ending fossil fuel ?
There's been a bit of talk lately about ending all use of fossil fuel as fuel (as distinguished from use of petrochemicals in synthesis of other organic chemicals). This is in the context of ending fossil fuel burning in order to reduce CO2 emissions in order to combat global climate change.
The short answer is that some uses can be reduced and perhaps eventually eliminated, but for some other uses it's really hard to see this as possible, at least not any time in the next few decades.
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There are several types of fuel use that we have to consider.
Some of these I have discussed in earlier articles (see the links at the end of this article). Some of these I am really too ignorant of the issues involved to discuss them. I will limit the discussion here to personal transport, cargo transport, and food production farming. I've lived on a farm for the past 40 years and watched crop production.
I'm going to discuss whether we can abandon fossil fuels in favor of solar and electric battery power. Can we do it in a way that reduces or eliminates CO2
I dealt with possible ways to discourage fuel guzzler, low mpg, vechicles, in Thinking About Energy Policies and in Funding Repair of Roads and Bridges (taxing cars, etc). So I won't repeat those again here.
There are already electric battery powered cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Some are "hybrid" of electric plus fossil fuel. Some are "plug-in". Now if one marries a plug-in electric vehicle to home photo-voltic solar panels that feed into home storeage battery and with a plug-in for re-charging the car's battery, that would make a great vehicle for short to moderate length journeys, short enough that one can re-charge the battery at home overnight from the solar panels' storeage battery. Even better as workplace parking becomes full of charging stations, so the car gets re-charged while driver is at work..
The huge problem arises when one needs to make a journey longer than the car's own battery can fuel as a non-stop and with a bit of margin left over. The problem is that re-charging is a very time consuming affair. It takes several hours to re-charge a near-empty battery. There is no quick way to do it. So if you want to make a 400 mile trip in a vehicle with 200 to 250 mile range, you will have a 4 hour re-charge stop mid-way. Compare that to a fossil fuel re-fill that takes 10 to 15 minutes at most. If re-charge time could be gotten down to 1 hour max, that might be acceptable as this could be combined with a nice lunch break.
The problem is particularly bad if one happens to run out of charge unexpctedly during a journey. Not like getting an emergency fuel allotment from AAA.
There's a limit to how big (dimensions) and how heavy (weight) a car battery can be and still power a car. There's no obvious limit to size and weight for a home or workplace located battery storing solar generated power. Possibly smaller more powerful batteries will be invented, indeed have been invented for use in space vehicles (where cost is not as important as weight saving and reliability).
The other big bad problem is "the long tailpipe" issue. How is that electic power to charge the car battery generated. If it's coming from a coal or natural gas or other fossil fuel generating plant, then the carbon emissions are simply happening at a place other than where the car happens to be. So only a solar plant or a wind generation plant or geo-thermal plant or some other non-fossil fuel plant is really making a difference.
There's also an issue of disposal of spent batteries. Ni-Cad batteries contain cadmium which is quite toxic. Lithium batteries contain highly toxic lithium. I don't know what may be invented in the future.
So currently it looks like replacing short to medium range fossil fueled vehicles with electric fueled ones is do-able. But for long trips, most people are going to want or insist on a rapid-refuel vehicle and that means either fossil fuel or taking some kind of alternate, non-personal, transportation such as train . Of course fossil fueled vehicles could be available for short term rent for those occasions.
I'm guessing that converting these to electric would be much more difficult, probably not do-able in near future. Electric rail trains for in-city transport are old news.
People who don't live in an agricultural area have no idea how very much tractor use and use of other powered farm machinery is needed to grow food. I do live in row crop and orchard area and I see that it takes an enormous amount of work by such diesel fueled tractors, harvesters, etc etc etc.
So the question is whether it's possible to use non-fossil fuels for these, some non-carbon emiting fuel. I don't know the answer, but wouldn't be optimistic.
Going back to horse, mule, and oxen powered farming would require that we first reduce the human population to be fed to something like 1% of current population. Remember that the original measure of one acre was the amount of land a team of horses or oxen could plough in one day.
(Note : I'm not going to discuss the methane emissions of cattle as a large contribution to climate change. We could greatly reduce beef consumption and milk and cheese consumption, thus eliminating the cattle needed to produce these items. Already some people prefer "almond milk" and "cashew milk", which are produced by trees , trees which take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. I'm not sure if goats emit methane or not. Perhaps dairy goats would be a good replacement for dairy cattle. Goat milk is more digestible anyway
I covered this in Thinking About Energy Policies. Higher insulation standards and requirements for solar panels and storeage batteries are the essentials. Additioally use of shade trees in hot summer climates would be some benefit, and as mentioned trees gobble up CO2 and give out O2 as a further benefit. Trees are also habitat for birds and other small creatures, and they are beautiful and relaxing for human vision.
Covered when discussing electric cars.
I really don't know enough about this. As much use of solar panels as possible would be beneficial. Issues of electrical generation would also apply here.
Yes, we CAN reduce burning of fossil fuels, but we can NOT eliminate all use of fossil fuels in the near or reaonably forseeable future. Of course some day we will be forced to do without all uses of fossil fuels when the supply runs out totally or when any remaining amounts are inaccessible.return to top of page