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The challenge for moving alternative fuels to the mainstream

Consumer Reports News: October 16, 2012 01:08 PM

Replacing petroleum is a tough challenge. And although many alternatives have been developed, America still doesn't know what to do with them all. At a recent conference in New York City, we caught up with Dan Sperling, arguably the godfather of the alternative fuel movement in the United States, and he brought the vision into sharper focus.

Among his insights shared:

  • Oil isn't running out, but time is when it comes to climate change. And from an economic security standpoint, every new barrel of oil we extract is going to be more expensive and polluting to pull out of the ground and to refine than the last.

  • On electric cars, batteries are getting less expensive and more capable, albeit gradually. Light-duty vehicles—the cars and trucks consumers depend on—will likely run on electricity from batteries or fuel cells in the future.

  • Biofuels will not begin to make rapid progress until the oil industry is induced to invest more heavily in them (and dissuaded from thwarting them). The investments required to mainstream these petroleum alternatives are too big for the government to make.

  • Once more biofuels come online, they will primarily be used to power airplanes, trains, and trucks, because electricity won't be sufficient for those types of vehicles.

  • While natural gas prices are coming down, massive investments are needed to build fueling stations before natural-gas vehicles can become popular. CNG will also more likely expand reach in heavy-duty vehicles than in passenger cars.

  • Energy conservation progress today is coming mainly from more widespread use of lightweight materials and from improving the efficiency of traditional gasoline engines.

In the coming weeks, we'll check in on progress in other areas of alternative fuels and share other insights coming out of green-car conferences.

Visit our guide to alternative fuels.

Natural-gas vehicle selection and availability picks up
Bi-fuel 2013 Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra heavy-duty pickups to run on gasoline, CNG
New 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas to sell for $26,155

Eric Evarts

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