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Biofuel or Electric?

As gas prices continue to jump up and down, alternative fuel sources continue to gain momentum. Biofuel and electric cars are starting to wage a war to see who will become more accepted in mainstream society.

Consumer Reports recently did a study by converting a 2002 Volkswagen Jetta TDI to operate on biodiesel (B5 and B100) and fryer grease to see how they matched up in price and convenience. Biodiesel is developed from vegetable or animal fats and is sold in blends with normal diesel.

During their study, Consumer Reports found B5, comprised of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent petroleum diesel, has the best fuel-economy results. It also out preformed the others in convenience, emissions, and overall performance. It runs in any diesel engine without modifications primarily due to its similarity to traditional fossil fuels.

Battery cars, on the other hand, also have some drawbacks. To create batteries for cars, mining is required to gather lithium or other minerals. However, they have the advantage of being able to be recharged at home. Also, public charging stations are becoming more and more prevalent, costing only   around $3,000 to build. That’s quite a bit cheaper than the $150,000 it can take to build an ethanol tank and pump.

As another convenience, biofuel cars only take a few minutes to refill and get back on the road. Electric cars however, often need hours to charge, unless high-powered charging stations are utilized.

Many electric cars have a limited range and some models aren’t yet freeway legal. Biodiesel and biofuels are already popping up at the pumps, and although the price per gallon is a bit pricey now, it is expected to go down in a few years. Most electric cars are also coming in at a rather hefty price, with some, like the Tesla Roadster, being over $100,000.

Only time will tell which alternative fuel source will take over, but each type is continuing to make advances in technology.

Inventions: Sustainable and Pollution-Free Transportation

New and creative ideas are coming out as innovations, as design and manufacturing is growing. One that stands out is a project at UMass Lowell. A group of electrical engineering and computer science students have designed, built, and tested a prototype quadricycle, or “taxi”, that can transport up to four people. This taxi is Electric/Solar power-based, which makes it the first of its kind as it emits no pollution, and runs solely on a solar energy powered battery. This taxi can maintain speeds up to 25 miles per hour, while not consuming a single drop of gasoline.

Energy efficiency is something that the electric cars have been pushing for a while now, yet they need an electrical source. The normal electric car typically uses electrical power from a commercial power grid, which in turn burns fossil fuels. So is it really all that efficient? The typical electric car attains 300 watt-hours per mile, versus a mere 45 watt-hours per mile on the taxi, which means that it uses less than 6x’s the amount of power to charge for the same distance. But if the taxi charges solely based with its 150-watt solar panel, it uses NO secondary electrical power source. Commercialization of the “taxi” may become more popular and gain some backing throughout UMass Lowery’s campus over the next few years.

It’s about progress, and building something new.

How the U.S. is Powered

The United States gains its electricity from many different sources. These sources include coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, and oil. Although the country is trying to embrace clean energy, there’s still more progress to be made.

Coal

Currently, 511 coal-powered electric plants generate 34 percent of the U.S.’s electricity. It remains the leading fuel for electricity. However, it has become much less prevalent than it was in the late 1980’s.

Natural Gas

Just below coal is natural gas. With 1,740 natural gas-powered electric plants, it generates 30 percent of the energy. Over the past decade, more natural gas supplies have been found from shale deposits.

Nuclear

Twenty percent of the nation’s electricity has been generated by 63 nuclear plants. These plants are more common in the East and there are five new plants under construction. Twenty states have no nuclear electricity generation.

Hydroelectric

When it comes to hydroelectric power, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are in the lead. It’s a huge power source for the Pacific Northwest, but also contributes seven percent of the electricity nationally with 1,436 plants.

Wind

Wind is the fastest-growing power source in the U.S. There are 843 wind-powered electric plants generating five percent of the nation’s electricity. It’s especially popular in the Great Plains where there is a reliable wind source.

Solar

Solar power works best in places that have continuous sunshine. That’s why many of the southwestern states rely on solar power, while 39 states have no solar generating plants. Even with 772 solar-powered electric plants in the U.S., solar power makes up only one percent of the nation’s electricity usage.

Oil

Oil’s popularity as a source for electricity has died out. With 1,098 oil-powered plants, it generates only one percent of the U.S.’s electricity.

The new Clean Power Plan’s goal is to cut carbon pollution, in turn reducing climate change. With more of the nation’s energy coming from renewable energy sources, the goal could be achievable. To learn more about conserving energy around the house and going green, visit Eco Electric’s website.