The fossil fuel – oil is a resource that is running out very quickly. Geologists estimate that if we continue pumping up oil at the same rate we are now, the worlds reservoirs will run out in approximately 25 years. Alternatives to using oil as fuel and to make plastic need to be found and enacted soon, otherwise we will be caught unaware and the price of a barrel of oil will skyrocket and countries rich in oil, like the USA, Iraq and Kuwait (to list a few) will have a monopoly on the oil market and will become far richer than other countries. Below are some alternatives to using oil as a fuel and as a source of ethene (used in making plastics).
Alternatives To Oil as a Source of Fuels and Energy:
At the moment, oil goes into making petrol, kerosene, naphtha, diesel and aircraft fuel.
An alternative for the use of oil to make petrol to go in cars, etc can be to use hydrogen cells. These hydrogen cells use hydrogen gas to propel the pistons, which in turn moves the vehicle. These hydrogen cells are much better for the environment than petrol in that the exhaust from the combustion of hydrogen is water – so instead of cars belching out dangerous chemicals like carbon monoxide, etc in their exhaust, water would trickle from their exhaust pipes. Drawbacks from the use of hydrogen cells in cars are that they are hugely expensive, heavy and are not as efficient as petrol engines. So far only one production car has been created using the hydrogen cell – that was by BMW in Germany and there are only 5 such models ion the world. This could be due to the fact that they are inconvenient because there is only one hydrogen refilling station in the world.
Geologists are currently investigating the viability of drawing oil out of oil shale to use when other reserves run out. This is a finite resource though – meaning it too will run out some day and it is still oil anyway so isn’t really an alternative.
Currently some racing cars use the fuel Ethanol in their engines. Ethanol is an alcohol made from renewable biological matter and is commonly used throughout the USA and Canada. Ethanol is a very efficient fuel in that a little goes a long way and doesn’t produce as bad emissions as petrol. Ethanol can be used in normal car engines that have had a special fuel system modification. An alternative to getting any modifications is to put 10% Ethanol into normal petrol and use that. This would mean 10% less petrol would be used – prolonging the oil reserves.
Methanol is another compound – similar to Ethanol which can be used as a fuel in vehicles. This too can be made from biological matter but can also be made from coal and natural gas – two finite resources. Methanol is a lot less safe than Ethanol in that it is poisonous and highly corrosive. The corrosiveness can lead to a shorter engine lifetime.
An alternative to diesel called Biodiesel has been in use in the USA since 1996 with a lot of success. These days trucks, trains and some cars run on diesel. This product is made from soybean oil and other vegetable oils, which is then mixed with a small amount of petrol. Biodiesel is biodegradable and is a renewable energy resource – which is good for the environment. The good thing about Biodiesel is that it comes from the soybean plant which can be grown in almost any country which means that no particular countries have a monopoly on the oil market.
Another possible alternative for the use of oil-based products to provide fuel is that of electrical power. These days oil is widely used in power plants to produce electricity. The technology to make solar panels has been around for quite a while but has not been widely used. Using solar energy to produce electricity is great for the environment in that it has no emissions but solar panels are quite expensive and you need quite a lot of land to get enough power. A lot of people have solar powered hot water systems on their roofs, which saves money on mains power/gas.
Solar power could also be used in the automobile industry to power cars. Solar cars have been made and compete in the Darwin to Alice Springs race annually. So far no solar-powered production cars have been made for everyday use but electric cars have been made. The bad thing about solar cars is that the solar panels are heavy and ugly, also there needs to be sun to make it go. Otherwise you would have to charge up the batteries all the time.
The use of nuclear energy is another alternative to the use of oil-based products. There have been nuclear submarines made which run on nuclear energy instead of diesel. Nuclear energy is very very dangerous and probably would never be allowed to be put inside cars due to how frequently cars have accidents. Nuclear energy creates a lot of energy but it is extremely expensive and plutonium is hard to come by. For this to work, a miniature nuclear reactor would need to be put inside the car, which would be very heavy and is dangerous. Currently there are some nuclear power stations around the world (none in Australia) which produce huge amounts of electricity but are not widely welcomed – mainly due to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Wind power could be an alternative to oil use in power stations in that wind is a infinite resource. Wind power works by using naturally made wind to turn a turbine which then generates electricity. The only pollution this creates is noise pollution from the gentle whirring of the turbine. Around the UK there are numerous wind farms (land with lots of wind powered turbines) that generate about 15% of the UK’s power. Wind turbines are pretty expensive and need to be positioned correctly otherwise they wont perform to their full potential. For them to work, there needs to be at least 6knots of wind blowing otherwise no power will be generated. This is limiting for a lot of places.
Alternatives to Oil as a Source of Ethene:
Currently over 75: of the worlds plastic contains some sort of oil or oil-based product. If oil runs out plastics will suddenly become more expensive – with limited availability to some people.
Tests are currently being conducted into using Ethanol and Methanol instead of oil in plastics. These substances (as described above) contain absolutely no inorganic matter and are completely renewable. These substances would be a much more logical ingredient to plastics.
There are many viable alternatives to oil however most are in the very early stages of research and development. With further work on there such alternatives, scientists would ensure that when oil does run out, we have something to fall back onto which would enable people to still be able fuel for their car and electricity for their homes.