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Alternatives to Conventional Oil
There are many alternatives to conventional oil, some renewable, some non-renewable and some just plain cool! Click for summaries and video of each alternative »
Compressed Air
Tar Sands / Oil Shale






(Lio-Ion, Lead Acid, Nickel, Polymer, Dry, Gel)

Chemical energy is stored in rechargeable battery packs and is used to propel electric motors. Vehicles using both electric motors and internal combustion engines are called hybrid electric vehicles. Plug in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) are unlike hybrid vehicles in that they are not charge sustaining, they are charge depleting systems. These plug in hybrids displace some or all of the internal combustion power/ gasoline fuel. Vehicles no internal combustion engine are all electric vehicles (EV). PHEV and EV are both considered off-vehicle charge capable (OVCC) or plug in, which means that recharging is done from a recharging station.

Battery powered vehicles have been around since the 19th century and have come along way in terms of efficiency and weight. Battery storage and efficiency is measured by kwh, energy density, cycles and life span.

For example a standard lead-acid battery has an energy density of 30-40 watt hours/kg, 500-800 cycles, 5-8 yr. A more recent breakthrough in battery technology is Li polymer which has an energy density of 130-200 watt hour/kg, 500-1000 cycles and last about 2-3 years.

Other types of rechargeable batteries include: Ni-zinc, NiMH, Li ion, Ni-cadmium and the list goes on.

The electric car is sometimes criticized for increasing demand for fossil fuel based electricity for charging. However, many proponents suggest that pollution from a centralized power plant would be easier to deal with from a climate change perspective. In addition rechargeable batteries can be charged by using alternative energy sources. Using new greener battery technologies in combination with alternative energy is an environmentally friendly solution to dependence on foreign oil.


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Biofuels are liquid fuels derived from biomass. Bioethanol is one of the most popular types of biofuels that comes from fermenting sugar and starch crops (such as corn). Biodiesel is derived from vegetable oil & animal fats or recycled restaurant oil and other various greases. In 2008 biofuels accounted for 1.8% of global transportation fuel. The investment in biofuels was more then $4 billion worldwide in 2007.

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Coal (Clean Coal, Coal-to-Liquid, Coal-to-Gas)

Coal is a fossil fuel formed from plant remains, over millions of years.Coal is amazingly energy dense, only second to crude oil. Coal is the number one source of electricity generation, globally.

Demand vs. Supply

Coal reserves in the US remain amongst the largest in the world. These reserves are claimed to hold hundreds of years of supply. However, many analyst that discuss these reserves tend to leave out important supply statistics that drastically change the claimed inventory basis. Even the EIA uses misleading nomenclature when discussing America's coal reserves. Here is a quote from the EIA web site:

"There is enough coal to last approximately 236 years at today's level of use."

A very important part of this sentence that must be understood is "TODAY'S LEVEL OF USE". The sentence should be written as follows:

At 0% demand growth, America's coal reserves will last 236 years.

Of course America has rarely experienced a year where demand for coal remained flat. This leads to understanding the Exponential function. According to Dr. Albert Bartlett, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." In terms of coal demand, if we take a fairly conservative growth rate of 2% per annum, we can calculate the time it takes to double our current usage. There is a logarithm (Rule of 70)that when derived you take the number 70 and divide it by the growth rate, this leads to the doubling time. So at 2% growth in coal usage per year, we will have doubled our usage in 35 years. When calculating the future of energy, one must always include probable growth rates.


Coal-to-Liquid or Coal-to-Gas are fuels that are refined from coal. The US Government has been exploring these CTL/CTG options for decades. New technologies for converting coal to liquid or gas are being developed.

"Across the world, energy has now become the linchpin of economic competitiveness, forcing the U.S. and its industrial competitors to strategically reassess their energy supplies and sources."


The new technologies for converting coal to liquid fuels or gas are substantially better for the environment then the past. However, when calculating the unbelievable demand growth that will come with using coal for transportation, it is obvious that CTL or CTG cannot solve all of our problems. Though continual investment in this technology will certainly prove beneficial for improving our national energy security.


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A compressed air car is propelled by using stored compressed air in tanks to run a motor. The air tanks are generally compressed to 4,500psi or 300 bar. The storage tanks are made from carbon-fiber which is lightweight, strong and will not produce shrapnel. The car is zero emission although indirectly uses energy to compress air. Depending on where that energy comes from greatly affects its purpose as an alternative to fossil fuels. Proponents suggest that compressed air from wind and solar makes compressed air a viable option for energy storage. Current manufacturers include MDI, Tata Motors, Energies among others.

Compressed Air Energy Storage is also a way to utilize compressed air that is created by power plants during off-peak times and can be released to meet higher demand during peak load periods. CAES is being utilized at several power plants throughout the world.


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Energy conservation is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Efficient energy use and decreased energy consumption are two types of energy conservation. There are several benefiting factors that occur when implementing energy conservation, some of which are increased financial capital, environmental quality, national security, personal security, personal comfort, increased profits. There are several ways individual consumers can contribute to energy conservation some easy and low cost ways are to reduce, reuse and recycle, use energy efficient appliances, lighting and vehicles


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Geothermal energy is harvested from inside the Earth's crust. There are several different geo-thermal technologies. These include Geo-Thermal Electric, Direct Application and Geo-Thermal heat Exchange.

Geo-Thermal electric power plants are built where high temperature resources are available near the surface. The power plant created steam from cool water pumped into the ground and uses the steam to turn electric turbines.

Direct Application geo-thermal applies to lower temperature (<300°F) resources and are typically used in district heating, greenhouses and fisheries.

Geo-thermal heat exchange or geothermal heat pump.ground source heat pump is used for central heating/cooling systems that pump heat into buildings from the ground. This is done by running a fluid through a series of underground coils that is then pumped through a heat exchanger connected to the HVAC system. Thus reducing the load on conventional heat sources such as Natural Gas, Heating Oil and Coal. A large portion of the Earth's surface maintains a nearly constant temperature between 50°-60°F. This geo-thermal heat exchange is one of the most energy efficient and simple technologies on the market today.


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Hydroelectricity is one of the oldest and most commonly used forms of alternative energy.
Using the basic principle of the water wheel that Greeks used thousands of years ago, people have realized the huge potential of falling water to generate electricity.

Hydroelectricity is produced by the use of moving water, where power is generated from the
gravitational force of falling or flowing water. The amount of energy produced is dependent
on water pressure and differences in water level, therefore man made dams are constructed to
store and reserve water, which is then used as potential energy or fuel for power generation.
Power stations that contain turbines and generators are built on the downstream side of the dam.
Electrical power is generated within the power station as a result of rushing water spinning the
turbine at great speeds. The turbine is connected to a generator, which converts moving water
into electricity by inducing a current in a magnetic coil. Then once the electricity is produced it
is transported along transmission lines to an electrical utility company.

There are several pros to the using of hydroelectricity. A major advantage of using
hydroelectricity is that it is renewable and cheap. The major cost of generating hydroelectricity
is the cost of the building and maintaining the dams and power stations. There are no fossil
fuels used in the production of electricity, therefore no pollutants or wastes are released into
the atmosphere such as sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, dust and mercury. Using
hydropower prevents the burning of 22 million gallons of old or 120 tons of coal each year.
Since water is naturally recurrent; there is no dependency on foreign prices, transportation and
production changes. Hydroelectricity is also very efficient being able to convert as much as 90%
of available electricity into energy whereas fossil fuels are only about 50% efficient.

Even though there are many advantages to using hydroelectricity, there is also several crucial
drawbacks. By increasing water flow by building a dam, flooding can occur to nearby land,
impacting local vegetation and people who live in that area. Local wildlife and farmland can
be lost. The construction of a dam can alter a rivers natural function and create long term
environmental hazards. Another disadvantage that needs to be taken into consideration is the
unreliability of rainfall in certain areas, which will lead to low energy production.

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Solar energy is a cost effective, renewable, pollutant free alternative source of energy. Solar energy is the radiant light and heat produced by the sun. It’s free and its supplies are limitless. Using a range of technologies, energy generated from the sun can be converted into useable forms of energy, such as thermal or electrical energy. There are two main approaches, solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies, to convert solar energy into energy that we use.
Solar thermal energy is used to generate heat from the sun. Solar thermal energy works by generating heat by using lens and reflectors to concentrate the suns energy into a small area. There are several common forms used to concentrate the suns energy: parabolic trough, dish starlings and solar power towers. Parabolic trough is currently the most developed and proven solar thermal technology.
A parabolic trough is a large, curved mirror it is on a motorized receiver that follows the movement of the sun throughout the day. The mirror’s shape is designed to help it collect a great deal of sunlight and then reflect it onto a single point, concentrating the solar power. A receiver tube sits at the point where the mirror concentrates all the sunlight. The tube is filled with a working fluid that is heated by the mirror’s light. The fluid is then pumped from the heat source to a nearby power station.
Dish stirlings consists of a solar concentration in a dish structure that supports several curve glass mirrors. The dish tracks the sun throughout the day and concentrates the light onto a stirling engine that generates heat.
Solar power towers convert sunlight by utilizing many large sun tracking mirrors to focus sunlight on a receiver at the top of a tower. The receiver contains a fluid deposit that is then heated and used to generate steam. The steam is then used in a turbine-generator power station to produce electricity.
Photovoltaic’s uses photovoltaic cells or solar cells to directly convert sunlight into electricity. Photovoltaic cells are made of semi conductors. Semi conductors must have at least two electric fields. When light strikes the cell, a portion of it is absorbed in the semi conductor. When this happens, electrons are released, allowing them to flow freely. The electric fields of the semi conductor forces the freed electrons to move in a specific direction. This flow of electrons creates an electric current that can be used as electricity.


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Producing energy, by mining for tar sands and oil shale’s, are some of the dirtiest, most environmentally and wildlife destructive sources being used for energy today. However with an increasing need to find alternative sources of energy, the use of tar sands and oil shale’s have become one of the most wasteful, unconventional ways to generate energy.
Tar sands are a combination of the materials clay, sand, water, and bitumen. Bitumen is a heavy, black viscous oil that can be mined and refined into oil by heating the sand and water material, thus releasing the oil to be collected. However, this is a very complicated, unconventional ways to process oil.

Conventional oil is typically extracted by drilling oil wells, which allows the natural flow of oil into a petroleum reservoir. However extracting oil from tar sands is much more difficult due to the fact that bitumen oil flows very slow, therefore extracting it requires additional, unconventional techniques. Tar sands are mined using strip mining or open pit mining. These systems require enormous amounts of energy and water and emit three times as much global warming pollution as conventional oil production.

Production of oil from oil shale is an extremely costly and environmentally unfriendly form of oil extraction. Oil shale is any sedimentary rock that contains the solid bituminous materials called kerogen. When the rock is heated, petroleum-like liquids are released, however in order extract the oil; it is very expensive and complicated process. Like tar sands, oil shale’s cannot be pumped directly from the ground. Therefore the oil shale must first be mines and then heated at a high temperature and the resulting liquid then must be separated and collected. Mining for oil shale also leads to many environmentally damaging effects to our environment. The land used for mining is damage and the process of oil extraction of oil shale’s leads to the emission of high amounts of harmful greenhouse gases.

Therefore is mining for tar sands and oil shale’s really an alternative to conventional oil extraction? Taking into account the variety of environmental impacts, global warming and green house gas emissions, and impact on wildlife, air and water quality, tar sands and oil shale’s may be one of the most unconventional, harmful, costly, and dangerous forms of alternative energy production.

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Wave power is a renewable resource where energy is generated by the interaction of wind and water creating waves. Waves are caused by wind blowing over the surface of the ocean, creating waves to rise and fall. An immense amount of power is created with the falling and rising of waves. With that immense amount of wave power, energy from waves can be harnessed to generate electricity.

In order to tap into wave power, there needs to be exposure to waves and some sort of power station needs to be developed and installed in order to convert wave energy into useable energy. Since there are extreme difference in wave power generated throughout the world, and also cannot be generated effectively in all parts of the world, generating wave power is extremely difficult and power stations are rare.

There are several methods that are being used as power station to capture useable energy from waves. The oscillating water column is a device that is submerged or on the surface. Water is trapped inside a chamber with air trapped above it. The waves cause the trapped water column to move up and down or back and forth. This motion is then used to drive an electric generator. Overtopping devices are filled by incoming waves to levels about the surrounding ocean. The water is then released, causing it to fall back toward the ocean surface. The falling water generates energy by turning a hydro turbine. A point absorber is a floating structure that moves in accordance with wave action. The motion is used to drive electromechanical energy converters.

Wave power is an inexpensive, pollutant free form of reusable energy. However with the inconsistency of wave power, and the durability needed in power stations to withstand extreme weather conditions, power stations designed to use wave power are still rare.


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Using wind power to generate energy is one of the most promising alternative energy sources today. Wind power has been harnessed and taken advantage of for thousands of years with the windmill design used to pump water and grind grain. Gradually, windmills have been upgraded to wind turbines. Wind turbines have a huge potential to generate great amounts of useable energy, without the harmful effects to our environment and atmosphere.
Wind energy is the utilization of the energy that moves the air. Wind energy in essence comes from the sun. When the sun heats up the surface of the Earth, the air becomes warm and moves up towards the atmosphere. When the warm air rises up it creates a void where cooler air rushes to fill that void and this air rushing to fill the void is called as wind. This wind can then be captured and turned into electricity. As long as the sun exists, wind will be created, thus it is an efficient, renewable source of energy.
The energy of the wind is converted into useable wind power by the use of turbines. Wind turbines have blades which are meant to intercept the winds passing through them. As the turbine blades intercept the winds, they start moving and the movement of the turbine blades produces power. The turbine is attached to a generator which converts the rotational energy into electric energy.
There are two basic categories of generating energy from the wind, commercial and micro. Turbines used for commercial production are found on turbine farms where there can be hundreds of three bladed turbines capable of producing larger amounts of electricity used for agricultural and other uses. Wind farms are typically found in open areas where there are strong steady winds. The turbines in wind farms are very large and tall, in order to be able to extract the most amount of energy from the wind. Micro wind turbines are of smaller stature then those found in commercial wind farms and are typically used to help reduce electrical home costs in urban and rural residential areas. Micro turbines are light, compact and can produce energy with lower amount of winds.
Wind power is a pollutant free, renewable alternative source of energy. Also with the availability of small turbines has led to an increase in use and electrical savings in residential areas. However the amount of wind in an areas and the inconsistency of wind is a disadvantage and problem with relying on energy generated by the wind.


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Alternative Page Credits:
Summary Authors: Stacey Zarnowski & Chris Fisher
Co-Author/Graphic Design: Matthew Coyle





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