Alternative Energy Vehicles


Alternative Energy Vehicles

There are several alternative fuels for operating vehicles, besides fossil fuels. The first vehicles to run on something other than horses or oxen, used steam power. Today, we are looking into electrical vehicles powered by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, fossil fuel generators, bio fuels including methane, biodiesel and ethanol, compressed air and there's even a claim of running on water.

Let's look at each category to see what's in production now, what's been demo'd, in the design stage and what's being hyped (without any details).


Light Weight Vehicle - Edison2 - E85

Hydrogen for Fuel - should even we go there?

Compressed Air - looks promising

Water for Fuel - to good to be true!

Propane for Fuel - interim step only.


Light Weight Vehicle

Edison 2 - over 100 MPG

Edison2 X-Prize Winner

Winner of the 2010 X-Prize for a Mainstream vehicle (4 passenger) obtaining over 100 MPG!

The Edison 2 runs on a 250cc modified motorcycle engine burning E85. The design team originally figured a hybrid or electric car would be required to break the 100MPG barrier, thus the name. Their research however, indicated WEIGHT as the biggest factor - result equals the Light Weight Vehicle.


Edison 2 X-Prize from Johnny St.Ours on Vimeo.

The overall design of this vehicle can be applied to "mainstream" production - producing 4 passenger vehicles with a very good MPG rating. Hopefully we'll see this design in production very soon.



Hydrogen Powered Vehicles

Honda FXC Clarity

The Honda FXC Clarity is the first commercial production ever of a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car. This car will be produced in very small quantities and will only be leased, not sold. Sounds like the first electric cars from GM?

Honda Hydrogen powered car

The car runs on electricity from a fuel cell battery that is powered by hydrogen fuel. Water is the only byproduct and it can be driven for about 280 miles before needing to be refueled.

Honda claims it is the first company to have a hydrogen car certified for regular commercial use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hydrogen cars are not going to be widely driven anytime soon as Honda estimates it will lease only 200 FCX Clarity vehicles over the next three years.

Mazda Premacy & RX-8

Mazda has worked on hydrogen vehicles for several years and has test vehicles available in Japan and Norway. Their Premacy and RX-8 models combine electric (battery) power with Hydrogen as a second fuel. They also include gasoline as a 3rd power source, which can easily be switch to, if you run out of hydrogen.

Mazda Hydrogen Premacy

The Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid is an innovative concept car combining the hydrogen rotary engine and a hybrid system. It was first showcased as a reference exhibit at the 40th Tokyo Motor Show in 2007 and we began commercial leasing of the vehicles in March 2009.

While borrowing some technology from the RX-8 Hydrogen RE, such as the dual-fuel system that also enables the car to run on gasoline, this car boasts a hybrid system that substantially increases its driving range and power.

Hydrogen as a Fuel - should we even go there!

There is considerable debate as to whether hydrogen is truly energy efficient when the entire food chain is taken into consideration. Present mass production methods require a large input of electricity to separate hydrogen from water or methane. Hydrogen must then be compressed, transported and stored, before it is used in a vehicle. At best, this is just a replacement for a battery - and the Honda Clarity still requires a battery for the storage of the electricity it produces (though not as large a pure electric vehicle).

My personal opinion is that we should skip hydrogen powered passenger vehicles all together. Maybe hydrogen will have a place in the future, within commodity transportation (trucking). Time will tell.

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Compressed Air - looks promising

There are a few companies working on compressed air as fuel for small cars. Initial press would indicate these vehicles can get 125 miles (200 kilometers) per tank of air and take only minutes and a couple of dollars, to refill. Some of the companies involved include:

The Air Car & Tata Motors Mini-CAT or City Cat - compressed air vehicle

The air car, also known as the Mini-CAT or City Cat, can be refueled in minutes from an air compressor at specially equipped gas stations and can go 200 km on a 1.5 euro fill-up -- roughly 125 miles for $3. The top speed will be almost 70 mph and the cost of the vehicle as low as $7000.

The car features a fiberglass body and a revolutionary electrical system and is completely computer-controlled. It is powered by the expansion of compressed air, using no combustion at all, and the exhaust is entirely clean and cool enough for use in the internal air conditioning system.

Tata Motors is known for its interest in innovation and has been selling compressed gas buses since 2000.

MDI Air PodAir Pod by MDI - compressed air vehicle

In spring 2009, Air France Industries and KLM Engineering & Maintenance are to launch a 6-month trial of zero-emission compressed-air powered vehicles.

 Developed by MDI (Motor Development International), the vehicles, dubbed AirPod, are designed as people carriers for small/medium volume loads. The 4-seat vehicles are two meters long and weigh 220 Kg. Per-km operating costs are extremely low with a 40 mph top speed and a 130 mile range. The AirPod has a very small turning circle and is driven with one hand using a joystick system.

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Water Powered Vehicles - see editor's comments at end of article

Genepax unveiled a car in Osaka on June 12, 2008, saying that a liter (2.1 pints) of any kind of water — rain, river or sea — was all Genepax Water Powered Caryou needed to get the engine going for about an hour at a speed of 80 km (50 miles). “The car will continue to run as long as you have a bottle of water to top up from time to time,” Genepax CEO Kiyoshi Hirasawa told local broadcaster TV Tokyo. “It does not require you to build up an infrastructure to recharge your batteries, which is usually the case for most electric cars,” he added. 

Once the water is poured into the tank at the back of the car, the a generator breaks it down and uses it to create electrical power, TV Tokyo said. Whether the car makes it into showrooms remains to be seen. Genepax said it had just applied for a patent and is hoping to collaborate with Japanese auto manufacturers in the future. Most big automakers, meanwhile, are working on fuel-cell cars that run on hydrogen and emit — not consume — water. (Writing by Chika Osaka, editing by Miral Fahmy and Chang-Ran Kim)

Editor’s Comment:

Sounds a bit on the “to good to be true” side. Seems to me that you require energy input, in order to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water. Will watch this one to see what develops, but there's been no proof to date!

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Propane Powered Vehicles

During the run-up in oil prices of the 1970's, propane powered fleet vehicles became popular. Then the price per barrel of oil dropped and so did the use of propane.

Yes, propane is a fossil fuel. Thus it's not renewable and it does contribute to Propane tank in trunkgreenhouse gases and air pollution (smog). On the positive side however, it burns much cleaner than gasoline or diesel and is more efficient. According to Richard Ivey School of Business professor Gerry Higgins, propane burns 30 percent cleaner than gasoline and produces 26 percent fewer greenhouse gases.

On the down side, propane conversion kits are quite expensive ($5,000) and the fuel is not appropriate for heavy trucks. Thus, propane is best suited for small, light-duty fleets, such as taxis, police vehicles, and utility fleets (gas, water, phone, cable).

Given the pros and cons of propane, it can only be considered as an interim step. Worth the conversion for high usage, light-duty fleets due to the increase in mileage and drop in pollution. However, it's still a fossil fuel and thus still part of the problem, not the solution.


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