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Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are natural substances made deep within the earth from the remains of ancient plants and animals. The common fossils fuels are coal, oil, and natural gas. Over a hundred millions of years ago, heat and pressure turned decomposing remains into fuels, which released energy when burned. Coal is crushed to a fine dust and burnt while oil and gas can be burnt directly. The harnessed energy from these hydrocarbons can be used to produce electricity, heat homes, power vehicles, cook food and much more. They can also be used to produce other materials such as plastics (California Energy Commission 31).
Biofuels are produced from living organisms or from metabolic by-products (organic or food waste products). Some examples of living organisms include wood, wood chipping and straw, pellets, biogas (methane) from animals’ excrement, ethanol, diesel or other liquid fuels made from processing plant materials and waste oil. Corn, sugarcane and rapeseed are the common plants used in ethanol and diesel production. Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels They are commonly made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates through a process similar to beer brewing. To be considered a biofuel, the fuel must contain over 80% renewable materials (Letcher 32). Biofuels are the alternative to fossil fuels. Recently, biofuels have gained prominence in order to stem increasing overdependence of fossil fuels. Biofuels have been termed as potential alternative to dwindling natural source of energy but there no adequate research to support its applicability. Ethanol and biodiesel are the two common types of biofuels.
Nuclear power is energy generated through the use of uranium, a common metal in most parts of the world. Nuclear energy is produced through a complex process in nuclear power stations. The first power station was established in England in 1956. Nuclear power has gained prominence in a bid to stem the shortage created by over dependence in fossil fuels. In developed world today, many military operation and vessels are powered by nuclear energy (Wengenmayr, and Buhrke, 73). Nuclear power is produced through a chemical process that involves the splitting or merging of the atoms of nuclei together. The reactor is fueled by the uranium rods and the heat is generated by nuclear fission. In generation of electricity, nuclear fission is used to heat water to make steam .Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels The steam is used to turn turbines which turn on generator to produce electrical power.
Pros and cons
Over- reliance on fossil fuel that had its shortcomings has led to the increased need of alternative sources of power. The main disadvantage of fossil fuel is that they are non-renewable. Well, technically fossil fuels are renewable because they are formed from decompositions of remains of ancient plants and animals but this process takes millions of years to materialize. Thus, in sensible definition, fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy (Wengenmayr, and Buhrke, 56). Over exploitation of fossil fuels has led to depletion of its sources which has resulted to fluctuation of fossil fuel supply.
Away from over exploitation, fossil fuels are also lead contributors in environmental pollution. Any fossil fuel produces carbon dioxide when burnt, which contributes to green house effect, thus warming the earth. Coal produces more carbon dioxide than oil or gas when it is burnt. It also produces sulphur dioxide, which is a component of acid rain. Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels Mining of coal is also a risky exercise (Heinberg 32). Hundred of lives had been lost in coal mining. In addition, mining destroys huge track of land which could otherwise be used in other productive activities like farming. Coal production is also in a way counterproductive since it consumes huge amount of fuel.
Fossil fuels have several advantages. Coal can generate very large amount of electricity in one place, fairly cheaply. It is easier to transport oil and gas to the power stations. Piping makes the transportation of oil much easier (Heinberg 32). Power stations supported by gas are also efficient. Lastly, unlike nuclear plant, a fossil-fuelled power station can be built almost anywhere so long as it is linked to supplies of fuel.
Biofuels, on the other hand, provide the alternative for the conventional sources of fuels. They have the advantage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels but this depends on how it is produced and managed. Once the technology is in place biofuels can be produced at a relatively cheap price. Biofuels are also renewable sources of energy .Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels The materials required for their production (crop waste, animal waste, and other byproducts) are readily available. In addition, with biofuels, there no chances for nations to be held hostage since biofuel can be generated in almost all the countries (Letcher 73).
The disadvantages of biofuels are that they have a lower energy output compared to conventional sources of fuel. Although, biofuels have lesser carbon emission than petroleum, a study carried out in Britain, USA and Germany showed that biofuels have the potential of greenhouse effects (Scientific American Magazine 143). It is also feared that if biofuels were to become productive, farmers would abandon food production and grow crops to supply biofuel industry. Again, huge tracks of land have to be brought under cultivation thus obstructing the fauna and flora.
Nuclear power generation draws its advantage from its relatively low amount of carbon dioxide emission. For this reason, nuclear advantage has found favor in the campaign to reduce global warming. More advantage of nuclear power is its ability to generate high amount of electrical energy in one single plant (Herbst, and Hopley 75).Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels In addition, the technology of nuclear power generation is readily available and does not need to be developed.
Radioactive waste makes nuclear plants undesirable in some countries. Radioactive wastes are extremely lethal and have to be carefully checked after for several thousand years (Ngo 321). Nuclear plants have high risk. A technical hitch or a natural calamity like the recent earthquake in Japan can have devastating effects. More worse, nuclear plants can be target for terrorist attacks. Though most of the countries have turned to nuclear plants as the possible sources of energy, the sustainability of nuclear energy is in question. The available uranium is expected to last for 30 to 60 years after which nuclear plants will come down crumbling.
The question of future energy supply is indeed tricky. Energy solutions that have been put forward are always riddled with various disadvantages. The current available sources of energy have serious disadvantages that make long time reliability dull (MacKay, 6). Other than the conventional energy sources the world must look into alternative sources of energy. But before contemplating other sources of energy, there is need to reduce energy consumption. A lot of energy in the world is wasted on uneconomical activities. Biofuels vs. Nuclear Power vs. Fossil Fuels Energy conservation should also involve use of gadgets that have low energy consumption.
Although energy supply has to be sought from integrated sources, solar and water energy are have a potential future in energy supply. It has dawned on human community that fossil fuel may come to an end in the near future. Again, environmentalists are concerned with the effects of fossil fuel on global warming. The alternative sources of energy, mainly renewable sources have great potential. The option of solar energy is founded on the fact that sun produces more than enough energy to match all human consumption. However, there is need for collaborated research to come up with the most efficient energy sources.
California Energy Commission .Energy resources <http://energyquest.ca.gov/index.html>Web Nov. 22, 2011.
Heinberg, Richard. Blackout: Coal climate and the last energy crisis. London: New Society publishers. 2009. Print.
Herbst, Alan & Hopley, George . Nuclear Energy Now: Why the Time Has Come for the Worlds Most Misunderstood Energy Sources. Washington D. C.: Wiley-Interscience. 2007.Print.
Letcher, Trevor. Future energy: improved, sustainable and clean options for our planet. New York: Elsevier. 2008.
MacKay, David Energy & Environment: Illuminating the future of energy. The New York Times. Web August, 28, 2009<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/29/business/energy-environment/29iht-sustain.html?pagewanted=all> Web Nov. 22, 2011.
Ngo, Christian . Our energy future: resources, alternatives, and the environment. New York. John Wiley & Sons. 2009. 484.
Scientific American Magazine. Oil and the future of energy: climate repair, hydrogen, nuclear fuel, renewable and green sources, energy efficiency. Washington, D.C: Lyons Press. 2007. Print.
Wengenmayr, Roland. & Buhrke, Thomas. Renewable energy: sustainable energy concepts for the future. New York: Wiley-VCH. 2008. Print.