Can we
really survive without fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels
are fuels that were formed over millions of years from the remains of dead
organisms1.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable and can emit a lot of carbon dioxide and other
dangerous pollutants. Fossil fuels are used in everyday life from filling up
your car with fuel or cooking your dinner on a gas stove, it all contributes to
polluting the earth, that’s why people are switching to using bioenergy because
it is much cleaner and renewable and isn’t as harmful to the earth and people, also
there are many sources able to use making it available to loads of people. There
are many different types of bioenergy such as:

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·       
Wind
power- Wind power is energy harnessed from the wind to propel the blades of a
wind turbine and generate electricity2

·       
Solar
power- Solar energy is used commonly for cooking, heating, the production of
energy and sometimes the desalination of seawater. Solar power uses sunlight,
which hits solar thermal panels that convert sunlight to heat, water or air3

·       
Biobased
products-  Biobased products are industrial
products that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological
products or renewable domestic agricultural materials or forestry materials,
such as- plastics, adhesive, paper.4

·       
Biomass
Feedstocks- Biomass feedstocks are the plant and algal materials used to derive
fuels like ethanol, butanol, biodiesel, and other hydrocarbon fuels.5

·       
Biomass-
Biomass is any organic matter eg- wood, crops, seaweed, animal waste that can
be used as an energy source.

·       
Biofuels-
 Biofuels are fuels produced from plant
material, biofuels, like fossil fuels come in several different energy needs.6

Biofuels are broken down into generations, there are three
main categories under which biofuels fall: First, second and third generation
biofuels7
and some people even say that there is a fourth generation. First generation
biofuels are produced directly from food crops by abstracting the oils through fermentation.
A lot of crops can be turned into biodiesel and bioethanol such as wheat and
sugar which are widely used feedstocks for bioethanol and rapeseed oil used in
biodiesels. But there are a lot of problems associated with the first-generation
biofuels, there have been a lot of debates over the fact that some biofuels can
produce negative net gains, releasing more carbon in their production rather
than their feedstock’s capture in their growth, questioning whether they are
beneficial in reducing greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions8.
However, the biggest issue with first generation biofuels is the ‘fuel vs food’
debate which is the dilemma regarding whether we should use the farmland and
land for crops to use in biofuels or crops for food supply9.

Second generation biofuels are produced from non-food crops
such as wood, organic waste, food crop waste and specific biomass crops,
therefore eliminating the main problem with first generation biofuels, also
life cycle assessments of second generation biofuels have indicated that they
will increase net energy gains overcoming another limitation of first
generation biofuels second generation biofuels are also aimed at being more
cost competitive in relation to existing fossil fuels 10.

Third generation biofuels takes the advantage of specially engineered
energy crops such as algae as its energy source. The algae are cultured to act
as a low cost, high energy and renewable feedstock that will have the potential
to produce more energy per acre than conventional crops. Another benefit of
using the algae is that the fuel can be manufactured into a wide range of fuels
such as diesel, petrol and jet fuel11.

Fourth Generation Bio-fuels are aimed at not only producing
sustainable energy but also a way of capturing and storing co2. Biomass
materials, which have absorbed co2 while growing, are converted into fuel using
the same processes as second-generation biofuels. This process differs from
second and third generation production as at all stages of production the
carbon dioxide is captured using processes such as oxy-fuel combustion. This
carbon capture makes fourth generation biofuel production carbon negative
rather than simply carbon neutral, as it is ‘locks’ away more carbon than it
produces. This system not only captures and stores carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,
but it also reduces co2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels12.

The same feedstock can and can’t be used in every country
because not every country can access the same resources for example in some
parts of Africa the land isn’t right to grow crops to produce energy via
biomass but in places like the UK farmers can grow the crops to produce energy
via biomass. But on the other hand, the different countries could be able to
access the same feedstocks and use them for example the UK and USA may have
wood, organic waste or specific biomass crops, so they’re both able to produce
energy, it depends on the resources they have.

There are many benefits to using bioenergy such as:

·       
It
emits little to none greenhouse gases

·       
It
is a useful way of managing waste disposal

·       
Able
to deliver reliable energy

·       
Can
be stored with minimal energy loss

·       
A
lot of energy can be produced wherever there are agricultural crops and
forestry13

·       
Once
set up pays for itself

·       
If there are feedstocks there’s
energy

LCA’s are used for many things, such as:  used for the assessment of industrial systems,
it is also used in assessing food waste and the development of the food
industry 14.
LCA’s are also used to explore potential impacts to a range of environmental
metrics and resource depletion15
and environmental damage.

One problem with using a Life Cycle Analysis is that it only
tells you the processes, inputs and outputs and no other details such as:
pricing, how long the process takes eg. Another problem with using a Life Cycle
Analysis is that rigid system boundaries make accounting for changes in the
system difficult, also the accuracy and availability of data can also
contribute to problems. For instance, data from generic processes may be based
on averages, unrepresentative sampling, or outdated results making more
problems16.

 

 

Biofuels are fuels produced from plant material17,
there are many types of biofuels such as:

·       
Bioethanol-
is a renewable energy source made by fermenting sugar and starch18

·       
Biodiesel-
Biodiesel is an alternative fuel it can be produced from straight vegetable
oil, animal oil/fats, tallow and waste cooking oil19.

·       
Biogas-
Biogas is a biofuel produced from the anaerobic fermentation of carbohydrates
in plant material or waste (eg food peelings or manure) by bacteria20.

·       
Biobutanol-
Biobutanol is a second-generation alcoholic fuel21
made through the fermentation of starch22.

·       
Biohydrogen-
Biohydrogen, like biogas, can be produced using a number processes such as
pyrolysis, gasification or biological fermentation23.
Biohydrogen is hydrogen produced through the action of living organisms24.

There are many chemical and physical properties of biodiesel,
here are a few of them:

Physical

Chemical

A liquid
of different colours
Immiscible
with water at a high boiling point
Density of
~ 0.88g/cm

Higher
flash point than petroleum diesel
Higher
cetane ratings
Calorific value
of ~ 37.27MJ/L
Sulphur
free emissions
Non-toxic 25

The more properties we can identify for a substance, the
better we know the nature of that substance. These properties can then help us
model the substance and thus understand how this substance will behave under
various conditions26.

Many countries use bioethanol, bioethanol is used as a petrol
substitute for road transport vehicles27.
One of the mass producers of bioethanol is Brazil producing 25 billion litres
of bioethanol using sugar canes28.
Bioethanol was implemented in Brazil because of sugar cane being cultivated29.
Bioethanol can be produced from biomass by the hydrolysis and sugar
fermentation processes. The hydrolysis process breaks down the cellulostic part
of the biomass or corn into sugar solutions that can then be fermented into
ethanol. Yeast is added to the solution, which is then heated. The yeast
contains an enzyme called invertase, which acts as a catalyst and helps to
convert the sucrose sugars into glucose and fructose30.
 The first bioethanol fuel production
plant went on line in 1927, the Usina Serra Grande Alagoas31.
Bioethanol was and still is a big success in Brazil because over the next 15
years, production of ethanol increased hugely from 0.6 billion litres in 1975
to 11 billion litres in 199032.

 

In my opinion, it would not be possible to completely switch to
alternative energy in the near future because the power plants we currently
have are designed to use coal, oil and gas to provide electricity and to change
the structure of the power plants to use other fuels would incur huge expenses,
and some countries that already have powerplants can’t afford to replace/refurbish
them. For example, if you were to use coca cola to provide electricity and not
oil, you would have to change the whole structure f the power plants so they’re
able to turn it into electricity, also it would be costly to pay for the
research into making coca cola energy and having to pay the scientists and
workers to do their jobs, but if World Leaders, governments and the big power
companies fund research; convert old power plants and invest in new methods of
alternative energy, to make the environment safer and healthier, as well as
working towards providing affordable energy for everyone. Then in the long term
future a combination of renewable, sustainable and cleaner resources such as;
hydro-electric and geothermal energy, the harnessing of tidal, solar and wind power
and production of biomass fuels would enable a complete switch and the planet
could benefit from less emissions and pollution. 

In conclusion I the we can survive without fossil fuels
because bioenergy runs off several sources and there are many different types
of bioenergy that the whole world could use, however some people are very reliable
on fossil fuels and may feel sceptic about changing so it may take a while for
everyone to survive without fossil fuels, but we will eventually get there. If more
people educated themselves about bioenergy they would see how bioenergy is much
more efficient than fossil fuels and how we really could survive without fossil
fuels. Its not just people that learn to live without fossil fuels businesses
will have to learn, humans
have done it for centuries. For example, the airline industry will have to
replace their fossil fuels for their planes to biofuels. Eventually we will survive
without fossil fuels like some people are already living without fossil fuels.

1 (BBC, n.d.)

2 (Orloff, n.d.)

3 (Greenough River Solar Farm, n.d.)

4 (USDA, n.d.)

5 (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy,
n.d.)

6 (Biofuel, 2010)

7 (Open Clean tech, n.d.)

8 (University Of Edinburgh, n.d.)

9 (University Of Edinburgh, n.d.)

10 (University Of Edinburgh, n.d.)

11 (University Of Edinburgh, n.d.)

12 (University Of Edinburgh, n.d.)

13 (Origin Energy, n.d.)

14 (Notarnicola, et al., n.d.)

15 (McManus & Taylor, n.d.)

16 (Wikipedia, n.d.)

17  (Biofuel,
2010)

18 (Imaginfires, n.d.)

19 (Esrustrath, n.d.)

20 (BBC Bitesize, n.d.)

21 (Shine, n.d.)

22 (University of Edinburgh, n.d.)

23 (University of Edinburgh, n.d.)

24(University of Birmingham, n.d.)

25 (Saraswat, et al., n.d.)

26 (Leon, n.d.)

27 (Esrustrath, n.d.)

28 (BioFuel, n.d.)

29 (Wikipedia, n.d.)

30 (Esrustrath, n.d.)

31 (Wikipedia, n.d.)

32 (Almeida, n.d.)