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The Use of Fossil Fuels, Research Paper Example

Pages: 16

Words: 4287

Research Paper

Abstract

The use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable components to produce the energy used in daily life has been heralded as the source of excessive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is also blamed for depletion of the environment.  This has spurned many nations to search for alternative energy sources that will not deplete the environment or cause damage to the ecosystem.  Bioenergy derived from organic sources and biomass is one of the numerous methods being developed as an alternative fuel source.  The use of biomass to produce bioenergy is considered as an ideal route for underdeveloped countries to exploit as they grow into industrialized nations so as to avoid further damage to the environment.

Introduction

The increasing inflation rate and effects of the last recession have increased the cost of operations for businesses.  In addition, the growing environmental problems plaguing the world has created a strong demand for sustainable sources of energy, which has facilitated numerous global initiatives directed towards adapting sustainable solutions.  The issue facing the world right now is the possibility of a climate catastrophe that could threaten the existence of all life on Earth.  Fossil fuels have been identified as the primary culprit in this problem because the exhausts emitted ultimately destroys the environment, resulting in a phenomenon known to many as global warming.  Although global warming is still a debated issue, with some scientists claiming that there is no truth to this phenomenon, there is much evidence of unnatural changes in the global climate.  The El Nino and La Nina phenomena are no longer rare occurrences, but are climatic events that are now repeatedly felt worldwide.  The seriousness of the problem is now hard to ignore.

Due to these changes, world leaders and various sectors are finding ways to stave off disaster.  One of the ways that fuel dependence could be lessened is through the use of sustainable energy sources. Frequently, plans are developed that are inconsistent in their focus and scope, so they do not fully address vital sustainability issues, which prevents the plan from being effective in successfully achieving the intended goals (Lachman, Pint, Cecchine, & Colloton, 2009).  Bioenergy is one of the many alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear power that has been introduced as a means of identifying suitable renewable energy sources to solve the problematic issue of finite amounts of land available for development and human habitation (Ashall, 2010).  This paper will address the development of bioenergy as a sustainable fuel source by first defining what types of materials produce bioenergy through a review of existing schemes and propose a methodology for producing bioenergy, including an analysis of the expected energy output for the new plans, and conclude with a summation of the potential benefits to be gained from expansion of sustainable energy sources.

Review of Existing Schemes

The major sources of commercial energy are gas, oil, and coal which are known as fossil fuels.  Nuclear, hydro, and wind power comprise 13% of energy sources, which amounts to a small portion of consumed energy.  The U. S. and Canada consume approximately 35% of the world’s energy resources while holding only about five percent of the world’s population and the energy consumption for the U. S. alone is shown in Table 1 for the years 2003-2007, with biomass and biofuels constituting a minute percentage of this usage.

Based on this level of consumption, it is expected that the industrialization of the currently underdeveloped nations will increase the negative effects of global warming, leading to a possible extinction-level event as the worlds Polar Regions rapidly melt.

Organic sources of energy have been used long before fossil fuels, nuclear power, or coal was discovered.  The emergence of new methods for converting biological materials into sources of energy has garnered much notice since society has become increasingly dependent on non-renewable sources.  There is on-going research on the development of green energy sources. To be a green energy source, it has to be renewable, clean, and not damage the environment in the same way as fossil fuel and other non-renewable sources do (Shepley, 2011).  Recently, interest in bioenergy has increased due to growing support for the development of alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear power.  Like any other public issue, the use of bioenergy has drawn support as well as criticisms from various sectors.  Supporters provide estimates on how much power conversion of biological materials into energy sources can generate, offsetting a fraction of fossil fuel use.

Currently, the main power sources are derived through mining for methane and other natural gases, coal, nuclear power, and oil (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008).  Placer mining uses water cannons to blast away rock and expose gold, diamonds, or coal.  This process inundates nearby streams and waterways with sediment, which degrades the ecosystem (Botkin & Keller, 2011).  Underground mining is extremely dangerous to the miners and also causes toxic chemicals to dissolve into the groundwater.  Underground mines also pose the danger of underground fires, some of which have been burning for hundreds of years (Botkin & Keller, 2011).  Open-pit mines consist of huge, deep holes that are dug into the ground to extract metal ores and other minerals (Botkin & Keller, 2011).  In these gargantuan holes, groundwater accumulates and mixes with the metals, forming a toxic, soupy mess, which no one knows how to detoxify.  Strip mining involves the removal mammoth strips of land to reveal the horizontal beds of coal beneath the surface (Botkin & Keller, 2011).  Once the coal is extracted, the displaced land is replaced, but the soil is usually eroded, chemically weathered, and has no topsoil for vegetation to grow on.  Mountaintop removal is a method of coal mining in which the entire top of a mountain, up to seven hundred feet, is pulverized by a twenty-story tall shovel to expose the horizontal beds of coal (Botkin & Keller, 2011).  The debris, which can contain selenium, coal, arsenic, and other toxic substances, is dumped into the streams and rivers that run through the mountain, sometimes covering the waterway entirely.

The mining processes used to extract these natural resources often results in highly concentrated deposits of naturally occurring elements that, in small concentrations are not harmful, but are devastating to humans and wildlife in the large accumulations that result from the mining and extraction processes (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008).  According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), more than 100 toxic air pollutants, nearly 80,000 metric tons of dust and particle matter, and 11,000 tons of sulfur dioxide are released from U. S. wells and mines alone each year and the USGS (U. S. Geological Society) estimates that 60 million gallons of water are used per day for the purpose of mining (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008).  Contaminated with sulfuric acid, arsenic, heavy metals, and various pollutants, this water is made unfit for consumption through the mining process, pollutes waterways as mining runoff, and damages or destroys aquatic ecosystems, making this a non-sustainable energy source (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2008).

Bioenergy is a blanket term used to encompass the conversion of numerous biological materials, or biomass, into energy sources and is currently the largest renewable energy source, providing 10%-14% of the primary global energy supply (McKendry, 2002).  Any organic decomposable matter is considered biomass, which can be derived from plants or animals and is available on a renewable basis (Slade, Saunders, Gross, & Bauen, 2011).  Biomass includes wood and agricultural crops, herbaceous and woody energy crops, and municipal organic wastes such as manure (McKendry, 2002).  Organic plant matter stores energy through the process of photosynthesis where the reaction between carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air, water, and sunlight produce carbohydrates that form the building blocks of biomass (McKendry, 2002).  This organic matter is converted into energy through various processes that break down the bonds between adjacent carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules, which can occur through combustion or decomposition, to release the stored chemical energy (McKendry, 2002).

The energy released from the organic material is known as bioenergy and biomass may be directly used as a fuel or processed into liquids and gases (Popp, Lakner, Harangi-Rákos, & Fári, 2014).  The power generated by these systems does not pollute the environment unlike energy produced from coal, nuclear power, and oil or natural gas (Balke, n.d.).  The availability of biological materials as a potential energy source plays a critical part in many developing countries by fulfilling basic energy needs for daily activities such as cooking and providing a heat source, but rote methods such as burning wood can cause severe health and environmental problems (Slade, Saunders, Gross, & Bauen, 2011). The importance of bioenergy for underdeveloped nations has facilitated the innovation and dissemination of advanced cook stoves fueled by biomass and additional off-grid biomass electricity, which are crucial to fostering improvements in the current situation so that these nations can achieve universal access to clean energy solutions by 2030 (Nakada, Saygin, & Gielen, 2014).

The most popular types of bioenergy produced are biofuels, which are solid, liquid, or gas fuels made from biomass, such as ethanol and biodiesel (Botkin & Keller, 2011).  Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane motor fuel that is produced from grain alcohol derived from crop sources such as corn and can be domestically produced, making it completely renewable so that usage of ethanol helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels like gasoline for sources of energy.  The components of biomass are produced from living organisms or metabolic by-products such as organic or food waste.  To be classified as a biofuel, the product must consist of more than 80% renewable materials and be derived through the process of photosynthesis.  Since biofuels are derived from this process, they can also be referred to as a solar energy source.

Traditionally, biomass referred to the use of wood, charcoal, agricultural resides, and animal dung for residential cooking and heating, giving it a very low conversion efficiency of 10% to 20%, making it an unsustainable supply.   Most of the current bioenergy consumption is consumed in developing countries whereas some areas have a biomass potential that exceeds their own consumption while other areas have a demand for biofuels that surpasses the local production potential (Faaij, 2007).

In favourable circumstances, producing energy from biomass can be cost effective when compared to non-sustainable methods.  However, in many cases, economic incentives are currently needed to off-set the cost differential between the tools needed for conversion of biomass into usable energy and electricity and heat generated by fossil fuels (Adams, 2009).  Such support is justified by the environmental, energy security and socio-economic advantages associated with sustainable bioenergy, but should be introduced as transitional measure leading to cost competitiveness in the medium term.

The energy produced through bioenergy conversion is measured in Exajoules (EJ) where 1,018 Joules is equivalent to 1 EJ or 278 teraWatt hours (TWh), which is equal to1 Metric tonne (Mtoe) or 0.042 EJ (Faaij, 2007).  Final bioenergy use for heat could grow by 3% per year on average, and reach 16 EJ in 2018, as bioenergy use for heat increases in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Europe, compelled by the 2020 targets mandated by the European union and to a smaller extent, the external markets (Meyer & Priess, 2014).  Bioenergy will also play an important role in contributing to heat and electricity demand in the longer term.  Analysis suggests that in order to achieve significant emission reductions in the energy sector, sustainably produced bioenergy will play an increasing role in the future with primary biomass demand increasing to triple the current levels by the year 2050 when world biomass power production is expected to increase to 3,000 TWh  (Eisentraut & Brown, 2012).  In addition, bioenergy use for heat in industry increases rapidly in the roadmap, to 24 EJ in 2050, as biomass replaces carbon-intensive coal in high-temperature applications (Eisentraut & Brown, 2012). Only in the buildings sector in non-OECD countries, the role of bioenergy should decline as traditional biomass use is replace by more efficient, cleaner fuels  (Ladanai & Vinterbäck, 2009).

There are currently a multitude of bioenergy schemes designated as sustainable options and these certification schemes are classified according to the type of scheme operator as well as their targeted user group, including:

  • Multi-stakeholder schemes open to all users, and include: RSB, RTRS, RSPO, Bonsucro, ISCC, NTA8080 and Biograce(van Dam & Ugarte, 2013).
  • Industry association schemes developed by or for industry associations or farmers’ organizations, and include REDcert, 2BSvs, Red Tractor and SQC (van Dam & Ugarte, 2013).
  • Company-owned schemes for the exclusive certification of a company’s products and feedstock or intermediate products delivered by their suppliers, and include the Greenergy Scheme, ENSUS scheme and the Abengoa RBSA scheme(van Dam & Ugarte, 2013).

A complete list of bioenergy schemes recognized by the European Commission (EC) can be found in Table 2, which identifies the type of feedstock, supply chain, and the scheme name (van Dam & Ugarte, 2013).

Studies have shown that the most promising biomass production potential can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Oceania, East and North-East Asia, and South America, making it possible for these nations to also benefit from the export of biomass to regions that have limited supplies of organic material for conversion to bioenergy, such as the Netherlands (Mikkilä, Heinimö, Panapanaan, Linnanen, & Faaij, 2009).

Your proposed scheme

The concept of sustainable development entails the establishment of a symbiotic relationship between economic, social, and environmental factors and has become vital to ecosystems both on land and within aquatic regions.  Creating symbiosis between economic, social, cultural, and environmental factors of the human condition is a tremendous challenge many governments have yet to achieve and the advancement of technology also poses new threats to the environment through increased levels of pollutants even though technology also presents new ways to support environmental protection.  Ecologically sustainable development is a pattern of resource usage that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that those needs can be met not only in the present, but also for all future generations (Adams, 2009).  This concept brings together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges facing the larger human population (Kravchenko & Bonine, 2008).

The increasing emphasis regarding environmental degradation and preventative management that helps create a sustainable environment has promoted numerous global programs designed to create environmentally friendly structures (Lachman, Pint, Cecchine, & Colloton, 2009).  Adoption of sustainable energy practices in the global business environment has been emphasized in the 21st century, whereas energy is defined as the ability to do work and is necessary for human existence. This is based on the realization that unless organizations adopt sustainable alternative energy sources, natural resources will be depleted within a few decades.

The need for bioenergy in underdeveloped nations has facilitated many schemes derived to exploit the potential of this sustainable power source.  However, the risks associated with the large-scale use of biomass necessitated establishment of specific criteria for the production and processing of biomass in energy, fuels and chemistry, regardless of the origins of the biomass, such as the Dutch Criteria for Sustainable Biomass (CSB) (Mikkilä, Heinimö, Panapanaan, Linnanen, & Faaij, 2009).  The harvesting of bioenergy from biomass can be accomplished through the establishment of specific crops, as illustrated in Figure 1, which shows a crop design where the growth is specifically for harvesting bioenergy.

The crops grown, such as soy, corn, palm, hemp, or other energy crops, are planted as illustrated with special equipment attached to harvest the energy produced through photosynthesis and is sustainable as long as the plants are cared for properly.  Such a set-up can be especially useful in underdeveloped nations that have a lot of land available for designation as bioenergy reserves.  There is a need to examine some components of an ideal system, for instance, by evaluating the applicable size, capacity, and load factors to determine the suitable system. Another concern would be the type of plants or biomass used to produce the bioenergy since various crops take different amounts of time to grow, so this will have to be considered when choosing and planting crops for bioenergy.  The use of the system optimization tactics enables people to determine the applicable ratings and types of components while designing the bioenergy systems for various applications.  The system is affordable; this attracts users of all income levels, which is an added advantage to the society. There should be stable policies to implement installation of large-scale systems due to ensure perfection. The policies should seek local support for the project; overcome institutional barriers and other related challenges. A successful process requires combined efforts from the policy makers, authorities, members of the public, and model experts to end the energy problem.

The evaluation of energy performance in residential buildings is essential for several reasons. One is the determination of the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. Another reason is the establishment of the operational costs for multi-story business complexes for daily needs such as energy used by the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which typically represents a considerable operating cost in these types of buildings. Such costs can be reduced through the identification of energy inefficiencies in a building’s construct and, once identified; ways to improve them should be devised to reduce energy consumption.  The minimization of energy inefficiencies can be achieved through several methods, which include the incorporation of energy-efficient construction designs and energy retrofits. Energy retrofits encompass a range of enhancements whose benefits as well as costs may vary significantly, and under-sizing or over-sizing systems may cause additional inefficiencies. Furthermore, the various sizes of multi-story business complexes makes it difficult to estimate the energy demands for a given building accurately, making it hard to size a HVAC system properly.

The optimal performance of a solar PV system depends on the reliability of the components used to build it.  Easily replaceable components, for example, have positive impacts on the performance of a given system. The duration after which these components are replaced also acts as a metric for energy performance.  A system that takes a long duration before its components are replaced is more efficient than one with short durations. The maintenance of these systems, however, is necessary for their sustainability and productivity. According to this literature, no system that provides a method to extract building’s characteristics, energy savings, and total carbon offset reports on a real-time basis.  A reliable and simplified technique is needed to approximate energy demands and efficiencies in residential and commercial structures (Balke, n.d.). The system should quantify real-time efficiencies and their association to carbon offsets. Such techniques are desirable to facilitate reliable and quantifiable carbon offset claims, which motivates consumers to engage in cap-and-trade markets of carbon.

Calculations (i.e. expected power output, dimensions, cost of scheme)

Modern bioenergy supply on the other hand is comparably small, but has been growing steadily in the last decade. In the buildings sector, modern bioenergy use for heat reached around 5 EJ in 2012 (Faaij, 2007).  In addition, 8 EJ were used in industry, mainly in the pulp and paper as well as the food processing sector, to provide low- and medium-temperature process heat (Eisentraut & Brown, 2012). Furthermore, a total of 370 TWh of bioenergy electricity was produced in 2012, equating to 1.5% of world electricity generation (Faaij, 2007).  The proposed bioenergy model shown in Figure 1has the potential to produce 200-400 EJ, depending on the number of plants used, the size of the plants, and the amount of sunlight exposure, which is the energy source used by the crops to produce energy through photosynthesis.  The size of the land dedicated for the bioenergy farm is the ultimate predictor of the energy yield possible from the venture.

Numerous technologies for generating bioenergy heat and power already exist, ranging from solid wood heating installations for buildings to biogas digesters for power generation, to large-scale biomass gasification plants for heat and power.  Co-firing biomass with coal in existing coal-fired power plants can be an important option to achieve short-term emission reductions and make more sustainable use of existing assets (Eisentraut & Brown, 2012).  In addition, new dedicated bioenergy plants are becoming increasingly important to meet growing demand for bioenergy electricity and heat.

As shown in Figure 2, the energy yield expectations for the proposed scheme are well within the limits according to the land that can be dedicated for the bioenergy production (Slade, Saunders, Gross, & Bauen, 2011).

Over the medium term, bioenergy generation and capacity are expected to scale up significantly. Global bioenergy production is expected to reach 560 TWh in 2018, up from 370 TWh in 2012 (+7% annually on average), driven by renewable energy targets in both OECD and non-OECD countries, as well as rapidly growing energy demand in a number of emerging economies with good biomass and renewable waste availability (Slade, Saunders, Gross, & Bauen, 2011).

Following the rapid depletion of natural resources such as fossil fuel reserves, it is predicted that there might be a shortage of energy resources in the future. The developing countries are particularly alarmed because the growth of their economies relies on energy usage. Renewable energy resources such as solar and wind energy, therefore, should be utilized to optimality, to satisfy the increasing energy demand. Additionally, global political and economic conditions that require countries to utilize their energy resources have instilled growing interest in these nations to use renewable energy. Renewable sources of energy benefit the environment because they generate large quantities of electricity while emitting insignificant levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These energy sources produce non-pollutant discharge to water bodies and soil, making electricity generation from these sources essential for any economy.

Conclusion

Even though there are numerous social and ethical arguments to sustain instant action to reverse the massive damage the humanity has done by extracting natural resources, the most critical and significant argument is the common sense factor (Huang & Shih, 2009).  The declining availability of natural resources that devastate the planet through the extraction process and the swell in the number of those affected by the environmental annihilation has made the condition of global warming a dilemma requiring immediate attention.  As the effects of constant ecological disregard have grown more and more damaging, so has the need for change.  Although consumption of the Earth’s resources is a natural and expected action, the waste, abuse, misuse, and destruction that results from such exploitation is a side effect that needs to be corrected (Harris, 2012).  The ecological threat our planet faces can be avoided and much of the harm can be repaired if simple steps are taken to take care of the planet.

Abolishing the use of nuclear energy in support of renewable sources such as bioenergy would diminish tons of toxins.  As the most heavily subsidized source of industrial power nationwide, many opponents of bioenergy maintain that the unreliable conversion methods makes it an unstable source of power (Easton, 2009).  Since ‘dirty’ sources of power must remain online as a backup in case biomass becomes unavailable, critics say that the cost is not worth the effort and lobby for development of alternatives to bioenergy (Easton, 2009).  This also fuels their argument that bioenergy does nothing to diminish dependence on fossil fuels.  Support measures should be backed by a strong policy framework which balances the need for energy with other important objectives such greenhouse-gas reduction, food security, biodiversity, and socio-economic development (Pelkmans, et al., 2013).

References

Adams, W. M. (2009). Green development: Environment and sustainability in a developing world (3rd ed.). London: Routledge.

Ashall, P. (2010). Environmental management. PowerPoint Slide Show.

Balke, J. (n.d.). EU approach to bioenergy in current legislation. Renewable Energy and CCS- DG Energy, European Commission. Retrieved from https://www.energy-community.org/portal/page/portal/ENC_HOME/DOCS/3184030/0633975ADA057B9CE053C92FA8C06338

Botkin, D. B., & Keller, E. A. (2011). Environmental science: Earth as a living planet (8th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Cunningham, W. P., & Cunningham, M. A. (2008). Principles of environmental science: Inquiry & applications (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Easton, T. A. (2009). Taking sides: Clashing views on environmental issues (13th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Eisentraut, A., & Brown, A. (2012). Technology Roadmap: Bioenergy for Heat and Power. Paris: International Energy Agency (IEA).

Faaij, A. (2007). Potential Contribution of Bioenergy to the World’s Future Energy Demand. New Zealand: International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy.

Harris, F. (2012). Global environmental issues. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Huang, P. S., & Shih, L. H. (2009, Winter). Effective environmental management through environmental knowledge management. International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 6(1), 35-50.

Kravchenko, S., & Bonine, J. E. (2008). Human rights and the environment: Case, law, and policy. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.

Lachman, B. E., Pint, E. M., Cecchine, G., & Colloton, K. (2009). Developing Headquarters Guidance for Army Installation Sustainability Plans in 2007. Santa Monica: Rand.

Ladanai, S., & Vinterbäck, J. (2009). Global Potential of Sustainable Biomass for Energy. Uppsala: SLU, Institutionen för energi och teknik Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Department of Energy and Technology.

McKendry, P. (2002). Energy production from biomass (part 1): Overview of biomass. Bioresource Technolog, 83, 37-46.

Meyer, M. A., & Priess, J. A. (2014, April 8). Indicators of bioenergy-related certification schemes- An analysis of the quality and comprehensiveness for assessing local/regional environmental impacts. Biomass and Bioenergy, 65, 151-169.

Mikkilä, M., Heinimö, J., Panapanaan, V., Linnanen, L., & Faaij, A. (2009, July 7). Evaluation of sustainability schemes for international bioenergy flows. International Journal of Energy Sector Management, 3(4), 359-382. doi:10.1108/17506220911005740

Nakada, S., Saygin, D., & Gielen, D. (2014). Global Bioenergy Supply and Demand Projections for the Year 2030. United Arab Emirates: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Pelkmans, L., Goovaerts, L., Stupak, I., Smith, C. T., Goh, C. S., Junginger, M., . . . Dahlman, L. (2013). Monitoring Sustainability Certification of Bioenergy-Short summary. IEA Bioenergy Task 40, Task 43 and Task 38. Retrieved from http://www.ieabioenergy.com/publications/monitoring-sustainability-certification-of-bioenergy-short-summary/

Popp, J., Lakner, Z., Harangi-Rákos, M., & Fári, M. (2014, February 7). The effect of bioenergy expansion: Food, energy, and environment. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 32, 559-578.

Shepley, P. (2011, February 20). What is green energy? Retrieved November 28, 2015, from WiseGEEK: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-green-energy.htm

Slade, R., Saunders, R., Gross, R., & Bauen, A. (2011). Energy from biomass: The size of the global resource. London: UK Energy Research Centre.

van Dam, J., & Ugarte, S. (2013). Monitoring certification schemes – Scheme changes and cross acceptance. the Netherlands: Gaseous and Liquid carbon-neutral fuels (GAVE).

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