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Fuel Future: Hybrid and Diesel

As technology advances, fueling alternatives expand

Technology has contributed to the success of today's more versatile hybrid-electric and clean running diesel vehicles. Gasoline/electric hybrids are becoming more main stream, get exceptional fuel mileage, and are rated as Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (SULEVs). Newer clean burning diesel engines are also becoming more popular as new models hit showrooms which get exceptional fuel mileage without the stereotypical noise and smoke associated with a diesel powered vehicle.

Hybrid engine
A Hybrid engine, Honda Civic Hybrid Electric Motor above, is part gasoline and part electrical.

Hybrids vehicles are generally powered by a gasoline engine and one or more electric motor/generators in conjunction with an energy storage device such as a battery. Managed by sophisticated computers, hybrids may use battery-only power at low speeds, or a combination of battery and engine power for accelerating and hill climbing - the battery and electric motor provide additional power when needed without consuming additional fuel. Under cruise conditions, the engine runs a generator to re-charge the battery and/or propel the vehicle. When going downhill, coasting or braking, otherwise-wasted vehicle inertia is recaptured, turning the generator and re-charging the battery. During deceleration and at stops the engine shuts off; reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

The main differences between the gasoline engine and the diesel engine are gasoline engines intake a mixture of gas and air, compress it and ignite the mixture with a spark. A diesel engine takes in just air, compresses it and then injects fuel into the compressed air. The heat of the compressed air lights the fuel spontaneously. Gasoline engines mix the air and fuel before the air enters the cylinder then inject fuel just prior to the intake stoke while a diesel engine uses a direct fuel injection system to inject fuel directly into the cylinder improving combustion efficiency and therefore getting better fuel economy. Biodiesel is an alternative fuel used in diesel engines.

Biodiesel is made by chemically altering organic oil, such as vegetable oil, in a process call transesterification.

Biodiesel, in its pure form, is not made from petroleum; instead, all or part of it is derived from plant oils or animal fats. In the United States, most commercial biodiesel is made from soybean oil, while in Europe, rapeseed (canola) oil is more commonly used. Biodiesel can be made not only from virgin oil, but also from used cooking oil recycled from restaurants and food processing operations.

As a motor fuel, biodiesel has numerous advantages:

  • Biodiesel is a renewable fuel; to make more, we just grow more of the crop needed.

  • Biodiesel can be produced domestically, reducing the need for imported petroleum.

  • Biodiesel reduces the pollution emitted from diesel engines.

For now, hybrid-electrics seem the most popular choice. Certain Hybrid vehicles can achieve 50 mpg or more. Greater numbers of both gasoline/electric vehicles and clean burning diesel vehicles will be for sale in the next couple of years.