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Fossil Fuels

What are the features of a good fuel?

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Answered 2014-01-11 10:49:42

I don't know any "official" answer, but I can list a few good traits:

High energy density. A gallon of gasoline can send a thousand pound car hurtling down a road at 60 mph, for 30 or so miles. Some of that is efficient use of the energy, but that energy has to be there. A fuel that needs, say, 5 gallons to achieve the same effect has a handicap.

Low energy cost to produce. Some fuels have a high energy density, but we spend tons of energy producing them. Ethanol has had some criticism leveled at it for this reason. It costs a lot more, energy wise, to produce ethanol instead of gasoline, and the increased efficiency doesn't make up for it. For low energy cost, the ideal fuel is something you can just pick up and put into your tank.

Stable. You don't have to worry about it just bursting into flames on it's own. Deisel is very stable, it's actually hard to light on fire directly. Jet fuel..not so much.

Renewable/Sustainable. The long term viability of the fuel is also important. You could have the highest energy density, lowest cost to produce, and incredibly stable fuel...but if you run out in 2 years...who cares?


Another quality of a good fuel is that is does not produce CO2 when used. Coal, oil and gas are all carbon fuels, and burning carbon with oxygen from the air produces the gas carbon dioxide or CO2. When the chemical carbon-oxygen bonds are formed, a lot of heat energy is produced, which is how these fuels work.

Same carbon is safe to burn, that is carbon which was taken out of the atmosphere recentyl, let's say in the last 200 years. Therefore burning wood is OK because the trees took CO2 out of the air when growing. Ethanol made from crops is also good because growing the plants absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.

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