Fossil fuels and others of a similar nature

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

While fossil fuels, no doubt, are a problem for the biosphere – I hate nowadays to use the word environment as it has also other connotations – other fuels that are being burned in motor vehicles, even though they are created from plants and other resources, still have, as far as air pollution is concerned, the same or even worse an impact.

It is reckoned that the particle emissions from bio-diesel are many times higher than those from diesel based on “normal” oil and thus it is a case of “from the frying pan into the fire” here and bio-ethanol (the bio prefix is actually not needed as ethanol is an alcohol that generally is made from plants or grain) still is being burned in the same way as gasoline. Green it is not even though it is not made from oil coming out of the ground but from renewable resources.

The great majority of bio-diesel is made from palm oil and the growing of those palms, and the planting of ever more of them, is destroying rainforest areas in many tropical countries around the world. The use of maize (corn for our American cousins) for bio-ethanol is doing similar things to prime agricultural land; land that would be far better put to use in growing produce for people.

Aside from the negative effects on the biosphere the growing of those crops for bio-fuels causes those are still fuels that are being burned in engines and it does not make their emissions less harmful than those from oil-derived fuels; in some cases, as in the case of bio-diesel, it appears that the particle emissions are several times higher and more dangerous than those from ordinary fuels, in that case diesel.

While oil, as in the sticky black stuff that comes out of the ground, is coming to an end anyway, or at least that kind of oil that can be gotten out of the ground cheaply, and many no reckon that the remainders of both oil, and coal, be best left in the ground. Natural gas is the cleaner burning fossil fuel but it is still a fossil fuel that has to be gotten out of the ground though, theoretically, there would be no need to do that as natural gas is, basically, methane and that can be produced by a variety of means and from a variety of materials, and could also be “harvested” from sewage treatment plants and landfills.

Not that easy, I know, to use it to power cars and trucks with methane, though it can be done, has been done and is being done, but it could heat our homes, cook our food, and power our electricity generating plants.

In fact, in many cases, using gas, especially methane created in a digester, on a farm or homestead, for heating, via a combined boiler with a Sterling engine, you would, literally, have your own power station at home, creating energy while heating the house. Add to that photo-voltaic cells on the roof and small wind turbines, and a home, homestead or farm could be entirely self-sufficient in energy production. Even more so if the lighting and other circuits would be on a lower voltage, e.g. 12 V DC rather than 110/240 V AC. But that is a story for another essay.

The biggest problem, as said, is that whatever the source of the fuel of the oil or gasoline kind, even if it is bio-diesel and ethanol, it is still being burned in internal combustion engines and the emissions and pollution, for pollution is not just emissions, could even be worse than those from what we might refer to as ordinary gasoline of diesel, and we might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

But how are we going to carry on motoring without those fuels then? Battery cars just don't cut it, as yet, and for larger trucks, farm machinery and such, battery never will. The only answer is that we have to change the way we travel and may have to seriously think about the ways that our forebears did it, that is to say by human power or, in some cases, the use of animal power again, as in the case of “trucking” and farming.

Yes, and that will indeed mean that we cannot travel as far and that also means that we cannot commute (by car) tens of miles and more daily from homes in the countryside to the city. We will have to, once again, work where we live or live where our work is, or at least close to it, so that our place of work can either be reached on foot or by bicycle. Perishable goods also will have to come from much closer to home again as horse and cart travel a lot slower than do trucks.

I know that many people believe it to be their human rights to own a motorcar and to be able to use it as and when they want but there is – so far – no such right in any way, shape, or form, and the way the prices are for battery-powered vehicles for many this would never be a possibility anyway. Does anyone really believe that they will become so cheap that everyone will be able to afford them? Unless the battery technology improves in such a way that common and cheaply available renewable resources can be used for them then it will remain but a dream. And, to be very honest, so far I cannot see this development.

We will also have to redesign and retrofit buildings to retain heat in winter and remain cool in summer so as to use less energy for heating (ideally very little) and none for cooling in summer. And, we do have to do this now, not next year or the next decade.

© 2016