Alternative FuelsThere are several alternatives to using plain old petrol or diesel in our cars. Some of these alternate fuels require some modifications to your car, whilst others are only available by buying a new car, such as the Toyota Prius.
On the next few pages we'll look at a few of the more viable alternatives that are available on the market right now. There are quite a few pie-in-they-sky ideas that people are coming up with, like engines running on compressed air or modern steam turbines ... we'll give those a miss for now as, although they may be great ideas, we cant see them taking off anytime soon, but if they do we'll update the site!
Hybrid CarsHybrid cars are probably one of the most well-known alternative fuels for cars at the moment, with the Toyota Prius probably being the archetypal car that most people are familiar with.
Hybrid cars usually make use of a normal (albeit fairly small capacity) petrol engine coupled with an electric motor and a suitable electrical system (i.e. a computer to control the system, batteries and so on). The on-board computer decides when to use the engine, the electric motor, or a combination of the two to get the best efficiency. For example, a hybrid may use the efficient electric motor to get the car moving initially, and then switch over to the engine when more performance is required.
Through this cunning use of electric motors in combination with the traditional engine, hybrid cars can get great fuel economy whilst driving around town in busy stop-start traffic. However, some have questioned their ability for out of town driving where the official fuel consumption figure of 67.3 is in the same region as many of today's small diesel super-minis, which are significantly cheaper to purchase. Interestingly, the manufacturers have yet to release a hybrid diesel super-mini!
BiodieselBiodiesel is essentially the same as diesel, except it is produced from plant sources such as rapeseed oil instead of crude oil. It is important to note that Biodiesel is perfectly legal in the UK, and it is not related to the stories we often hear about people pouring the waste oil from their local Chippie straight into their fuel tanks!
Biodiesel can be used in most modern diesels without any modifications, and can be mixed with regular diesel in any ratio to produce various "blends". However, biodiesel has been known to damage natural rubber which may be used in fuel lines and other engine components on older (usually before 1995) cars.
You may be wondering, if its so similar to regular diesel, why am I talking about it in the context of alternative fuels? Well one reason is that biodiesel is carbon-neutral, but the main reason is biodiesel can actually be made by yourself from waste oils! There are a lot of companies that are selling kits and instructions that will allow you produce your own from your shed or garage. Its important to note though that you'll still be liable to pay some fuel tax if you produce it yourself, but this is only at about 27pence a litre - significantly less than regular diesel.
If you aren't up to making your own biodiesel, there are websites such as http://www.biodieselfillingstations.co.uk/ that offer a regularly updated list of places where you can buy premade biodiesel.