In modern society, the reliance of the human race upon the transportation industry, especially in major cities, has become astronomical. This is due to ongoing rapid population growth and thus the expansion of cities and their transportation facilities to regional areas, increasing the availability of public transport to those who live outside these regions as well. Unfortunately, the transportation industry in today’s society is almost completely dependent on the use of octane fuel – a hydrocarbon petrol which is classified as a branch of fossil fuel – to power most transportation vehicles. The limitations of this are that these fuels are responsible for the majority of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by humans (by the process of combustion) and are making a colossal contribution to the global greenhouse effect. In expanding the transportation industry outwards of major cities, more fossil fuels must be used to cater to this change. This, in turn, is causing an enormous upsurge in human carbon dioxide emissions, which is making a further contribution to the pace of climate change and global warming.
Conversely, an alternative method to the use of petroleum-based fuels has been discovered, which could possibly reduce the ever-increasing amount of carbon dioxide that humans are producing. This is in the production of biofuels. Biofuels are fuels derived from waste plant and animal matter. They are seen as “an immense growth opportunity around the world and have an important role to play in displacing the fossil fuels the world has relied upon in the past with a cleaner, newer alternative.” (BA, 2016.) Many energy companies are beginning to make large investments in the biofuel industry for the promising future they see that its effects hold. However, this process of fuel production is also providing sufficient problems in the growing agriculture industry in regards to land availability and are placing farmers in a compromising position between earning more money and being well-known for their quality crops.
The rising controversy surrounding the debate between which method of fuel production and combustion is most effective and environmentally friendly is an ongoing issue. Both methods provide some standard of efficiency but also come at a cost – biofuels in the loss of agricultural land and petroleum-based fuels in carbon dioxide emissions. Despite this, many energy companies are leaning towards the production of biofuels. This raises the question, “Is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions more important than the loss of prime agricultural land in the decision to change from petroleum-based fuels to biofuels?”
Is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions more important than the loss of prime agricultural land in the decision to change from petroleum-based fuels to biofuels?
By review of credible and relevant information from trustworthy sources, this report will determine which method of fuel is more benevolent for ‘humanity’ in displaying both the environmental and ethical concerns in the production of both biofuels and petroleum-based fuels.
Carbon dioxide is a molecule released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossils fuels (coal, natural gas and oil), solid waste, trees and wood products and the result of many chemical reactions – in the manufacture of cement, for instance. It is sequestered from the atmosphere when absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle in the universe. Aside from its impact on the carbon cycle and the global greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide is also increasing the frequency of smog where the gas is highly concentrated, such as in major cities (where transportation vehicles which emit carbon dioxide are in large numbers). This is a health and vision hazard and in increasing the risk of a car accident, the danger of simply being on the road is heightened.
Now, carbon dioxide, even without the intervention of humans, occurs naturally in the atmosphere and is continually being produced and absorbed by microorganisms, plants and animals as part of the Earth’s biological carbon cycle. This is the natural circulation of carbon among the atmosphere, oceans, soil, plants and animals. Essentially, it is the even distribution of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, humans, since the major switch from manual labour to machine labour in the Industrial Revolution, are altering the carbon cycle. They are doing this in adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and increasing its concentration in urban areas, such as major cities. Humans are also influencing the ability of natural ‘sinks’, like forests, to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is done in the processes of deforestation and habitat replacement.
In the transportation industry, carbon dioxide emissions are produced from the exhaust of vehicles, as a product of internal combustion engines (which burn octane fuels). The chemical equation for a combustion reaction can be seen below:
Octane is the hydrocarbon molecule making up a large component of petroleum-based fuel. Octane fuel is the compound petrol (with a mixture of octane and ethanol) used to power all combustion engine cars. Add more info in here
How are petroleum-based fuels and biofuels made?
In each combustion reaction, a hydrocarbon fuel is essential to result in the desired products. However, octane fuels cannot be grown because they are a non-renewable resource. They are made from the fractional distillation of unrefined crude oil – a type of fossil fuel made from hydrocarbon deposits and other miscellaneous organic materials. Crude oil is millions of years old, once found as the mud making up the sea floor, absorbing dead plants and animals. It is known as crude oil because it is unrefined and thus not pure. Now, crude oil is found deep under the sea beds in the oceans, and is drilled out at structures known as oil rigs. The process of manufacturing an octane fuel is shown below:
Crude oil is drilled out of the sea beds
Crude oil is separated in accordance with boiling points, into fractions of long-chain hydrocarbon molecules (fractional distillation)
Fractional distillation yields approx. 250mL of pure petroleum for each litre of crude oil
Yield is doubled by converting higher or lower boiling point fractions into hydrocarbons
Cracking: long-chain carbon molecules are heated to break carbon-carbon bonds
Products are alkenes (double carbon-carbon bonds present) and alkanes (only single carbon-carbon bonds)
Alkanes from cracking reaction added to pure petroleum to increase petroleum yield from crude oil
Isomerization: Straight-chain alkanes converted into branch-chain isomers, which are more efficient to burn
To stop knocking and rattling in cylinders when gas is burning (as a result of premature ignition of petroleum-air mixture), anti-knock agents added to increase octane rating
In a vehicle’s internal combustion engine, a spark is ignited by an external heat source, burning the fuel. By burning the fuel, it is breaking up the molecules which make up the hydrocarbon and the oxygen it reacts with into carbon dioxide and water. The breaking of the molecules’ bonds releases surplus energy, additional to that of the fuel, and this is what causes the motion of the vehicle.
The octane rating of a petrol is determined by the fuel’s “ability to resist engine knock at high compressions…” (BBC, 2016) Engine knock occurs when a person tries to operate their car with a fuel that has an octane rating too low for the vehicle they drive. Because the octane hydrocarbon handles compression very well, if the fuel has a higher octane rating, it has a high resistance to engine knock – thus, it has a higher percentage of octane in it. Technically, the octane rating tells us how much the fuel can be compressed before it spontaneously ignites. Fuels with a higher octane rating create the least amount of engine knock, and can Higher octane fuels also “allow engine manufacturers to design more powerful and fuel-efficient engines.” (RACQ, date unknown)
Some major issues associated with combustion involve the other products of some combustion processes, aside from carbon dioxide and water. These most commonly occur as a result of incomplete combustion. Dangerous chemicals, inclusive of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, particulates and trace elements, all pose potential risks to the environment and the safety of other people, such as acid rain and smog (which is a health and vision hazard). Trace elements are even considered potential carcinogens.
Biofuels are considered as the ultimate resolution to the colossal amount of carbon dioxide emissions made each year by the transportation and manufacturing industries. They are created in the burning of crops cultivated specifically for their production.
Trees and plants are essentially fixed carbon made by sunlight – this occurs because the chemical reaction for photosynthesis requires carbon dioxide as one of the reactants. Even though there is only one carbon atom in a carbon dioxide molecule, the sun’s energy, which drives photosynthesis, bonds carbon atoms from these molecules together, fixing them into long-chain carbon molecules. The reaction for photosynthesis can be seen below:
Then here talk about how the carbon actually stays in the tree and that’s how they exist.
These crops (which are essentially solid carbon) are then harvested and fermented, and in the process of fermentation, alcohol is created. This alcohol can be used as vehicle fuel in its purest form, however it is most commonly used as an additive to petroleum-based fuels to increase its octane rating and improve the vehicle’s exhaust emissions. The most prevalent forms of biofuel used in internal combustion today are bioethanol and biodiesel. Bioethanol, when added to petroleum, increases the fuel’s octane rating and improves the vehicle’s exhaust emissions. Biodiesel is created in the reaction of fats (triglycerides) with ethanol.
The process of the production of bioethanol (which plays the major role in biofuel development) is shown below:
The bacteria cannot turn the glucose into only carbon dioxide and water because those two molecules require large amounts of oxygen, which aren’t occurrent in fermentation because it happens in an airtight space. It can, however, turn it into ethanol (which has oxygen in it) because the glucose has oxygen in it – enough to provide the equivalent amount in ethanol molecules. Along with ethanol, it does actually produce small amount of carbon dioxide as well. The reaction which occurs in fermentation is shown below:
However, a large problem posed by the investment into and production of biofuels is the enormous amount of land required to cultivate biofuel crops. The amount of land required to make enough biomass crops to produce any sort of energy is insurmountable. Despite the energy efficiency of the final product of a biofuel, it can be seen that the process needed to produce them is less efficient, for often farmers will need to reserve millions of hectares of land to cultivate biofuel crops, some of which need large amounts of space purely to grow successfully. Furthermore, it is very common that regardless of the amount of crop cultivated, it will not transpire to make the equivalent amount of energy in biofuel.
The major difference in the processes used to create both biofuel and petroleum-based fuels is the time span in which it takes to create these fuels. In biofuel crops such as corn, sugar cane and switchgrass, which can be used and harvested for fermentation, the production process can take anywhere from nine to twelve months. In the next consecutive nine to twelve months, the quantity of biofuel produced will be used and the harvest will have provided enough crops that the fuel will last to the end of this period. In this way, the carbon dioxide absorbed into the plants from the atmosphere is released back into the atmosphere while the fuel is being used, making no disturbance to the carbon cycle. Petroleum-based fuels, by the fractional distillation of unrefined crude oil, takes millions of years for crude oil deposits need this time frame to become of the substance required to undergo petroleum production.
What is the global greenhouse effect?
Carbon dioxide emissions are said to have a colossal impact on the global greenhouse effect, which is contributing to the effects of climate change. Currently, the air in Earth’s atmosphere is constituted by 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen and the remaining 1% is composed of “argon (0.93%), carbon dioxide (0.03%) and other trace gases (0.003%).” (WQ, 2013) The global greenhouse effect occurs as a result of trapped carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, seeing a rise in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
High energy radiation (otherwise known as UV rays) passes from the sun through the atmosphere, which is transparent to this radiation. These rays hit Earth and transform into infrared radiation, or heat. Most of it is absorbed by the Earth, warming it. However, a quantity of the radiation ‘bounces’ off the Earth’s surface and attempts to leave the atmosphere, but is trapped by greenhouse gases. This infrared radiation is causing the atmosphere to heat up. Due to this heat, permafrost – permanently frozen ground which has been in that state for ~ 10,000 years – is beginning to thaw, releasing trapped methane gas. This is adding to the greenhouse gas reserve in the atmosphere. Anthropogenic production of goods and mass use of combustion-powered vehicles are also artificially producing vast amounts of greenhouse gases. A larger quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will see an increased amount of infrared radiation being trapped by these gases. This, in turn, is causing the Earth and the atmosphere around it to continually become warmer. As a result of this, it has been estimated that “the amount of carbon dioxide, although small, will likely double in the next 100 years as more petroleum and coal is burned to fuel the world’s need for energy.” (WQ, 2013)
What is Prime Agricultural Land?
Prime Agricultural Land (PAL) is a designation given to land which maintains an exemplary combination of characteristics for producing high-quality and high yielding crops which are to be used for human and animal food, also well as fibrous uses such as the manufacturing of paper, cloth and rope. This calibre of land “has the soil quality, growing season, and moisture supply needed to produce economically sustained high yields of crops…” (Soil Survey Staff, 1993) when maintained correctly and farmed well. In general, Prime Agricultural Land will have a dependable and ample water supply, “a favourable temperature and growing season” (Soil Survey Staff, 1993), protection from deluges and major flooding with few to no rocks. This type of land, which has been majorly used in the cultivation of crops for human food in the last five decades, has begun to make a substantial transformation into becoming farming land for biofuel crops. The controversy surrounding the ethical dilemma in this conversion of land use has ongoing ramifications for farmers and the biofuel industry and will continue to do so in the future.
Analysis and Interpretation
Biofuels v. Petroleum-Based Fuels – a review of results
Instantaneous effects of climate change
There is no doubt that carbon dioxide emissions pose an enormous threat to the continuity of humans to inhabit this Earth in millions of years’ time. Obviously, as a result of the global greenhouse effect, the atmosphere is heating up and therefore making large contributions to the impact and pace of global climate change. Global warming not only threatens our ability to inhabit this planet in the far future, but is also providing major complications around the world right now, whose risks and impacts are ever-increasing. Rising sea levels (as a result of continually melting continental ice) pose a major threat to civilisation as a result of global warming. It is estimated that a 1 metre rise in sea level will affect ~90% of major cities (Wyatt, D. 2018). The graph below depicts the rise in sea level in the 120-year time span between 1880 and 2000:
As seen in Figure 2, there is an obvious change in sea level during this time. It can be inferred that the change after this period was continued and even greater due to the increasing production of carbon dioxide emissions. Between 1880 and 2000, there was a 20-centimetre increase in sea level. At this rate, it would take approximately 600 years for a major impact to be made. However, due to increased anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, it will likely occur in a shorter time frame, which poses and even larger threat.
Ongoing global warming will also see the increase in frequency and violence of storms. A higher level of heat in the atmosphere implicates higher levels of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Storms will thus ‘drop’ more water, or produce heavier rainfall.
Another consequence of climate change will be a change in the quality of air. Because their earth is being exposed to more heat, the land is naturally becoming drier and due to a common occurrence of storms, wind becomes more frequent. When the wind blows over the land and it is dry, more dust is created and the air becomes dirtier. Extra energy splits some oxygen
molecules in the air into oxygen atoms. These atoms then react with an oxygen molecule to form an ozone molecule, which is toxic to humans.
Dirtier air, as discussed above, has seen a significant increase in deaths between 2005 and 2010 – this is a result of an upsurge in air pollution. In this problem, diesel particulate emissions are posing a rising threat. Pure diesel exhaust is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen – this means that there is no safe level of exposure for inhalation.
Resolutions to carbon dioxide emissions
While natural emissions of carbon dioxide (produced by plants, animals and microorganisms) cannot be diminished and must be in place to allow the further growth of plants, human interference with carbon emissions and the global greenhouse effect has had the largest effect on its dangerous rising. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it is “more than 90% likely that the accelerated warming (of the Earth’s atmosphere) of the past 50-60 years is due to human contributions.” (IPCC, 2018) In this way, it can be seen that anthropogenic behaviour is the element which needs to change should carbon emissions be reduced. Now, despite the possibly fatal consequences of global warming as a result of excess human production of carbon dioxide emissions, there is certainly work being done to reduce its impacts and create a cleaner atmosphere for those who inhabit it. The effects of carbon dioxide emissions upon the atmosphere and climate change cannot be reversed, however they can be lessened and prevented from reaching high levels in the future. In Australia, a movement known as the Emissions Reduction Fund is supporting “Australian businesses, farmers and land managers to take practical actions to reduce emissions and improve the environment.” (Australian Government, 2017) The fund is providing opportunities across a broad range of regions and companies to reduce their carbon emissions on a global economic scale. More than 700 energy efficiency, waste management, revegetation, livestock management and grassland fire management projects have been established across the country in the fund’s efforts. Not only are carbon emissions being reduced in this process, the businesses and companies involved can also generate revenue from their participation in the projects. The major benefits and outcomes of these projects include reduced energy bills, improvements in biodiversity and increased regional employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians. As stated by the founders of the Emissions Reduction fund, the eligible activities included in each project could be cast under:
• “improving energy efficiency in buildings and industrial facilities by upgrading lights and equipment
• diverting waste from landfill and using gas from wastewater to generate electricity
• reducing emissions on the land by protecting native forest that would otherwise have been cleared, savanna fire management, reducing emissions from beef cattle production, or revegetating marginal country” (Australian Government, 2017)
A major component in reducing carbon dioxide emissions is simply making the general public aware of the severity of the consequences if changes are not made. Companies like the Global Footprint Network, which have carbon footprint calculators on their websites, bring to the attention of the reader just how much strain they are putting on the Earth in living their everyday life.
The major idea in the production and use of biofuels in industrial and combustion uses is that they produce less carbon dioxide emissions than petroleum-based fuels. It has been proven that biofuels have the ability to reduce current anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions by 85% compared to mineral diesel. (USEPA, 2018) Their benefits span outwards in so many directions that the conversion from petroleum-based fuels to biofuels could make a difference in a large range of fuel sectors in today’s society.
Firstly, it is proving to be a significant factor in the reduction of particulate matter in the atmosphere, improving air quality. After being exposed to the risks posed by petroleum-based fuels in the environment for such a long period of time, fuel companies have set and continue to set fuel marketing standards to limit certain particulates being released into the air. This requires biofuels to be blended into the standard fuel blends. A CSIRO and Orbital Study in 2008, entitled “Evaluating the Health Impacts of Ethanol blend Petrol”, concluded that there would be a “health benefit to Sydney and Urban Australian population (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth) arising from a move from ULP to ethanol blends in spark-ignition vehicles”, noting that the “overall quantified health benefit of using ethanol blends is overwhelmingly dominated by reductions in particulate matter.”