Suggested Citation: Ni Weidou, Bai Quan, and D. Sperling. "Prospects for Vehicle-used Alternative Fuels in China," Chapter 5, pp.256-289 in Sustainable Urban Transportation: Context, Challenges, and Solutions. China Communications Press, 2008 (English and Chinese).
As China's population and economy expand, more goods are moved, more people travel, more energy is used, and more wastes are generated. In China, this growth dynamic is especially rapid and expansive. With continuing rapid growth, pollution, oil imports, and greenhouse gas emissions will rapidly increase. This rapid motorization process is not sustainable without improvements in energy and environmental performance. This chapter examines the prospects for alternative fuels in China to ease both the energy and environmental challenges transportation places on China's future. We focus on fuel/engine combinations, including a brief review of the role of electric drive.
Many fuels can be substituted for conventional petroleum fuels in internal combustion engines. The most prominent alternative fuels are alcohols, methanol, DME, liquefied petroleum gases (LPG), natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, and petroleum-like fuels made from coal and natural gas. The liquid and gaseous fuels can be used in internal combustion engines with minor modifications. Electricity requires an electric motor and batteries (and/or ultracapacitors) for on-board storage. Hydrogen can be burned in an internal combustion engine, but is more efficiently converted into electricity with a fuel cell.
Most of these alternative fuels have proven to be successful in reducing pollutants and exhaust emissions when used in motor vehicles, but they also require additional vehicle costs in most cases, as well as new fuel distribution systems. A major attraction for China (and other nations is that these fuels can be produced domestically. In this chapter, we examine the advantages and disadvantages of the leading fuel candidates for both the short and long term.