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Alternative Fuel and Energy

Alternative Fuel and Energy


The entire world is aware of the potential and real effects of environmental pollution. The continued alteration of the natural world is a topic of great concern. One of the kinds of pollution considered to be responsible for global climate change is air pollution. Natural influences are constantly putting a wide variety of chemicals into the atmosphere. However, in the last century humans have increased the output of atmospheric chemicals as a result of emissions from industrial plants and automobiles.

Governments around the world have passed laws forcing industries to reduce toxic emissions. Unfortunately, one of the leading sources of pollution is the exhaust from gasolinepowered vehicles, which emit carbon dioxide among other polluting agents, as a by-product of internal combustion engines. This gas has been found to contribute to global change by trapping the Sun's heat at Earth's surface. As the heat remains on the surface, temperatures begin to rise in a process similar to what occurs in a greenhouse. Though tremendous advances have been made in creating alternative fuels that are much cleaner and more efficient than those currently in use, traditional fossil fuels are still the dominant fuels used in transportation.

Some of the more promising alternative fuels are compressed natural gas (CNG), M85, a combination of 85 percent methanol and 15 percent gasoline, liquefied natural gas (LNG), electricity, biodiesel (made from animal and plant oils), and hydrogen. Most of these alternative fuels still have

some elements of fossil fuels in them, yet the reason they are preferred to ordinary gasoline is that they burn cleaner and more efficiently. When used for transportation for example, natural gas produces far less carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter than gasoline. In a fuel cell vehicle, which is powered by hydrogen, the by-product is water vapor.

Since these fuels are available, one would expect them to be in more widespread use. But they are not. This is the result of the mathematics of economy. Because alternative fuels are a fairly recent development, the infrastructure to support them is not in place yet, and these fuels end up being more expensive than traditional fuels. Usually, though, when figuring cost comparisons of alternative fuels to traditional fuels, externality costs are not included. These externalities actually increase the costs associated with fossil fuels. For example, future environmental costs is a variable often not considered.

Eventually, cars will not run solely on gasoline. The supplies of petroleum in the world are limited. As petroleum supplies begin to diminish, it will also become more difficult to extract what remains. In the meantime, consumers wonder why the cleaner cars and fuels are not available now. Once again, the explanation is cost. Alternative fuel vehicles are more expensive because the infrastructure to produce them is not yet in place. Fueling stations for alternative fuels are not as readily available as for fossil fuels. Gas stations can be found all over the United States. It is more difficult to find a filling station that caters to alternative fuels. This added effort deters consumers from purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle. In addition, the general public is more likely to buy a car that runs on gasoline since that is what they are used to, and because they are not as educated on the subject of alternative fuels as they could be.

If gasoline prices continue to rise as they have in recent years, it will be financially practical for the United States and other countries to commit to bringing down the costs associated with alternative fuels. Whether this is done through government incentives or subsidies, without lower prices it will be difficult to change the paradigm of consumers toward one that involves a greater amount of environmental accountability. Eventually countries will be forced to take a more proactive approach to alternative fuels because fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource.

There are many factors affecting air pollution. The chemical problems can be addressed, but it is the mathematics of economy that prevents the world from using alternative fuels in industry and motor vehicles. When it comes to decreasing air pollution, it is definitely a mathematical problem.

Brook E. Hall

Bibliography

BarnesSvarney, P. The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference. New York: Stonesong Press (Macmillan), 1995.

Internet Resources

Summary of EPA Workshop on Alternative Fuel Infrastructure. Office of Transportation and Air Quality. <http://www.epa.gov/otaq/consumers/fuels/altfuels/altfuels.htm>.

The Energy Story. California Energy Commission. <http://www.energy.ca.gov/>.

The Environment Impact of Natural Gas. Natural Gas Information and Educational Resources. <http://www.naturalgas.org>.

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