be found in the future.

It might not be necessary for EV manufactures to find this range. If semi-truck builders can get electric trucks to a range of 1,200 miles, most fleet managers could probably send this truck on some long-haul routes and reap the benefits of lower fuel and maintenance costs.

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