Ending the Fossil Fuel Age: Demanded Change Low On Fuel

Submitted by jason van orsdol on Fri, 01/22/2010 - 10:29.


There is no direct answer or one set process developed to step-down the use of fossil fuels. The use of fossil fuels is too vast and complex to simply cease utilization. A slower process is required, allowing for new innovation, technological advances, changes in law, economic viability, and the list continues. Environmentalist demand reduction and cessation of fossil fuels without an alternative energy fuel resource. To better understand why new eco-friendly energy resources cannot fill this gap is essential in the process of beginning to fill the gap. All of the following is based on the assumption that fossil fuel emissions such as CO2 (carbon dioxide) is causing serious environmental issues. No arguments will be made to note that science has shown clouds and water vapor may be in greatest control of global warming rather than CO2 emissions. Americans are often blamed as being fossil fuel hungry; this does not mean the remainder of the world has alternative energy resources. Just as modern historians named eras, such as the Bronze Age or Industrial Age, future historians may decide our time to be more appropriately named the Oil Age or Fossil Fuel Age, preceding the Computer Age.
Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas are busy powering electrical grids, transporting people and materials, providing key components in millions of products, providing military and civil resources and so on. Information on the use of oil in creating plastics alone is scarce despite the massive use of oil based plastics. All of this leads to a major message; the American people do not yet have the means to replace fossil fuel use in any significant manner in an immediate way, as desired for reasons from honest concern for future generations to political stomping sessions.
Energy producers and users have been gentle and heavy handed sending the message of massive dependence the United States has for fossil fuels. Environmentalists leave one wondering how radical changes in energy sourcing and utilization will be backed by abundant, affordable, and environmentally friendly ‘green’ energy fuels resources. Wind power is often a first route for a green explanation of how to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Wind generated electricity stored in lithium ion batteries offers some assistance and are not commonly considered inefficient. Problems with wind powered electrical generation are that the wind does not always blow, storage and delivery of wind generated electricity pose several challenges, and specific environments required for efficient wind-farms are few and far between.
Coal accounts for some 50% of fossil fuel based electrical energy generation in 2010. Clearly, inexpensive coal cannot be dropped from the menu of energy fuels. If half the country is willing to go without electricity coal demand would be lowered dramatically. We only need several million volunteers, now. Hopefully, prominent environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Earth First will take the lead in having members lead a fossil fuel free life, even if we continue to exhale CO2. Despite such a cynical idea, the reduction of fossil fuel use will have to be a gradual step-down and cannot be rushed by political agendas, energy producers, or environmental activism. Without doubt failures of new energy systems and innovative successes will come.
In west Texas the wind blows in a manner suited to turning three 360 foot rotor blades of a single wind turbine. Even in the sparse west Texas landscape wind power has not proven amazingly successful, as only two to five percent of available power for the expansive region is derived from a substantial number of wind turbines near the small city of Wink, Texas. In no way does this mean wind generated power should be dropped from the developing alternative energy arsenal.
At this time the efficiency of batteries to store the generated electricity is a major technological challenge being approached by academics, activist, industry professionals, and politicians alike, among many other groups. Improvements such as rotating wind turbine ‘heads’ to face the wind stream and increasing the size of the wind turbines are a reality; a reality based on time consuming research, building, evaluation, and innovation. Building the wind turbines requires the use of fossil fuels, often from metallurgical coal which can be formed into strong metal structures. Believe it or not a major source of innovation are companies currently using fossil fuels, which leads into a developing arena for green energy production in a major area, with a catch.
Coal utilized to generate electricity is not an outdated energy resource, yet it is a fossil fuel. The history of early Industrial Revolution use of coal has given coal a ‘dirty’ name. Images of bellowing ashes and coal dust covered towns come to the minds’ of many as seen with 20/20 vision of history. To improve CO2 emission controls systems to capture coal ash, mercury, and other coal burn by-products are being incorporated into many coal ‘fired’ power plants at the direction of the owners, not Federal law or courtroom decrees. Ash captured from coal burning is used on a massive scale to supplement the strength of concrete and develop eco-friendly landfills. Concrete mixed with coal ash serves to capture and contain any remaining CO2 (carbon dioxide) a GHG and Hazardous Material according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, not law. Spewing coal ash through a smoke stack is not desirable to power producers, ash capture and resale is. 
Next we step into the processes of capturing CO2 emissions at coal power plants. Carbon Capture and Sequestration or Separation (CCS) is a technology rapidly growing and providing results supporting the increased implementation of the process. Providing a full explanation of CCS would require a small book explaining the processes. Essentially, capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from combustion at the source and storing the CO2 before it is in the air is the basis of CCS. CCS also encompasses capturing CO2 from ambient air by ‘scrubbing’ CO2 from the air before it has an opportunity to flow out the smoke stack. Unfortunately, capturing and compressing CO2 requires energy and would increase the fuel needs of a coal-fired plant with CCS by 25%-40%. However, reductions in CO2 emissions can be reduced up to 90% according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). CCS is a Geoengineering process with many challenges and positive implications for more effective utilization of coal until fossil fuel energy is replaced.
Natural Gas is an excellent fossil fuel in terms of ‘burning clean’. CO2 emissions at a gas power plant are not a significant issue. The U.S. has large natural gas reserves. Energy producers extract, refine, and deliver natural gas, such as methane without hesitation. There is a continuous need to utilize natural gas power plants. Despite what ‘green environmentalist’ may say they too are highly dependent on the warmth, electricity, and other benefits of natural gas. When the price of natural gas rises simple economics shows a drop in demand. If Americans are willing to pay on cost volatile bill at increased cost natural gas can and has cut into the use of fuel oils and coal.
Iceland has set a mark for the use of geothermal energy. Geothermal energy produced from volcanic flows has provided Icelanders an excellent energy production resource used daily in energy production. Iceland presents a unique case due to the geothermal activity under Iceland. In the U.S. geothermal systems are in operation for major building complexes all the way to systems for one home. The initial expense of the system is prohibitive economically for many. For those employing home geothermal systems in the long term they pay far less in energy costs. Again, the trouble is the initial expense to an individual homeowner, when the requirements for a geothermal system are unique and do not apply to any physical location. Areas in the State of Arkansas are leading the way in geothermal systems due to the regions abundant supply of naturally heated hot springs, water systems, and considerable geothermal activity. Geothermal systems stand as a resource in starting the step-down process from fossil fuel dependence.
What happened to bio-mass fuels? Burning nutrient rich food for fueling a work commute has proven to disenchant energy producers, energy users, and environmentalist. Creation of ethanol requires the use of farm lands domestic and international. Food prices increased in last year when existing farm lands were devoted to growing bio-fuels, subsidized by tax dollars. Biofuels derived from plant life such as corn, switch grass, and sugar cane requires growth time and human management as well. Bio-mass fuels require more fossil fuel energy to make than energy returned. Ethanol is not economical, environmentally beneficial, or the answer to reducing fossil fuel use. This argument is not one of dollar expense only, rather one pleading that fossil fuel use and food prices rises with ethanol production.
Who killed the electric car? The electric car is not dead. In fact, the electric car has become economical and popular, when paired with a gas or diesel driven internal combustion engine. When plugging in a car that runs purely on electrical energy stored in batteries, well, the electric energy is derived from fossil fuel utilization in producing electricity delivered to the electrical outlet. In an almost comical sense one might simply pretend the power for the pure electric car comes from a magical green fuel energy source. The hybrid electric and internal combustion engine system is a reality on the roads now. Early indicators show that the main issue is servicing the electrical component of the hybrid engine; battery repair usually means replacement. Still, performance indicators show hybrid vehicles are a reliable and economical way of reducing fossil fuel use.
Maybe we can take fossil fuels down a bit with hydro-electrical power plants. ‘Hydro’ plants have proven to offer extremely low fuel cost associated with energy production and require very little fossil fuel energy to operate. Hydro electrical energy is dependent on factors that would at first not be obvious to the average person. Water levels, weather, water flow speeds, and diversion of existing waterways are a few issues hydro power faces. Several hydro power plants were never built due to legal wrangling by environmentalist groups concerned with water diversion, bio-diversity, and other common ‘worries’. Through careful research, private energy producer and government collaboration hydro electric power plants offer a true source for reducing fossil fuel use; even if the number of operating hydro power plants are minimal. 
Let's go Nuclear! While nuclear power plants controlling the process of fission eliminate the need for fossil fuel powered facilities. Many Americans are too young to remember Three-Mile Island’s near meltdown or Russia’s Chernobyl meltdown. Nuclear fission is an elaborate process with very plain implications as a viable energy source. Fission produces massed amounts of energy without the use of fossil fuels to support the plant on any substantial level. An excellent example of the power of nuclear fission is a thermonuclear weapon or as popular culture says ‘nuke’. Failure in the fission processes for reaction control can be catastrophic. The events are not inclined to be thermonuclear. Chernobyl would have been literally incinerated and blown away had the nuclear meltdown been thermonuclear. A very large explosion did occur causing the release of vast amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. The release of radioactive material is the danger in a nuclear power plant. Chernobyl and the surrounding area are uninhabitable for generations to come. Birth defects, illnesses, and dislocation of populations are a few ‘fallout’ results. 
Despite Chernobyl having been so disastrous the reason for the disaster was pinned as being a succession of human errors and lack of training. If the desire to drastically reduce fossil fuel is strong enough the option of constructing nuclear power plants is viable. Construction of a nuclear plant requires a great level of fossil fuel use and large financial investments, yet the energy return quells profit worries while providing an environmentally friendly fuel source.
For good or bad at this time there is no viable replacement for fossil fuels based on the lack of green fuels to replace fossil fuels and energy sources such as nuclear generation many will simply not accept. By no means does this article cover all alternatives. Many alternative energy resources and technologies have yet to be dreamed of. Most Americans have been made aware many times over of how to conserve and limit energy use, no matter the source. As soon as controlled Fusion power plants come into reality the reduction in fossil fuel use will be a gradual process. 
Americans seem to not recognize or maybe need to be reminded the innovative and bold American spirit driving dreams is still alive. America or the United States specifically is not simply a black hole for consumption of world resources. Rather, the United States is taking the heaviest burden on environmental issues at will. If you want a low energy bill by burning only coal or if you want to rid all fossil fuel use we as Americans have one common resource, the ability to change the world.

                                                                       - J. Van Orsdol

           Special Thanks to Johnny Cash and Polor Bears Everywhere