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Every day the world’s population grows and so does the demand for natural resources. Natural resources are things found in nature that are necessary or useful to humans. However, the most used and in-demand natural resources are non-renewable, meaning they are of limited supply and cannot sustain forever. Most of these non-renewable resources are fossil fuels. As the expiration date on these resources grows near, we must rely on finding alternative fuel sources. In this essay, we will discuss both the problems of the use of fossil fuels and the solutions we have found.
Fossil fuels are a natural but non-renewable fuel like oil or coal. They were formed through the carbon process called sedimentation (formed from decomposing organisms) mainly 360-300 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period. When combustion (burning of fossil fuels) occurs, the hydrocarbons present in the fossil fuel create energy. The energy is then converted into electricity and used for all types of purposes. Fossil fuels are inexpensive and are easy to export and import. According to the CIA, the world generates more than 66% of its electricity from fossil fuels. But according to the global carbon budget, it also generates 87% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Fossil fuels are a huge contributor to damaging the environment. National Geographic references the carbon budget, which balances carbon in the water, land and air. It states that during the process of combustion the carbon dioxide that has been packed into the fossil fuels is released through carbon dioxide. This negatively impacts the earth by throwing the greenhouse effect out of balance. The greenhouse effect is a natural process of heating the earth. The sun sends solar radiation towards earth, some of the solar radiation is reflected back into space by the earth’s atmosphere, some enter earth’s atmosphere. This is then absorbed by the land and oceans heating the earth. They release the radiation through heat and it heads towards space. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are able to contain some of the heat inside the earth’s atmosphere while other is sent back into space.
Recently, due to the mass use of fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) they release, a lot more heat is not released back into space. This is what we call global warming, which is causing climate change, animal extinction, plant extinction, etc. Fossil fuels are the cause of such problems affecting the earth and scientists must find alternatives.
The alternative fuel I’ve chosen is biodiesel; a renewable, biodegradable fuel. It is a cleaner burning replacement that is produced from vegetable oil, animal oil/fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. At the moment most biodiesel is produced from waste vegetable oil that comes from restaurants and food production companies like Birdseye. Biodiesel produces lower levels of most air pollutants than petroleum-based diesel fuel. To lower prices a common blend of biodiesel is usually sold as a blend of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel fuel, a common mixture is B20 which is 20% biodiesel.
The use of alternative fuels and energy sources such as biodiesel in countries is due to regional and national interests rather than global perspective. However, the Paris Agreement is a global contract promoting sustainability and awareness in countries. In 2016, the US produced the most biodiesel at 5.5 million litres. European countries account for more than 80% of the biodiesel consumption and the Biodiesel market is expected to double in places like the US and Asia, in China and India they hope to replace 15% of petrodiesel by 2020.
Below, we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of biodiesel.Biodiesel is a strong competitor for fossil fuels with many values; economic and environmental. Economically biodiesel can benefit third world countries economies. A lot of third world countries are located in warm climates, which are ideally suited for plants like palm and jatropha. By farming these, countries can provide feedstock oil to produce fuel for themselves as well as increase exports to developed countries seeking cheaper biodiesel feedstocks. Production of biodiesel can also create more jobs.
The world also produces too many soybeans and we can put to use this surplus amount by using some to make biodiesel. Environmentally biodiesel reduces fossil energy and greenhouse gas emissions. According to an EPA study, biodiesel, B20, reduce hydrocarbons by 20%, carbon monoxide by 11%, and B100 emits 0% sulphur dioxide. However, carbon emissions from converting forests into farming land for biodiesel can negate from the carbon emissions saved from using biodiesel. Biodiesel is biodegradable, any spillage of biodiesel will have a much smaller impact than petroleum oil spills. Oil spills are detrimental for the marine biomes and to minimize such disasters would minimize damage in the future. Though biodiesel is undeniably a strong competitor for fossil fuels it has its limitations.
The production of biodiesel can affect the biodiversity of a habitat. Due to natural landscapes being converted into farmland for energy crops, species are being affected by habitat loss. On the other hand, biodiesel crop farming can also revive degraded land. When you farm biodiesel you can also put pressure on local water reserves, in addition, due to pesticides and runoff the water quality can deteriorate causing problems for locals.
Production of biodiesel is also challenging. Many producers can only produce poor quality biodiesel because they are not able to remove all impurities and water during the washing and refining process. Biodiesel gels in colder weather which make it less convenient for users, it also can clog filters and can cause automotive breakdowns. Biodiesel reduced fuel efficiency by 2% according to the EPA. Economically, Biodiesel can’t compete with fossil fuels low prices and accessibility. There are currently about 1000 fuel stations out of 168,000 that carry a form of biodiesel in the US. Displayed on a graph from afdc.energy.gov we can see that as the amount of biodiesel contained in the fuel rises so does the price. So comparing B100 (pure biodiesel) to the prices of diesel we see a large difference.
On April 1, 2014, diesel cost on average 3.56 per gallon, whereas biodiesel (B100) cost 4.82 per gallon. The national average price in October 2017 for Biodiesel (B20) was 2.68 USD per gallon, Biodiesel (B99-B100) was 3.38 USD per gallon and for diesel, the average price was 2.76 USD per gallon. Biodiesels high prices are seen as another weakness. Fossil fuels contribute to a great many of the world’s environmental problems but are easily accessible and affordable. Scientists have been researching for alternatives that are renewable and better for the environment and biodiesel seems like one the best options. Biodiesel has its limitations as production causes many setbacks and it isn’t accessible. But, it’s biodegradable, renewable and cost friendly. It can also be sold at varying levels of biodiesel and can boost third world economies.
Overall, I see it as a beneficial investment for countries and companies to look at. It’s a growing industry that can reduce carbon emissions and help slow down the process of global warming. If humans continue to work against the earth it will be unable to provide what we need from it, biodiesel and other alternative fuels can be part of the solution we need.
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