Motor vehicles are a major source of air pollution in our state. We can all reduce pollution by reducing the number of miles we drive and operating our vehicles properly. Developing and using cleaner-burning, alternative fuels, is another way to reduce carbon dioxide and other vehicle emissions.
Biodiesel and ethanol
Two non-petroleum fuels commonly used in Minnesota are biodiesel and ethanol. Biodiesel and ethanol have been created from corn for many years. Biodiesel is made from plant oils, while ethanol is made from plant starches. These fuels have many advantages, including cleaner emissions and local, Minnesota production.
Biodiesel is a diesel fuel made from vegetable oil, which is sulfur-free in its pure form and reduces particulate pollution when used. Since May 1, 2009, diesel fuels sold in Minnesota must contain at least five percent biodiesel (B5).
Biodiesel facilities may undergo environmental review and typically require MPCA permits.
You can read about biodiesel basics on the National Biodiesel Board web site at www.biodiesel.org.
Ethanol is a liquid fuel made by fermenting and distilling some type of vegetation, most commonly corn. Ethanol can be mixed with petroleum gasoline. All gasoline sold in Minnesota contains at least 10 percent ethanol.
Gas containing 85 percent ethanol (E-85), can only be used in “flexible fuel” vehicles. These vehicles can be powered by gasoline, ethanol, or a blend. E-85 is available at fueling sites around Minnesota. Find the stations on the American Lung Association Web site at www.cleanairchoice.org.
Biofuels of the future
The next step for researchers is to create these fuels from the non-edible parts of plants and reduce the use of water and energy in the growth and production of the fuel. Biodiesel and ethanol created from the non-edible parts of plants are called “next generation” biofuels or cellulosic biofuels. These fuels may be made of agricultural waste, wood, or grasses. Even algae, which grow rapidly with minimal demands on space or location, can yield high levels of oil that can be used to produce biodiesel. Research related to these potential fuels continues, inspired by the promise of emitting less or zero air pollution and the opportunities for local energy generation.
Renewable electricity + electric cars
Some cars don’t need any liquid fuel. Plug-in electric vehicles run off of batteries! Of course, these batteries need to be charged using electricity. If that electricity comes from solar or wind power, there is no air pollution created during the generation of the electricity or during its use to power the vehicle.
There are some electric vehicles available now and many more models of plug-in electric vehicles are likely to become available in the near future.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
Hydrogen derived from water can be used in fuel cell vehicles. When wind- or solar-generated electricity is used to split the water, there is no pollution emitted either during its production or during use of hydrogen in a fuel cell vehicle (only water and a small amount of heat are generated by fuel cells). Hydrogen-fueled vehicles emit virtually no hydrocarbons, particulates, carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide. They are viewed as an especially attractive option for reducing green house gas emissions. These vehicles are still in the research stage and are not generally available.