Innovation in the Search for Alternative Fuel

| By Editorial Team

How Tesla, Mercedes Benz, MIT and the U.S. Marines Are Working on the Same Problem

From diesel to hybrids to electrics to mini-generators, here are three companies (and one branch of the U.S. military) that are innovating their way to more choices on the menu of alternative fuel sources.

Mercedes Benz

2014-mercedes-benz speedometer

Mercedes-Benz and its E320 BlueTec diesel luxury models are proving to high-end automobile buyers that diesel vehicles don’t automatically mean noisy, smelly, polluting or slow. Even to picky and particular Mercedes loyalists, the Mercedes definition of “diesel” is being seen as “exceptional power and performance.”

The Mercedes BlueTec technology doses the harmful nitrous oxides produced by the car’s engine with urea in a downstream catalytic converter. Urea, a type of ammonia, converts the NOx emissions into harmless nitrogen and water. (And yes, urea is one of the main components of urine.) The BlueTec system then goes further with an aggressive filter that cleans up virtually all of the particulate emissions from the exhaust. Even with all that scrubbing and processing going on under the hood, there is no sacrifice of performance.

Tesla Motors

Tesla charging stationTesla Motors not only brought their revolutionary, all-electric Model S to the world, Elon Musk and his company are determined to eliminate one of the major barriers to wider adoption of electric vehicles – availability of places to plug in.

Tesla has been on a roll, placing its charging stations across the U.S. The company describes its “Tesla Supercharger” as “the fastest charging station on the planet” with the ability to fuel a Tesla vehicle in less than 45 minutes.

Telsa’s goal is removing the “range anxiety” that has stood in the way of greater acceptance of electric vehicles. Now, Tesla owners can plan a coast-to-coast drive without worrying about access to juice.

XL Hybrids

fed exXL Hybrids is a Boston-based start-up that applies its emissions-reducing technology to fleet vehicles, including those operated by FedEx. The company retrofits gas guzzling trucks with high-efficiency hybrid diesel-electronic technology. With more than 12 million fleet vehicles operated in the U.S. alone, the company’s impact on reducing harmful fuel emissions could be game-changing.

XL Hybrids got its start in one of MIT’s incubators, but it hasn’t focused its marketing efforts on the environmental argument. To fleet owners with fuel costs that could easily ruin even the best-managed companies, saving money is the be-all, end all. Reducing pollution is “only” a valuable by-product.

U.S. Marine Corps

US Marine CorpsThe U.S. Marine Corps has taken their mission to develop energy-efficient technology to an even higher-level than saving the planet. Its clean-energy innovations might mean the difference between life and death.

The Expeditionary Energy Office, or E2O, has developed dozens of alternative energy systems that can reduce dependence on fossil fuels during missions. Some have shown the potential to cut diesel use in half, sustain longer missions and improve soldiers’ safety.

One of the most important innovations involves those hulking military combat trucks. Even though they idle 70 percent of the time, they are gas guzzling monsters. Their engines need to continuously power critical electronics systems. E2O is working on development of small generators that allow truck engines to be turned off without also shutting down computers.

What does this mean for the future of oil? Demand for it certainly isn’t going away any time soon. But, as the world’s need for energy grows, oil can’t be the only answer. If Mercedes and Tesla owners, FedEx and the U.S. military are on board with this small sampling of innovations, even if we start seeing the price of a barrel of oil on the Dollar Menu, the marketplace isn’t going to decrease its demand for cleaner fuel sources and more energy-efficient vehicles.

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