A Look at the Fossil Fuel Alternatives

Electing whether to support the development of fossil fuel alternatives or not should be an uncomplicated choice to make. The supporting evidence is that there is a predicament with the world's dependency on oil, a non-renewable energy source. This confirms that we must procure an efficient and effective alternative. There are currently many substitute resources that have been in development for decades. These include, but are not limited to innovations such as: solar, wind, hydro-electrical, nuclear, hydrogen, coal, natural gas, and ethanol. All of these are noble attempts at concocting an alternative to oil, but all fall short at the task of actually replacing oil all together. Figures such as that of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which puts yearly world consumption of oil today at about 30 billion barrels, and the Gihan Hoke's, Oil and Gas Journal in Houston which estimates that there are only 1.266 trillion barrels if oil left in all known reserves. This startling evidence suggests that if we continue to rely on oil at the rate that we do today, a crisis is nearly unavoidable. If we are to avoid this catastrophe, we must act quickly. There are many benefits to the abundance of alternative fuel sources that are available today, however their downfalls make them a waste of time to consider as a plausible answer to the looming dilemma of the planet's current oil dependency. What is needed is an inspiration that will quickly replace oil needs and is able to grow to support the increasing appetite of the modern world. It is plain to see that what is needed is an unconventional resource that can not only provide electrical power as a fuel, but this alternative must also become a replacement for oil in chemical by-products like plastics and rubber. Alternative fuels are definitely vital to the future of mankind; however, we must continue research until the appropriate discovery is made.

The reasons that the bright-future promising oil alternatives are lacking in effectiveness are numerous. Hydro-electrical energy (which accounts for 2.3% of the global energy supply (GES)), solar power (.006% of GES) and wind (.07% of GES) all have similar downfalls. All of these energy sources are weather dependant; solar being the most affected, and is therefore not reliable enough for today's world to depend on for something as important as the Earth's energy needs. Additionally, none of the preceding are suitable for delivering power to mass transit vehicles. Even if there was some way to derive power from say, a hydroelectric plant to fuel a car; the cost and consumption of oil to develop the infrastructure would surpass the benefits of implanting such a plan. Finally, there is no known way to derive the plentiful chemical by-products that are consequential with the development of oil.

Hydrogen fuel cells, which account for only .01% of the planet's global energy supply, are made from methane gas. The manufacture of hydrogen from methane takes more energy to produce than it provides. Along with this is the fact that hydrogen is an extremely explosive gas. There are many uses for hydrogen fuel cells in the automotive industry, but most of these are still very early in the developmental stages and would again, require an enormous amount of money and oil to implement the infrastructure. There is also the problem of storing hydrogen, which is also related to its explosive properties as well as it being a gas, vice a liquid like oil.

Nuclear power has had a lot of controversy over the past few decades. There are about as many benefits as there are downfalls to this efficient, yet dangerous power source. Some of the more off subject reasons that nuclear power is not a realistic alternative to oil is the accidents that occur with such plants, as well as the current threats of terrorism that have been plaguing the globe as of lately. Nuclear power plants are definitely key targets for terrorists, as not only would taking out one of these plants cause a power outage for hundreds of square miles, but if the uranium was to become exposed to the atmosphere there could be detrimental damage to the surrounding environment that could last for ages. It is estimated that it would take 800 to 1,000 plants to provide power the United States alone. This takes us again to the money and oil consumption issues from constructing the plants and factories. There is a massive amount of energy from oil needed to mine for uranium. As a conclusion to this subject, if we were to convert from oil to uranium, we would only be prolonging the inevitable, since we would still be depending upon a natural resource for our power. After all the nuclear power plants were up and operational, who knows how many years it would take for the planet to consume all the known deposits of uranium?

Another notion for the replacement of oil is coal. Coal, which now provides for 24% of the global energy supply, is 50 to 200% more dense than oil. This means that the excavation of coal is much more difficult than that of oil. Weighing almost 200% more would cause coal to be less efficient than oil in the long run as well since it would take more energy consumption to gather the coal for processing. Coal is also very ineffective in the sense that when it is burned to produce energy in the form of heat, it is very difficult to fine-tune the burn rate. This means that an abundance of energy is wasted in the form of heat. Let us not forget that because coal must be burned to produce electricity, it is hence a very terrible pollutant. All of these grounds are basis to conclude that coal would not work as an effective replacement for our beloved oil.

A suggested hope for the energy-demanding future is also ethanol. Ethanol is a plant-derived fuel, which typically comes from corn. This fuel is tremendously costly to manufacture. It is no big mystery why this alt-fuel is not the response to the world's cry for help to the growing energy predicament. The main reason that this fuel is even still around is that the people of the United States often vote for funding to the farmers of America. These votes provide money to the same corporations that manufacture ethanol. It is speculated that the reason that this fuel is still even a suggestion is that one of the corporations that creates 60% of the U.S.'s ethanol is one of the big-business contributors of the United States Congress. Not to contemplate to deeply into conspiracy theories such as this, but the bottom line is that ethanol is too costly to produce to be considered for the alternative fuel source of the future.

The final alt-fuel covered is shale, tar-sand and coal bed-methane. After shale is burnt in special rigs, shale tar is produced and then used to produce gas. Scientists have known of the energy deriving properties of shale since 1940s and 1950s, but there has not been any need for more profound research and utilization of this mineral. However, the increasing shortage of energy resources as well as deforestation has necessitated the use of shale. Many countries that have no conventional fuel source deposits, such as oil or coal, rely heavily upon shale as a means to power their cities. Oil, water and natural gas are needed in the production of the gas that is derived from shale. Taking nearly two parts oil to make three parts shale based fuel, it is still apparent that much more research will be needed to increase the value of shale-tar as a sensible power supply.

Clearly all of the current available alternatives are very important to help conserve the amount of oil that we are using, but none of them actually relieve the problem completely. While it is important to continue to contribute funds to the development of these innovations, we must face the fact that they are lacking in one of more areas. More money, research and development must go into this crucial field of science. We, as a planet are going to have to come together if there is going to be a solution. This is not a problem that will affect only a few countries; it will have influence on all civilized nations. In other words, we are going to have to find and alternative to the alternatives. Perhaps there is a way that we can implement all of the known alternative fuel sources together along with some other unfound technology. The answer to the problem is uncertain, what is certain is that if the implementation and development of unconventional fuel sources is not mandated, the answer will likely never be found in time to divert from crisis.

Martin Hoffert, PhD, from New York University and other researchers are devoting tireless effort to conceiving an alternative that can be installed without the high "oil-overhead" and implausible infrastructure conversions that would be required from implementing the standard alt-fuels that are in proposal now. Dr Hoffert stated "what out research clearly shows is that scientific innovation can only reverse this trend if we adopt an aggressive global strategy for developing alternative fuel sources that can produce up to three times the amount of power that we use today. Currently, these technologies simply don't exist, either operationally or as pilot projects". The same methods that M. King Hubbert used to predict the 1970's peak in US oil production now show that a peak in world oil production is less than five years away. A major crisis in world oil supply will probably happen on a shorter time scale than conservation measures or alternative energy sources can be implemented.

Richard H. Sibson, Department of Geology, University of Otago says, "Put simply, across the Earth we are currently burning more than 4 barrels of oil for every new barrel discovered while demand continues to rise. Independent analysts, like Gihan Hoke, wrote this paper; estimate that we have produced nearly 50% of the total global resource of recoverable conventional oil. The global 'Hubbert Peak' for conventional oil production is predicted to occur in 2020, plus or minus 5 years, with the peak in gas production following shortly afterwards." Beyond the global peak, oil price will escalate steeply as demand exceeds supply with the Gulf States no longer able to meet the increasing shortfall throughout the rest of the world. Competition for a dwindling oil supply will become increasingly fierce. The world resource of conventional oil, accumulated over several hundred million years of geological time, will effectively be dissipated only 200 years after the first oil wells were drilled in the mid 19th century. None of this is to say that the future is hopeless and that Olduvai theory of Industrial Civilization is inevitable. This theory states that by the year 2025 Human Kind's industry based way of life will have come to an end. Industrial Civilization is defined to end when energy-use per person shrinks to 37% of its peak value. This is at best a very grim proposal and would mean that everyone's life would be affected in some way.

What should be taken from this address is that the Olduvai theory is not science fiction, but a possible future for us all if the necessary measures are not taken to ensure it is deterred. What is needed is not necessarily an environmentally friendly alternative; just one that is not bound to be depleted beyond use, in other words an effective, efficient and renewable energy resource. It is imperative that there is some other means to provide electricity as well as plastics and other chemical by-products to a world that is constantly growing and evolving to become dependant on these things. This means that there is definitely a need to continue the research and development of alternative fuels. The alt-fuels that are currently in use are great strides toward helping divert from disaster, but much more effort will be needed to completely deter from an unreserved catastrophe. Ignoring this dilemma would be to ignore an atrocious problem that will undoubtedly affect our near future.

Bibliography

  1. Life After The Oil Crash by Matt Savinar www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net
  2. Exxon Mobile www.exxonmobil.com/corporate/files/corporate/Energy_Brochure.pdf
  3. Beyond Fossil Fuels by Martin Hoffert www.pbs.org/ wgbh/warming/beyond/
  4. Continued Lobbying Efforts By The Canadian By Canadian Renewable Fuels Association www.greenfuels.com