Alternatives to fossil fuel are becoming more popular not only because of their “green” benefits, but also because of concerns about relying on limited, imported resources to fuel cars – and economies. Biofuel and electricity, including hybrid-electric cars, have emerged as top alternatives to fossil fuel. However, in addition to ecological advantages, they each have drawbacks that will determine the role they play in the global future of energy.
Gasoline and diesel are called “fossil fuels” because they are derived from plant and animal remains that are millions of years old. Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels are renewable because they are made from living matter. The plants used to make biofuel absorb roughly as much carbon dioxide as they release when they are burned.
However, the financial and environmental costs of producing biofuel must also be considered. Biofuel is about 50 percent more expensive to produce than fossil fuel. Some argue that deforesting land to grow crops for biofuel counteracts its ecological benefits. Because land is a limited resource, using it for biofuel crops could drive up the cost of food. And, although the crops absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, processing them into biofuel requires substantial amounts of coal and natural gas. There is debate about whether biofuels yield as much energy as is needed to make them.
There is hope, though – some believe that creating biofuel from grass and young trees could make it more efficient to produce and use in the future.
From an environmental perspective, electric cars are ideal because they do not contribute to fossil fuel pollution. They run on rechargeable batteries alone and don’t emit exhaust. But electric cars are not as driver-friendly as they are green. Most can’t travel more than 100 miles without being recharged, and using the radio, heat or air conditioning can make the battery life even shorter. In most places, charging an electric vehicle is not as convenient as stopping to fill up a gas tank. Charging stations for electric cars, which allow owners to give their batteries a quick boost on-the-go, are hard to find. Drivers of electric cars still rely primarily on at-home charging stations.
Hybrid-electric cars, which have an electric motor and a gasoline engine, offer a balance of eco-friendliness and practicality. The engine charges the battery and extends the car’s battery life. It can also give the car a boost for better acceleration, which is especially helpful when driving on a steep incline. Hybrid-electric cars are built with lightweight materials and equipped with low-resistance tires, which makes them more fuel efficient. However, the lightweight materials also make them more likely to be totaled in a collision. If you drive or are thinking about purchasing a hybrid, make sure you keep it protected with full-coverage car insurance. For affordable coverage that fits your budget, look for an automobile insurance company that offers discounts for safe driving.
So, what do you think about either of these options? Do you favour one over the next, and if so why?
Ilike bothe electric and hybrid cars, however the price needs to come down some to make it more affordable. Thhe replacement batteries are deterrent.
@Krantcents. You are right about the price- until it becomes more affordable, these types of cars will only be available to niche populations. I am hopeful though that if there is enough demand, the price will drop soon.
We are considering an electric as our next purchase (not anytime soon though). We won’t buy until all the issues have come up with the first versions and everything get smoothed out. There is another advantage that is pushing us towards the alternative fuel car – HOV lane access. In CA traffic having access to the car pool lane is worth a lot.
@Suba. It is good to wait, I agree. Let them perfect the technology first. Cool about the HOV lanes. We don’t have those here where I live.
I agree as well. I am in the same boat. Let them refine the technology and then I will jump on board.
@20’s Finances. Agreed. We don’t want to buy something that doesn’t end up being green and useful in the long run.
Great post and food for thought.
Although bio fuels sounds very energy efficient/ eco friendly, they are in fact not..!
I was down in South America one year (or maybe it was SE Asia I forget) but I saw that the land was completely dead because they were burning the land/ found it useless because all the nutrients were already leeched out. This was because they were using the land for growing soy beans, which is the predominant fuel in bio fuel.
@YandT. Agreed. Biofuels are not the best option in my opinion either.We have destroyed so much land already through commercial farming that this will only make the problem worse. I vote for electric but we also need to make sure our electricity is eco-friendly too. It may be renewable but if flood lands and destroy ecosystems to put in hydro dams we are just solving one problem by creating another. It really is a tough question to answer because nothing seems like the perfect solution.
I’d wait before getting into the electric car market as the technology is still new and the premium to pay for this technology is too high in my opinion. Let others go through the teething problems of early generation models as I watch from the side lines.
@Beating the Index. Yes, we do need some time to let the kinks work themselves out. However, if some of us don’t take the chance and invest and buy in these technologies, they may never take off which would be a real detriment.
I lived through the oil crisis of the 1970’s. I truly thought that we would have this problem licked way before now. We all laud Henry Ford’s mass production of the automobile as a good thing but I wonder what direction developed societies would have taken without it. Perhaps we would have stayed in geographic centers with living quarters, businesses and shops within walking or biking distance? Perhaps mass transit would have taken the front seat instead of the back seat in moving us around.
Vehicles actually have become much more efficient and safe in the years since the 1970’s but we just can’t seem to wean ourselves away from the need for gasoline.
@Marie. Great point. I never thought of what life would be like without the car. Maybe we would be healthier and walk more and be less over weight. Maybe we would have better quality land around us that wouldn’t have been wrecked from mass farming and pollution. Cars have come along way I agree, but like you say, gasoline is our problem and it seems so hard to get rid of.
Hi Miss T! I definitely support electric vehicles over biofuels. Ethanol is much more expensive to produce than gasoline and due only to massive taxpayer subsidies in the US is competitive in price. Another issue with ethanol production is inflationary pressures ethanol production has put on corn and other crops. Barley, oats and cotton acreage has been converted to corn production resulting in massive price increases in those crops.
@Paul. I agree. Electric is much more eco friendly in my opinion because we don’t wreck the land to grow corn etc. Where it gets tricky though is where the electricity comes from. If you charge a battery using hydro power than you are contributing to wrecking eco systems and flooding lands. There seems to be consequences no matter which way you slice it which really bothers me.
I think bio-fuel is the way to go because it is very renewable. With electric cars, they still get most of their power from coal burning power plants. I feel like you just offset the emissions.
@Robert. I think I have to disagree. Bio-fuel just wrecks land and makes it unusable for anything else. If we can source electricity sustainably then we will have it made. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I like discussions like this and hearing different perspectives.
The sooner we can go all-electric the better, and then we need to work on producing electricity sustainably. We currently own a Hybrid Honda Insight, by far the best and most fuel efficient vehicle we have ever owned. But, it only goes half-way. From what I read zero emission, 100% electric vehicles will son have a more useable range than the 150 kms offered by the Nissan Leaf. When it becomes practical for us we will switch over.
@Hunter. I am with you 100%. Sustainable electric cars would be the best solution. Glad you have been enjoying your Honda. I have wondered how good they are. You are right- it will be good once the electric cars can go farther. It will make them a lot more practical.
Thanks for the lesson on biofuel. No real clear cut answer. I’m actually surprised we haven’t used all the fossil fuels already. Do you work in a green industry? Thanks for the food for thought!
@Buck. It is surprising isn’t it. No I don’t work in the green industry but I am really passionate and interested in it. I really would like to see positive changes made that allow is to live on this planet without destroying it at the same time. I tend to keep with the latest news and advances as much as I can because it is important to me.
Tricky questions, aren’t they? We want to reduce emissions but we don’t want the electricity to come from polluting sources, such as coal-fired power plants. Huge hydro-electric dams produce lots of “clean” energy, but flood habitat, wreck fish spawning grounds and will eventually silt over. Solar and wind have storage issues and therefore can’t handle peak power. And biofuel…. akh, let’s not get even started on that one.
I tend to think the solution is all of it, but on a much smaller scale, at the individual household level.
Hunter @ Financially consumed recently showcased a promo video for a documentary on electric assisted cargo bikes. That’s the kind of small electric motor that can be recharged at the household level with a small turbine or a few panels.
@101. Nice to see someone besides me get get fired up about this. You are right. None of the solutions are perfect and all have issues. I think this is what I find the most disturbing- that we are in a sense trapped when it comes to solving this issue because nothing is truly sustainable and renewable 100%. My dream would be to find a way to generate power in a 100% sustainable, adequate, and renewable way.
I read Hunter’s article too- quite interesting. Yes it would be good that we could do things like this on a small scale but we would have be careful that they didn’t stop being small scale. If you could run a pump in your back yard that used a small amount of water to generate electricity that didn’t cause any damage to surrounding land, then that would be awesome. However it seems that we live in world where people no longer know what small is. The bigger the better is the MO. Thanks for the great discussion 101.