Alternative fuel vehicles – an option to stop traffic pollution ‘killing thousands’?

A shocking report out yesterday suggests that pollution is ‘twice as deadly as traffic accidents’. Whilst the comparison is somewhat alarmist  – pollution contributes to long-term illnesses which cause deaths, whereas road traffic accidents kill instantly – there is no doubt that the figures are worrying.

There are many arguments both for and against commuters cycling or using public transport, but those in the delivery sector cannot afford to lessen vehicle usage. One option they do have is to consider alternative fuel vehicles though…

An Alternative Fuel Vehicle runs on fuel other than petrol or diesel. For reasons of environmental sustainability and cost, the transport providers of the future will require methods of powering engines without the use of petroleum. Governments and vehicle manufacturers around the world have made work on alternative vehicular power systems a high priority. Europe has particularly high fuel taxes, and there are likely to be further restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, so there is an increasing sense of urgency surrounding this issue.

Currently, scientists and engineers are focusing primarily on “hybrid” vehicles that use both electric power and internal combustion. Some transport providers have started replacing their old vehicles with hybrids. Certain environmentally conscious firms prefer to use courier companies that share their green outlook, so hybrid vehicles can be an attractive option.

Other research and development projects focus on developing fuel cells, alternative forms of combustion, and even the stored energy of compressed air. A lot of attention has been given to the use of alcohol as a fuel for internal combustion engines, either alone or in combination with other fuels. The possible environmental and long-term economical advantages of alcohol over fossil fuels has driven a lot of investment in this research. Both ethanol and methanol are being considered for this purpose.

While both ethanol and methanol can be obtained from natural gas or petroleum, ethanol is the most interesting option to many scientists. This is because it is believed to be a renewable resource, easily obtainable from sugar or starch in crops. Other experiments have been conducted using butanol, which can also be produced by plant fermentation.

A hybrid vehicle provides motive power via the use of multiple propulsion systems. “Hybrid” commonly refers to gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, which use petrol and electric batteries for the energy used to power internal-combustion engines and electric motors. As the cost of fuel rises, increasing numbers of transport companies are seeing hybrids as a viable alternative.

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