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Fossil fuels

cars in usa running on fossil fuels

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, are the cornerstone of all modern energy systems, powering everything around us from transportation to electricity in our homes and businesses. Despite their environmental impact, our society remains heavily reliant on these energy sources. In the year 2020, fossil fuels accounted for 83% of global energy consumption, underscoring their dominant role, and that included the “dirtiest” of all coal.

Fossil Fuels as a Renewable Source

Contrary to the prevalent view, many scientists have been arguing that fossil fuels are considered a renewable resource. They are created in specific geological conditions that still exist. However, this perspective is not widely accepted in scientific communities, primarily due to the supposedly extensive timescales required for fossil fuel formation. Most experts advocate for a transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, to mitigate environmental damage and ensure long-term energy sustainability. However, here comes the next big question, “What about energy security?”

The Path Forward

Now we understand that there are two camps when it comes to energy sources – one says we can not move forward without fossil fuels, the other says we must. Diversifying our energy sources is probably the middle ground they are all looking for because it simply makes sense the most. Still the mainstream narrative is that transitioning to renewable energy is critical for addressing climate change and achieving sustainable development. A study by Holechek et al. (2022) suggests that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy by 2050 is possible but requires aggressive policies, technological advancements, and global cooperation. This transition involves pathways such as enhancing energy efficiency, promoting conservation, and deploying technologies like carbon capture and storage.

According to many, this is an extreme path forward and it is more about power and political games and gains, rather than sustainability, and least about energy security.

    Fossil fuels – ancient resource sustaining our modern lives

    We can trace the discovery of fossil fuels back to ancient civilizations. The use of coal dates back to China around 1000 BCE, and it was utilized in England as early as the Roman period. Petroleum was also known to ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, who used bitumen (a form of petroleum) for construction and medicinal purposes. The modern era of fossil fuels began in the 18th and 19th centuries with the industrial revolution, which significantly increased coal usage, followed by oil and natural gas discoveries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    The most important energy source

    Fossil fuels became the most important fuel on Earth due to several key factors we should list here.

    1. Energy Density: Fossil fuels, particularly oil and coal, have high energy content per unit, making them highly efficient for power generation and transportation.

    2. Industrial Revolution: The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of the industrial revolution, which heavily relied on coal to power steam engines and factories.

    3. Technological Advancements: The development of the internal combustion engine and advancements in drilling and extraction technologies made oil and natural gas more accessible and practical.

    4. Economic Factors: The availability and relatively low cost of fossil fuels have driven their widespread adoption, influencing global economic and industrial growth.

    5. Infrastructure: Over time, extensive infrastructure for extraction, refining, and distribution of fossil fuels was developed, reinforcing their dominance.

    These factors combined to establish fossil fuels as the primary energy sources, driving industrialization and modern economic development. The world as we know it would not have existed without the most important energy source – fossil fuels.

    Are fossil fuels renewable?

    Fossil fuels are generally not considered renewable resources according to one camp, as we already mentioned. They are formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals subjected to heat and pressure over millions of years. The timescales required for their formation far exceed human lifespans and usage rates, meaning they cannot be replenished within a human time-frame. But how much do we actually have not many can answer with accuracy. But the thesis continues to highlight that once depleted, these resources are effectively gone. Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power, are alternatives that can be replenished naturally and sustainably, and many think would never disappear.

    Algae for biofuel that closely resembles crude oil

    The process of using algae to create biofuel involves cultivating specific algae strains that produce lipids (fats). These lipids are then extracted and processed into biofuel, which closely resembles crude oil.

    The steps to do that include:

    1. Cultivation – algae are grown in controlled environments, such as open ponds or closed photo-bioreactors.

    2. Harvesting – then the algae are harvested and concentrated.

    3. Extraction – these lipids are then extracted from the algal biomass.

    4. Conversion – the extracted lipids are converted into biofuel through processes like transesterification.

    Now this is some amazing technological advancement and it is still due to fossil fuels because this is basically successful replication of crude oil. Algal biofuel is considered a promising alternative to fossil fuels due to its renewable nature and potential to reduce carbon emissions. It can be used in existing fuel infrastructure and engines, providing a drop-in replacement for petroleum-based fuels. Despite its potential, large-scale production is currently limited by high costs and technical challenges. Ongoing research aims to improve efficiency and reduce costs, making algal biofuel a viable future energy source.

    It is kind of surprising and sad that we do not hear more about it in mainstream news. Recent advancements focus on genetic engineering to increase lipid production, optimizing growth conditions, and developing cost-effective extraction methods. Many companies and research institutions are working on pilot projects to scale up production, conversion and distribution.

    Projects currently involved in the development of biofuel

    Sapphire Energy – “green crude” oil from algae

    Now part of Harris Group, Sapphire Energy has partnered with Monsanto and various other companies and institutes to develop its algea crude oil that they intend to license and market to industries. In 2011 Sapphire Energy signed contracts with Monsanto to collaborate on algae-based research projects, and another agreement with The Linde Group to co-develop a low-cost system to deliver CO2 to commercial-scale, open-pond, algae-to-fuel cultivation systems, now underway at the Green Crude Farm.

    And now this we will share from Wikipedia:

    “In 2013, Sapphire Energy expanded its partner network to include business agreements with industry leading oil & gas refiners. In March 2013, Sapphire Energy announced a commercial agreement with Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company, LLC. Per the agreement, Tesoro will purchase crude oil from Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm for processing into fuel at its west coast refineries. In December 2013, Sapphire Energy and Phillips 66 announced they will work together to analyze and confirm that Green Crude can be refined in traditional refineries, and that it meets all Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) certification requirements under the Clean Air Act. The companies will work to complete the EPA certification process to register a new fuel product entering the market.”

    New fuel product entering the market is the catchphrase here.

    And a few more words from Sapphire Energy Wiki page:

    “Seed financing to launch the company in 2007 was provided by ARCH Ventures and Larry Bock. In 2008, Sapphire Energy announced it had raised more than $100 million in a Series B funding round which included ARCH Venture Partners, Wellcome Trust, Venrock and Cascade Investment, LLC. In April 2012, the company announced it had secured $144 million in Series C investment funding with backers including Arrowpoint Partners, Monsanto and other undisclosed investors, as well as all Series B investors.[4]

    In December 2009, Sapphire Energy was awarded a $54.5 million USDA loan guarantee and a $50 million grant from the US Dept. of Energy as part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program 9003, authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill.[4] The $54.5 million loan guarantee awarded through the Biorefinery Assistance Program was issued to build a fully integrated, algae-to-crude oil commercial demonstration facility in Columbus, N.M. In partnership with the USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy, Sapphire Energy developed and implemented its facility, known as the Green Crude Farm, on time and on budget. Today, the Farm is operational and producing renewable crude oil on a continuous basis.[citation needed] In 2013, Sapphire Energy announced that it had paid off of its entire loan guarantee to the USDA.”

     The development of a new product is always a good thing, technology has allowed us to move forward and become the modern society we are today. Most of us would not and should not be against this. It is just the way business is done usually that makes the entering of a new product good or evil for society.

    ExxonMobil and biofuel 

    ExxonMobil invested heavily in algal biofuel research, collaborating with Synthetic Genomics. The projects started right around the time Sapphire Energy came to the scene. This we would say is good healthy competition. However, as of March 2023 Exxon has announced that they are ending this multi million dollar project. And this comes after years of attacks from the main stream media and various environmental groups. This has not happened to Sapphire, which have even gotten a solid loan from the USDA and are seeking to license a new product and get EPA approved. It is an interesting story to be further researched for those of us interested in humanity’s main energy source – fossil fuels. 

     

    Such projects highlight the potential of algal biofuel, but significant technological and economic barriers remain before it can become a mainstream energy source. However, Sapphire and all its investors are certainly working hard to make it happen. Now let us shift the focus toward green house gases.

    Which industry emits the most carbon dioxide?

    According to research, the industry emitting the most carbon dioxide (CO₂) is the energy sector, particularly due to the combustion of fossil fuels for electricity and heat production. This sector is responsible for a significant portion of global CO₂ emissions. In 2021, the energy sector accounted for approximately 73% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with electricity and heat production being the largest contributors. This high level of emissions is well-documented and widely recognized as a major driver of climate change. Now you can take a deep breath and relax that it is not our personal vehicles to blame.

    For more detailed information, you can refer to sources such as the International Energy Agency and Our World in Data. While the energy sector is the largest single contributor to carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, the transportation industry, particularly shipping and aviation, also play a significant role.

    Shipping sector

    The global shipping industry accounts for about 3% of global CO₂ emissions. Vessels burn large amounts of heavy fuel oil, a high-carbon fuel, contributing to air pollution and substantial amount of green house gases. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has implemented regulations to reduce emissions from shipping, including targets to cut emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. Ground transportation falls in this category and and new technology plays a big role in changing the trucking industry become more sustainable.

    Aviation sector

    The aviation sector is responsible for around 2.5% of global CO₂ emissions. Air travel emits significant amounts of CO₂ and other greenhouse gases at high altitudes, which have a greater warming effect. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has also set goals for carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and a 50% reduction in net emissions by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. How exactly will this be achieved we are about to see.

    Knowing the facts that the energy sector and aviation contribute the most to green house gases, why current information campaigns continue to highlight the use of personal vehicles as one of the biggest contributing factors?

    The emphasis on personal vehicles in information campaigns, despite the significant contributions of the energy sector, shipping, and aviation to greenhouse gas emissions, can be attributed to several factors such as urban pollution and public awareness. It is much easier to see and feel our polluted cities and the growing number of cars on the streets.

    Personal vehicles are ubiquitous, and individual actions to reduce emissions, such as using public transport or electric cars, are somewhat immediate actions that can be taken by the general public. Personal vehicles significantly contribute to urban air pollution, affecting health and quality of life in densely populated areas and it is easy to talk about it in the media. Last, but not least highlighting personal vehicle emissions as big source of green house gases can drive societal behavior changes towards more sustainable practices. And one such practice we like to highlight is shipping your car instead of driving when relocating. Car shipping is the better  option since it is one truck loaded with several vehicles, instead of all those vehicles driving and emitting carbon dioxide. Although, if we have to be honest and open to debate most trucks nowadays are still big polluters because they run on some of the dirtiest diesel. So, debate is on and it must be ongoing. 

    Commercial agriculture such as growing mono-cultures, using pesticides to spray the vast majority of GMO crops, as well as commercial scale meat production is also well known contributor to carbon dioxide.

    Why is this not popularized in media today?

    Agricultural contributions to CO₂ emissions, particularly monocultures, the extensive use of pesticides on GMO crops, and industrial-scale meat production, is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH₄), and nitrous oxide (N₂O). Large-scale mono-culture farming depletes soil from its nutrients and leads to soil carbon loss, releasing CO₂ into the atmosphere. Furthermore, the production and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are energy-intensive, emitting CO₂ and N₂O, a potent greenhouse gas. Last, but not least harmful is commercial livestock farming, especially cattle, produces large amounts of CH₄ during digestion and CO₂ from feed production and land-use changes from all the land used to grow cattle feed.

    Why is this not popularized in media

    Several reasons contribute to the under-representation of agricultural emissions in media. The link between agricultural practices and greenhouse gas emissions is complex and less understood by the general public compared to the direct emissions from personal vehicles. Moreover, let us not forget that the agricultural industry is a powerful economic sector with significant influence, often lobbying against policies that could negatively impact their operations. Media campaigns often target individual actions that people can take to reduce emissions, such as reducing car usage or improving home energy efficiency, rather than systemic changes in industries because again – it is easier to see the change, but not to feel the impact.

    And the fact that commercial food production is seen as essential, making it harder to criticize or suggest changes compared to other sources of emissions. This involves the fear factor for the general public. Instead of media discussing the idea and possibilities for every family to grow at least part of their food in their home garden, they prefer to scare the public and discuss the important of commercial scale food production hence we can not limit them and tell them they are the bad guys that contribute immensely to climate change.

    Check scientific research for more

    1. Monocultures and Soil Health: Research by Smith et al. (2016) in “Nature Climate Change” highlights how intensive monoculture farming practices deplete soil carbon and biodiversity, leading to increased CO₂ emissions.

    2. Pesticides and Fertilizers: Studies by Zhang et al. (2013) in “Science” detail the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and use of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

    3. Livestock Emissions: The FAO’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” (2006) documents the extensive greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, particularly methane from ruminants.

    Addressing agricultural emissions requires systemic changes, including sustainable farming practices, reducing meat consumption or better put it otherwise – reducing commercial meat production, and promoting regenerative agriculture. Increasing public awareness and understanding of the agricultural sector’s impact on climate change is crucial for driving these changes.

    How do we change our practices and policies to create awareness about every large green house gas contributor without placing the guilt solely in individuals and personal vehicle use or even small scale farming? How do we turn the focus towards the largest contributors that are actually corporations with large scale production in various economic sectors?

    To create awareness about the largest greenhouse gas contributors without solely blaming individuals we should research and look at several options.

    Changes in policy and regulations

    Corporate transparency and accountability sounds like the thing we all want to hear about more and see implemented. Implementing policies requiring corporations to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts is the number one regulation every corporation has to incorporate. After that comes third-party audits and reporting to ensure accuracy and accountability to the public.

    Carbon pricing is the modern step to create systems that corporations can easily implement. Governments should introduce carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems to make large-scale polluters pay for their emissions, incentivizing them to reduce their carbon footprint.

    Providing subsidies for sustainable practices is the other big step that usually works. An option is to redirect subsidies from fossil fuels and industrial agriculture to renewable energy projects, sustainable farming practices, and research in green technologies. This is what the wider public want to see.

    Stricter emission standards have been working for decades and it is the third step all states should follow. Enforce stringent emission regulations for industries such as energy, transportation, and agriculture. This includes setting limits on CO₂ emissions and mandating the use of cleaner technologies.

    Public awareness

    Media campaigns are a must do element which we definitely see more of these days. Launching comprehensive media campaigns that highlight the environmental impact of large-scale industrial activities is the first step to help the public understands. There should be charts, info-graphics, videos and images to show the impact of large corporations.

    Educational programs and public participation

    Integrating climate education into school curricula to raise awareness from a young age is important. Adult education programs and workshops on sustainable practices and the role of corporations in climate change at local level will also make the difference. Moreover, public involvement in policy-making through participatory approaches like town hall meetings, public consultations, and online platforms where citizens can express their views and suggestions is one of the most important steps many non-profit organizations have done.

    Corporate engagement to the next level

    Corporate responsibility initiatives are something seemingly happening, and with the right accountability they may actually work. Promoting corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs that focus on sustainability is one step in the right direction. Next is encouraging companies to adopt and report on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria.

    Consumer Influence

    Green certifications and labels is a very important part of providing the consumers with ways to identify what companies to support. Develop and promote certification schemes for environmentally friendly products and practices. Educate consumers about these labels to drive demand for sustainable products.

    Support local businesses is probably one of the most important step to encourage sustainable  business practices and low carbon emissions. Encourage consumers to support local, sustainable businesses and reduce reliance on products from high-emission industries. Highlight the benefits of supporting small-scale, eco-friendly enterprises.

    Research and innovation

    Funding for green technology and infrastructure has been part of initiatives for more than a decade now. Whether increasing funding is the right way to go we are still about to see. So far new technologies such as electric vehicles have not proven to be the solution; they might be a bolt in the system, but definitely not the whole. Support innovation through grants, tax incentives, and public-private partnerships. Invest in infrastructure that supports sustainable practices, such as electric vehicle charging stations, public transportation, and energy-efficient buildings.

    By implementing these strategies, we can shift the focus towards the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and foster a more holistic and equitable approach to addressing climate challenges.

    Information about climate change, green house gases and contributing sectors is abundant; in fact the amount of information can drive any layman mad. One thing is clear though, personal use vehicles are not the major polluter. The media maybe trying to tell us otherwise, but science gives us the research and proof, and history traces the facts. It is important to be able combine all data, from all fields of research in order to understand this major event for humans and our planet. We as a specie are only one small element of a this vast system that is supposedly experiencing a major transformation. Is it really us driving this transformation? Is it really possible that we are so impactful? We could be a force, especially when introduced as one huge corporation with one purpose. And we have plenty of those nowadays. Corporations bigger than many nations in terms of their wealth and power to control events.

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