Young corn field landscape
Alternative Fuels- The Way of the Future
The world faces so many challenges. Preeminent amongst these challenges is global warming. As the situation worsens, the likelihood of the planet being able to sustain human life diminishes. Global warming can be explained quite simply. Detrimental human activities (such as the burning of fossil fuels) have caused the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise to dangerously high levels. NASA recently reported that “the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history” (NASA, 2016). This increase in the level of carbon dioxide leads to an unnatural “warming” of the atmosphere which has ripple effects on the earth’s climate. The drought in California is one example of the detrimental effects of global warming.
Several governments have, over the past decade, begun to react to the alarming increase in global warming. More countries are moving towards alternative sources of energy and fuels. However, the low costs, higher energy production, ease of access, ease of transport, and high stability of fossil fuels mean that they will be our primary source of energy for many years to come. Nevertheless, it is important to explore the pros and cons of alternative fuels. This article will focus on the pros and cons of two of the more common biofuels: ethanol and biodiesel.
Ethanol is created “by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates…through a process similar to brewing beer” (Gretz, n.d.).
Corn is the most popular food source used in the ethanol creation process. Ethanol is insufficient to provide enough energy to fuel a vehicle on its own. Consequently, it is primarily used in addition to regular gasoline. Using it in this manner reduces a vehicle’s carbon monoxide emissions.
Despite how good ethanol is for the environment, there are disadvantages to its use. Firstly, it produces far less energy than fossil fuels. Additionally, a large amount of crops is required to produce the quantity of ethanol needed. This, therefore, means that hundreds of acres of land have to be cleared to facilitate crop production. Soil erosion, deforestation, and the negative effects of fertilizer are only some of the challenges that this increased crop production.
Thirdly, there are several issues associated with the disposal of waste from the fermentation process. The fermentation process produces wastewater. Health problems have been linked to the use of untreated or inadequately treated wastewater. Research is continuously being done to find ways to better utilize wastewater.
Finally, vehicle engines have to be modified in order to facilitate the use of high levels of ethanol. Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) are being created that can run on 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Research continues into creating vehicles that can be operated using 100% ethanol.
Biodiesel is an environmentally friendly fuel that is primarily created using vegetable oils. It is produced through a process called transesterification. Soybeans are most commonly used to create biodiesel. As a result, its production is economical since soybeans are produced in high quantities worldwide. Furthermore, vehicles don’t have to be altered to suit the use of biodiesel. The fuel can be readily used in current diesel fuel pumps.
Similar to ethanol, biodiesel has its own set of challenges. It can cause damage to rubber hoses in a few vehicle engines. Additionally, since it cleans the dirt in the engine, the dirt collects in and clogs the fuel filter. This results in the filters having to be changed repeatedly.
Despite the challenges posed by the use of biofuels, their necessity cannot be ignored. Hopefully, scientists will be able to create reliable solutions that will enable the average consumer to use the biofuels available.