Gasoline Cars Can Run On So Many Other Fuels Other Than Gasoline

Oil is eventually going to run out. It won’t be tomorrow, or even in the next few decades, but since it is a finite resource that is being extracted intensively, it is an inextricable fact that at some point there will be no more of it. What will we do when that happens, if it happens in when we’re still dependent on internal combustion engines, like the kind that currently runs on gasoline?
SEAT fuelling 6 photos
Photo: SEAT
Bentley fuellingSynthetic GasolineHonda comicSaab dashboardSEAT fuelling
Well, you may be happy to note that such engines don’t only run on petroleum-based fuels and that there are plenty of alternatives out there. There are currently no mainstream alternatives, because there’s still plenty of oil for cross-continental megacorps to extract, process and then sell, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work - in fact, burning most of these non-oil based fuels usually pollutes less and the engine’s performance isn’t really affected.

Talks about the proliferation of electric vehicles are all the rage nowadays, but critics of this new wave of battery-powered mobility pods argue that we’re looking in the wrong direction to solve the many challenges we know we’re going to have to face sooner or later - the most poignant of these is increased levels of pollution in many parts of the world (especially parts that are developing at an accelerated rate), in the context of the looming depletion of oil.

These critics of electric vehicles argue that instead of trying to make EVs a thing, we should be looking at ways to make the types of propulsion we already have greener by not only improving the tech but also finding other less polluting fuels to burn.

CNG - Compressed Natural Gas

Compressed natural gas is essentially just methane stored at very high pressure. It is known for not only being cleaner-burning but also safer to handle and transport. But its list of benefits goes on: it improves the life of lubricating oils within an engine, it is easier to mix with air, it produces noticeably less carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulates.

In terms of drawbacks, storing this fuel takes up more space than a conventional gasoline tank, plus it needs to be stored under pressure and means there is a chance that the whole thing could explode - the chance of this is minimal, but it’s more likely than in a car with a non-pressurized fuel storage tank.

Synthetic Gasoline

Synthetic Gasoline
Photo: Carbon Engineering
Synthetic fuels are nothing new, really, as it was first produced exactly 100 years ago, in 1919 and it was actually used to fuel the war machines of the Second World War - it didn’t have a significant impact, though, and it’s only in recent years that the idea has gained traction yet again.

The promise is fuel made from ambient carbon dioxide gas which can be turned into liquid fuel through a process that only requires electricity. And if said electricity comes from renewable sources, the prospect is remarkable.

This technology really works and it can be used to make both gasoline and diesel - the only problem is it doesn’t yield that much fuel and the process is laborious and rather expensive - it’s not yet economically feasible to produce synthetic gasoline at any rate that could rival with the conventional petroleum-based fuel.


Saab dashboard
Photo: Saab
Ethanol is essentially alcohol of the same type you find in alcoholic beverages. It’s already being mixed into gasoline in the United States or Australia (among many others where it’s not as common), but in some South American markets, like Brazil, you can already get neat ethanol straight from the pump.

Pure ethanol is not really used to power passenger cars all that much, though, and even in places where it available, it usually powers farm equipment, trucks, as well as some motorbikes and mopeds. This may change in the future, though, because this type of alcohol can come from renewable sources: fermentation of sugars that naturally occur in crops using yeast, followed by distillation and dehydration.

Interestingly, the improvement of the emissions observed compared to conventional gasoline differs depending on the crop from which it is derived - the cleanest burning fuel results from sugar cane (around 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emitted), while at the other end of the scale ethanol from corn only provides a 10 to 20 percent reduction.

Biomass-derived Methane

Honda comic
Photo: Honda
Methane doesn’t have to be extracted from natural reserves (sometimes found alongside petroleum). It can be obtained by fermenting biomass (food waste, sewage sludge, garbage, as well as coffee and tea grounds) and thus it’s a completely renewable resource.

The quantities of methane this process creates are nowhere near as large as the aforementioned ground resources, but in places like Japan, it is already being used on a wide scale, although currently mostly just for heating homes.

Just like the naturally-occurring stuff, this biomass-derived methane could be used in Otto cycle internal combustion engines and it would harbor the same benefits of reduced harmful oxides and particulates.


Believe it or not, your car can run on straight hydrogen too. This chemical element is known for being extremely easy to ignite and thus, in internal-combustion engines, it allows for a considerably leaner fuel/air mixture to be run (this, in turn, improves the engine’s efficiency).

It is not a very common fuel, though, and it definitely requires more testing to determine if it has benefits or downsides and what these are. For instance, it has been observed that it provides a cleaner and more complete burn compared to gasoline and since its ignition temperature is also lower, it allows the engine to run cleaner and spew out lower amounts of pollutants.

It’s not perfect, though, as it has been observed that running an engine on hydrogen can cause premature ignition - this can cause backfiring. Another downside has to do with its low density - due to this, a lot of hydrogen needs to be stored on-board and under high pressure.
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