Liquid fuels

From Academic Kids

Liquid fuels are those combustible or energy-generating molecules which can be harnessed to create mechanical energy, which in turn usually produces kinetic energy, and which also must take the shape of their container. Most liquid fuels in widespread use also fall under the category of fossil fuels; however, there are several types, including next-generation hydrogen-fuel test cars that utilize liquid fuels which do not fall under this category, as well as ethanol.

This article deals primarily with the concept of liquid fuels in relation to ground transport. However, the usefulness of liquid fuels in the development of rocketry cannot be overlooked.


Fossil fuels

Main Article: Fossil Fuel

Fossil fuels which are also liquid fuels come from dead animals and plants which died many millions of years ago. The most notable of these is gasoline.


Main Article: Petrol

Gasoline is the most widely used liquid fuel. Gasoline (known as petrol in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many English-speaking countries) is made of hydrocarbon molecules forming aliphatic compounds, or chains of carbons with hydrogen atoms attached. However, many aromatic compounds (carbon chains forming rings) such as benzene are found naturally in gasoline and cause the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to the fuel.

Production of gasoline is achieved by distillation of crude oil. The desirable liquid is separated from the crude oil in refineries. Crude oil is extracted from the ground in several processes, the most commonly seen may be beam pumps. To create gasoline, petroleum must first be removed from crude oil.

Gasoline itself is actually not burned, but the fumes it creates ignite, causing the remaining liquid to evaporate. Oil is extremely volatile and easily combusts, making any leakage extremely dangerous. Oil for sale in most countries carries an octane rating. Octane is a measure of the resistance of gasoline to combusting prematurely, known as knocking. The higher the octane rating, the harder it is to burn the fuel, which allows for a higher compression ratio. Engines with a higher compression ratio produce more power (such as in race car engines). However, such engines actually require a higher octance fuel.


Main Article: Diesel

Conventional diesel is similar to gasoline in that it is a mixture of aliphatic hydrocarbons extracted from petroleum. Diesel may cost more or less than gasoline, but generally costs less to produce because the extraction processes used are simpler. Many countries (particularly in Europe) also have lower tax rates on diesel fuels.

After distillation, the diesel fraction is normally processed to reduce the amount of sulfur in the fuel. Sulphur causes corrosion in vehicles, acid rain and higher emissions of soot from the tail pipe (exhaust pipe). In Europe, lower sulfur levels are legally required than in the United States. However, recent US legislation will reduce the maximum sulphur content of diesel from 3,000 ppm to 500 ppm by 2007, and 15 ppm by 2010. Similar changes are also underway in Australia, New Zealand and several Asian countries.

A diesel engine is a type of internal combustion engine which ignites fuel by compressing it (which in turn raises the temperature) as opposed to using an outside source, such as a spark plug.


Alcohols are a useful type of liquid fuel because they combust rapidly (too rapidly for fossil fuel replacement) and are often cheap to produce. However, their acceptance is hampered by the fact that as much or even more fossil fuel as they replaced is often used in their production. In this sense, alcohols are a chemical substance; they are similar chemically, but not identical to, the depressant of the same name.


Main Articles: Butanol, Clostridium acetobutylicum, alcohol as a fuel

Butanol is an alcohol may be used as a fuel with the normal combustion engine, typically as a product of the ferment of biomass with the bacterium clostridium acetobutylicum (also known as the Weizmann organism). This process was first delineated by Chaim Weizmann in 1916 for the production of acetone from starch for making TNT.


Main Article: Ethanol, alcohol as a fuel

Ethanol, also known as grain alcohol or ethyl alcohol, is most commonly used in alcoholic beverages. However, it may also be used as a fuel, most often in combination with gasoline. For the most part, it is used in a 9:1 ratio of gasoline to ethanol to reduce the negative environmental effects of gasoline.

Ethanol for use in gasoline and industrial purposes may be called a fossil fuel because it is synthesised from the petroleum product ethylene, which is cheaper than production from fermentation of grains or sugarcane.


Main Article: Methanol

Methanol is produced from the natural gas component methane. Its main application is limited due to the weighty environmental impacts that come with it. Small amounts are used in some gasolines to make them burn less readily (the same idea behind octane levels). Methanol is also called wood alcohol, because it is like ethanol and alcohol and may be created through wood (though this is not a general practice for commercial production). Methanol fuels are used mainly in some race cars and model airplanes.


Main Article: Hydrogen car

Hydrogen as a fuel is a feasible option for future use as a fuel. Liquid hydrogen is an important consideration because it has a higher density than its gaseous counterpart. Liquid hydrogen would be stored in cryogenic tanks. Its application would be most useful in fuel cells where hydrogen would react with oxygen (obviously this is readily available in the air) to create electricity which would power the vehicle.

Unfortunately, widespread use of liquid hydrogen is several decades away. Their application is plagued with several serious problems including production, which may still involve fossil fuels, durability of the fuel cells to common roadway conditions such as bumps, and the impracticibility of conversion of older cars. For a more detailed explanation see the Hydrogen car article.

See also


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