gas pump and car

Making Fossil Fuels A Little Greener

California leads the nation in finding more sustainable ways to fuel cars. But gas and oil aren't going away just yet, so the CSU is helping to make them cleaner and more efficient.


Thirty million vehicles. That’s roughly how many automobiles, trucks and motorcycles are on California roads. To make these machines move takes about 14 billion gallons of gasoline a year.

While it might be nice to imagine waving a magic wand and—poof!—see every Californian driving an eco-friendly, gas-free car, most of us rely on gasoline, so we’re still filling up at the proverbial pump.

The good news is that because California leads the nation in the transition to alternative sustainable fuels, as a state we’re ahead of the game. Not only are longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries and lighter cars in development, researchers are finding ways to make the state’s production of fossil fuels cleaner. Read on to learn more about how CSU faculty and students are helping in this important effort. (This story is the first of three on how the CSU is researching alternative fuels as part of our transportation series.)


About 70 percent of the oil and gas used in the state is produced in Kern County, says Alan Fuchs, Ph.D., director of the California Energy Research Center at CSU Bakersfield. (The oil is refined at the coasts, near Los Angeles and San Francisco.)

That makes the oil and gasoline industries important players in California’s economy, providing jobs that help sustain communities.

Where DO Californians fuel up?

Number of Stations By Fuel Type

Where Californians fuel up

* Includes liquefied natural gas (46), natural gas (142) and CNG (323)
Source: California Energy Commission; U.S. Department of Energy (alternative fueling station counts include public and private stations)


A number of oil and gas companies are already using clean or cleaner energy to produce oil and petroleum, notes Dr. Fuchs. “We are moving in the direction of cleaner fuels, which will include natural gas, solar, wind and bioenergy,” he says. When these greener types of energy are used to support oil and petroleum production, “they do end up making the overall process cleaner and cheaper.” In a March 2017 fact sheet, Kern County reported that it produces more renewable energy than any other county in the state. 

Put another way, the process of getting oil out of the ground can be more environmentally friendly and less expensive when powered by alternative energy sources. For example, Fuchs points to the 770-acre Belridge Solar thermal power plant going up near Bakersfield that will produce steam and electricity to be used in the production of oil. It is the world’s first plant of this kind, situated on an oil field that produces more than 80,000 barrels of oil a day. 


"Our graduates are in a strong position to gain employment in national-level engineering companies."

Dr. Alan Fuchs, Director, California Energy Research Center at CSU Bakersfield


The hybrid production of alternative energy sources and fossil fuels is creating more opportunities for students who want to pursue careers in energy, notes Fuchs, who also works with the Mineta Transportation Institute at San José State University. “We have students from physics, biochemistry, biology, electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science working on projects at the Energy Research Center.”

“I expect students to end up working at ... companies all over the state,” says Fuchs, who also collaborates with the UC to feed CSU graduates into doctoral programs.


These companies and organizations, both local to CSUB and national, have hired CSU Bakersfield graduates, says Dr. Alan Fuchs:

  • Aera Energy
  • Berry Petroleum Company
  • California Resources Corporation
  • Chevron
  • E&B Natural Resources
  • Edwards Air Force Base
  • Macpherson
  • Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (China Lake, Mojave Desert)
  • Virgin Galactic

CSU Bakersfield recently received accreditation from ABET for three of its engineering programs, Fuchs says. “Now that we have this, our graduates are really in a strong position to gain employment in national-level engineering companies.”


​GOING THE DISTANCE: CAL POly slo students build a super-high MPG vehicle

What if every car got not just a few dozen miles to the gallon but hundreds? Engineering students at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo are conceiving and creating vehicles that might do exactly that.

As part of the annual Shell Eco-marathon, students at universities around the U.S. “are challenged to build, design and test energy-efficient cars, pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible.” In April 2018, SLO students—all of whom are members of the Cal Poly Supermileage club—earned fourth place out of 100 teams for their prototype vehicle, Delamina, which clocked in at just under 1300 miles per gallon of gas.

See how these talented Cal Poly SLO students create their entry, from design to the raceway:


This article is the third in a series on California's transportation problems and the ways in which the campuses of the California State University are working to solve them. Our previous coverage includes the CSU's role in finding solutions to California's gridlock and building better roads across the state. Check back for upcoming articles on how the CSU works to strengthen the electric vehicle and hydrogen fuel cell industries; our research into future clean fuel sources; and the ways in which faculty prepare the workforce of experts in land and sea logistics.


PHOTOGRAPHY & Videography: PATRICK RECORD; "Going the distance" photos courtesy of Cal poly slo supermileage and mikayla barkley


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