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Brief Guide To Alternative Energy Sources

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#1 Hayden



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Posted 10 July 2010 - 11:49 AM

Alternative energy is a wide term that refers to any source of usable energy intended to replace fossil fuel sources so in a general sense, alternative energy is that which is produced without the undesirable consequences of the burning of fossil fuels, such as high carbon dioxide emissions, which is considered to be the major contributing factor of global warming.

A more formal definition: Energy derived from sources that do not use up natural resources or harm the environment  - Princeton WordNet.

Prior to shift to an alternative energy, supplies of the dominant energy type became erratic, accompanied by rapid increases in energy prices.

Coal as an alternative to wood
Historian Norman F. Cantor describes how in the late medieval period, coal was the new alternative fuel to save the society from overuse of the dominant fuel, wood.

Petroleum as an alternative to whale oil
Whale oil was the dominant form of lubrication and fuel for lamps in the early 19th century, but by mid century and the depletion of the whale stocks, whale oil prices were skyrocketing and could not compete with the newly discovered source of cheap petroleum from Pennsylvania in 1859.

Ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels
Ethanol fuel is ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages

In 1917, Alexander Graham Bell advocated ethanol from corn and other foodstuffs as an alternative to coal and oil, stating that the world was in measurable distance of depleting these fuels. For Bell, the problem requiring an alternative was lack of renewability of orthodox energy sources. Since the 1970s, Brazil has had an ethanol fuel program which has allowed the country to become the world's second largest producer of ethanol (after the United States) and the world's largest exporter. Brazil’s ethanol fuel program uses modern equipment and cheap sugar cane as feedstock, and the residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to process heat and power.

There are no longer light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. By the end of 2008 there were 35,000 filling stations throughout Brazil with at least one ethanol pump. Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a diverse array of feedstocks, and involves the use of the whole crop. This new approach should increase yields and reduce the carbon footprint because the amount of energy-intensive fertilisers and fungicides will remain the same, for a higher output of usable material. As of 2008, there are nine commercial cellulosic ethanol plants which are either operating, or under construction, in the United States.

Coal gasification as an alternative to petroleum
In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter's administration advocated coal gasification as an alternative to expensive imported oil. The program, including the Synthetic Fuels Corporation was scrapped when petroleum prices plummeted in the 1980s.

Renewable energy vs non-renewable energy
Renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources—such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat—which are renewable (naturally replenished). When comparing the processes for producing energy, there remain several fundamental differences between renewable energy and fossil fuels. The process of producing oil, coal, or natural gas fuel is a difficult and demanding process that requires a great deal of complex equipment, physical and chemical processes. On the other hand, alternative energy can be widely produced with basic equipment and naturally basic processes. Wood, the most renewable and available alternative energy, burns the same amount of carbon it would emit if it degraded naturally.

Ecologically friendly alternatives
Renewable energy sources such as biomass are sometimes regarded as an alternative to ecologically harmful fossil fuels. Renewables are not inherently alternative energies for this purpose. For example, the Netherlands, once leader in use of palm oil as a biofuel, has suspended all subsidies for palm oil due to the scientific evidence that their use "may sometimes create more environmental harm than fossil fuels".[23] The Netherlands government and environmental groups are trying to trace the origins of imported palm oil, to certify which operations produce the oil in a responsible manner.[23] Regarding biofuels from foodstuffs, the realization that converting the entire grain harvest of the US would only produce 16% of its auto fuel needs, and the decimation of Brazil's CO2 absorbing tropical rain forests to make way for biofuel production has made it clear that placing energy markets in competition with food markets results in higher food prices and insignificant or negative impact on energy issues such as global warming or dependence on foreign energy.[24] Recently, alternatives to such undesirable sustainable fuels are being sought, such as commercially viable sources of cellulosic ethanol.

Relatively new concepts for alternative energy

Algae fuel
Algae fuel is a biofuel which is derived from algae. During photosynthesis, algae and other photosynthetic organisms capture carbon dioxide and sunlight and convert it into oxygen and biomass.

Biomass briquettes
Biomass briquettes are being developed in the developing world as an alternative to charcoal. The technique involves the conversion of almost any plant matter into compressed briquettes that typically have about 70% the calorific value of charcoal. There are relatively few examples of large scale briquette production. One exception is in North Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where forest clearance for charcoal production is considered to be the biggest threat to Mountain Gorilla habitat. The staff of Virunga National Park have successfully trained and equipped over 3500 people to produce biomass briquettes, thereby replacing charcoal produced illegally inside the national park, and creating significant employment for people living in extreme poverty in conflict affected areas.

Biogas digestion
Biogas digestion deals with harnessing the methane gas that is released when waste breaks down. This gas can be retrieved from garbage or sewage systems. Biogas digesters are used to process methane gas by having bacteria break down biomass in an anaerobic environment. The methane gas that is collected and refined can be used as an energy source for various products.

Biological Hydrogen Production
Hydrogen gas is a completely clean burning fuel; its only by-product is water. It also contains relatively high amount of energy compared with other fuels due to its chemical structure.

2H2 + O2 → 2H2O + High Energy

High Energy + 2H2O → 2H2 + O2

This requires a high-energy input, making commercial hydrogen very inefficient. Use of a biological vector as a means to split water, and therefore produce hydrogen gas, would allow for the only energy input to be solar radiation. Biological vectors can include bacteria or more commonly algae. This process is known as biological hydrogen production.[30] It requires the use of single celled organisms to create hydrogen gas through fermentation. Without the presence of oxygen, also known as an anaerobic environment, regular cellular respiration cannot take place and a process known as fermentation takes over. A major by-product of this process is hydrogen gas. If we could implement this on a large scale, then we could take sunlight, nutrients and water and create hydrogen gas to be used as a dense source of energy. Large-scale production has proven difficult. It was not until 1999 that we were able to even induce these anaerobic conditions by sulfur deprivation. Since the fermentation process is an evolutionary back up, turned on during stress, the cells would die after a few days. In 2000, a two-stage process was developed to take the cells in and out of anaerobic conditions and therefore keep them alive. For the last ten years, finding a way to do this on a large-scale has been the main goal of research. Careful work is being done to ensure an efficient process before large-scale production, however once a mechanism is developed, this type of production could solve our energy needs.

Floating wind farms
Floating wind farms are similar to a regular wind farm, but the difference is that they float in the middle of the ocean. Offshore wind farms can be placed in water up to 40 meters (131 feet) deep, whereas floating wind turbines can float in water up to 700 meters (2,297 feet) deep. The advantage of having a floating wind farm is to be able to harness the winds from the open ocean. Without any obstructions such as hills, trees and buildings, winds from the open ocean can reach up to speeds twice as fast as coastal areas.[35] A Norwegian energy company, StatoilHydro, will launch the first test period for the floating wind farms in autumn 2009.

Investing in alternative energy
Over the last three years publicly traded alternative energy have been very volatile, with some 2007 returns in excess of 100%, some 2008 returns down 90% or more, and peak-to-trough returns in 2009 again over 100%.[citation needed] In general there are three subsegments of “alternative” energy investment: solar energy, wind energy and hybrid electric vehicles. Alternative energy sources which are renewable, free and have lower carbon emissions than what we have now are wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, and bio fuels. Each of these four segments involve very different technologies and investment concerns.

For example, photovoltaic solar energy is based on semiconductor processing and accordingly, benefits from steep cost reductions similar to those realized in the microprocessor industry (i.e., driven by larger scale, higher module efficiency, and improving processing technologies). PV solar energy is perhaps the only energy technology whose electricity generation cost could be reduced by half or more over the next 5 years. Better and more efficient manufacturing process and new technology such as advanced thin film solar cell is a good example of that helps to reduce industry cost.

The economics of solar PV electricity are highly dependent on silicon pricing and even companies whose technologies are based on other materials (e.g., First Solar) are impacted by the balance of supply and demand in the silicon market.[citation needed] In addition, because some companies sell completed solar cells on the open market (e.g., Q-Cells), this creates a low barrier to entry for companies that want to manufacture solar modules, which in turn can create an irrational pricing environment.

In contrast, because wind power has been harnessed for over 100 years, its underlying technology is relatively stable. Its economics are largely determined by siting (e.g., how hard the wind blows and the grid investment requirements) and the prices of steel (the largest component of a wind turbine) and select composites (used for the blades). Because current wind turbines are often in excess of 100 meters high, logistics and a global manufacturing platform are major sources of competitive advantage. These issues and others were explored in a research report by Sanford Bernstein. Some of its key conclusions are shown here.

Alternative energy in transportation
Due to steadily rising gas prices in 2008 with the US national average price per gallon of regular unleaded gas rising above $4.00 at one point,[38] there has been a steady movement towards developing higher fuel efficiency and more alternative fuel vehicles for consumers. In response, many smaller companies have rapidly increased research and development into radically different ways of powering consumer vehicles. Hybrid and battery electric vehicles are commercially available and are gaining wider industry and consumer acceptance worldwide.

Making Alternative Energy Mainstream
Before alternative energy becomes main-stream there are a few crucial obstacles that it must overcome: First there must be increased understanding of how alternative energies work and why they are beneficial; secondly the availability components for these systems must increase and lastly the pay-off time must be decreased.

For example, emergency of Electric vehicle (EV) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) are on the raise. These vehicles depend heavily on an effective charging infrastructure such as a smart grid infrastructure to be able to implement electricity as mainstream alternative energy for future transportations.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org |

#2 mariaandrea



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Posted 14 November 2011 - 06:08 PM

View PostHayden, on 10 July 2010 - 11:49 AM, said:

Before alternative energy becomes main-stream there are a few crucial obstacles that it must overcome: First there must be increased understanding of how alternative energies work and why they are beneficial;

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org |

Well, this is an excellent start. I haven't read the wikipedia entry before and I've read plenty of resources on alt energy - but a brief guide is very useful, particularly for people who are just learning about it. The history of energy consumption is always interesting and hopefully people will look back one day and find the use of fossil fuels for energy as remote and archaic as we see whale oil.

#3 zararina



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Posted 15 November 2011 - 08:32 AM


Petroleum as an alternative to whale oil
Whale oil was the dominant form of lubrication and fuel for lamps in the early 19th century, but by mid century and the depletion of the whale stocks, whale oil prices were skyrocketing and could not compete with the newly discovered source of cheap petroleum from Pennsylvania

First time to read and know about the whale oil. And glad that it was not existing or being used anymore and there are now lots of possible alternative energy source. Although there are still some factors or hindrances that might stopping those greener  alternatives.

#4 Germs



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Posted 17 November 2011 - 09:55 AM

Very helpful introductory guide for those who are new to the whole green scene, even those who are perhaps more involved.

It certainly helped me.

#5 Ares7



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Posted 20 November 2011 - 04:45 PM

Very informative! Just look how many more alternative resources there are compared to the harmful ones we use now! If they develop some or all pf these resources for mainstream use it would largely help the economy as well. Think how many jobs it could create in the future as well as helping the environment!

#6 Tom Servo

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 01:53 PM

This was a great post. I was confused about a lot of this stuff. Thanks.

#7 Wallie0912



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Posted 05 December 2011 - 04:51 PM

I've long been a fan of the theory of hydrogen cell technology. Take the most-abundant element in the universe, and turn it into water and energy.  What's not to like?

It's just a pity that it's so hard to exploit on a large scale.

#8 joeldgreat



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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:22 PM

View PostHayden, on 10 July 2010 - 11:49 AM, said:

Biogas digestion
Biogas digestion deals with harnessing the methane gas that is released when waste breaks down. This gas can be retrieved from garbage or sewage systems. Biogas digesters are used to process methane gas by having bacteria break down biomass in an anaerobic environment. The methane gas that is collected and refined can be used as an energy source for various products.

We produce tons and tons of garbage a day in which majority of it ended up on landfills. Maybe every govenrment should start harnessing this sleeping energy to cut down the use of fossil-based fuels to power up anything. Not only we help our environment but also help our economy and ouselves as well.

#9 E3 wise

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 07:10 PM

Nice job Hayden,
This is very clear and instructive.  I think it will provide some good reference for people interested in alternative energy.  I also liked the fact you included the very earliest uses of fuels for energy like wood and whale oil, helps people understand how we have transformed over time.

There are a couple of things I wish would have been added but that’s just me being knit picky. Thanks for talking about biological hydrogen production, algae, biogas and biomass, I think these are all too many times overlooked when talking about alternative energy solutions.

What is most important to me is you outlined the mix that will be needed to be brought together so people can produce energy on the local level, by matching the resource available on site to producing energy cleanly.

#10 eds



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Posted 28 February 2012 - 09:54 AM

USA Petrol prices £2.52 ($4) per gallon,
. . . but UK's current average cost of £6.22 ($9.85).
. . . some places  pay £7.27 ($11.52) for a gallon of super unleaded.
. . . Norwegians pay £7.28 ($11.54) for a gallon of the regular stuff .

Source : cnn

#11 AEF



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Posted 29 February 2012 - 04:00 PM

So we are resourceful, when we have to be or when it's more profitable to change sources...but why is it we can never seem to use LESS energy per person?  Does it really matter if the source is cleaner, more sustainable or the way we use it is more efficient when we can't stop using more and more overall?

What I would really like is for us to source our ever increasing need for energy from the most direct source possible...the sun.  But even if we did that, would we eventually use so much energy that we might create new unintended consequences on our planet, oceans, air, climate...what have you?

Efficiency is great and all...but chosing NOT to use energy at all is perhaps the greenest choice we could make.  After all, if we want to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren, as seems to be one of the American ideals...it only makes sense we leave a world with more resources...not less.

#12 rbaker_59



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Posted 01 April 2012 - 05:19 PM

View Postjoeldgreat, on 27 February 2012 - 05:22 PM, said:

We produce tons and tons of garbage a day in which majority of it ended up on landfills. Maybe every govenrment should start harnessing this sleeping energy to cut down the use of fossil-based fuels to power up anything. Not only we help our environment but also help our economy and ouselves as well.

Even if they only produced enough to use in place of a big part of the fossil-based fuels, it would be a big start in the right direction.  If it was just started, they could eventually build to replace more and more.  It would create more jobs for the joblesss and could kill more birds with one stone, so to speak.

#13 aphil



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Posted 28 May 2012 - 11:32 AM

Thanks Hayden for making sure we are well informed. This type of information enriches our conversations here.

#14 daniel1976



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Posted 19 June 2012 - 10:54 PM

Solid biofuels, including wood chips, wood pellets are an alternative but creates a big problem, massive deforestation. raw material used as fuel is used by the manufacture of chipboards. Chipboards are 98% recycled and reused. When builders have no where to buy chipboards, they use raw wood. (Wood planks). wooden boards are made of wood only healthy, healthy forests that are cut. Chipboards  are made from wood that is not healthy. Demand for wood for construction is increasing. We can not afford to use wood planks because that soon we will not have forests.
Using wood as fuel is not the best solution.

#15 dissn_it



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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:41 AM

Again, I have learned something new here today! I have never heard of biomass briquettes and we do love to BBQ. I will have to see about getting these. It is a great guide for beginners like myself to get a better understanding of the history of alternative fuels.Thanks for the very informative post!

#16 Shortpoet-GTD



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Posted 20 June 2012 - 12:35 PM

Bio fuels from switchgrass is viable, imo. And it helps remove CO-2 while it's growing.

#17 QuatreHiead



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Posted 28 June 2012 - 07:00 AM

Hello! Thanks so much for this concise summary here Hayden! This is a nice useful spot for me to refer to now if I want a quick reference on refreshing my knowledge of many different alternative energy options considered. Especially since you have a historic timeline outlined here which is fascinating! Great work indeed!

I did want to note if there were a couple of things you came across in your research:
Interestingly although there was mention of biological hydrogen production, I was wondering if you had any knowledge of other methods of hydrogen production. For instance, I know that in addition to biological hydrogen production, chemist have been working intensely and made some major advances in this field that look promising. Chemist typically refer to this as water oxidation, because we would as you outline in the scene above input energy into water and oxidize it all the way to hydrogen.

In addition to water oxidation, or chemical hydrogen production, there was no mention of the counterpart process of intense interest in the research community called carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction. This is also a viable process, and largely considered for many of the reasons ethanol and other plant based methods are detrimental to ecosystems. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and unwanted byproduct of many different energy methods used today. This option I have always liked because it would take something already harmful to our environment and change it to something useful. It would be a double benefit, limit the production of harmful greenhouse gas CO2 and also have a renewable source of energy.

Of course this process like that of hydrogen production requires large energy input, which is the largest hindering factor.

If anyone is interested in these processes I will see if there are threads already on the topics. If not, I'll start a couple where people can discuss some recent thoughts that may have come up on alternative energy research.

I've been very fascinated with this topic for some time, so I'd be happy to converse with anyone willing!

#18 saso777



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Posted 11 July 2012 - 01:14 AM

I have read that research team from the Research Center for Materials in Freiburg (Freiburg Materials Research Center), led by prof. MD. Ingo Crossing is developing a new system to produce methanol from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. They hope  soon be able to use the energy of CO2 in a larger scale in a sustainable form for energy  production.
The basic idea is to use CO2 that is emitted from power plants by filtering exhaust gases. Thus the resulting methanol could be used in most vehicles.

#19 conor



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Posted 05 March 2014 - 02:14 AM

Nice Guide. It just memorize me some great points. Every one should use alternative energy resources because they are in great volume.

#20 Dustoffer



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Posted 14 April 2014 - 01:02 PM

I could hardly believe it when I did a search here for the biggest waste using base load power tech, Gen IV nuclear, no emissions and an increasing alternate energy way out.  Biofuels still produce CO2, so should be minimized as decarbonization proceeds ASAP.
Green GEN IV Type nuclear MUST replace all of the world's fossil fueled power plants and large ship propulsion.
Thorium, an element named after the Norse god of thunder, may soon contribute to the world’s electricity supply
Apr 12th 2014
"WELL begun; half done. That proverb—or, rather, its obverse—encapsulates the problems which have dogged civil nuclear power since its inception. Atomic energy is seen by many, and with reason, as the misbegotten stepchild of the world’s atom-bomb programs: ill begun and badly done. But a clean slate is a wonderful thing. And that might soon be provided by two of the world’s rising industrial powers, India and China, whose demand for energy is leading them to look at the idea of building reactors that run on thorium.
Existing reactors use uranium or plutonium—the stuff of bombs. Uranium reactors need the same fuel-enrichment technology that bomb-makers employ, and can thus give cover for clandestine weapons programs. Plutonium is made from unenriched uranium in reactors whose purpose can easily be switched to bomb-making. Thorium, though, is hard to turn into a bomb; not impossible, but sufficiently uninviting a prospect that America axed thorium research in the 1970s. It is also three or four times as abundant as uranium. In a world where nuclear energy was a primary goal of research, rather than a military spin-off, it would certainly look worthy of investigation. And it is, indeed, being investigated.
India has abundant thorium reserves, and the country’s nuclear-power program, which is intended, eventually, to supply a quarter of the country’s electricity (up from 3% at the moment), plans to use these for fuel. This will take time.""
Well, humanity may have ten or fifteen years to reduce HGHGs 90%------if we are lucky.........

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