There are alternative fuels . . . and then there are alternative fuels.

Ever heard of flubber? The formal, highly technical term for it is, “flying rubber.”

It was such a great concept they made four movies about it

[1]. Some nice guy university scientist invents it in his lab, it gets put on the team’s basketball shoes, and, before you know it, “Hello, college playoffs!”[2]

But do you know what else the professor did with flubber? He powered his old jalopy with it. He even got that creaky bucket of bolts to fly!

Which made us begin to think about alternative fuels. After a little digging, we discovered there were far more than we expected. You hear about EVs all the time, and to a lesser extent, fuels like natural gas and ethanol.

But that’s just half of what’s listed on this Alternative Fuel Locator provided by the United States Department of Energy, and there’s even more options than that, because every day, across the face of the earth, real and would-be engineers are cranking out their own alternatives to the alternatives.

Often the result of out-of-the-box thinking, some of the following energy sources may not seem practical at first, but you’d better believe they laughed at the flubber guy, too. Let’s take a look at what’s out there.

  • Synthetic Gasoline. This gasoline can be produced by capturing carbon from the air or industrial sources and generating hydrogen from electrolysis of water. The carbon and hydrogen are then combined to synthesize methanol. It’s gaining traction in the market with no less than Porsche making a serious commitment to the technology.
  • Biodiesel. This term is really an umbrella for a variety of fuels made out of mostly organic materials. The range is wide. Originators can include food waste and vegetable oil, the latter being a more-or-less straightforward conversion for a diesel engine. There’s a chocolate-powered car, too. Oh, and one that runs on cow manure.
  • Compressed Air. A vehicle powered this way is propelled by the release and expansion of the air within a motor adapted to compressed air. These microcars have entered the market and are available now.
  • Wood-Fired. If you take a look here, you’ll see a trunkless Volvo that looks like a moonshine still is built into the back. But that’s the basic setup for wood-fired cars, which get their power from “biomass gasification” that is then condensed into liquid fuel to drive the engine. A Finnish invention.
  • Solar. Gifted with an unusual appearance because of its reliance of solar panels, at least one of these vehicles successfully made its way across 3000 km width of the Australian continent.
  • Tequila. Detroit comes through in 1964(!) with this innovative approach by Chrysler, one of which the then-president of Mexico proudly rode, flush with national pride.
  • Decaying Nuclear Isotopes. Okay, we’re kind of cheating on this one, because the vehicles in question are submarines and spaceships, but compact nuclear reactors, known as radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), generate electricity, are included on board. These generators get their power from the radioactive decay of certain isotopes, like plutonium-238.

Traditional gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles are not going to go away any time soon, and even if some of the alternative power sources discussed eventually become industry disrupters, the industry will thrive, whatever vehicles are using for power.

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[1] In the John Hughes/Robin Williams 1997 re-make, the propellant is a green goo.

[2] Where were the NCAA sanctions?