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Greener fuels for cars

The type of fuel you use in your car can make a big difference to your impact on the environment. Learn about greener fuel alternatives to petrol – like electricity and biofuels – that produce less carbon dioxide when you drive.

Why choose greener fuels?

Driving cars produces more carbon dioxide – one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for climate change – than any other type of travel in Northern Ireland.

Petrol is the fuel that creates the most carbon dioxide (CO2). Using a car that runs on an alternative to petrol can cut your CO2 emissions from driving.

Diesel

Diesel engines produce less CO2 than petrol cars but currently produce more air pollutants. This is set to change, and in the future diesel cars will be almost as clean as petrol cars in terms of pollutants.

For more information on diesel and petrol, see the page below:

Electric cars (EVs)

Electric cars (sometimes called EVs, for ‘electric vehicles’) are cars that get some or all of their power from batteries. There are:

  • all-electric vehicles with an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) powered by both mains chargeable batteries and a normal combustion engine

Electric cars are zero emission at the point of use. Instead, emissions are produced at the power station generating electricity for the vehicle.

Vehicles that use electricity from renewable sources (like wind power) already produce less CO2 and air pollutants than petrol and diesel equivalents. This will continue to improve as the amount of renewable electricity produced in the UK increases.

Technology has developed to extend the driving range of vehicles to more than 100-130 kilometres.

Europe and the UK are currently working to allow EV owners to use charging points across Europe.

Biofuels

Biofuels, for example biodiesel and bioethanol, are made from plant materials like vegetable oils or wheat.

How to use biofuels

Biofuels can be mixed with ordinary diesel or petrol and used in normal cars. Much of the diesel available in Northern Ireland, and some petrol, now contains biofuel – up to a maximum of five per cent in petrol and seven per cent in diesel.

Environmental impact

Biofuels can cut climate change impacts because the plants they're made from remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air when they grow. This helps balance out the CO2 emissions produced when the fuel is used in a car.

There are concerns that some biofuels compete with food production or contribute to deforestation. The government encourages the sustainable production of biofuels by making biofuel suppliers report on:

  • where the fuels are produced from
  • other information, like the greenhouse gas emissions saved by the fuels

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)

LPG is mainly made up of propane and is obtained as a by-product of oil refining or from natural gas fields.

Converting cars to LPG

LPG can be used as fuel in most petrol engines after they have been converted. Conversions can be dangerous if not done correctly, so you should:

  • check with your car’s manufacturer before getting the engine converted
  • only use an installer approved by UKLPG, the association for the LPG industry

Most LPG vehicles are bi-fuel (or ‘dual fuel’), meaning they can run on either LPG or petrol. This lets the vehicle use petrol in areas where LPG isn’t available.

Costs and benefits

It typically costs from £1,600 to convert a car to LPG, depending on the vehicle. LPG cars can get a lower rate of car tax, as they are classed as ‘Alternative Fuel Cars’.

Vehicles using LPG perform like petrol vehicles, but produce:

  • about 14 per cent less carbon dioxide (CO2) than similar petrol engines
  • similar emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates (soot) to petrol vehicles
  • much lower NOx and particulate emissions than all but Euro 6 diesel engines (for more on Euro 6, see ‘Greener cars and driving’ page below.)
  • slightly more CO2 than diesel engines

NOx and particulates are both harmful to human health.

Fuel cell vehicles

A fuel cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity to drive a vehicle. This type of vehicle is still being developed and is not commercially available yet.

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