U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Through the Alternative Motor Fuels Act, the U.S. government attempted to encourage automobile manufacturers to design and build cars that could burn alternative fuels such as methanol and ethanol.

Summary of Event

The Alternative Motor Fuels Act of 1988 was passed both to reduce American dependence on foreign oil and to address automobile makers’ lack of interest in designing cars for nonexistent fuel—as well as fuel companies’ unwillingness to produce fuel for nonexistent cars. The legislation was intended to resolve the problem by giving incentives to automobile makers and by requiring that a part of the federal fleet use alternative fuels. Alternative Motor Fuels Act (1988) Natural resources, conservation Energy;oil [kw]U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels (Oct. 14, 1988) [kw]Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels, U.S. (Oct. 14, 1988) [kw]Alternative Fuels, U.S. Law Mandates Use of (Oct. 14, 1988) [kw]Fuels, U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative (Oct. 14, 1988) Alternative Motor Fuels Act (1988) Natural resources, conservation Energy;oil [g]North America;Oct. 14, 1988: U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels[06960] [g]United States;Oct. 14, 1988: U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels[06960] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Oct. 14, 1988: U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels[06960] [c]Environmental issues;Oct. 14, 1988: U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels[06960] [c]Manufacturing and industry;Oct. 14, 1988: U.S. Law Mandates Use of Alternative Fuels[06960] Rockefeller, John D., IV Sharp, Philip R. Stafford, Robert T.

The act required that a percentage of government vehicles use alternative fuels and established a timetable that enforced government purchase of vehicles capable of using alternative fuels. This provided an immediate market for the fuel, although a limited one. The act also allowed federal fleet operators to exceed their operational gasoline allowances by counting only the actual amount of gasoline in a gallon of fuel, rather than the total amount of fuel, against their allotment. Because the alternative fuels then contained approximately 15 percent gasoline, fleet operators could use more fuel and do more business. This provision provided an incentive to the private sector to develop and use alternative-fueled vehicles.

Because the technology was so new, little information was available on the performance of alternative-fueled vehicles. To solve this problem, an Alternative Fuels Council was established and charged with gathering information and filing the reports required by the act. The law required a methanol Methanol study: Data would be collected on the use of methanol as an alternative fuel, methanol’s operating characteristics, and the ecological effect of using the fuel. The act also required a study of the safety of alternative fuel, mandated because some oxygenated fuels release harmful elements when transferred from storage tanks to individual automobiles. Another report required by the act was an independent environmental study to analyze air quality and make comparisons of the air quality of cities where alternative fuels were used and those where it was not. The act also called for an extended reasonable forecast on the impact of alternative fuels on the economy.

A significant provision of the act was to establish a national bus-testing program, wherein mass transit buses were to be developed that could use either compressed natural gas or other alternative fuels. Funding was established, and guidelines were set to conduct tests in several cities using buses designed to run on alternative fuels and comparing their operating characteristics and maintenance records with those of diesel-fueled buses.

An equally important aspect of the new legislation was to amend existing laws to take into consideration the differences between alterative-fueled and petroleum-fueled vehicles. The laws that were in effect prior to the passage of the Alternative Motor Fuels Act of 1988 would have created economic obstacles to development of the technologies needed to make alternative-fueled vehicles a reality.

The act established the Interagency Commission on Alternative Motor Fuels, Interagency Commission on Alternative Motor Fuels which is responsible for ensuring that all agencies within the government work together in implementing the law.


It was hoped that the incentives offered by the Alternative Motor Fuels Act would lead to the development of alternative fuels and the vehicles to use them, thus reducing American dependence on foreign oil and overall dependence on nonrenewable resources. It was thought that the act would help the United States to maintain its standard of living and at the same time exert a less harmful impact on the environment.

The legislation’s immediate impacts did include progress in the development of necessary new technologies. The Interagency Commission on Alternative Motor Fuels reported that a significant market for alternative-fueled vehicles developed within government and commercial fleets within three years of the passage of the Alternative Motor Fuels Act. The commission also noted in its final report, however, that additional amendments were necessary to ensure that alternative-fueled vehicles would be available. Alternative Motor Fuels Act (1988) Natural resources, conservation Energy;oil

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hordeski, Michael F. Alternative Fuels: The Future of Hydrogen. Lilburn, Ga.: Fairmont Press, 2006. Examines the need for alternative fuels and the issues surrounding the use of various fuel technologies. Chapter 4 is devoted to discussion of fuels for automobiles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lincoln, John Ware. Methanol and Other Ways Around the Gas Pump. Charlotte, Vt.: Garden Way, 1976. Provides a good look at previous attempts to promote the use of alternative fuels and describes some of the problems involved. Also describes the use of alternative fuels during times of crisis, such as during World War II, both in the United States and in Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nadis, Steve, and James J. MacKenzie with Laura Ost. Car Trouble. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993. Presents an overview of environmental and societal problems related to the use of automobiles. Discusses alternate fuels and other new technologies as possible solutions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pack, Janet. Fueling the Future. Chicago: Children’s Press, 1992. Explains pollution from fossil fuels and discusses the possibilities of alternative fuels that exist or may be developed. Good basic book on the subject, intended for young readers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Solar Energy Research Institute. Fuel from Farms: A Guide to Small-Scale Ethanol Production. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980. Describes the techniques and rationale for producing ethanol on a small scale. Presents very detailed technical information on the steps involved in producing ethanol.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tickell, Joshua. From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel. 3d ed. Covington, La.: Tickell Energy Consultants, 2000. Presents some history on the research into alternative motor fuels along with a comprehensive guide to using vegetable oil to fuel diesel engines.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Gasohol: A Technical Memorandum. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979. Examines the technical, economic, environmental, and social factors involved with gasohol production and use. Contains the findings of the Office of Technology Assessment’s examination of the use of fuels from biological processes. Somewhat dated, but provides useful insights into concerns about alternative fuels.

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Categories: History