Energy And Our Future Essay

1996 words - 8 pages

We are at a tipping point in history. On one side, there lies a world where man and nature live in a balance. On the other, there lies a frantic world of upheaval and chaos as the forces of nature combat with the needs of our civilization. The global expansion of population and the trend of urbanization in regions that are experiencing economic expansion directly result in more people relying on carbon-based resources and services. The demand for these services has increased with the growing economies of many states around the globe. Our world's heavy reliance on a dwindling supply of nonrenewable fossil fuels pushes us closer towards an important decision: when the oil and natural gas run out, where do we turn to next? In addition to running out of these resources, we are facing consequences for our heavy reliance on carbon-based fuel. Manufacturing, electricity, and transportation industries along with general industrialization and deforestation worldwide spew gases into the atmosphere that trap greater amounts of heat, leading to increasing temperatures worldwide as part of a trend of accelerated climate change. The increase of people consuming carbon-based resources only exacerbates the problem, as population growth has been projected for areas with growing economies such as South Asia (Cleland, John- peer review). ?? While it is a complex issue with no single, quick fix, making alternative renewable energy sources viable is an answer to mitigating some of the effects and consequences of this energy problem. Though there are many options, two current sources are biofuels and nuclear energy.
Biofuels, as their name suggests, are a fuel source made of living or once-living matter, also known as biomass (NREL). As cars are currently unable to run on ethanol alone, biomass is fermented into ethanol and combined with regular fuel in a 85% ethanol-15% fuel ratio, called E85 (NREL). Biodiesel, a stand-alone fuel for cars that normally use diesel, is created by a different process. Before the biodiesel can meet fuel standards, its glycerol molecules must be removed through transesterification, where the oil is combined with methanol or ethanol and reacted with a strong base (Haggit). During this reaction, the glycerol molecules are removed from the fatty acid methyl esters, forming free fatty acids and the methyl esters, the latter to be used as biofuel (Li et. al.).
In general, biofuels can be categorized in several different generations according to where they originally came from. The first generation of biofuels, namely, "biodiesel, bioalcohols, ethanol, and biogasses," are made from "sugars, starches, oil, [and] animal fats that are converted into fuel using already-known processes or technologies" (Cornell). Many of the biofuels we use today and are currently exploring are first generation biofuels. The second generation comes from agricultural waste products and non-food crops, such as switch-grass, willow, and wood chips...

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