Marine Algae, Excrement, And Every Other Eccentric Material Utilized To Power Vehicles

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By Car Brand Experts


Perhaps without overt acknowledgment, the rise of electric cars can be traced back to humanity’s pursuit for alternatives to fossil fuels with the ultimate goal of mitigating the advancing impacts of global warming. However, according to Toyota’s perspective, the exploration of substitute fuels extends beyond just battery technology. While the general populace is accustomed to traditional gasoline and diesel, the realm of fuel innovation is considerably broader and more imaginative than commonly perceived.




From marine algae to poultry waste, the creativity in fuel origins knows no boundaries. In this segment, we delve into some of the most atypical fuels that have propelled vehicles. It’s conceivable that one of these outliers has the potential to evolve into the principal fuel source of the automotive industry, though it must be mentioned that certain items are simply too peculiar for mainstream adoption.

CarBuzz curated this compilation from various reputable online sources, which are specifically cited within the text.


The Conventional Varieties


Before we explore the most uncommon fuel origins ever witnessed, it is imperative to grasp the conventional sources. Classic fuels like gasoline and diesel have served as the foundation of the automotive sector for more than a century. On the other hand, there’s biodiesel, extracted from vegetable oils or animal fats, offering a sustainable twist on traditional diesel.

Meanwhile, Hyundai and Toyota incorporate hydrogen fuel cells in the Nexo and Mirai, respectively – a technology that even Ferrari is currently exploring for its high-performance vehicles. These cells offer an emission-free alternative already familiar to many, converting hydrogen gas into electric power for vehicles. Typical electric vehicles (EVs) are powered by batteries charged from the power grid, sometimes supplemented by sustainable energy sources.

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Steam-Powered Vehicles

Stanley Steam Car
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Stanley Motor Carriage Company


Steam automobiles were amongst the original vehicles, tracing back to the concluding years of the 19th century. These automobiles employed external incineration mechanisms (versus internal combustion engines that utilize fossil fuels), wherein water was heated to engender steam for propelling the engine.

Despite gasoline engines ultimately eclipsing steam vehicles, they constituted a noteworthy innovation during their era. The renowned exemplification is the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, fabricating steam vehicles in the initial 1900s epoch. Though not a prevalent selection in contemporary times, steam technology laid the groundwork for current automotive engineering.

Autogas/Liquid Petroleum Gas

Petron Gasul LPG
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Petron


Autogas, or liquid petroleum gas (LPG), embodies a fusion of propane and butane – a favored substitute fuel prevalent in numerous regions and principally employed for culinary purposes. It emanates as a byproduct during natural gas refinement and petroleum processing, providing a 15% more environmentally friendly combustion procedure than gasoline.

LPG cars produce fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants, presenting an appealing choice for environmentally conscious drivers. Numerous vehicles can be effortlessly altered to run on LPG, even a Porsche 911, and it is readily accessible, especially in Europe and Asia. Nonetheless, its prominence waned due to multiple predicaments. Primary issues encompassed leaks due to improper storage and premature component wear.

Solar Power

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Solar-fueled automobiles tap into energy straight from the sun, utilizing photovoltaic cells to transform sunlight into electrical power. This signifies the ultimate sustainable energy solution, with solar-run vehicles emitting no pollutants and depending on a plentiful, renewable resource (barring nighttime).

Breakthroughs in solar innovation have resulted insignificant advancements, like the Stella Terra all-terrain solar-powered vehicle crafted by a group of students at the Eindhoven University of Technology. While solar automobiles are not yet widespread, ongoing exploration and progress offer some potential.

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Mazda has been investigating methodologies to sustain the internal combustion engine amidst escalating environmental guidelines. One of these approaches involves creating fuel from seaweed. Seaweed, being a rapidly renewable source, can be cultivated without the need for fertile land or fresh water.

Through its collaboration with Hiroshima University, Mazda’s investigations propose that biofuels produced from seaweed (similar to bioethanol) could significantly curtail carbon emissions when contrasted with traditional fossil fuels, presenting an eco-friendly substitute for gasoline-fueled automobiles like the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Tequila Power

Chrysler Turbine Car
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Karrmann/Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-1950s, Chrysler delved into the utilization of turbine engines in vehicles. While not particularly groundbreaking now that this type of engine is favored among speed enthusiasts, this engine variety – capable of running on virtually any substance – sparked various narratives involving unconventional fuels.


As per Leon Dixon of Special Interest Autos Magazine, one of the observers who chronicled the Chrysler turbine engine initiative, an intriguing incident occurred when the vehicle reached Mexico in the ’60s. The President of Mexico then proposed fueling the car with tequila. With two gallons of tequila in the tank, the turbine car ran without any problems – an unforeseen (lemon) twist in the tale of unconventional fuels.



Liquid Air

Liquid Nitrogen Cars
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TechRax/YouTube


Utilizing liquid nitrogen as an unconventional fuel source has been explored for automotive applications. When heated, liquid nitrogen rapidly expands, generating pressure that can drive an engine.



The concept was tested in various experimental vehicles, demonstrating its potential as a zero tailpipe-emission fuel. Liquid Air was one of the vehicles showcasing this in 1902, although it failed commercially due to high production costs associated with liquid nitrogen being an energy-intensive process.



Gas Bag Vehicles

Gas Bag Vehicle
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Low Tech Magazine


In times of fuel scarcity such as World War II, innovative solutions emerged to keep vehicles operational. As per Low Tech Magazine, one such solution was the gas bag vehicle, utilizing large gas bags filled with town gas or methane to propel the engine.


These makeshift vehicles offered a temporary fix during fuel shortages, representing an early adoption of renewable energy in transportation amidst global challenges.



Wood Gas Vehicles

Wood Gas Vehicle
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Low Tech Magazine


Wood gasification is a process converting wood into a combustible gas, usable to propel an internal combustion engine. Wood gas vehicles, or producer gas vehicles, saw widespread use during gasoline shortages in World War II, offering an alternative fuel during challenging times.

Low Tech Magazine shares that these automobiles were equipped with gasifiers, enabling them to operate using a range of biomass materials, such as wood and charcoal.

Nuclear-Powered Robot on Mars Named Curiosity

NASA Curiosity Mars Rover
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NASA


The Mars rover Curiosity operates using a nuclear generator, specifically a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). This system transforms heat from the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electricity, offering a dependable power source for the rover’s gadgets and moving mechanisms.

Although nuclear power is impractical for regular vehicles due to safety worries, it provides unparalleled durability and dependability for space exploration.

1953 Hillman Fueled by Chicken Droppings

1953 Hillman
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Wikimedia Commons

In the UK, an innovator and poultry farmer named Harold Bate converted a 1953 Hillman to operate on methane gas generated from chicken droppings, as reported by Mother Earth News in 1971. The anaerobic decomposition of organic waste produces methane, which can be harnessed to fuel internal combustion engines.


Apart from being an eco-friendly energy source, Bate’s process of converting chicken manure into biogas minimizes waste. He also asserted that his methane-fueled Hillman operated “cleaner, smoother, and with more power on methane” compared to traditional gasoline.

Hyundai Kona EV Operated by Human Excrements

Human Poo-Powered Hyundai Kona EV
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Urban Utilities

Expanding on the concept of biogas, a Hyundai Kona Electric was introduced in 2021, powered by electricity derived from human excrement. The initiative is so efficient that the company utilizing the vehicle claimed to save $1.7 million in operational expenses annually.


Urban Utilities, an Australian sewage treatment firm, created this venture to convert waste into biogas for electricity generation. Appropriately dubbed “Number 2,” the Kona Electric harnesses this electricity to charge its batteries. The company mentioned that one individual’s daily habits can produce adequate electricity to enable the car to travel roughly 0.3 miles.

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