There are significant myths concerning the various alternative transportation fuels that have been suggested. That’s a shame because, as consumers and decision makers, we should know what the truth is.Some of these alternative-fuel myths are just rooted in misunderstandings but some are rooted in misinformation campaigns fostered by opponents of a new fuel. With the help of Four Seasons Ford, a Henderson, NC-based Ford dealer, we have explored a lot of the alternative fuel myths and have the following to report.
The Hydrogen Myth
Hydrogen is highly explosive, and much more dangerous than gasoline.
Hydrogen is a gas that’s 14 times lighter than air. This means that when it’s burning, it tends to vent straight up, like the flame from a butane lighter. Burning gasoline, on the other hand, is heavier than air, remains liquid and will spread out over various surfaces when it burns. Gasoline is actually more dangerous when it burns than hydrogen is.
The Natural Gas Myth
Natural gas is all over America. Using it instead of gasoline as a motor vehicle fuel is a great idea. Let’s convert vehicles to natural gas and we will eliminate air pollution.
The U.S. does have enormous reserves of natural gas, although there is quite a debate over how environmentally safe it is to use fracking to unlock the gas. But ignoring that issue, gas is still a carbon-based fuel. It does burn cleaner that gasoline but it still emits greenhouse gases.
The Diesel Myth
Diesel fuel is expensive and has dirtier emissions than gasoline.
Diesel certainly used to be a smelly, foul fuel, but a series of federal clean fuel rules in the late 1990sculminated in new requirements that have cleaned diesel up. The main issue was sulfur in the fuel, hence the nasty smell. Today’s diesel is all “ultra-low sulfur.” Since then, the general rule for diesel is that it can cause no more tailpipe emissions than gasoline.
There is some truth to the cost issue but that is a result of taxes. The federal tax on diesel is 24.4 cents per gallon, which is 32 percent steeper than the government’s 18.4-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline. On the plus side, though, is diesel’s efficiency. Diesel engines typically return 30-35 percent better fuel-efficiency than their gasoline counterparts.
The Ethanol Myth
Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline.
Yes, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline per gallon. The problem is that it contains 33 percent less energy than gasoline, so a gallon of ethanol won’t take you as far. Numerous studies have shown that it actually costs the consumer more to use a high ethanol blend than to burn “standard” gasoline.
The Grid Crash Myth
Plug-in cars might be good for the environment, but if everybody has one, they’ll crash the country’s power grid.
On an around-the-clock basis, utilities in the U.S. actually can produce far more electricity than we consume. But most plug-in vehicle charging takes place at night, when power use is down and there’s a surplus of capacity. Also, a recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute found that utility companies’ grid improvements are expected to more than keep up with the relatively slow pace of plug-in vehicle adoption. This myth is busted.
The Toxic Batteries Myth
Unlike the lead-acid batteries that are used in millions of conventional cars and trucks, the batteries used in conventional hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles are nontoxic and safe for landfill disposal. Plus, today’s EV batteries are all slated for recycling. The materials they contain are far too valuable to discard into landfills.
Despite our “myth-busting,” unfortunately alternative fuels face numerous real stumbling blocks. First, most are more expensive than the petroleum fuels they would replace and that’s a real problem.Second, they all lack a useful, widespread retail distribution system like gasoline has and to establish a system would be a monumental effort.