Fuel is what powers most of the machines that we have in the world today. These multiple forms and not just the usual gasoline that we fill our vehicles with every time we need to use them to go from point A to point B. Technology and advances in mobility have given us ways to keep our different vehicles running and rolling. With that in mind, we will tackle the different types of fuels that you may encounter from the common to some that you might have not have heard of before. If you own something with an engine, chances are it will need some kind of fuel to power, so let’s break it down here.
This is by far the most common kind of fuel that is used and encountered with modern machines today. It is the fuel that drives most vehicles around the world today. It starts as crude oil extracted from the ground, then shipped to an oil refinery where it is heated to above 350°C in a pressurized chamber and distilled into gasoline which isn’t in its final form yet.
Before it can be sold off and used by motorists all over the world, the gasoline is blended with other additives to boost its octane rating which in turn will increase its efficiency for a cleaner burn and will help protect and clean the engine of unwanted matter. Gasoline is usually blended with ethanol or aromatics, or a combination of the two, once the gasoline reaches its desired octane level, it is then shipped out to gasoline stations. Vehicles that use gasoline range from passenger cars, large SUVs, performance cars, motorcycles, and even generators that help produce electricity.
Arguably the second most popular fuel to be used around the world is diesel. It is primarily used in trucks and heavy equipment, some passenger cars utilize diesel engines for increased fuel efficiency and range. Generally, diesel is cheaper to obtain.
Like gasoline, diesel fuel must also undergo a refining process before use. At the refinery, crude oil is heated to temperatures between 200°C and 350°C and then distilled into diesel fuel. While diesel is generally acknowledged as being more efficient than gasoline and emits fewer greenhouse gases, diesel engines have trouble starting in cold weather and produce more nitrogen oxide (NOx), one of the main components of smog.
Up next is ethanol also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, this flammable, colorless liquid is made by the fermentation of sugars in certain plants. This fuel isn’t typically used on its own but is often mixed with the gasoline we buy every day that contains ethanol – up to 10 percent. Adding ethanol to gasoline increases octane, which boosts engine power and performance. Ethanol can be made from a variety of plants, including, corn stalks and some varieties of cactus. The ethanol derived from these sources is called cellulosic ethanol. Ethanol can also be processed from supplies of natural gas.
Since most gas station fuels have amounts of ethanol mixed in, all vehicles can utilize ethanol when it is used as an additive. If your car has been modified or is flex-fuel ready, you may use 85% ethanol mixtures, however, this is only often used for performance cars. Compared to other fuels the E85 mix isn’t as readily available.
Methanol is another alternative kind of fuel that can be used in internal combustion engines similar to ethanol. It is also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, this flammable, colorless liquid is the simplest alcohol. Therefore, the process for converting raw materials to methanol is simpler than with ethanol, making the potential cost savings to the consumer very attractive.
Anything that once was biomass can be converted to methanol for use as a fuel. Unlike ethanol, methanol is toxic and not fit for humans to drink. It’s used in making antifreeze, solvent, and window cleaner. It’s the main component in windshield wiper fluid, which we dump directly into the atmosphere. Racecar drivers have been using methanol for decades because it has higher octane and a lower flashpoint than traditional gasoline, making it safer in the event of a crash.
Methanol has also been used as an additive in fuel mixtures for quite some time now, so almost any vehicle is capable of using methanol in its system. Pure methanol, however, is used exclusively for track-built machines and purpose-built race cars.
Methane (CH4) is the main component of natural gas, and it’s often found in the same wells that bring up oil. Methane is a simple molecule that burns cleanly. As a fuel, methane, in its gas form, has to be compressed (CNG) to be used in vehicles.
CNG is mostly used in heavy-duty or commercial vehicles. Some types of vehicles, such as delivery trucks, use liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is cooled to -162°C. For passenger vehicles to use natural gas as an alternative, one must convert the vehicle’s power plant to accept the new type of fuel. It presents itself as a cheaper alternative source of fuel for those who have vehicles with internal combustion engines. It is important to note that while CNG is cheaper than regular gasoline or diesel it doesn’t deliver as much power.
A key element of water, hydrogen (H2) is used as fuel for several types of “fuel cell” vehicles on the market, including the Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai. Hydrogen is pumped into the fuel cell as a gas, and when it ignites, it combines with oxygen to produce only water and heat, with zero toxic emissions.
Leaks are a concern during storage, however. And it takes a lot of energy to compress into an energy density appropriate for vehicle refueling. These vehicles are also much more expensive than vehicles that run on gasoline or alcohol. However, these kinds of vehicles present a much more convenient approach to zero-emissions mobility as they can be refueled quickly like your traditional gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles. It is important to note that why electric vehicles are more popular, these take several hours to charge and thus present you with more downtime while you wait for your vehicle to recharge.
Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be used instead of diesel fuel. Like its diesel counterpart, it too is made from crude oil. Furthermore, It can be made from vegetable oils and animal fats. With vegetable oil, producers remove the glycerol from it in a process that involves adding methanol and lye into the oil. From that point onwards, the oil now turned into fuel that can be used like normal diesel.
Biodiesel works in the engine in the same way as standard diesel and has added benefits to human health and the environment in that it produces less toxic particulates and greenhouse gas emissions. You can even switch between both diesel and biodiesel fuels if you need to.
Liquid Petroleum Gas
This kind of fuel is a byproduct derived while extracting cruse petroleum. Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) also weighs twice as much as air and is colorless, odorless, and is a highly flammable explosive gas. This makes it a primary candidate for those looking for an alternative kind of fuel. It is comprised of propane mixed with butane and includes traces of propylene and butylene. As a fuel, it emits fewer hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen compared to its gasoline or diesel counterparts. It also has a high octane rating which helps increase engine longevity when used in an internal combustion motor. In terms of its properties, it has a fuel weight-to-milage similar to that of gasoline. Its only downside is when it comes to its storage as any leaks will cause it to quickly evaporate and form a large of gas which will drop to the ground as it is heavier than air. This can make it dangerous if there are leaks present in the vehicle’s fuel system or in the storage facility.