Alternative Fuels as a Control Strategy for Motor Vehicular Air Pollutants

By Kurina Baksh
Last updated: November 13, 2014
Key Takeaways

Learn about the top 6 alternative fuels.

Within the past few decades, environmental pollution has become an important issue for many countries across the globe. The increase in the world’s population along with the increase in the demand for resources, has indirectly contributed to the increase in environmental pollution. One of the major ongoing topics of concern has been the air quality of urban areas, especially in larger cities since the largest number of motor vehicles in the world can be found in industrialized countries. Additionally, it is expected that most developing countries will soon develop similar patterns of motorization as their population increases along with rapid industrial growth and rising standards of living, further diminishing outdoor air quality.


The Effects of Motor Vehicular Air Pollutants on Human Health

The concerns surrounding emissions from motor vehicles have been primarily focused on air pollutants because of their effects on human health. These pollutants include:

  • Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide causes hypoxia. It inhibits the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood by displacing oxygen from binding with hemoglobin. As a consequence, organs and tissues are deprived of oxygen and this can result in cardiovascular and coronary problems, as well as an increased risk of stroke and impaired learning abilities

  • Lead: The inhalation of lead in the form of aerosols has been linked to cardiovascular disease, kidney and brain failure. It has also been associated with the decrease in sperm count in males and spontaneous abortions in women

  • Particulate Matter: Exposure to air borne particulate matter can cause cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and cancer

  • Nitrogen Oxides: Nitrogen oxides have been known to have toxic health effects, such as altering the functions of the lungs. It can also lead to respiratory illness

  • Sulphur Oxides: Sulphur oxides have been known to cause asthma, especially in young children and are also associated with various bronchial conditions

  • Ozone: Ground level ozone can be very dangerous as it interferes with respiratory functions.Ozone is produced when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides react with sunlight


The Effects of Motor Vehicular Air Pollutants on the Environment

The Greenhouse Effect is the warming of the Earth and its atmosphere, due to the absorption of thermal energy by motor vehicular pollutants. This thermal radiation remains trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, increasing the world’s global temperatures – a phenomenon known as Global Warming. At present, many regions in the world are facing either a drastic increase in temperature or a drastic decrease in temperature due to the shift in atmospheric conditions brought about by the Greenhouse Effect. Rises in sea levels, a more intense hydrological cycle, the increase in vector borne diseases and the extinction of some plants and animals species, are just a few of the changes being observed that are associated with global warming.

Six Alternative Motor Vehicular Fuels

  1. Methanol – Methanol is currently made from natural gas, but it can also be made from a wide range of renewable sources, such as wood or waste paper. Methanol as an alternative motor vehicular fuel is available in two forms. The first form is near 100 percent methanol or M100 and the second form is a mixture with up to 15 percent gasoline or M85

  2. Ethanol – Ethanol, also known as grain alcohol, is made from corn and other plant materials. Similar to methanol, ethanol as an alternative motor vehicular fuel is available in two forms. The first form is near 100 percent ethanol or E100 and the second form is a mixture with up to 15 percent gasoline or E85

  3. Natural Gas – Natural gas can serve as an alternative motor vehicular fuel in two forms. It can either be compressed (CNG) or in a liquefied low temperature form (LNG). CNG is drawn from gas wells or in conjunction with crude oil production and consists of, mostly, methane. LNG is produced by purifying the natural gas, then super-cooling it to -260°F to turn it into a liquid

  4. Electricity – Electric vehicles are powered by motors that run on stored electricity or rechargeable batteries. However, at present, the environmental and commercial success of electrically powered vehicles may be limited to certain climates or locations near access to charging stations that are powered by renewable forms of energy. This includes wind power, geothermal power, hydroelectric power and solar power

  5. Hydrogen – Hydrogen is produced from hydrocarbons through methods like steam reforming and electrolysis. It is considered to be an optimum long-term fuel substitute for reducing air pollution, oil usage and, on a larger scale, for slowing the process of global warming

  6. Reformulated Gasoline – The Environmental Protection Agency defines reformulated gasoline (RFG) as gasoline that is blended to burn more clearly than conventional gasoline, while reducing its smog-forming potential and toxic pollutants emissions

Pollution is in the Air

The need to control pollutants emitted from motor vehicular emissions is crucial in maintaining the quality of health, as well as ensuring the health of both humans and the environment. Out of the six alternative fuels mentioned above, methanol is the forerunner in the global market and economy, while reformulated gasoline is least popular. In comparison to other strategies of air pollution reduction (such as emission control and economic policies and incentives), the use of alternative fuels is most feasible. However, if used in combination, the rate of reduction of motor vehicular air pollutants can possibly double.

Remember, water and air are the two essential fluids on which all life depends. So, before you purchase a motor vehicle or full up that tank, think about how it may affect your health or impact the environment. You may want to consider switching to an alternative fuel.

For more information on how you can protect yourself in areas of high air pollution, check out How to Understand Air Pollution and be Prepared for High Risk Days

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Written by Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh

Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.

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