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Different Kinds of Fuels and their History

Simply put, there is no best fuel for a car. Each fuel has its own advantages and disadvantages.

By Anthony Arnold, Guest Writer with photos from the Bob T. collection

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Car manufacturers these days are in a race with each other to manufacture the most environment-friendly cars. Companies have been researching on many different fuels to see which one of them is the most-effective, cheap and reliable fuel.

The focus these days is to extract as much energy as you can from a fuel and also keep the pollutants in the exhaust to a minimum. This is why companies are continuously looking for alternatives to improve efficiency and environment-friendliness.

History of Automobile Fuels

The history of car fuels goes way back to the 19th century. For different kinds of motors and boats, different types of materials were adopted to use as fuels to fun different types of motors. The first experimentation of its kind was done by Nicephore Niepce in 1806 when he tried to use coal dust to power a boat engine.

This experiment didn’t run as successfully as he would’ve liked, so the coal dust usage as a fuel was halted for some time. But it made a comeback once more in 1892 when Rudolf Diesel, who later went on to manufacture a compression-based engine tried to use coal dust as a fuel. This was definitely not the best approach, so Diesel shifted to a compression-based ignition engine instead.

Going back to 1886 when the first ever commercial automobile was made, gasoline made its debut as a commercial engine fuel. Karl Benz in Mannheim developed the first ever gasoline engine-based wagon in 1886. But, even at that time, a lot of people preferred to use batteries instead of gasoline. The batteries in those days were not really powerful and efficient enough to last long, so the idea of them being a permanent automobile runner eventually failed, despite the fact that Lohner-Porsche had strongly adopted battery usage.

The batteries at that time were expensive, and due to the cheapness and availability of petroleum fuels, the idea of having batteries to power cars died for the next century. So, gasoline was adopted as the main fuel king at that time, and it still is today. When cars were evolving, fuels evolved as well.

When drivers go to a gas station to fill their car with gas, they cannot find a 100% pure gasoline. Putting the right fuel in your car is vital, if you fill up gasoline in diesel or diesel in gas it can be a costly mistake. Trust me it does happen, a lot! What we know is that gasoline is a mixture of many different organic compounds. Earlier versions of gasoline had some disadvantages such as increased knocking and self-ignition problems, so other materials were added alongside the gas in order to prevent such issues. For instance, tetraethyl lead was included in the gasoline mix to remove the self-ignition issue.

With the passage of time, more environmental issues with gasoline arrived such as dangerous lead pollutants which were a danger to the environment. So, catalytic converters were introduced which really helped greatly to reduce the amount of lead in the exhaust gases. These days, ten percent ethanol is added to gas as a knock preventer so that the car runs smoothly without making too much noise.

Diesel has incurred a similar history as well which originated after the experiments made by Rudolf Diesel. He experimented with several fuels from coal dust to peanut oil. From there, the use of diesel grew bigger and bigger. Diesel is a more efficient fuel as compared to gasoline and has more than 30% fuel efficiency. This is due to the fact that diesel has a much higher compression ratio, which results in more efficiency.

Types of Different Car Fuels

Due to research initiated by different companies, many more fuels were discovered after gasoline. These sometimes offered a solution to some of the restrictions of the preceding fuel. Here are the different types of fuel.


Gasoline/Petrol has a huge history of being a reliable car fuel. It has been the fuel of choice for cars for more than a century now. Gasoline has an advantage of producing immense acceleration which comes from its property of a quickly igniting fuel. So, to prevent the fuel from igniting too quickly, it is mixed with other substances to create a blend, which brings some equilibrium into the fuel efficiency as well as car acceleration.


Diesel has long been in usage after Rudolph Diesel first used it in his compression ignition engine more than a century ago. Diesel fuel is used in diesel engines, which are famous for their longevity and long, grueling drives. That is why most of the vans and trucks you see on the road are running on Diesel.

Diesel engines are much more fuel efficient and can constantly run for long periods without any interruption, which is perfect for the heavy-duty tasks which trucks must perform. But, these days, a number of sedans and luxury cars utilize a diesel engine as well, which gives the customers an option of choosing either the gasoline variant or the Diesel variant of the same model. (This option is becoming less however due to the various diesel engine scandals created by a number of German automakers.)

Liquefied Petroleum (Propane)

Propane used in Canada and the US isn’t of pure quality. It is mixed with Butane or Propylene and used for lighting small fires. However, it is one of the most cost-effective oils and is used as a fuel in the UK hybrid cars.

Propane-engined cars do not produce as much smog and pollution such as diesel and gasoline. That is why it is expected to take more share in the fuel usage in the world in the next few years as it is cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.

Compressed Natural Gas

Compressed Natural Gas is an acronym for CNG, which also acts as fuel in a number of vehicles. It can be used as a fuel in the gasoline engine as well, which means both gasoline and CNG can be run on the same engine. CNG is more than 75% less environmentally harmful as compared to both gasoline and diesel.

CNG is also much cheaper than the usual fuels and its usage seems to be on the rise in countries such as Pakistan and India. Many drivers have the CNG kit attached to their car.


Ethanol is also termed as a bio-fuel because it is extracted from sugarcane and corn. It is one of the fuels which can be used as a viable alternative to run a gasoline engine. Ethanol can be a good and affordable potential alternative to fossil fuels but in order to do that, you need a lot of sugarcane and corn. Ethanol production, even if done on a large scale, will not be able to meet even half the demands of a big country like the US or the UK. But, it is cheap, affordable and very environment-friendly.

Which Fuel is the best for your Car?

Simply put, there is no best fuel for a car. Each fuel has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some cheap fuels do not have a high mileage rate, while other more expensive fuels with a higher mileage can be more hazardous for the environment. Accessibility is also an issue for other fuels than gasoline and diesel.

Each fuel has its own pros and cons and a fuel engine should be chosen depending on the requirements of individuals and what they want from the vehicle.

Anthony Arnold has been in automotive industry for years. He specializes in car engines and loves to share his experiences online in different blogs and articles.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. But I always needed high-test in my chopper to get to her side quick!

Check the 5-Ball Racing Flat Out Vest. Super clean. Click for action.
Check the 5-Ball Racing Flat Out Vest. Super clean. Click for action.

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