Sunday, April 5, 2009

5 Fuel Answer

With the volatility of gas prices, doesn't it make sense to rely on many other fuels?  The solution to the energy problem will have to be a combination of many different technologies.  One of these new technology is the multi-fuel car.  Volvo came out with a prototype car that runs on 5 different types of fuels: hythane (10 % hyrogen and 90% methane), biomethane, natural gas, bioethanol and petrol.  In Brazil there is already a car that is being produced commercially that runs on different fuels.  People buy what ever fuel is cheapest for that day.  
The only problem that I foresee is the lack of non-petroleum fuel infrastructure.  I would love to have a car like Volvo's prototype, but what good will it do me if I can only get one kind of fuel.  It seems like a big task for the US to build such an infrastructure.


contango said...

Configuring a car to run on different types of liquid fuel is not necessarily that new of a concept. Most third world countries that lack a domestic hydrocarbon source have cars/trucks that can run on whatever is likely to be available. I think that Dr. Webber mentioned experiencing this during a cab ride recently and I saw this in East Africa when I was there in '97.

Mercedes Benz has been making industrial trucks for decades that run off of multiple fuels. In addition to the infrastructure issues that you mentioned, there are a couple of other drawbacks to this type of configuration the main ones being efficiency, engine life, and design issues related to the space of different tanks(I think Dr. Webber mentioned that his cab had tanks in the trunk which is pretty common).

If you believe that there will be a sustained liquid fuels shortage in the developed world, than designing vehicles that run on a variety of fuels is a good idea. However, I think that economies of scale will dictate that we will move towards vehicles that are powered by a single or possibly two major sources of energy. The PHEV seems to be the frontrunner in my mind right now and I could see that vehicle running on stored grid power and E50 in a decade or so.

David Wogan said...

The ability to use multiple fuels has also been important in military applications where access to one particular fuel is never guaranteed.