Drivers are already tooling around in vehicles propelled by electricity, fuel blends, clean diesel and biodiesel, plus hybrid engines that combine various power sources. Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles loom just over the horizon.
Here's our guide to the various technologies that will be powering our vehicles for the foreseeable future.
Biodiesel is typically made by blending chemically reactive lipids — like vegetable oil or animal fat — with alcohol. According to the National Biodiesel Board, it can be used in all diesel engines.
"Any diesel vehicle — [including diesel versions of the] Ford F-150, Jeep Liberty and Dodge Ram — can use biodiesel," said Jessica Robinson, spokeswoman for the biodiesel board. "So purchasing a biodiesel vehicle is the same as purchasing a diesel vehicle."
Most manufacturers' warranties cover up to B20 — a blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.
Biodiesel is more common than you might think. Nationwide, more than 25,000 government and commercial vehicles run on biodiesel blends. The San Diego Padres are one of several professional sports teams that donate cooking oil from concession stands to companies that will convert it into biodiesel. And in 2007, the MTV show "Pimp My Ride" transformed a 1965 Chevy Impala into a biodiesel hot rod to honor Earth Day.
Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs)
More than 9 million FFVs are currently cruising American roads. Flex-fuel vehicles are designed to run on gasoline or a mixture of gas and up to 85% ethanol, a blend called E85. Ethanol costs slightly less than gasoline — currently about 30 cents a gallon less in Southern California. Drivers won’t notice a loss in performance while driving on 85% ethanol. The lower price isn’t the only thing this so-called “corn fuel” has going for it. It’s also cleaner and reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVs)
Electric vehicles (EVs)
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs)
– Joe Yogerst, Custom Publishing Writer