Finding Alternatives to Petroleum
Professor David Terrell
Warner Pacific College
July 26th, 2010
There are many changes that need to take place in our society to confront future development and sustainability. A sustainable society is one in which all creatures, wether it be man, animal, or plant, thrives and is a part of nature. The goal is a high quality of life without harming the environment.
One of the major issues I see that we will soon have to confront is finding an alternate energy source to fossil fuels. “Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—are America's primary source of energy, accounting for 85 percent of current US fuel use. Production, transportation, and use of oil can cause water pollution. Oil spills, for example, leave waterways and their surrounding shores uninhabitable for some time. Such spills often result in the loss of plant and animal life.” (The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels).
“The Department of Energy projects the nation's consumption of fossil fuels will continue to rise — increasing 34 percent by 2030. When burned, these carbon-based fuels release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat and is believed to contribute to global warming” (Wise).
One such spill is the BP oil spill of April 2010 that we are still working on containing. It is hard to imagine the devastating consequences we will see in the coming months from all the crude oil spilt. “Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently detected huge deepwater plumes of dispersed oil up to 30 miles long, seven miles wide and hundreds of feet thick. According to NOAA researcher Samantha Joye, the undersea oil poses a direct threat to large marine wildlife, such as fish, sharks and cetaceans, and also to the tiny stuff, including zooplankton, shrimp, corals, crabs and worms. By endangering these latter populations, the foundation of the marine food chain, the oil could have chronic long-term effects on the wider Gulf ecosystem, including the industries -- more shrimp and oysters come from the Gulf than anywhere else in the world -- that rely on them. (Gauging Long Term Effects).
Other concerns involve the chemical dispersants that we are using to break up some of the oil in the ocean. We do not know what the long term effects will be on the ocean itself and the life in the ocean and the people working in the Gulf to clean up the oil.
Yet another issue with our dependence on fossil fuels for energy is the pollution it creates. The burning of any fossil fuel will cause carbon dioxide to be emitted into the atmosphere which is believed to be one of the major causes of global warming.
Some of the other costs to consider are cost of labor to drill for oil, of labor and materials to build energy-generating plants, and of transportation of oil to the plants. (The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels.)
We could avoid all this damage to the environment one day if we can find an alternative energy source. Some promising alternatives that are being looked into include biodiesel, methanol, electricity, hydrogen, wind power, vegetable oil, and other biomass sources such as hemp fuel.
Biodiesel consists of vegetable oil mixed with an alcohol and is used to run diesel engines. It is very clean substitute to petroleum and can help dispose of used vegetable oil that usually ends up in landfills. It then becomes a recycling solution as well as a clean fuel alternative.
One surprising alternative I came across was the use of hemp as a fuel substitute. “The thought of hemp production as a cheap alternative to oil and gas is appealing because it can be converted to “biomass” that is in turn converted to energy. Farming only six percent of the continental U.S. acreage with biomass [from hemp] crops would provide all of American’s gas and oil energy needs, ending dependence upon fossil fuels. Each acre of hemp would yield 1,000 gallons of methanol. Fuels from hemp, along with the recycling of paper, etc., would be enough to run America virtually without oil.” (Fennucio).
“At first glance, hydrogen would seem an ideal substitute for these problematic fuels. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as natural gas, and when consumed its only emission is pure, plain water. But unlike oil and gas, hydrogen is not a fuel. It is a way of storing or transporting energy. You have to make it before you can use it — generally by extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels, or by using electricity to split it from water.” (Wise).
My career choice is in the direction of addiction counseling. I will be working with low-income, homeless, mentally ill, and drug addicted people. My job will be to help these people find the resources and the counseling they need to get their lives back. I do not see that I will have much opportunity to use what I have learned in Environmental Studies in my profession. One way I might be able to use some of my knowledge would be to offer little tidbits of information to my clients while counseling them.
Having taken the Environmental Studies course I have gained much knowledge of environmental issues and can see that I myself can have an impact on the issues effecting my community. Before this course I knew that there were a lot of problems effecting our environment and the animals in it; but I didn't really go in depth into any reasearch on the subject. I always knew it was good to conserve water and electricity and that we should all recycle and limit our driving but I did not truly understand the reasons why. I feel I have a better knowledge base now so I can better educate my son on why we should respect our planet and preserve it for future generations.
We have many promising options being researched and tested, and some are even being used currently like biodiesel, my hope is that soon using fuel alternatives to run our cars and heat our homes will become the norm.
Alternative fuel. Retrieved July 24th, 2010 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_fuel
Fennucio, J. (2005). Hemp seen as fuel substitute. Retrieved July 25th, 2010 from: http://www.globalhemp.com/News/2005/September/hemp-seen-as-fuel.html
Gauging the long term impacts of the BP oil spill. The Daily Green. Retrieved July 25th, 2010 from: http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/gulf-oil-spill-impacts- 460610
Skinnarland, K. Sustainable Seattle. Retrieved July 24th, 2010 from: http://sustainableseattle.org/SustCommunity
The hidden cost of fossil fuels. Retrieved July 25th, 2010 from: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/impacts/the-hidden-cost- of-fossil.html
Wise, J. (2006). The truth about hydrogen. Retrieved July 24th, 2010 from: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/next-generation/4199381
Withgott, J. , & Bennan, S. (2008). Environment: The Science Behind the Stories (3rd
ed.). New York. Pearson Benjamin Cummings