By Guest Blogger Ali Lawrence
For decades, we’ve heard about the promise of the electric car. These cars don’t produce any tailpipe emissions, they’re less expensive (they cost about one-third or one-quarter less per mile than their gas-guzzling counterparts), and you can fill them up at home. On top of that, they’re practically silent, meaning you won’t have to hear the loud whirr of the engine as you drive from Point A to Point B.
The cars — which have theoretically been coming down the pike since the ‘70s — still have yet to make considerable inroads in the market, despite the soaring success of companies like Tesla Motors on Wall Street. In 2013, for example, 96,000 electric cars were sold in the United States, representing about one-half of one percent of the market that year.
So while electric cars have yet to take off — it remains to be seen if they ever will —scientists are working on alternative green energy sources they hope will one day power the automobile.
Using the Sun for Fuel
At Harvard, researchers recently revealed they figured out how to convert solar energy into liquid fuel, a breakthrough that may very well have substantial implications as we search for alternative fuel sources.
Here’s how it works: Scientists use sunlight to break apart water into hydrogen and oxygen. By using a bacterium and adding carbon dioxide, they’re able to convert the gases into isopropanol, a liquid fuel generally used in cleaning, pharmaceutical or cosmetic applications.
Who knows whether scientists will be able to leverage isopropanol to power cars in such a way that allows them to move quickly over long stretches of road. After all, General Motors believes “range anxiety” — a driver’s fear of their electric car running out of juice and leaving them stranded on the highway — is a primary inhibitor of EV adoption. So in order for an electric car to really be successful, it has to be able to cover lots of ground.
But they will most assuredly be trying.
Will Isopropanol Be the Gasoline of the Future?
Charged with the task of ensuring the planet remains livable for future generations, many environmentally conscious car owners are proactively looking to reduce their carbon footprints, finding a more fuel-friendly vehicle like a hybrid (if not a fully electric car), taking public transportation or carpooling.
Believe it or not, Americans consumed 13 percent less gasoline in 2012 than they did in 2007, though they still burned through 123 billion gallons of gasoline. This reduction was driven in part by new, alternative forms of energy.
While we still rely on gasoline, researchers are pursuing a variety of substitutes, including ethanol, methanol, compressed natural gas, biodiesel, electricity and hydrogen. These alternative fuel sources have helped reduce our collective carbon footprint — but we can certainly do better.
The breakthroughs at Harvard certainly give us a glimmer of hope that we as a society may very well be able to begin seriously weaning off gasoline and oil in our lifetimes. The sun is one of our most renewable resources, and as such we should do all we can to leverage its power.
Imagine driving a solar-powered car that doesn’t shut off at nighttime or on a cloudy day. Thanks to the researchers at Harvard, it appears as though we’re a step closer to experiencing that reality.
About the Author
Ali Lawrence is a tea-sipping writer who focuses on healthy and sustainable living via her family blog Homey Improvements. She was born and raised in Alaska and dabbles in PR, Pilates, and is a princess for hire for kid’s parties.