Alternative Fueled Vehicles
Concerns about air pollution, energy security, and climate change have prompted the development of alternative fueled vehicles (AFVs) and policies to encourage their use. AFVs run on fuels such as compressed natural gas, ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, propane, and electricity. In addition to the role of AFVs in improving urban air quality, they also can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. For example, compressed natural gas, liquid petroleum gas, and corn-based ethanol emit less CO2 than gasoline does if the full fuel cycle is considered. Fuel cells and electric vehicles also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Although the purchase price of AFVs is typically higher than the cost of comparable conventionally fueled models, some AFVs such as electric and natural gas vehicles have lower fuel and maintenance costs than gasoline vehicles do. The federal government and some state governments offer tax incentives and grant programs to improve the affordability of AFVs.
Photo Credit: Ray Santos, Yosemite National Park
Alternative fuels burn cleaner, produce lower emissions and may be renewable. The main sources of energy considered to be "alternative" fuels include ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, propane, electricity, and hydrogen.
Biodiesel blends require little or no engine modification, and maintenance costs are similar to those of conventional diesel vehicles. Biodiesel costs range from $1.95 to $3 per gallon, depending on the feedstock and supplier. In general, B20 will cost $.20 to $.40 per gallon more than conventional diesel.
Most E85 compatible vehicles are sold at comparable prices to conventional vehicles. Additionally E85 is usually sold at prices comparable to regular grade gasoline, although prices vary geographically.
In general, electricity costs less per mile than gasoline. However, electricy prices may vary geographically. Commercial electric vehicles range in price from $15,000 to $40,000. Federal tax credits established by the IRS in Publication 535 exist that may reduce costs. Many states also offer incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles.
According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the average vehicle (car or light truck) on the road today emits more than 600 pounds of air pollution each year. These pollutants (such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter) contribute to smog, acid rain and many health problems.
The average vehicle, through its combustion of fossil fuels, also emits greenhouse gases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that each year the average light vehicle in the United States releases 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.
|Environmental Impacts Fuel Type|
|Biodiesel (B20)||Reduces particulate matter and global warming gas emissions compared to conventional diesel; however, NOx emissions may be increased.|
|Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)||CNG vehicles can demonstrate a reduction in ozone-forming emissions compared to some conventional fuels; however, HC emissions may be increased.|
|Electricity||EVs have zero tailpipe emissions; however, some amount of emissions can be contributed to power generation.|
|Ethanol (E85)||E-85 vehicles can demonstrate a 25% reduction in ozone-forming emissions compared to reformulated gasoline.|
|Hydrogen||Zero regulated emissions for fuel cell-powered vehicles, and only NOx emissions possible for internal combustion engines operating on hydrogen.|
|Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)||LNG vehicles can demonstrate a reduction in ozone-forming emissions compared to some conventional fuels; however, HC emissions may be increased.|
|Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)||LPG vehicles can demonstrate a 60% reduction in ozone-forming emissions compared to reformulated gasoline.|
The U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, operated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is a comprehensive source for information on alternative fuels, alternative fueled vehicles, policies, and grants.
The U.S. Department of Energy's laws and incentives website provides information on the Federal Transportation Equity Act. This regulation includes incentives for AFVs and fleets. Federal tax credits of $2,000 to $50,000 are available for the purchase or conversion of qualified clean-fuel vehicles and up to $4,000 for electric vehicles.
The DOE website also provides a complete searchable list of all current alternative fueled vehicles available
DOE's Clean Cities Program is a locally based government and industry partnership to expand the use of alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel. The program creates and carries out an effective plan at the local level for establishing a sustainable, nationwide alternative fuels market.
The Clean Cities Website also houses alternative fuel vehicle case studies including case studies specific to national parks