2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, El Segundo, CA, Nov 2011Enlarge Photo
CNG – Compressed Natural Gas. Honda was the only manufacturer that offered a natural-gas passenger car sold to consumers, the Honda Civic Natural Gas (previously the Civic GX).
While growing supplies of U.S. natural gas at falling prices led some to advocate for natural-gas-fueled cars, the fueling infratructure never emerged, and today there are only 950 natural-gas fueling stations in the U.S., of which fewer than half are open to the public.
Natural-gas vehicles, often in the form of "bi-fuel" powertrains that can run both on gasoline and natural gas, remain confined to trucks and commercial vehicles in North America.
Clean Energy Fuels natural gas refueling station Long Beach, California.Enlarge Photo
Ethanol -- A fuel refined from biological feedstocks: corn in the U.S. and sugar cane in Brazil. Ethanol is both blended into gasoline and sold on its own as vehicle fuel. It is more corrosive than gasoline, and engines meant to use more than 10 percent ethanol must have upgraded hoses, gaskets, and rubber parts.
E10, or gas with 10 percent ethanol has been standard since the 1980s. The EPA has worked, against considerable resistance from carmakers and users of small engines not designed to handle ethanol at all, to get E15 into the fuel stream as well. That effort has been slow at best, and the cost of the necessary "blender pumps" for station operators hasn't helped.
E85 is available in some parts of the U.S. and can be run only in "flex-fuel vehicles" offered by some Detroit makers, but few non-U.S. brands.
LSD: Low Sulfur Diesel. The diesel fuel sold in most of the United States until 2010 could contain up to 500 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, which qualified it as "low sulfur" compared to diesel fuel for non-road uses in farms, construction equipment, and marine vessels--which traditionally contained as much as 5,000 ppm. That high-sulfur diesel fuel is in the process of being phased out.
ULSD: Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel. This fuel has 97 percent less sulfur than low-sulfur diesel, no more than 15 parts per million of sulfur. As of 2010, 100 percent of the diesel fuel sold for vehicle use nationwide must be ULSD. This is what has enabled the latest generation of clean diesel vehicles, whose catalytic converters and other systems--to control nitrous oxides (NOx) and particulates--would otherwise be poisoned by the presence of sulfur.
2016 Toyota Prius - nickel-metal hydride battery packEnlarge Photo
HFCV or FCV: (Hydrogen) Fuel Cell Vehicle. Fuel cells create electricity by combining hydrogen fuel with atmospheric oxygen to produce water vapor, heat, and the electricity that powers an electric motor to turn the wheels of an FCV.
Disadvantages to fuel cell vehicles currently include high cost, and the need for a hydrogen fueling infrastructure that does not now exist. California now has 33 hydrogen stations, of just 37 throughout the U.S., and it is the sole state that has hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road today.
The three makers offering fuel-cell vehicles today are Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota.
2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, 2016 Toyota Mirai at hydrogen fueling station, Fountain Valley, CAEnlarge Photo
Lead-acid (or PbA) batteries -- This is the chemistry used for traditional 12-Volt car batteries, first invented way back in 1859. The first generation GM EV1 electric car, released in 1996, used a battery pack consisting of 26 lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries aren't suitable for modern electric cars, due to their low energy density.
Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries -- Used by the second generation GM EV1 (1999-2002), NiMH batteries offer roughly twice the energy capacity of lead-acid for the same weight. They are not used in plug-in electric cars, but they're still fitted to the majority of hybrid cars--which are only slowly switching to lighter lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion battery (Li-ion or LIB) -- Virtually all plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles use Lithium-ion batteries. They offer roughly double the power-to-weight ratio of NiMH, or four times that of old-style lead-acid batteries. As more plug-in vehicles are developed, the cost of Li-ion cells is expected to decrease at perhaps 7 percent a year.
Nissan prototype 60-kWh battery pack - Nissan Technical Center, October 2015Enlarge Photo
We've undoubtedly missed a few terms, so feel free to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the Comments below.
We'll go back and update this as necessary. Meanwhile, we hope you find it helpful.
Sources for this article include, among others: U.S. Department of Energy, California Air Resources Board, Environmental Protection Agency, Green Car Reports, and Wikipedia.