Modern science has been very clear about the effects of global climate change and how traditional fossil fuels are only making it worse. With more than 270 million vehicles registered in the U.S., internal combustion engines have been a big contributor. Electric vehicles aside, there have been some creative alternatives to gas throughout history. Here's some weird car facts you may not know about alternative fuels.
Fossil Fuels: From Green to Grime
In the early 1900s, when cars were just getting started, pollution from horses was a big problem. Cars were considered a cleaner alternative to a horse-drawn carriage. In other words, as odd as it may seem now, internal combustion engines were supposed to be the green solution.
Enter fossil fuels. Oil is refined into gasoline and dozens of other materials modern industry relies on. Oil, natural gas, and coal were the primary way of running all that machinery which is indispensable for modern life for over a century. But fossil fuels, and the way we get them, have a huge impact on the planet.
Although not always for the sake of the planet, inventors, designers and industrialists have come up with ingenious (and sometimes strange) alternative fuel sources.
The Strangest Fuels Ever Used
While these aren't like the six innovations that changed the automotive world, people have tried a variety of unconventional fuels for their cars that never stuck.
- Steam power is for more than just trains. A steam tricycle invented in 1769 in France was arguably the first motor vehicle invented. It was the first working mode of transport that could move people at a walking pace without a horse. Steam power was given another shot in 1925, with the Doble E-20. It was able to reach an impressive 130 mph and boasted over 1,000 foot-pounds of torque. The 5,000-pound car could accelerate to 75 mph in 10 seconds and ran for 1,500 miles on 24 gallons of water.
- Wood and coal burning cars became popular during the first world war. With fuel rationing in place, creative owners needed a way to power their cars without gas. Soon, inventors created a way for owners to use a process called “gasification” to power their cars using wood or coal. Unsurprisingly, the heavy weight and amount of wood needed made them unpopular once rationing was over.
- Compressed air is no different than steam, right? The engineers at Tata motors, the company behind Jaguar Land Rover, have developed a car powered by compressed air. Electric engines pressurize the air, which is then used to power the engine. While there's no information on its range or other capabilities yet, this is one to watch.
- Chicken manure, or any animal manure really, can be converted into methane gas using digesters. These devices are usually quite large and impractical for cars. However, a British man in 1971 built a digester into his car and powered it with chicken manure. It took 300 pounds of manure to fill up but cost just 17 cents a gallon. The downside: You'd have to gather a lot of manure to travel any reasonable distance.
- Pedal power isn't just a Flintstones innovation. Two people may soon be able to move a luxury SUV using only their leg muscles. A luxury vehicle concept from Future Cycle combines lightweight construction, bicycle parts, and a splash of leather to get two people and some luggage around. There’s even a front vent for cooling.
- Hemp oil, believe it or not, was used by none other than Henry Ford, who developed a car which was powered solely with hemp oil. It was also rumored to use resin-based body panels, from hemp or soy, making it 25 percent lighter than steel cars.
- Dirty diapers and other garbage can be reduced into basic biodiesel through a process called Pyrolysis. Doc Brown wasn’t far off with his garbage-powered DeLorean, but Pyrolysis needs consistent materials to make high-quality fuel.
No Matter What Powers It, Protect It
Fuel sources will change as we innovate new ways to power our cars. The need to protect our environment from climate change will inspire scientists and inventors alike. But, regardless of how it gets around, keep your car — and your wallet — protected from surprise breakdowns and costly maintenance. For cars less than 10 years old and under 125,000 miles, an extended warranty from Protect My Car is your best bet.