The population of the world is increasing at a phenomenal rate and the increased transit of people around the world has increased concern regarding the use of fossil fuels and energy consumption. Researchers believe that the way that we are using our natural resources soon would wind up depleting them and also would damage the earth. It has been stated that at the rate that we are consuming the world’s natural resources, two world’s natural resources would be needed to sustain our current lifestyles within a generation (RedOrbit, 2008).
It is our responsibility as safeguards of future generations to make sure that the world we leave behind holds at least some of the resources that we had the privilege of and must ensure our progeny the same level of comfort as well. For this sole purpose, we must strive to come up with alternative energy resources and also new solutions for addressing some of our most pressing problems. One such problem is the high transit and the mass transportation problem. Cities and towns are getting crowded with all kinds of automobiles being plied on the roads. These cars use up gas which is gradually becoming not only more expensive but harder to discover. Governments have stressed that people should move to mass transit but most services are inconvenient and can be also damaging to the environment (Alternative Energy News, N.D).
Alternative energy sources
With the shift of concentration towards biofuels and other alternative energy sources, we have seen improvements in buses (becoming hybrids or powered by alternative fuels such as algae fuel and ethanol), diesel-electric hybrid trains, and solar-powered vehicles (Travel Matters, N.D).
In the airline industry, alternatives are being sought to replace petroleum but other alternative sources are insufficient to provide the same effectiveness and efficiency provided. (BioFuels Digest, 2009). The problem is that if airplanes were flown on ethanol, algae fuel, solar power, or any other alternative source, the energy derived would be far less as compared to that which is received from high-level octane and jet fuel. That is why I will concentrate on railway networks and public transportation when discussing mass movements and transits. (Alternative Energy News, N.D)
Ethanol as a source of energy
A concept that prospered in Brazil and the United States is Ethanol which was discovered to be a possible alternative for fossil fuels and powering vehicles. In the US, corn was the major ingredient for Ethanol. In 2003 world Ethanol production was 20 billion liters and since then it has been estimated that by 2020 the world production would be around 80 billion liters (Gielen, 2005).
Ethanol is less carbon-emitting as compared to petroleum and it does not hold the same power level as petroleum-driven engines, it is still our moral responsibility to consider the numerous benefits as compared to the simple speed or engine power factor. Ethanol is more economical and has the benefit that it can be locally produced, unlike petroleum which is our major import and makes us dependent on the international forces and political situations.
We can look at the numerous benefits of Ethanol as a source of energy for the public/mass transport system and see that it holds many opportunities not just for developed countries but developing countries as well. Electrical motors are rechargeable and can work without emitting any carbon particulates. Electrical bullet trains are coming more and more into use as a mass vehicle. They run on electro-magnetic pulses sent through the rails and have the ability to reach phenomenal speeds considering they are not using fossil fuels to power their motors. Electrical cars are also entering the market and they have the benefit of being recharged (Mann, 2008). This option is not as feasible for developing countries as they are already hit by shortages in electricity and are caught in circular debts and other energy creation problems which lead to a lack of electrical energy in their countries. (Mann, 2008)
Algae fuels are also an alternative and are deeply being researched. They are biodegradable and cause relatively no damage to the environment. They do cost more in production but are known for offering a greater energy volume as compared to other biofuels. Algae are beneficial in the regard that it has numerous applications. It can be used to prepare bio-diesel, bio-gasoline, and other alternative energy sources. These can be used in the same manner that ethanol is used. Wherever ethanol is being mentioned, we can also consider algae fuels in the same regard. However, their cost factor must be considered (Oilgae, 2008).
Ethanol can be created from corn, sugarcane, or any other organic material. Researchers have discussed that the energy provided by Ethanol is lesser than the energy utilized in converting it. But if Ethanol is created from what would otherwise be waste material, it holds the possibility of great returns. Following this philosophy, Honda has been able to come up with a way by which waste wood, rice straw, and other useless material can be transformed into Ethanol for power usage (Impact Lab, 2006).
This revolutionary breakthrough might mean that all the wasted resources can be put through the process to make the desired fuel which could be used by public transport as well as for exporting by countries which have an excess. This holds much promise for the Asian part of the world which is still agriculturally based. They have lots of wastage in their processing of agricultural products such as rice, wheat, and sugarcane. They can use the processes to create bio-fuel which would take away a major chunk of expenditure on importing petroleum which could be diverted again towards the betterment of society. Public transport can be moved to electric trains and other transport mediums, such as taxis and cabs can be moved to CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) or SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) which are alternatives to petroleum and are easily available in most countries. (Impact Lab, 2006)
Ethanol is often produced as a by-product of many processes when other food products are being processed. An example of this is that during the production of sugar from sugarcane, the by-products include bagasse but more importantly it also produces a large quantity of Ethanol, which mill owners often sell in the market or use for the running of their machinery. Similarly, when Ethanol is produced by corn it has been observed that the cost of producing it would be somewhere around $1.10 per gallon (Oregon.gov, 2009). This is still relatively cheaper than the cost of regular gasoline which is constantly fluctuating based on political and economic conditions.
Since the power created by ethanol is insufficient researchers suggest that the cost should be multiplied by 1.5 times to find out the actual cost yet still it does not compare to the price of gasoline. So using ethanol for public transport and regular vehicles would in the long run be more feasible as it would be steady and not rely on external sources of production. There would also be savings both on the macro-economic level and the microeconomic level. Algae fuels offer more energy when used but they cost relatively more than other sources. The fuel would cost around $7-8 per gallon if it were produced at current technology levels (Oilgae, 2008).
A major problem with the other alternative options available in the public transport sector is that they are extremely expensive to implement and require constant maintenance which is also quite costly. Solar-powered vehicles, for example, could be an option but the price of a solar panel is not that feasible if we are talking about its implementation on a national level or for transitory purposes. Similarly, hybrid vehicles are also an option but most countries are facing an energy crisis which makes reliance on electricity as a mode of energy highly dubious as it is uncertain of its availability. This can be proven by the energy crisis in Europe and Asian countries. (RedOrbit, 2008)
A major problem with changing technology and finding alternatives is that the cost of replacing equipment is often too high. For example, introducing solar generation for vehicles would require an incredulous amount of investment and would not appear feasible for people with limited budgets. The initial investment is often too high which results in these alternative sources being neglected for a short-term cure.
However, the benefit of ethanol as an alternative fuel source is that changing the transport engine to adapt to ethanol as its fuel source is quite inexpensive (Warren, 2004). Engines can easily be converted to use ethanol or a mixture of ethanol and gas for optimal usage. These engines can be modified on the domestic level, so naturally, public transport mediums can also comfortably modify their existing buses and mass transit vehicles for the usage of ethanol. Numerous companies are manufacturing heavy vehicles which run on bio-fuel as well as combinations of ethanol with gasoline. (Alternative Energy News, N.D)
Numerous scientists argue that to have all vehicles run on ethanol alone would require vast areas to be specially cultivated by corn. As corn is the major source of producing ethanol in the United States. However, there are numerous other sources with which to produce ethanol. Sugarcane as mentioned earlier is used in Brazil to create ethanol for running engines. Yet other raw materials which are used for the production of ethanol are wood, maize grain, cassava roots, and also sweet potato roots (Engineering Toolbox, N.D). Beet fruits are also rich in minerals for producing ethanol and can be used for producing fuel for consumption. Every country has its resources and they can select from several options on which agricultural produce to use. Depending on the soil fertility and the specific demands of the crop people have a wide variety of options to choose from.
Scientists have also discovered techniques by which they could use rejected waste materials and use them for the production of ethanol (Impact Lab, 2006). The benefit of this alternative source is that it can use any carbon-based life form to create ethanol as a result. And since this world is full of carbon life forms the possibilities are infinite for the creation of ethanol. With food sources also become scarcer as the world’s population is increasing it is worrisome to rely on food sources for energy. But with the recent discovery of tree waste, for example, we can consider rotten wood or other waste material which has a carbon composition for creating fuel.
I think that for fuel consumption at least in the transport sector, alternatives be found. Concerning cost-effectiveness, ease in availability, technological change, and options for raw materials, ethanol has no other competition. Electricity is also an option but greater production would be required if we wish to move our mass transit network onto it. Until better alternative resources are found, we should not rule out the option of ethanol as a replacement for gas in the mass transit sector and consider it a feasible solution for the time being and try to have it implemented in our public transport and personal automotive at least. People may argue as to the effectiveness of the engines and their lack of power when run on ethanol, but we must consider that this is not the only solution but a buffer till the time that the perfect alternate energy source can be found. Solar-powered energy is still expensive and nuclear power generation is not the most feasible option for most countries due to political and economic reasons. Till the time we can come up with a better solution, we should not abandon a solution that is offered to us. By slowly switching to ethanol we would remove the reliance on fossil fuels and give nature the time to replenish its stores rather than negate the good we can obtain from this alternative source and more quickly deplete the resources till the time we would have no choice but to switch as fossil fuels would be finished or for phenomenal prices.
“Algae Biodiesel Cost – What Exactly Makes Algae Fuel Costly?”. Oilgae. Web. 2009.
“Biomass Energy: Cost of Production”. Oregon.gov. Web. 2009.
“Climate Change and Alternative Transit Technology”. Travel Matters. Web. 2009.
“Ethanol Bio Fuel – Raw Materials”. Engineering Toolbox. Web. 2009.
“Japan Airlines biofuels flight test a success; camelina, algae, jatropha used in B50 biofuel mix; fuel economy higher than Jet-A”. BioFuels Digest. Web. 2009.
“Major Breakthrough in Biofuels”. Impact Lab. Web. 2009.
“Public Transportation”. Alternative Energy News. Web. 2009.
“Reckless Consumption Depleting Earth’s Natural Resources”. RedOrbit.com. Web. 2009.
Gielen. “Alternate Fuels: An Energy Technology Perspective”. Report Number EET/2005.
Mann, Parm. “Toyota’s plug-in hybrid electric car set for 2010”. HEXUS. Web. 2009.
Warren, Robert. “Converting Gasoline Engines To Run On Alcohol”. Tripod. Web. 2009.