The article is rather long (8 pages), so I won't go into each alternative fuel at length. You can check it out yourself, but here are some of the highlights:
Ethanol/E85: Outlook: Hopeful--to a point. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, 95 ethanol refineries produced more than 4.3 billion gal. of ethanol in 2005. An additional 40 new or expanded refineries slated to come on line in the next 18 months will increase that to 6.3 billion gal. That sounds like a lot--and it is--but it represents just over 3 percent of our annual consumption of more than 200 billion gal. of gasoline and diesel.Popular Mechanics came to the conclusion that one size fits all is not the answer when it comes to replacing our dependency on oil.
One acre of corn can produce 300 gal. of ethanol per growing season. So, in order to replace that 200 billion gal. of petroleum products, American farmers would need to dedicate 675 million acres, or 71 percent of the nation's 938 million acres of farmland, to growing feedstock. Clearly, ethanol alone won't kick our fossil fuel dependence--unless we want to replace our oil imports with food imports.
Methanol/M85: Outlook: Cloudy. The EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program is tasked with reducing methane emissions from landfills, and much of this methane is used to produce energy. As of December 2004, there were more than 325 operational landfill-gas energy projects in the States and more than 600 landfills deemed to be good candidates for projects. But the quantities involved are small. Methane also can be produced by processing biomass such as grass clippings, sawdust and other cellulosic sources.
Based on these important differences between ethanol and methanol--not to mention the power of the farm lobby--methanol has receded into ethanol's shadow as a gasoline replacement. The last M85 FFV in the States was sold in 1999. However, methanol may still have a future as a fuel. Nearly every major electronics manufacturer plans to release portable electronics powered by methanol fuel cells within the next two years.
Compressed Natural Gas: Outlook: Limited. Even though 85 percent of our natural gas is produced domestically, and there's already a distribution network in place, CNG faces a limited future as a gasoline or diesel replacement. For one thing, like petroleum, it is nonrenewable. More critically, perhaps, there's already a great demand for natural gas--and CNG requires major retooling of both cars and fuel-station infrastructure.
Biodiesel (Vegetable oils, rendered chicken fat and used fry oil.) Outlook: Good. Biodiesel has a viable future as a major fuel for transportation. According to the National Biodiesel Board, production of biodiesel in 2004 was about 25 million gal., tripling to more than 75 million gal. in 2005. The trend is solidly upward, thanks to government incentives, the growing number of new diesel vehicles for sale and a grass-roots groundswell of support.
Electricity: Outlook: Mixed. While interest in plug-in hybrids grows, the long-term future of pure electrics depends on breakthroughs in longer-lasting, cheaper batteries and drastically lower production costs for the vehicles themselves. And then there's the environmental cost. Only 2.3 percent of the nation's electricity comes from renewable resources; about half is generated in coal-burning plants.
Hydrogen: Outlook: Good--someday. The world's carmakers are deeply engaged in hydrogen fuel cell research. Some carmakers continue to work on hydrogen-fueled, internal-combustion engines. But, the stumbling block is finding a cost- and energy-effective way to produce hydrogen.
[...]we believe that many households might have an electric or plug-in hybrid for short trips, an E85/electric hybrid sedan, SUV or minivan to squire the whole team, and a diesel pickup fueled by B30 or B50 to haul most anything else. All will reduce greenhouse gases and use renewable resources that come from inside our borders. By pursuing these multiple pathways, we can reduce our dependence on any single energy source--something we haven't achieved with petroleum.Families without the resources to own multiple vehicles won't find this solution comforting. Our energy future may hold promise in the long-run, but for the short-term it will be anything but simple or painless.