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How to Drive Without Gasoline

Why are gasoline prices so high? It’s quite simple, actually. Never mind the unrest happening on the other side of the world. There’s no real competition at the pump right here in America. Big Oil effectively holds a monopoly on transportation fuel – from sea to shining sea. Not a traditional one, mind you, but a monopoly all the same. If you want to pass go, you’ll have to fork over $200 to fill your tank … to one of the usual suspects.

Now that’s not to say there’s a total lack of competition. But you’d be hard-pressed to find an alternative to conventional gasoline sitting across the street from the vast majority of service stations in America today (with some notable exceptions). If you want to drive without gasoline, you’ll need to do a little legwork.

The good news is that there are at least half a dozen viable alternatives that work today. These fuels are readily available across the country, but you might need to do a little digging to find a local source. Some fuels are better suited to certain geographical locations and climates. Some fuels are simply inappropriate in specific locations. But some fuels are remarkably inexpensive for the industrious …

Six ready-to-go alternative transportation fuels:

  • Electricity
  • Biodiesel
  • CNG
  • Propane
  • Ethanol
  • Reclaimed Vegetable Oil

Electricity is the elephant in the room, so lets get it out of the way first. We’ll avoid the polarizing politics and just say that if you’re financially secure, and live in California with a roof full of solar cells and a relatively short commute, you’re sitting in the catbird seat. There’s nothing cleaner and easier than free energy from the sun. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, where electricity is inexpensive and the weather is relatively mild, the force and the power is with you. But if you live in Minnesota, and are on a fixed budget, an electric car might not be in your future. We’ll save the lack of a charging network for another conversation.

Biodiesel is a wonderful fuel that can be produced with a wide-variety of feedstocks, including food production waste, a range of crops, and eventually algae. Although the newest “clean diesel” engines can only tolerate lower percentage (B5 – B20) of first generation biodiesel blends, due to their emissions systems, older diesel engines can run on 100 percent (B100) biodiesel. Second generation biodiesel will be a drop-in replacement for conventional diesel. Retailers need to keep a close watch on the quality of their biodiesel, as environmental conditions can be a cause for concern.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is cheap, clean, and abundant. While the Honda Civic NGV is the only factory-built CNG-powered passenger car, CNG conversions of other vehicles are becoming commonplace. CNG-powered vans and pickup trucks are a great solution in locations throughout the country where natural gas is particularly plentiful and inexpensive.

Propane is another cool alternative that is readily available throughout America. Gasoline to propane conversions are relatively straightforward. Propane tanks can be less expensive than CNG tanks and the fuel can be found everywhere from service stations to home improvement stores and garden centers.

Ethanol is a great transportation fuel that’s gotten a bad rap. While the naysayers focus on federal subsidies for conventional corn ethanol that are fading away, they fail to address two simple facts. Each and every American has the right to produce 10,000 gallons of their own alcohol fuel per year for their own use. And just as importantly, ethanol can come from a wide range of feedstocks. If you put that proverbial still in your shed, and a FlexFuel vehicle in your driveway, your yearly fuel costs would evaporate. Just be sure to get that all-important permit from the ATF, lest the revenuers show up on your front stoop.

Reclaimed Oil from restaurant fryers is a favorite of the frugal. In the old days, eateries had to pay to have this grease carted away. These days, savvy consumers and companies are recycling the used vegetable oil into fuel – whether through conversion to biodiesel or what’s referred to as Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO). With a Greasecar conversion kit, a diesel-engine vehicle can burn SVO, straight up. While reclaimed oil and cold climates aren’t a great fit, most systems include heating coils of some sort to keep the grease from clogging

The next time you pull up to the pump, imagine what life would be like if there was a bona fide choice of transportation fuel on the other side of the street. There are alternatives out there. It’s up to us to seek them out.

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1 comment so far ↓

#1 Rich M on 02.26.12 at 3:10 pm

The huge advantage of Electric and CNG is they are already installed in most homes. Though a CNG home filling station is still about $4,000.

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