Editorial Feature

How Changes in the Fuel Industry are Driving Changes to the Automotive Industry

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In the early 1900s, gasoline and diesel, derived from coal and other hydrocarbon sources were the only fuels that were in use. However, our attitudes have changed. Nowadays we are more aware than before that, by the using these fuels in our cars, they harm not only the planet, but also our health. There has been a greater incentive to find a greener alternative than fossil fuels. Finding the right substitute fuel is a complex issue.

Biofuels are a scrutinized fuel as they take up valuable farmland, which would otherwise be used to grow crops. Ethanol is a popular biofuel and is created from processing corn, making it a carbon-neutral energy source. As ethanol has a high oxygen content, it burns much cleaner in air than fossil fuels, leading to a lower amount of carbon monoxide and soot produced. Unfortunately, ethanol has a very small energy density, making it an unsuitable replacement for traditional fuels. Another biofuel, biodiesel, is often made from repurposed grease, fats and oil, and it is generally more commercially used than ethanol. Biodiesel cannot be used by itself as a car fuel due to its high cloud and pour point of -5 to 15 degrees C, compared to -40 degrees for diesel. Biodiesel can be used in combination with regular diesel. B10 fuel only contains 10% of biofuel, which is commonly used commercially. However, in the colder, winter months, diesel is used with less biofuel (around 5%) due to its high pour point.

Electricity is considered to be one of the best alternatives to fossil fuels as this can be produced through purely environmentally friendly sources. This allows electric cars to produce zero emissions. There is still debate as to how clean electric cars really are as the electricity they use may not necessarily come from a clean source.

Hybrids work by using an electric motor in conjunction with a typical gasoline engine. In typical hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), the gas engine is the primary source of energy used to propel the vehicle during cruising, as this is when the engine is at its most efficient. It is also used as a power generator to produce electricity, which is stored in the battery pack. This electrical energy is then used solely when the vehicle is moving at lower speeds.

Plug-in hybrids electric vehicles (PHEVs) have the electric motor as the primary source of energy until it runs out of charge. At this point, the gasoline engine can be used to, essentially, recharge the battery so that it is able to extend the distance the car can travel.

This leads to a much more efficient use of gas, with some models reaching well over 50 MPG (miles per gallon) using just the gas engine. PHEVs have a very large range with some models boasting over 133 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).3

It is impossible not to mention the automotive industry without mentioning electric cars. These cars are much lighter than regular engine cars, as they have no engine and run on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries; the same used in most laptops and mobile phones. The infamous Tesla cars use thousands of 18650 Li-ion cells in 8 modules, arranged in series and parallel to maximize efficiency in their cars, which make a very powerful battery. For the long-range batteries, their power is around 73 kWh with ranges reaching close to 400 km. These types of cars have much more potential for growth with new batteries being introduced.

Electric cars have had a recent surge in popularity over the past few years. Taxes on gasoline and diesel have created a financial incentive to switch to a more sustainable car.1 In November 2017, the amount of fully electric and hybrid cars on the roads reached 3 million. This is proof that there is a trend in purchasing environmentally friendly cars, with sales forecasts predicting that, by the end of 2018, this number will have reached 5 million.2

It seems certain that the automotive industry is set for changes with electric cars poised to be the new dominant personal vehicle. It is very likely that we will be driving cars installed with efficient solar panels in the near future. As we see new scientific advancements develop, it is inevitable that the automotive industry will experience a major shift.


  1. Spglobal.com. (2018). US congressman calls for federal gasoline, diesel tax increases | S&P Global Platts. [online] Available at: https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/oil/072418-us-congressman-calls-for-federal-gasoline-diesel-tax-increases
  2. Vaughn, A. (2017) ‘Electric and plug-in hybrid cars whiz past 3m mark worldwide’, The Guardian, 25 Dec.
  3. Gorzelany, J. (2018). 10 Most Fuel-Efficient Hybrid Cars Of 2018. [online] Motor1.com. Available at: https://www.motor1.com/features/229073/most-fuel-efficient-hybrids/ [Accessed 15 Sep. 2018].

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