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Alternative Fuels - Beyond Fossils


How long until petroleum runs out? Will petroleum run out?  

study compiled by University College, London, published in the journal Nature says that a third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves would need to remain in the ground for the international community to reach its goal of staying below a maximum two degrees Celsius global average temperature rise. According to British energy company, Ecotricity, the globe’s current oil deposits only have enough oil to last until 2052. That means that young people who have entered into the workforce this year, will most likely still be working when the current oil reserves dry up.

BP on the other hand, says that the world is no longer at risk of running out of oil or gas, with existing technology capable of unlocking so much that global reserves would almost double by 2050 despite booming consumption.

In any case, reducing vehicle emissions will positively impact the environment and air quality, so measures need to be taken before we have to rebrand from our vehicle tracking systems as horse and cart tracking systems. In New Zealand, the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from road vehicles (Statistics New Zealand, 2015).

The time is now for New Zealanders to start investigating and investing in alternative fuels. These fuels are a logical step in truly being the clean, green country we show in tourism ads:


“All-electric” vehicles use power that is stored in batteries. When batteries are depleted, they can be recharged from a wall socket much like a laptop or a smartphone. They can also be recharged via a dedicated charging unit. Since all-electric vehicles do not run on petrol or diesel, when they are refuelled by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, they’re considered virtually emissions-free.

Electric hybrid vehicles utilise both a battery and a diesel/petrol powered internal combustion engine. The battery powers the vehicle’s air conditioning and accessories while the vehicle idles at traffic lights and the electric motor can start the vehicle moving again. If needed, the combustion engine will reengage to provide more power when accelerating.

Registered electric vehicles have nearly cracked the 12,000 milestone according to a report released by the Ministry of Transport. Electric vehicle models that you can currently see on Kiwi roads include BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, a variety of Tesla Motors models, Kia Soul and Renault Zoe. These vehicles come in many different sleek designs so there is bound to be a vehicle that matches someone’s aesthetic tastes.

Heavy commercial vehicles are also playing their part in the national electric vehicle fleet. Waste Management now owns five all-electric trucks. The trucks can cover 200km before they need recharging. The company laud their electric trucks as a unique example of circular economy. Waste Management takes collected waste to their sustainable landfill and energy parks, where waste is used to generate electricity that is fed into the national grid. This electricity then charges the Waste Management trucks, completing the circle.

There is talk that the Government are set to introduce more incentives for electric vehicles this year. There is currently a RUC exemption on heavy electric vehicles until 2 per cent make up the total number of the heavy vehicle fleet. This could help the government reach their goal of 64,000 electric vehicles on New Zealand roads by the end of 2021. The government are also putting their money were their mouth is and have confirmed their plans to transition their full fleet to emissions-free vehicles by 2026.

Interestingly, of the all vehicles owned by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), over half are electric vehicles. This is a dramatic increase over 12 months, as in January 2018, electric vehicles made up only two per cent of the DIA fleet.


Hydrogen has zero carbon emissions, so this fuel gets a big thumbs up on the eco-friendly front. To make hydrogen fuel, electrolysis splits tap water into hydrogen which is stored in the tank for later use and the oxygen is released into the air.

Germany currently has two high-speed hydrogen powered trains commissioned to run on the Lower Saxony railways, which have been running since September 2018. These trains can travel 1,000km on one tank of hydrogen and can reach speeds of up to 140 kilometres per hour. The trains can be refuelled in 15 minutes by a pump similar to a petrol pump.

The main drawback for hydrogen powered vehicles is that there currently isn’t enough refuelling infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles around the globe. However, by the end of this year, the Ports of Auckland plan to unveil a hydrogen refuelling station on the Waitemata Harbour. This station can be used for cars, buses, tugs, carriers and other port equipment.


Biofuel/biodiesel is derived from biomass – plants, algae, vegetable oils and animal fats. Since these materials can be replenished readily, biofuel is considered a sustainable energy source unlike petroleum-based fossil fuels.

Some promising sources for biofuel include corn and sugarcane, the latter is very popular in Brazil, where 85 per cent of all gasoline is ethanol based. Ethanol isn’t even a revolutionary idea, Henry Ford originally designed his Model T to run on ethanol until Oil Baron John D. Rockefeller convinced him that his oil would be better. What is revolutionary is in New Zealand Gull and DB Breweries teamed up to create the world’s first biofuel from beer waste products.

In Norway, cruise-liner Hurtigruten has announced that six vessels in their fleet are to be retrofitted to run on a hybrid of liquified natural gas (LNG), electric batteries and liquified bio gas. The organic waste used to fuel these ships would have emitted into atmosphere anyway, such as dead fish, and waste from agricultural and forestry industries. Hurtigruten’s destinations include Greenland, Antarctica, and Svalbard in Norway, so the company has seen the retreating ice caps first hand.

Back at home, multinational diary giant Fonterra has set a zero emissions target 2050, with a 30 per cent reduction by 2030. To reach this commitment, Fonterra have planned to use biofuel in its tanker fleet and they had also committed to having 100 electric light vehicles in their fleet by 2019.


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