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  • Revision:1997 Edition, October 10, 1997
  • Published Date:October 10, 1997
  • Status:Active, Most Current
  • Document Language:English
  • Published By:SAE International (SAE)
  • Page Count:218
  • ANSI Approved:No
  • DoD Adopted:No

  • Introduction

    The term "alternative fuel" has been used to describe any fuelsuggested for use in transportation vehicles other than gasoline ordiesel fuel. In many ways, the current situation regarding fuelsfor transportation vehicles resembles the time in the early 1900swhen vehicle buyers could choose among internal-combustion, steam,or electric vehicles. During this period, there were great debatesabout which fuels were best-even Henry Ford envisioned many oftoday's concerns about fuel availability and the environment byinvestigating the use of ethanol as a renewable, home-grown fuelwhose production would benefit agriculture. The wide availabilityof inexpensive gasoline as a by-product of kerosene refining (forlighting purposes) was surely a large factor in the subsequentsuccess of the internal-combustion engine in transportationvehicles. Both steam and electric vehicles had characteristics muchdesired by consumers at the time such as low noise and gooddriveability. However, drawbacks such as lengthy start-up time andcomplexity of operation (steam vehicles) and short driving range(electrics) conspired to limit their appeal. With the advent of theelectric starter, internalcombustion- engine vehicles achieved acombination ofeconomy, range, and ease of use that steam andelectric vehicles could not match. From the demise of steam andelectric vehicles, internal-combustion vehicles using gasoline anddiesel fuel have enjoyed virtually complete dominance of themarket. Ongoing development over time has resulted in very durableand reliable vehicles that are safe and less damaging to theenvironment than ever before.

    The original impetus for development of alternative fuels togasoline and diesel fuel was the realization that the oil-producingnations that held the majority of the world's reserves had thepower' to dictate the price and availability of what  hadbecome a truly intemational commodity. The U.S., several Europeancountries, and Japan have led the development of altemative fuelsbecause they have become dependent on oil imports to satisfy theirtransportation vehicle fuel needs. Today, the U.S. highwaytransportation sector is essentially totally dependent on petroleumfuels, making transportation very vulnerable to oil shortages andsudden price increases. The U.S. now uses more petroleum fuels inlight-duty vehicles than all of its domestic oil production. Growthin light-duty vehicle fuel consumption is projected to be 0.8%through the year 2015, and for heavy-duty vehicles the fuelconsumption growth rate is projected to be 1.3%. At the same time,growth in net oil imports is projected to be 1.9%, which predictsan everwidening gap between petroleum consumption and domesticproduction.2 Other petroleum-using sectors of the U.S. such asindustry and utilities have made provisions to switch to fuelsother than oil, while the transportation sector has not. It is thisdependence on petroleum fuels that is prodding the use ofalternative fuels in transportation.