Alternative fuels


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Alternative fuels and sustainable vehicle technologies

This article is an excerpt from the Sweco Urban Insight report "E-magine a journey through Europe – Energy infrastructure for sustainable mobility." It defines the characteristics of the three most prevalent alternative fuel technologies: electricity-, hydrogen- and biofuel-powered vehicles. It also describes the different types of chargers available for electric vehicles – the most common type of alternative-fuelled transport. As such, it serves as a useful introduction to these topics.

This report focuses on electric vehicles and their integration into society in coming years. It presents a case study that was conducted to examine the viability of long-distance travel using an electric vehicle today. The report also looks into the future and considers the demand and requirements for modern energy infrastructure that can meet expectations and technical demands for the development of sustainable mobility.

 

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicle (EV) technology is available in various forms.

  • Firstly, the Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) is powered solely by an electric motor using electricity that is stored in an on-board battery. This battery must be regularly charged with electricity from the grid or, for EV owners, with on-site renewables (e.g. from solar PV). The driving range are growing with battery technology development.
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) combine a conventional combustion engine with an electric motor system. The HEV battery utilised in this type of vehicle is rather small and cannot be charged from the grid. Instead, the battery is charged from regenerative braking, in which an energy recovery mechanism converts kinetic energy into a form that can be used immediately or stored until needed.
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), on the other hand, use the electric motor as a main engine, with the combustion engine used only when the battery is low or when higher operating power is required. As the name indicates, the larger battery can be charged from the electricity grid.
  • The third hybrid type, the Range-Extended Electric Vehicle (REEV) is powered solely by an electric motor supplied with electricity from the battery. This battery is charged from the grid, but also from a small combustion engine acting as a generator, which only activates when the vehicle exceeds its battery-only driving range.

 

Hydrogen vehicles

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) are also fully powered by an electric motor. However, compressed hydrogen gas is used as fuel to generate the electric power via a fuel cell. The fuel cell is an electro-chemical cell that converts the chemical energy from the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen into electricity.

 

Biofuel vehicles

First-generation biofuels such as biodiesel and biogas are derived from food crops and have come under fire for threatening biodiversity and contribution to deforestation. Second-generation biofuels, also known as “advanced biofuels”, are derived from feed stock, waste, sewer and recycled vegetable oil and do not cause the same level of harm to the environment. The driving range is the same as for conventional fossil fuels.

 

Electric roads

Another interesting technology for heavy vehicles, as well as for cars, is electric roads – a vehicle receives electrical power from power lines running above the road or placed within the body of the road. The world’s first electric road opened in Sweden in 2016 and is a two-kilometre strip where electrified lorries use conductive technology developed. The system permits lorries to operate as electric vehicles when on the electrified road and as regular hybrid vehicles at other times.