Tech Time: Alternative Fuel Cars

Car tech applies to more than just car stereos. With new technology, traditional gas vehicles may give way to alternative fuel vehicles, sometimes called green cars. Green cars are becoming more popular due to increasing environmental concerns and increasing oil prices.

There is no clear standard alternative fuel technology. Options include: flexible fuel, natural gas, neat-ethanol, hybrid electric, plug-in electric, solar, bio-diesel and hydrogen. Countries like Brazil, Canada, the US, Sweden, Pakistan, Argentina, India and Japan are leading the “charge” in the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles.

Currently, there are a wide range of alternative fuel cars available for purchase including the popular Toyota Pirus, Lincoln MK2, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Ford Taurus and VW Flex with more models coming soon including the Ford Focus, Toyota Rav 4 and Honda Fit EV.

Depending on the point of view, the choice may be considered diverse or limited. Regardless, the three alternative fuel technologies that are most prolific are electric, hybrid and flex-fuel.
Electric cars are relatively low range cars with a driving distance of approximately 40 miles. They require long recharging sessions of up to eight hours on a home 240v charger. Charging stations, like gas stations, are not yet available. With no gas tank, these cars have an unlimited MPG rating.

Hybrid cars use both a battery and gas engine for separate power trains. The battery pack is charges from excess engine energy and braking. In some, hybrid hybrids, the battery pack may also be charged by plugging in the vehicle. At low speeds and heavy traffic the car uses only the battery cells and calls on the gas engine only at speeds toping 25 MPH. Hybrids boast a 50-MPG rating.

Most modern cars can work on a blend of up to 15% ethanol with traditional gas; this flexible fuel is called E10 or E15. Ethanol has a higher octane rating, which is beneficial to high compression ratio engines, but has lower fuel economy. The lower fuel economy is offset by the relatively lower cost.

Only gas and diesel, ethanol, which is made from corn or sugar cane, is a renewable resource. It reduces the need for fossil fuels and produces less carbon monoxide. In Brazil, special flex-fuel cars can use up to 100% ethanol or an ethanol gas blend for the greatest savings.

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