Eighty percent of the world’s energy is currently supplied by fossil fuels. As developing countries continue to grow, the need for renewable energy sources does, too. The International Energy Agency(IEA) states that the world’s need for fuel will double within 50 years. The lack of sustainable fuel will lead to economic disaster.
And at current rates of production, 50 to 100 years is exactly when many scientists predict that fossil fuel will run out. Retired U.S. Geological Survey coal expert Harold Gluskoter says that in the United States, “We probably have 100 years (for coal). We don’t know how much after that.”
It’s also possible that oil supply will be disrupted due to natural disasters, terrorism, or war. 57 percent of the world’s oil comes from politically unstable areas like Saudia Arabia, Russia, and South America. In a commissioned study, the Department of Energy found there’s an 80 percent chance of oil production disruption lasting one month or more between 2016 and 2025.
Despite the economic risks posed by being over-dependent on fossil fuels, currently only a fifth of the world’s electricity is produced using renewable energy. If production of sustainable fuel doesn’t step up, then an economic disaster is likely. Some methods are better suited to fill in fuel demands than others.
Wind turbines are one of the cheapest ways to produce energy. Turbines simply must be placed in a high-wind place, such as off shorelines and in desert. The turbines have the largest renewable generational capacity of any renewable energy source in the United States. Every state uses this technology.
Wind turbines can be placed anywhere, even on private land. Ranches and farms are often top choices because their open space allows for a good deal of wind. It also provides a source of income to areas that may otherwise be struggling economically. But some ranchers fear loss of property value due to unsightly turbines.
Other worries include the cost of running power lines from the rural windfarms into cities. And some people cite noise pollution as a horrible side effect of the turbines.
Plus, storing energy is difficult. Usually, the turbine power is used as it’s produced. There are a few ways of storing it with varying degrees of complexity, and none are available to consumers. Companies are now developing storage means that use air compression, ice and a thermal battery, or molten salt.
Biomass fuel is any fuel that’s derived from once-living matter. This includes plant tissue like cellulose, corn, and other agricultural crops that are made into fuel like ethanol. Biodiesel is produced from used vegetable oils and animal fats. Algae is also grown and harvested to use as biomass.
With biomass sources readily available from recycled materials like municipal waste, human sewage or manure, it would seem like this would be the most popular sustainable fuel choice. Currently, however, biomass fuels only make up 5 percent of U.S. energy usage.
So why isn’t biomass used all the time? Some drawbacks include cost and space requirements. For example, algae need to have access to significant sunlight and high temperatures. It costs more to produce it than it can be sold for.
Companies are therefore focusing on economical ways to produce biomass fuels. Car companies like Porsche are looking for ways to make their engines completely emissions-free while maintaining performance standards. Desert Sweet Biofuels switched from farming shrimp to algae, using the climate of Arizona and aquaculture to its advantage.
DAR PRO Solutions takes used cooking grease that would otherwise be thrown out and turns it into fuel that helps the environment. DAR PRO says, “Biodiesel, a type of biofuel that can be blended with conventional diesel, meets a number of local and federal regulations aimed at lowering greenhouse gases by reducing vehicular emissions, including California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard.”
In another exciting breakthrough, Chinese scientists recently discovered a way to make cellulose into highly efficient jet fuel that can be mixed with regular fuel or used alone. Ning Li, a research scientist at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, says, “Our biofuel is important for mitigating CO2emissions because it is derived from biomass and it has a higher density (or volumetric heat values) compared with conventional aviation fuels,” says Li. “As we know, the utilization of high-density aviation fuel can significantly increase the range and payload of aircraft without changing the volume of oil in the tank.” Currently, airplanes produce 11 percent of CO2 emissions and significantly impact global warming. This biofuel could make airplane travel completely green.
As far as renewable energy sources, solar comes in number three in the United States. Solar panels on top of private homes have become ubiquitous in many neighborhoods. The problem, as in wind power, has been having a good way to store the energy, especially for use in private homes. Some companies are now offering solutions to this problem. For example, Tesla now offers the Powerwall, a battery storage system to be used in conjunction with solar panels. You could then use your stored solar energy to power your electric car, and be completely powered by sustainable fuel.
Solar cars might seem like an obvious solution, but are difficult to achieve because solar only provides a small trickle of energy rather than the huge busts a car engine requires. Sono Motors is starting production on the Sion, a car with built-in solar panels. It has a range of about 155 miles (250 km) using only solar power.
Fuel cells are a waste-free way to make energy out of chemicals. Hydrogen fuel cells use hydrogen gas that’s pass through oxygen to create a positive and negative charge, which in turn makes electricity. This is stored in the cell, which is similar to a battery. Cells can be stacked up together to make them more powerful. Fuel cells are already used as backup power for large institutions. It’s also being used in cars– the 2019 Toyota Mirai uses fuel cells.
Emissions Control Measures
Technology is the most important element of providing the world with new sources of sustainable fuel. But in the developed world, policy changes are instrumental in getting people and companies to adopt greener fuel or improve how fossil fuel is produced.
Charles McConnell, Executive Director, Center for Carbon Management and Energy Sustainability, University of Houston, writes: “Environmental policy does work as the United States has made incredible progress in reducing automobile emissions, improving efficiencies in electric power production and ensuring our manufacturing facilities are best in class globally. We enacted policies to drive such outcomes– but we also invested in technology to achieve it.”
Such emissions control policies include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Air Act. In May 2016, they began requiring that oil and gas well operators find and repair leaks; contain any natural gas coming out of oil and gas wells; and lower emissions from their pumps and equipment. Not only will this cut down on air pollution, it will also lower methane emissions. In addition, the EPA instituted a Natural Gas STAR program to cut down on methane from fossil fuel companies. Some of these policies; however, have recently been rescinded by the Trump Administration, though they have not yet been ordered to stop.
Nor does it make sense to rescind the EPA’s green energy policies, considering that clean energy provides 4 million jobs to Americans. Driven by policy, demand, and lower technology costs, sustainable energy jobs continue to grow. That, coupled with the possibility of fossil fuel disruptions, make sustainable fuel the most economically and environmentally sound option.