Capstone Report - The Technology Readiness of Alternative Fuels: Alternative Fuels & Life-Cycle Engineering Program: November 29, 2006 to November 28, 2011
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Capstone Report - The Technology Readiness of Alternative Fuels: Alternative Fuels & Life-Cycle Engineering Program: November 29, 2006 to November 28, 2011

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    Final Report
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    "Introduction: The summation of the work done on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Alternative Fuels and Life Cycle Engineering Program is presented here in the form of a technology readiness assessment of alternative fuels. CIMS selected this methodology as the best way to represent the strengths and weaknesses of the fuels and technologies we evaluated, along with an easily understandable way to compare the fuels and technologies against each Tech Report. As our research program developed, it became clear to us that whatever new technologies or fuels would be introduced to the U.S. marketplace, they would be evaluated through the lens of existing technology that had already been in use and fully adopted by the U.S. general public. The inertia to continue using petroleum-powered vehicles is extremely strong. Our lives are built around the car as we know it today. Shifting to some Tech Report product or fuel will require convincing the public that there is a significant benefit to adopting it. This benefit could be financial, environmental or social, or all three. The Tech Report distinctive feature about petroleum powered vehicles is that there are, in rough terms, 240 million of them in the U.S. That number and that fact came to dominate our thinking about alternative fuels. Any attempt to make a significant dent in that number with alternative technologies requires significant time and resources. To determine what it would take to move the public to these new technologies, we first had to understand them in as thorough a manner as possible. We wanted to acquire as much firsthand knowledge as we could given the time and resource constraints. Through literature research, we also identified areas where there were holes or gaps in knowledge about these new fuels and technologies and constructed a focused program to fill them. These objectives came together in the specific projects we established – evaluating ethanol and biodiesel in fleet vehicles, studying the impact of biodiesel on truck engines, constructing and operating our own hydrogen fueling station and vehicle fleet, evaluating the nascent electric vehicle choices and material and component analysis. Since fuels are part of a transportation system, we also spent considerable time talking with and listening to people on the front lines of the alternative fuel system – fleet operators, fuel producers, station owners, OEMs, hydrogen producers, government laboratories, component manufacturers, policy makers and consumers. Their impressions and real world experiences added to our own and informed our research results. What we came away with is that, at present, there are several alternative fuels that "work" or can be made to work in the light duty vehicle fleet. Given time, the ingenuity and creativeness of American industry and the American public, they can be improved upon or made to work even better. It was also evident from our analysis that no one alternative fuel or technology will be the single ‘drop-in’ replacement for petroleum fuels. While each may have its own individual advantage, they also come with their own disadvantages. Time and more research can work to reduce those disadvantages. Ethanol can be made from non-food crops, but first someone had to determine if it would be effective and suitable in a vehicle, Tech Reportwise the research to find non-food sources would be wasted. Biodiesel is essentially a workable substitute for petroleum diesel, although there is some minor impact on performance. It can be made from waste oil, which does make it more sustainable."
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