Alternative Fuels for ICE Vehicles

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Alternative fuels for ICE vehicles encompass a range of non-conventional fuel sources that can power internal combustion engines, offering lower emissions and reduced environmental impact compared to traditional gasoline or diesel. These fuels can be derived from renewable sources, waste materials, or synthetic processes.

Impact on climate action

Alternative fuels for Low-Carbon ICE Vehicles offer a substantial impact on climate action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These fuels, like biofuels or hydrogen, lessen carbon footprints, aiding in the transition to cleaner transportation. Their adoption promotes sustainability, mitigating the environmental consequences of traditional fossil fuels and advancing towards climate goals.


  • Biofuels: Biofuels are derived from organic matter, such as plants, algae, or waste biomass. They can be blended with conventional fuels or used in dedicated engines.
    • Ethanol: Ethanol, typically produced from corn or sugarcane, is a common biofuel blended with gasoline.
    • Biodiesel: Biodiesel, produced from vegetable oils or animal fats, can be used in diesel engines.
  • Hydrogen: Hydrogen can be burned in internal combustion engines, producing only water vapor as a byproduct, offering a potentially zero-emission solution.
  • Synthetic Fuels: Synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels, are produced using chemical processes that combine hydrogen from renewable sources with carbon captured from the atmosphere or industrial emissions. They can be chemically identical to gasoline or diesel, making them compatible with existing infrastructure.
  • Natural Gas: Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) are cleaner-burning fossil fuels compared to gasoline or diesel, emitting lower levels of pollutants.

TRL : Variable (7-9)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Biofuel Production: Research focuses on developing more efficient and sustainable biofuel production processes, exploring new feedstocks, such as algae and cellulosic biomass, and optimizing conversion technologies.
  • Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engines: Innovating in engine design and combustion strategies to improve the performance and efficiency of hydrogen-powered ICE vehicles.
  • Electrofuel Production: Developing scalable and cost-effective technologies for producing synthetic fuels, including optimizing electrolysis for green hydrogen production and capturing CO2 efficiently.
  • Fuel Blending and Compatibility: Researching optimal blending ratios of alternative fuels with conventional fuels to ensure compatibility with existing vehicles and infrastructure.
  • Fueling Infrastructure Development: Expanding the fueling infrastructure for alternative fuels, including building more CNG and LNG fueling stations and developing hydrogen refueling networks.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced Biofuel Production Processes
  • Next-Generation Ethanol Technologies
  • Biodiesel Feedstock Diversification
  • Hydrogen Combustion Engine Optimization
  • Electrofuel Scalability Solutions
  • Green Hydrogen Electrolysis Innovations
  • CO2 Capture for Synthetic Fuel Production
  • Optimal Alternative Fuel Blending
  • Compatibility Testing for Blended Fuels
  • Algae-Based Biofuel Research
  • Cellulosic Biomass Conversion Technologies
  • Enhanced Hydrogen ICE Performance
  • CO2 Recycling for Synthetic Fuel Production
  • Lifecycle Assessment of Alternative Fuels

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Oberon Fuels:
    • Technology Focus: Oberon Fuels specializes in the production of renewable dimethyl ether (rDME), a clean-burning alternative to diesel. They utilize innovative technology to convert biogas and other renewable feedstocks into rDME, which can be used in existing diesel engines.
    • Uniqueness: Oberon Fuels stands out for its focus on rDME, which offers significant environmental benefits compared to traditional diesel fuel. Their technology enables the utilization of waste streams and renewable resources, contributing to sustainability goals.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include transportation, particularly heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses, as well as industrial applications where diesel engines are prevalent.
  • Synhelion:
    • Technology Focus: Synhelion specializes in solar fuels, specifically synthetic fuels produced using concentrated solar energy. They develop novel processes to convert CO2 and water into fuels like hydrogen, syngas, and synthetic hydrocarbons using solar energy as the primary input.
    • Uniqueness: Synhelion’s focus on solar fuels represents a groundbreaking approach to renewable energy and fuels production. By harnessing concentrated solar power, they offer a sustainable solution to traditional fossil fuels.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include industries with high energy requirements, such as transportation, aviation, and industrial processes, as well as regions with abundant solar resources.
  • Keyou:
    • Technology Focus: Keyou is likely focused on hydrogen fuel technology for transportation applications, particularly in the automotive sector. They develop hydrogen fuel systems and retrofit solutions for internal combustion engines, enabling them to run on hydrogen.
    • Uniqueness: Keyou’s approach of retrofitting existing internal combustion engines for hydrogen use offers a cost-effective transition to hydrogen fuel technology. Their solutions can help accelerate the adoption of hydrogen as a clean alternative to traditional fuels.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include automotive manufacturers, fleet operators, and transportation companies looking to transition to zero-emission vehicles powered by hydrogen.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Technology Enhancements: TUM researchers are pioneering advancements in alternative fuels for low-carbon ICE vehicles, including biofuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen-enriched fuels. They are optimizing fuel formulations and combustion processes to improve engine efficiency and reduce emissions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: TUM’s approach involves a holistic assessment of alternative fuels, considering their production, distribution, and utilization within the context of a low-carbon transportation system. They are conducting lifecycle analyses to evaluate the environmental and economic impacts of different fuel options.
    • End-use Applications: The research at TUM has implications for various sectors, including automotive, energy, and environmental industries. By developing sustainable alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, TUM aims to facilitate the transition towards low-carbon mobility while addressing energy security and climate change challenges.
  • Aachen University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Aachen University are focusing on novel approaches to alternative fuels, such as ammonia, methanol, and dimethyl ether (DME), for low-carbon ICE vehicles. They are investigating the combustion characteristics and engine performance of these fuels to optimize their use in internal combustion engines.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Aachen University’s research integrates experimental and computational methods to understand the fundamental mechanisms governing the combustion of alternative fuels. They are developing advanced engine simulations and combustion models to guide the design and optimization of low-carbon propulsion systems.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Aachen University has applications in automotive engineering, fuel production, and environmental sustainability. By exploring unconventional fuel options, Aachen University aims to diversify the energy sources for transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the automotive sector.
  • Chalmers University of Technology:
    • Technology Enhancements: Chalmers University researchers are at the forefront of developing next-generation alternative fuels, such as synthetic biofuels and electrofuels, for low-carbon ICE vehicles. They are investigating novel production pathways and catalyst technologies to produce fuels from renewable sources with minimal environmental impact.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Chalmers University’s research focuses on the integration of alternative fuels with advanced engine technologies, such as turbocharging, direct injection, and variable valve timing, to maximize energy efficiency and minimize emissions. They are exploring hybrid powertrains and waste heat recovery systems to further enhance vehicle performance and sustainability.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Chalmers University has implications for the automotive industry, energy sector, and sustainable development goals. By developing scalable and cost-effective alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, Chalmers University aims to accelerate the transition towards low-carbon mobility and mitigate the environmental impacts of transportation.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Biofuels, CNG, and LNG are already commercially available and used in ICE vehicles worldwide. Several countries have mandates for blending biofuels with gasoline and diesel, and CNG and LNG are gaining traction as cleaner alternatives for heavy-duty vehicles. The commercial implementation of hydrogen and synthetic fuels in ICE vehicles is still limited, with pilot projects and demonstrations underway. However, as production costs decline and infrastructure expands, these fuels are expected to play a more significant role in the future of low-carbon transportation.