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Where we've been

Petroleum fuels were not always the fuel of choice for transportation, but became the desired fuel over time. Below is a brief history of the means by which automobiles have acquired their energy for propulsion.

Gasoline was loud, dirty, expensive, and required cranking to get started
A 1919 Detroit Electric. At the turn of the century, there were more electric cars made than gasoline-powered ones.Credit: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hydrogen: Used in the first internal combustion vehicle in 1806.
  • Electricity: First seen in a vehicle in 1832. These were considered superior because they were quiet, until the invention of the muffler in 1897.
  • Steam: Was used into the 1930s.
  • Gas Turbine: Used into the 1950s in prototypes, but never reached commercial production, but are still used by the military (such as in the M1 Abrams Tank).
  • Gasoline: First used in 1885, but was primarily a byproduct of kerosene production.

In 1900, American car companies made 1,681 steam, 1,575 electric and 936 gasoline cars. A poll conducted at the first National Automobile show in New York City found attendees favoring electric, followed closely by steam. at one point there were 50,000 electric vehicles on the roads. Gasoline was loud, dirty, expensive, and required cranking to get started. However, inventions such as the muffler, electric starter, and cheaper ways of producing gasoline caused it to overtake electric and steam.

Decades ago we realized that perhaps the fuel was a little dirty and that we could eventually run out of it, so alternatives were discussed, such as solar power, hydrogen, electricity, compressed natural gas, liquid petroleum, etc. but never really took off, so instead standards were implemented to try to make vehicles slightly more efficient and the fuel slightly cleaner. Then, recently, the world has begun to realize just how expensive and unsustainable this behavior is and that something needs to change now, which is how we got to Where We Are.
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