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Hybrid Vehicles and Alternative Fuels

Hybrid vehicles alternative fuels are a key part in reducing pollution. Many people do not realize what might happen if alternative methods of transportation are not developed in the near future. Development of hybrid vehicles is growing more important with each passing day. With no end in sight for lower prices of gasoline much of society is beginning to feel the economic squeeze. Hybrid vehicles could help reduce emissions, and reduce dependence on foreign oil thus taking society out of crude oil chokehold.

Hybrid vehicles, when one thinks of them many things may come to mind, things such as small, ugly, not “cool,” but one needs to look beyond the exterior and what the benefits are. Hybrid vehicles could possibly be one of the most important elements to the future habitation of this planet. Resources are being depleted and used up. Resources that are everyday occurrences for society such as oil, coal, and many other resources that are being depleted, and need to be replaced with other viable solutions for energy. Energy sources such as wind fields, solar panels, and many other new option are growing more and more important each day.

However, nothing seems to be more daunting than the oil crisis that looms over most of the world. Oil prices continue to grow every day, causing an economic squeeze on many lower income families. “Over the next 30 years oil demand is expected to grow by 60%” (Dooly, Fitzpatrick, & Lewis, 2007, p.657). Also, not to mention the pollution problem that continues to grow daily, with pollution rates rising steadily and no end in sight society is swiftly approaching crisis mode. “With the introduction of modern passenger cars and vastly increased demand for power, the twentieth century saw rapid increases in the use of fossil fuels” (Dooly, Fitzpatrick, & Lewis, 2007, p.657). This may not surprise many people, as it is widely known that sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) have been the option to fulfill societies need for power. This increase in vehicles is promoting the growing pollution problem; the increased burning of fossil fuels has pollution rates growing higher with each passing day.

Nevertheless, as it is thought that the increase of use of fossil fuels has only been a problem for the past twenty years, this problem was getting a head start over 150 years ago. According to Dooly, Fitzpatrick, and Lewis (2007, p.657) “since the industrial revolution in the mid 1800s worldwide energy consumption has been growing steadily.” This is shocking to think that that long ago pollution was already beginning to grow.

With the growing talk of global warming and its effects on the earth, and its surroundings, the thought thereof is intimidating alone. Over the past several years scientists have done extensive research into global warming. Research has varied greatly from scientific group to group, one side saying that it is real and is happening, and the other saying that there is not enough supporting evidence to confirm the theory of global warming. Yet on the other hand, the majority of society does know one thing, that pollution, whether from factories, cars, or any other business establishment belching out smoke, cannot be a good thing.

In contrast to the gloom and doom of pollution and how it can affect the earth, and several aspects of life, now begins the adventurous quest to make the world a better place. Not only for the present, but also for the future inhabitants of this earth. Reversing pollution problems cannot and will not be done overnight, and it will most certainly not be done by just one person. To reverse this deepening rut that has been dug, it will take a combined effort of nations to make a difference. One might ask why the word adventurous is used to describe reversing this cycle of pollution. As of now there really is no catalyst to begin ending the cycle and begin with the newer greener lifestyle. There are still, however, many things that can make a great impact. To give an example on how far things have gone in the wrong direction in the mode of travel and vehicle use is best summed up by Briggs, Hoogh, Morris, and Gulliver (2008, p.12) “nationally the trips made on foot has declined by more than 20% since the early 1990s” this is a good example how the vehicle use has grown by a great margin in the past ten years.

When there is a decrease in trips made on foot, bicycle, or even subway or train, there has to be an increase somewhere in travel. This increase more often than not occurs in an increase made by a motor vehicle. The increase in travel has made a global impact on many things. The increase in demand of oil, and increased emissions affects many other elements of everyday life. Obviously asking to completely reduce trips made by vehicle is a lot to ask. It may be too much, especially with the fast paced lifestyle. It cannot go unnoticed by society; trips are being made more frequently, and for longer distances. It is expected that European transport is to grow greatly in transportation, in both road, and air transport (Van Mierlo, & Maggetto, 2006).

On the upside of all of this negative talk, rest assured that there is something being done. Over the past fifteen to twenty years many advances have been made to reduce emissions in vehicles. Many new fuels are being tried and developed in an effort to find viable solutions to gasoline (crude oil). This process is a slow moving operation amid much trial and error, and brick walls, nonetheless breakthroughs have been experienced. As of now there is not only one, but several fuels that have potential for being the next gasoline. Talk of methanol, ethanol, hydrogen, electric, and many other lower priority fuels that have essentially not been given the recognition that the others have. Not only would a new fuel such as ethanol. Help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but the other advantage would be lower emissions.

Romm stated: Alternative fuel vehicles (AFV’s) face two central problems. First, they typically suffer from several marketplace disadvantages compared to conventional vehicles running on conventional fuels. Hence, they probably require government incentives or mandates to succeed. Second, they typically do not provide cost-effective solutions to major energy and environmental problems, which undermines the policy case for having the government intervene in the marketplace to support them (2006, p. 2610).

These are important issues to the hybrid cause because it is an opposition, which will make it tougher to make hybrid vehicles and have them catch on. The road for hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels is not going to be an easy one.

Ethanol is probably one of the alternative fuels that is at the forefront of the race, and making the strongest bid to become the next solution to gasoline. Ethanol has done several good things since it has started. Ethanol is taken from corn. This alone most likely is going make the market for corn better than it has been in the past couple of years. Corn is also expected to reach peak prices in the near future. However, there are two sides to the story of ethanol. While none of it has been confirmed as of yet, it is claimed that cost of production of ethanol and transporting it that it actually ends up being more expensive to use. Farrell et al., (2006, p. 506) also said “whether manufacturing ethanol takes more nonrenewable energy than the resulting fuel provides. It has long been that the calculations of net energy are highly sensitive to assumptions.” Could this be a futile enterprise to produce this fuel? While much of this has not been given proper analysis by professionals in the field, it is still something one would need to keep in mind, should a time of consideration of buying an ethanol burning vehicle arise. Another downside to ethanol is that when it comes to fueling arrangements, stations that carry it are mostly in the Midwest, after that, fill ups are few and far between.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel source that is being tested. Research continues to be conducted to improve it; it has already been tested and works. New ways to produce it are on the horizon. Producing it from soybeans is an option but not yet thoroughly researched and developed. “For the diesel engine seed-oil bio-fuels have been widely examined across the world, as a suitable alternative” (Crookes, 2006, p. 461). One of the neat things about biodiesel is that it can be made and refined at home. Used oil from deep fryers at restaurants can be used to make biodiesel. All of this sounds really great, but the bad thing with biodiesel is that it does not have the octane that comes with regular diesel. There are other disadvantages to biodiesel as well, For instance, in colder climates it does not function as well as regular diesel. The same can be said for towing with biodiesel it just does not have the power. While there are some cold hard facts about biodiesel, it is still a vital component to reducing dependence on foreign oil.

“The hydrogen economy has received increasing attention recently” (Waegel, Byrne, Tobin, & Haney, 2006, p. 288). This is for good reason too. Hydrogen is a fuel that if it is made to work will greatly reduce environmental impacts. Hydrogen has potential to be a great alternative fuel, if it pans out. “Whether the hydrogen is produced by steam reforming of natural gas, wind electrolysis, or coal gasification. Most benefits would result from eliminating current vehicle exhaust” (Jacobson, Colella, & Golden, 2005, p.1901). Development however for hydrogen is not at its best. On a good note if hydrogen becomes a viable fuel, it would be a zero emissions fuel. If there is a significant number of people using hydrogen fuel vehicles in the future, a great decrease in emissions would inevitably follow. Although all of this sounds wonderful and dandy, there is a darker side to hydrogen. It is not fully developed, and this writer does not believe it will be in the near future. Hydrogen is still extremely expensive. According to Waegel, Byrne, Tobin, and Haney, (2006, p. 289) “in terms of economics, hydrogen from natural gas is 50 % to 100% more than an equivalent amount of gasoline.” That is bad news for hydrogen, not to mention the price of transportation of hydrogen which also is expensive. Hydrogen most definitely has its work cut out for itself.

Electric vehicles are next on the list of possible solutions as an alternative fuel. Even though it is not necessarily a fuel, it is still an alternate mode of transportation. Electric vehicles have many good qualities they do not put out emissions, and they are quiet. Both of those qualities are good for city living. Some experts believe that electric vehicles are going to be an integral part in reducing pollution. With proper engineering, this is quite possible. The most likely hybrid car in the foreseeable future is the electric vehicle with less fuel consumption, and reduced emissions. Minimal change in vehicle styles means that the safety would not be compromised, and nothing resulting in job loss (Romm, 2006). Electric most definitely has a strong place in this market. In fact electric cars may be starting to be seen more often. Especially in cities where transportation does not require going a great distance to do everyday tasks such as getting groceries, going to school, and things of that nature. With the new advantages in electric technology, businesses that need outdoor transportation are more likely to turn to electric vehicles rather than the traditional four-wheeler, or other all-terrain-vehicle. It is extremely plausible that electric vehicles will be popping up all over the world. Electric will be a contributor as an alternative fuel.

Altogether there are various fuels that have a good chance of being the next gasoline. Ones such as electric do not have a chance to be a permanent option to gasoline. Electric will however be a large contributor. Keep in mind that these research efforts and new ideas for fuel are not intended to completely factor out gasoline. Gasoline will always be used for some application. What these new fuels are intended to do is reduce dependence on foreign oil, and help decrease gasoline prices while reducing pollution at the same time (Waegel, Byrne, Tobin, & Haney).

The next order of business is to get to the actual vehicles themselves. Contrary to what one might think, a hybrid car is not a new concept; in fact it is probably older than what most people think

Many people think that hybrid vehicles are a very recent development, but many would be surprised at how old the concept really is. The history of hybrid vehicles goes back to 1665. Between that year and 1825, Flemish Jesuit priest and astronomer Ferdinand Verbiest created plans for a steam “car” for Chinese Emperor Khang Hsi, Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot built a steam-powered motor carriage capable of six miles per hour, and British inventor Goldsworthy Gurney built a steam car that successfully completed an 85-mile journey in ten hours. In 1839, Robert Anderson of Aberdeen, Scotland, built the first electric vehicle (Griffin, & Shen, 2007, p.177).

General Motors (GM) has made its mark on hybrid history. “Most of the early work by General Motors was due to the concern for increasing price of gasoline at the time of the oil embargo.” (Rajashekara, 1993, p.447) GM also had the first electric fuel cell vehicle in the Electro van, and also had an electric truck for military application. (Rajashekara, 1993)

Contrary to what some people may think, research on hybrid vehicles started more than three-hundred years ago. Now evidently they began working with steam technology because they had no knowledge or the resources to create an internal combustion engine. When it is thought about for a short period of time, steam technology for the first steam boats had to have been tested on land before put to use on water. Therefore the first steam car advancements should not be thrown out as worthless for they did lay the groundwork for other future uses. Even when Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine, it was meant to run on peanut oil! This however did not turn out so that they ran peanut oil in it, because at the time diesel was cheaper to process. Now with the ever higher price of diesel, refining used restaurant oil to use in diesel engines is beginning to take on.

Now that the history of hybrid vehicles is taken care of, it is time to get to the flesh of the issue, hybrid vehicles. Hybrid vehicles will be the most essential component to reducing pollution, and end the vicious cycle that has been started. Hybrid vehicles have grown by leaps and bounds over the past ten years. New prototypes are being worked on researched, and developed daily. However they do not always get a good review. Hybrid vehicles tend to be somewhat smaller than conventional vehicles. This condition tends to make people think somewhat differently about them. “Hybrids pose no more danger in a collision than do conventional vehicles.” (Griffin, & Shen, 2007, p. 178) Also people who drive them are wrongfully stereotyped, stereotyped into being some sort of environmentalist democrat wanting to ban firearms, impose noise ordinances, and do anything they can to keep people from having any fun. Well this is just not true. It is negative images like this that can throw an effort to promote hybrid vehicles askew. Hybrids are important in every aspect of a green future. Fewer emissions, cleaner air, reduced dependence on foreign oil and better gas mileage, are all benefits that are at stake if hybrid vehicles never catch on.

Research was done to by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) by conducting a survey in the years 2003, and 2005, to find out influenced them to buy their hybrid vehicles, the survey results are illustrated below.

Graph 1. Share of respondents

The results appear to be not much different from year to year. These are however the most common reasons why hybrid vehicles are purchased, and with no surprises, saving money on gas at the head of the pack. The above results are promising ones. They show hope for the future of hybrid vehicles.

Now what exactly makes a hybrid vehicle a hybrid vehicle? Hybrid vehicles are just that they are hybrids not only in a sense of how they are powered but also in other aspects in addition to having a power source other than that of gasoline or diesel. Many key elements and time consuming research go into developing a hybrid vehicle. For starters, weight reduction is a key component to making a hybrid vehicle. Even when using a conventional fuel, weight reduction should be given close attention. “The demand for weight reductions in automobiles has been increasing in recent years because of global environmental issues.” (Saito, Iwatsuki, Yasunaga, & Ando, 2000, p. 516) Toyota has done something extremely great by making the Prius. The Prius is a type of hybrid car that runs on both electric and internal combustion engines. The Prius when starting from a complete stop runs solely on battery power, and at low speeds from 5 to 20 miles per hour, it also runs on battery. When it reaches higher speeds the gasoline engine kicks in to assist. The Prius is said to get 40 to 50 miles per gallon. The battery will not run dead because when the gasoline engine turns on it runs the alternator and charges the battery. While companies like Ford, Chevrolet, and others have made their mark on the hybrid economy, Ford with the Escape, and Chevrolet with the new hybrid Yukon, none of them have had quite the impact that Toyota has.

When it comes down to it, it is hard to describe how very important hybrid vehicles will be to the future. Hybrid vehicles hold the key to a cleaner environment, and lessening dependence on foreign oil. As of now hybrids do not have the popularity in the world that is needed. If the world continues to pollute at the rate it is going at now, the implications will be serious. More effort is needed from everyone to make this world a better place, and while hybrid vehicles are going to be extremely important, that is not the only thing that can be done. If one is not in a position to be able to drive a hybrid vehicle, other opportunities are out there to help the environment. Recycling is something that always helps the environment, and doing things such as walking, riding a bike, or even taking the bus can have bigger impact than is thought. This writer concludes that hybrid vehicles are an integral part of making a greener environment. Without them, along with the increasing rate of pollution, many countries are headed on a crash course for disaster.


Briggs, B.J., Hoogh, K., Morris, C., & Gulliver, J. (2008). Effects of travel mode on exposures to particulate air pollution. Environmental International, 34, 12-22. Retrieved February 30, 2008, from Science Direct.

Crookes, R.J. (2006). Comparative bio-fuel performance in internal combustion engines. Biomass & Bioenergy,30, 461-468. Retrieved February 17, 2008, from Science Direct.

Dooly, G., Fitzpatrick, C., & Lewis, E. (2008). Optical sensing of hazardous exhaust emissions using a UV based extrinsic sensor. Energy, 33, 657-666. Retrieved May 30, 2008, from Science Direct.

Farrell, A.E., Plevin, R.J., Turner, B.T., Jones, A.D., O’Hare, M., & Kammen, D.M. (2006). Ethanol can contribute to energy and environmental goals. Science, 311, 506-508. Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

Griffin, M.D., & Shen, Q. (2007). Hybrid vehicles- are university students in North Alabama ready to buy them? Journal of Alabama Academy of Science, 78,175-178. Retrieved February 20, 2008 from IEEE

Jacobson, M.Z., Colella, W.G., & Golden, D.M. (2005). Cleaning the air and improving health with hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Science, 308, 1901-1905. Retrieved March 5, 2008, from

Rajashekara, K. (1993). History of electric vehicles in General Motors. 447-454. Retrieved February 15, 2008, from IEEE

Romm, J. (2006). The car and fuel of the future. Energy policy, 34, 2609-2614. Retrieved February 27, 2008, from Science Direct.

Saito, M., Iwatsuki, S., Yasunaga, K., & Andoh, K. (2000). Development of aluminum body for the most fuel efficient vehicle. JSAE review, 21, 511-516. Retrieved March 1, 2008, from Science Direct.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2006). Why purchase a hybrid vehicle? Retrieved April 15, 2008, from //

Van Mierlo, J., & Maggetto, G. (2007). Fuel cell or battery: Electric cars are the future. Fuel cells2, 165-173. Retrieved February 18, from Wiley interscience.

Waegel, A., Byrne, J., Tobin, D., & Haney, B. (2006). Hydrogen highways: Lessons on the energy technology-policy interface. Bulletin of science, technology & society 26, 288-298, from Science Direct.

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