Alternative Fuels For Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV)

Alternative Fuels For Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV)

An Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) is a vehicle that can operate on fuels other than gasoline or diesel. Alternative fuels include biologically produced diesel (biodiesel), electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, methanol, natural gas, and propane. AFVs range in function and size from small passenger cars to large transit buses and 18-wheeler trucks. In the light-duty or passenger car AFV category, natural gas, ethanol, or propane fueled models are currently available. In the broad transportation arena AFVs using biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, natural gas, or propane are currently available.

For more information on alternative fuels, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center

Fuel types:


Biodiesel is a diesel replacement fuel made from new and used vegetable oils or animal fats that have been chemically reacted with an alcohol. Using either blended or pure biodiesel in a diesel (compression ignition) engine will reduce emission of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfates, and particulate matter. Emissions of nitrogen oxides can increase with the use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine. Biodiesel blended with conventional petroleum derived diesel at concentrations up to 20 percent (B20) is currently used in some diesel engines. Only pure biodiesel (100 percent) is designated as an alternative fuel.

Since the feedstock for biodiesel can be domestically produced it reduces the nation's dependence of foreign oil. At this time biodiesel is mainly used by fleet operators such as the U.S. Postal Service, school districts, utility companies, garbage and recycling companies, agricultural vehicles, construction equipment, and marine applications.

Biodiesel in blends of 20 percent of less can be handled with the current fueling infrastructure. There is some limited availability for general public use. However, individual consumers can purchase biodiesel, by the drum, directly from suppliers. Information for finding a biodiesel fueling station is available at the AFDC web site. For additional information on biodiesel visit, the National Biodiesel Board's web site.


Currently ethanol is the most widely used alternative fuel. Ethanol is an alcohol made primarily from corn through a process similar to brewing beer. Because ethanol is derived from feedstock that is grown, it is considered a renewable fuel. In addition, since the feedstock for ethanol can be domestically produced, it reduces the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Vehicles operating on fuel containing at least 85 percent ethanol have 25 percent less combined carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide (ozone-forming) emissions than their gasoline fueled counter part.

Ethanol is a widely used oxygenate that is blended with gasoline at a concentration of approximately 10 percent ethanol. However, only ethanol/gasoline blends of at least 85 percent ethanol (E85) are considered alternative fuels. Vehicles capable of operating on ethanol can also operate on gasoline and use a single fueling system.

There are nearly 150, E85 refueling stations now in operation in more than 20 states mainly in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains. There are no E85 refueling stations in California.

For additional information on ethanol fuels visit the Ethanol Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) web site.


Methanol is an alcohol fuel made primarily through a process that uses natural gas as a feedstock. However, methanol can be produced from coal or biomass. Since methanol has the potential to be produced entirely from domestically available feedstock its use can reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Vehicles operating on fuel containing at least 85 percent methanol (M85) have 40 percent less combined carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide (ozone-forming) emissions than their gasoline fueled counter part.

Methanol is used in its liquid phase and can be blended directly with gasoline. Currently no vehicles capable of operating on methanol are being manufactured. However, methanol is being viewed as an excellent base fuel for fuel cell vehicles. In this application the methanol would be converted to hydrogen through a reformer.

Methanol Fueling stations

  • 1988: California Fuel Methanol Reserve established.
  • 1989: AB 234 Study considers M85 Mandate; Oil industry responds with RFG.
  • Over 100 Public and Private M85 fueling stations established.
  • 1995: CFMR consumption reaches 12 million gallons
  • The use of methanol has dramatically declined since the early 1990s, and auto makers are no longer manufacturing vehicles that run on it.

For additional information on methanol fuels visit the Methanol Institute web site.


Propane is a hydrocarbon gas that is produced as a by-product from natural gas processing and crude oil refining. Vehicles operating on propane can produce 30 to 90 percent less carbon monoxide and about 50 percent less smog-producing emissions than gasoline fueled engines. In addition, propane fueled engines need less frequent servicing. The available propane fueled vehicles includes cars, pickup trucks, vans, delivery trucks, transit buses, and school buses.

The propane gas used in vehicles is in liquefied form. Propane fueled vehicles can be designed to run on dedicated or bi-fuel systems. Dedicated system are designed to run only on propane while bi-fuel system vehicles have two separate fueling systems that allow the vehicle to use either propane or gasoline.

Propane is distributed by pipeline, barges, railroads and trucks. There are over 3300 propane refueling stations nationwide and over 400 in the state of California. There is a propane refueling station in every state, including California.

For additional information on propane fuel visit the National Propane Gas Association web site.

Alternative Fuels For Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV)


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