Alcohol fuels

Alcohol fuels, such as ethanol and methanol, can be produced from a variety of different feedstocks. Common feedstocks include sugarcane in Brazil and corn in the United States, but ethanol and methanol can be derived from natural gas, coal, yard trimmings and even trash. Additionally, alcohol fuels can be used in the majority of vehicles on the road today with a software update and minimal changes to the fuel system. Alcohol fuels naturally have a higher octane rating than gasoline and diesel fuel — meaning they burn cleaner and more efficiently, emitting less pollution.


Fuels derived from plants or animals, even some waste products such as used cooking oil. Currently, biofuels are generally produced from plants or plant matter such as corn, sugarcane and palm oil.


Compressed Natural Gas. CNG is natural gas kept under pressure to be used as transportation fuel. Despite the high cost of installing a system to use CNG in vehicles, the relatively low price of natural gas is spurring businesses and government agencies to retrofit large fleets of cars and trucks to operate on the fuel.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This entity of the federal government’s executive branch is responsible for regulating the Clean Air Act and fuel economy standards, as well as conducting research. The agency was formed Dec. 2, 1970, nearly eight months after the first Earth Day celebration. Americans were calling for greater protection of natural resources, and President Richard Nixon made environmental reform a key component of his domestic policy. For more information:


An alcohol fuel that can be produced from plants and plant byproducts, algae, natural gas, and garbage. The vast majority of gasoline sold in the United States contains up to 10 percent ethanol (also known as E10). NASCAR race cars use a higher concentration of ethanol, E15.


Any material that can be used as a raw material to produce transportation fuels.

Flex-Fuel Vehicles

Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) can run on gasoline or a mix of gasoline and up to 51 – 83 percent ethanol (E85). They are distinguished from other cars by their yellow gas cap, and often a “flex-fuel” badge is displayed on the rear of the vehicle.


Formally known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is an unconventional oil-extraction process used in 90 percent of new oil projects in the United States. By breaking through, or fracturing, underground rock formations with high-powered injections of water and chemicals, oil or natural gas trapped below becomes accessible and extractable. Fracking must be done carefully to avoid harming freshwater supplies or the environment

Fuel economy

The estimated number of miles per gallon for a given vehicle, under specific driving conditions such as highway or city driving


Organic compounds of hydrogen and carbon that release energy when ignited. The most commonly known hydrocarbons are fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas.


An alcohol fuel that can be produced from a variety of materials, including natural gas, coal and garbage. Methanol fueled thousands of passenger vehicles in California during the 1980s and ’90s, and it’s currently at the forefront of alternative fuel use in China. Other countries, like Australia and Israel, are experimenting with it as well.

Miles per dollar

The number of miles that can be driven for one U.S. dollar. Replacement fuels have a lower energy content than gasoline but burn more efficiently. They’re also generally cheaper than gasoline. Therefore, miles per dollar is a more accurate measurement with which to compare the price of replacement fuels with gasoline.

Natural gas

An abundant and widely used hydrocarbon gas primarily comprised of methane. Among its many uses, natural gas is used for heating, cooking, electricity generation, and powering vehicles. It can also be synthesizedinto alcohol fuels such as ethanol and methanol.

Octane Rating

How the performance of a fuel is measured. A higher octane rating means the fuel can withstand higher rates of compression and heat in an engine and will burn more efficiently and cleanly.

Oil monopoly

A term referring to near total dependence on petroleum fuels in the transportation sector. The entrance of replacement fuels (electric, natural gas, alcohol fuels, fuel cells) into the transportation fuels marketplace can break this monopoly.


The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC is an international cartel that sets oil prices for international buyers, based on supply and demand. OPEC was formed in 1960 by the founding member nations: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. There are currently seven other member nations.

Open Fuel Standard Act

Proposed congressional legislation in to ensure that consumers are not restricted in their fuel choices. Under the Act, automakers would no longer be able to manufacture cars that only run on gasoline, and instead allow consumers to decide what fuels they use in their vehicle.


A general term for liquid hydrocarbons that can be refined into many different products, such as gasoline, aviation fuel, kerosene and diesel.

Proven reserves

Estimated amount of oil that can be recovered using existing technology, under current economic conditions.

Recoverable oil

Oil that can be technically and/or economically recovered.

Shale oil

Unconventional oil located within shale rock formations. The extraction of shale oil is more technically complex and therefore expensive than the extraction of conventional oil.

Strategic commodity

A resource important enough to a country’s economy that the country will go to war to ensure a steady supply. Salt was once a strategic commodity in Central and South America and Asia before refrigeration. Today, oil is the most common strategic commodity because most forms of transportation rely on it, and there is no widely available replacement.

Tar sands

Also known as oil sands, tar sands is an unconventional oil in which tar-like bitumen is mixed in with sand, clay and water. Extracting and processing tar sands to produce flowing oil is expensive and can damage the environment.

Tight Oil

Unconventional oil that is difficult to access and requires hydraulic fracturing or other complicated processes to extract. This is compared with “light oil,” which is relatively close to the surface and is easily accessible, as with much of the oil in Saudi Arabia.

Unconventional oil

Non-crude oil that requires special technology and processing to extract and convert to liquid form. Examples are shale oil and tar sands.