Cleaning up our act

Cleaning up our act

To use fossil fuels we need to tackle carbon emissions

Fossil fuels are the reason we have enjoyed rapid development in the past century. The energy from crude oil, coal or natural gas is converted to electricity, which powers almost everything we use. From manufacturing to heating, mass transportation to lighting bulbs, we have this process to thank. Even food fertiliser is produced with the help of fossil fuels.

In recent years, however, there have been debates on the use of fossil fuel, and its impact on our environment. So what is the truth about fossil fuel?

Excessive emissions of carbon dioxide and global warming are by far the biggest drawbacks of fossil fuel. Furthermore, since the Fukushima disaster two years ago, people have been more inclined to use clean energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower.

However, the idea that we can live entirely fossil fuel-free is unrealistic. The most likely reality is that our world will be powered by a mix of energy sources.

The reason for this is simple: if we rely entirely on renewable energy, many people - especially the less privileged - will not even be able to afford basic necessities. Similarly, if manufacturing were fully powered by renewable energy, the price of basic consumer products would skyrocket.

But fossil fuel is not all bad if managed properly, and we shouldn't ignore the abundance of natural gas and coal that's readily available.

Tens of billions of dollars are invested in researching ways to convert these resources into ultra-clean fuels, such as hydrogen, methanol and synthetic diesels.

Certainly, carbon dioxide emissions should be better managed. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a straightforward solution. This involves carbon dioxide emissions from stationary sources, such as gas-fired power plants, being captured and pumped underground to be stored as carbonate rocks.

While CCS is the likeliest form of carbon management, we may use in the near future, it requires huge amounts of energy.

A more promising technique is converting carbon dioxide into fuel. This way, instead of being released into the atmosphere as a potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide can become a precious chemical commodity.

As long as carbon dioxide emissions can be managed properly, fossil fuels will be used. We can change the ending of the story by eliminating carbon dioxide dumping and thinking of ways to retrieve and reuse it.

Question:

What is the problem if only renewable energy source is being used?

Answer the question about this story and win fabulous prizes. E-mail your answer, your school name and phone number to yp@scmp.com with "Science" in the subject line.


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