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iPhone App Points Non-Guzzlers to Alt Fuel Fill 'Er Ups

iPhone App Points Non-Guzzlers to Alt Fuel Fill 'Er Ups

Drivers of alternative energy vehicles can't just hit the open road and expect to find convenient places to fuel up along the way. The scarcity of stations requires careful planning. A new app developed by DoE makes the chore a whole lot easier, though. Just knowing it exists could encourage some hesitant drivers to consider an alt fuel car, which in turn could fuel demand for more stations.

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
11/08/13 2:16 PM PT

The Department of Energy has developed an iPhone app designed to help drivers locate the nearest alternative fuel stations. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory unveiled the Alternative Fueling Station Locator Thursday.

Users can choose the alternative fuel they need -- electricity, natural gas, biodiesel, E85, propane or hydrogen -- and the app will display the 20 closest stations within a 30-mile radius.

Users can view the stations on a map or as a list. They can also click on any of the stations to receive additional information including directions, contact information and hours of operation.

The information comes from a database maintained by the Clean Cities' Alternative Fuels Data Center, which currently houses information on more than 15,000 alternative fueling stations nationwide.

NREL already provides access to that data via its website, but the app addresses the need for mobile access. Information on alternative fueling stations is increasingly in demand as more drivers and fleet owners turn to vehicles that run on renewable energy sources.

The app is available for free in the iTunes store.

Building Out the Base

The new app is a great way for the DoE and cleantech advocates to show skeptical consumers that it is possible to buy and drive a car that runs on alternative energy sources, said Katherine Austin, science writer and cleantech analyst at GigaOM Pro.

"An app like this is a great idea," she told MacNewsWorld. "In addition to the initial higher cost of green cars, refueling has been a major stumbling block to market penetration."

It's a chicken-and-egg problem, Austin noted, but initiatives such as the launch of this iPhone app could change that.

"There haven't been many fueling stations because there hasn't been a lot of demand, and demand has been low in part because it's difficult to figure out where you could refuel," she pointed out. "If you could easily plan your route with an app before you leave home or go on a trip, I think it would give people much more peace of mind, and maybe help with their decision to buy."

Ready and Waiting

The decision to buy a car that runs on alternative fuel isn't one that many drivers in the U.S. are making, but the number is gradually growing, said Ravindra Datta, professor of chemical engineering and director of the Fuel Cell Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

It's smart for the DoE to begin building out the tech infrastructure now and help users to jump on board, he noted.

"It's a start in the right direction," Datta told MacNewsWorld.

"The switch to people looking for alternative fuels is a gradual process, but it is happening and this is incredibly useful information for the people that need it," he said. "Right now, there's not a huge use for it with the general population, but we're heading down the path where more people will be using alternative fuels, and it is smart to build out that database now."

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Are you looking forward to self-driving cars?
You bet -- I'd love to have a built-in chauffeur.
Yes -- self-driving cars will save lives.
Kind of -- I'd like some self-driving features, like parking.
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Absolutely not -- I saw Terminator and I'm not letting some robot take me for a ride!
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