Sustainable Mobility, Future Fuels, and the Periodic Table

Providing sustainable mobility is a major challenge that will require new vehicle and fuel technologies. Alternative and future fuels are the subject of considerable research and public interest. A simple approach is presented that can be used in science education lectures at the high school or undergraduate level to provide students with an understanding of the elemental composition of future fuels. Starting from key fuel requirements and overlaying the chemical trends evident in the periodic table, it can be demonstrated that future chemical fuels will be based on three elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Liquid hydrocarbons are the most convenient transportation fuels because of their physical state (easier to handle than gases or solids) and their high gravimetric and volumetric energy densities. Challenges remain for storage of electricity and gaseous fuels. Recognizing the need to address climate change driven by increasing emissions of CO2, sustainable mobility will be powered by low-CO2 hydrogen, low-CO2 hydrocarbons, low-CO2 oxygenates, low-CO2 electricity, or a combination of the above.