As our societies become more affluent and advanced, the usage of automobiles will also increase proportionately. The pollution caused by popular automobile fuels will put the ecological balance of the earth in jeopardy. In this scenario, it is prudent of the governments and the people that elect them to make a collective effort in switching to cleaner alternative fuels.
These days there are more vehicles on the road than what is optimum. This means more pollutants are released into the environment. Gases like hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide are especially damaging to the atmosphere and its inhabitants. Moreover, these gases have the potential to create “ground-level ozone”, which is a layer that results when sunlight reacts with the pollutants mentioned above. Such atmospheric developments can have catastrophic consequences – including but not restricted to respiratory illnesses. In this context it is all the more imperative that a transition is made from conventional varieties of fuel to more environmentally friendly ones (Chang 24).
Cleaner fuels on the other hand emit lesser quantities of hydrocarbons, which is a key factor in the formation of “ground-level ozone”. These new alternatives can reduce the emitted pollutants by nearly ninety percent, which makes a significant contribution towards restoring a healthy balance of atmospheric gases (Elliot 25).
A disturbing trend over the last few decades has been the slow but significant accumulation of green-house gases, which are pivotal to the phenomena of global warming. The newer cleaner fuels such as electricity, natural gas and alcohol are not only advantageous to the environment but to the consumer as well. For example, these alternatives give the consumer more options to choose from. By reducing the dependence on petroleum they also bring forth economic advantages to the consumer (Chang 25).
Let us now look at the advantages each new cleaner fuel provides. Ethanol, for example, emits very low levels of hydrocarbons and other toxic gases. More importantly, it can be produced in a small scale and by recycling wood and paper. Methanol, on the other hand can be extracted form natural gas, coal and wood. Propane is another cleaner fuel now gaining prominence. It is not only easy to manufacture but also very cheap compared to gasoline. But of the all gases, natural gas is the most eco-friendly and suitable for long-distance transportation. The most appealing non-gas fuel is electricity as it has “recharge” capability and zero pollutant emissions. Some other alternatives like bio-diesel, reformulated gasoline and fuel cells are yet to gain wide recognition (Elliott 24).
For some time now, hydrogen has been projected as the ultimate clean fuel but this alternative is still at a theoretical level and much research is needed before its commercial usage. Till hydrogen powered transportation becomes a reality, clean diesel is a more practical option. The most cost-effective of these is the diesel-electric hybrid. It is also suitable for middle distance transport.
A recent comparative study on clean diesel and compressed natural gas found that clean diesel reduces greenhouse gases significantly. Moreover, clean diesel offers all the advantages of conventional diesel – it is safe, cost-effective and reliable. And unlike gasoline, which is highly inflammable, clean diesel is highly stable and difficult to ignite. Hence, clean diesel meets all the criteria for an environmentally friendly fuel alternative.
Conventional fuel emissions contain chemical as well as biological elements which change the nature of the atmosphere. Given how delicate a mechanism the atmosphere is, a switchover to cleaner fuels is imperative now. The clean fuels also reduce the depletion of ozone, ensuring that the natural safety blanket of earth remains intact to protect life from ultra-violet radiations (Chang 25).
A disturbing trend recently has been the number of deaths caused by respiratory illnesses. Conventional fuel emissions are in no small part responsible for this trend. While carbon-dioxide is an essential gas that helps support plant life, an excess of it can have devastating results. In this regard, zero emissions fuels like electricity need be considered for its practical viability and brought to use quite soon. Otherwise, global warming due to the greenhouse effect will accelerate and induce irreparable damages to planet earth. In this context, the Clean Air Act introduced in the United States recently is a step in the right direction. However, the indifference of the U.S. government to the Kyoto Protocol remains an issue of concern for the international community (Elliott 78).
The fuels in common usage today releases oxides of sulfur, nitrogen and carbon which are very harmful for human and other life forms. On top of that they also emit particulate matter such as smoke and dust. Organic pollutants and metal oxides are the other harmful toxins released by the burning of conventional fuels. In lieu of the above facts, the time has now come for governments across the world to impose emission standards. More importantly, the governments need to design policies to develop and help integrate newer and cleaner fuels into the mainstream of society (Elliott 175). Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) are two promising fuel alternatives. These fuels are expected to become the first choice for road transportation in the cities, where a serious crisis of air pollution is posing threats to the health of city-dwellers. Not only are these alternatives more environmentally friendly when compared to diesel or petrol, but are relatively safer. Their storage and distribution will be cheaper to the storage and distribution of diesel and petrol. For covering equal distances CNG is expected to offer a fuel volume capacity that is nearly four times that of diesel. All fuel is burnt by mixing right proportions of air. Hence, the density difference between air and fuel is an important parameter that determines the feasibility of the fuel for different vehicles and conditions. Fortunately, recent studies show favorable results for both CNG and LPG. This is all the more the reason for popularizing these alternatives among the general public so that the environment could be restored to a hospitable state. (Smith)
The other class of clean fuels – alcohol fuels – can be manufactured in big volumes. Ethanol, for example is environmentally safe and its performance is also very high. The technology and the infrastructure for the manufacture and use of alcohol fuels are already in place. What is needed is the political will to consciously promote these alternatives that are advantageous to all forms of life and easy on the pocket too. Feasibility studies conducted on ethanol has shown good results. Armed with the technology to synthesize alcohol easily, hybrid fuels of ethanol and petrol are easy to produce. These hybrids combine the advantages of its constituent parts to offer the most eco-friendly and economical fuel for the future (Elliott 112).
The exhausts of conventional fuels release “fine particulate matter”. These are so small that a million of them could be fit in a millimeters width. These particles pose a great health risk because they can easy evade the filtering mechanisms of nose and throat and get into the lungs. Here they slowly eat away the lung ultimately leading to death. For some, they can cause conditions of asthma and bronchitis. The Environmental Protection Agency has thus classified some of these conventional fuels under “human carcinogen emitters” and publicizes its negative effects to the public in order to discourage its usage. Yet, the usage of diesel and petrol is not reduced by any significant quantity raising some difficult environmental and health concerns. Unless a world wide collective effort is made in seeking out safer and cleaner fuels, what awaits us is global warming, acid rain and ozone formation – all environmental catastrophes. (Smith)
In conclusion, it could be asserted that our environment has reached a stage where radical changes in energy consumption patterns are called for. This can happen only if the directives come from the policy makers and legislators. They need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each available alternative to gasoline and diesel. In doing so, a consensus on the best course of action for future energy demands will be arrived at. Developing such a plan will not only save our environment but also create thousands of new jobs and stabilize the economy. By encouraging the manufacture and use of domestic fuels, dependence on oil is reduced, allowing the citizenry more control over their energy consumption of the future. Hence, a comprehensive vision from the top leadership of the country is required in designing the course for a safer, cleaner, cost-effective and environmentally friendly and environmentally sustainable energy future for the human race.
Chang, T.V., Hammerle, R.H., Japar, S. M. & Salmeen, I.T., “Alternative transportation fuels and air quality”, Environmental Science and Technology, 1991, p.no. 23-25
Elliott, David., “Energy, Society and Environment: Technology for a Sustainable Future”, Routledge Publication, 2003
Smith, K.R., “Fuel Combustion, Air Pollution Exposure, and Health : The Situation in Developing Countries”, Annual Review of Energy and the Environment, 1993, retrieved on 15th May 2007, <ehs.sph.berkeley.edu>