A couple of weeks back, I received an invite to visit Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago. The lab spends a fair amount of time on transportation research--up to 10 percent of what the lab does revolves around transportation--as it looks towards the future of fuels used to power the nation's fleets.
The lab claims that is independent of automaker and oil company influence, leaving it free to make decisions based on research rather than favoring one fuel over another due to outside influence. The employees at Argonne spend a lot of time researching plug-in hybrids and alternative fuels, and they look into more than just how well those fuels work in cars and trucks--they also look at issues such as production and transport of the fuels.
For those reasons, the lab seems high on butanol, due to the fact that it is easier to transport, as well as its better efficiency over ethanol. But that doesn't mean other fuels aren't being researched.
The lab does all kinds of objective testing, using large engine labs in which all sorts of data can be measured, and also by rigging up test cars with all sorts of gear and going on test drives. The lab even goes to extra efforts to make sure the air inside the lab is clean, so that the data isn't negatively affected.
Most lab employees acknowledge that there isn't one magic bullet when it comes to alternative fuels. So they continue to research, reporting their findings to the federal government as it sets policies--such as CAFE requirements--that could affect the buying choices of the average American consumer.
Argonne's research may not get a lot of publicity, but what goes on at a series of industrial buildings located in a woodsy setting just south of a major interstate could be key in determining the what goes in your tank in the next few years.