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How Modern Transport Fuels Effect Our Environment

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How Modern Transport Fuels Effect our Environment

Why is looking at alternate fuels important? There are several reasons, but the most important reason is that air pollution kills in the neighborhood of 3 million people every year and air pollution affects more than 1 billion people in a negative way. That's over 1/6 of the earths population being harmed by air pollution, that's a trend that cannot continue without extreme repercussions to everyone on the planet.

Granted, air pollution created by cars is not the only pollution on the planet but it is imperative to begin with what pollutes the air and atmosphere first. How are we going to do that? Is it by keeping the status quo and allowing these harmful pollutants to increase? Or are we going to finally realize that our hunger for transport is not going away, so we need to look at other sources of fuels for our vehicles that will help our atmosphere regain its balance?

Hydrogen happens to be one of those sources for fuel. It is the simplest and most abundant element on. We will never run out of this element as a source for fuel. Compared with gasoline, the reduction in pollutant is enormous. This is as close as it gets to a perfect man-made fuel. By examining Hydrogen as the source for fuel we will begin to see why it's the most appropriate fuel.

As a completely nonpolluting fuel, it may hold the answer to growing environmental concerns about accumulation of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the Greenhouse Effect. Hydrogen is not an energy source but a carrier that, like electricity, must be manufactured. Today hydrogen is manufactured by "decarburizing" fossil fuels. In the future it will be derived from water and solar energy. Because it can be made by a variety of methods, it can be easily adapted by different countries and economies. There will certainly be economic difficulties in replacing current energy systems with an entirely new one. Although the process of converting from oil based economy to a hydrogen-based economy would be complex, the environmental and health benefits would far outweigh the costs.

Another reason why Hydrogen should be our eco-fuel is because of environmental concerns, which now has escalated to include strategic concerns in dealing with oil. For one, it will run out soon and will lead to further conflicts as it already has in the Middle East. The argument has become as much political as it is environmental. The inhumanity of 9/11 made that perfectly clear for us. We cannot afford the cost of playing politics with oil any longer. We don't need to be reminded of the burning oil fields of Kuwait, the events of Afghanistan or now Iraq. Oil has now become a matter of national security. We need to relieve ourselves of that burden. We can best do that by decreasing our demand for it. As of right now we are hostages in essence to those oil producing countries. We import 11 billion tons of crude oil a day, that's 55% of our daily consumption. That has to stop! The only way that the US can insulate itself from further dependence to a disappearing fuel source is to develop an alternate energy source that is readily available domestically. Our options are: coal, natural gas, wind, water, solar, nuclear and hydrogen. Out of these hydrogen is the most expensive to develop for our fuel source, but it stores energy more effectively than batteries, burns twice as effectively in fuel cell (device in which hydrogen activates energy to electricity) as gasoline does in today's engines and leaves only water behind. It's plentiful, clean, and fully capable of powering cars.

BMW's new experiment with hydrogen fuel is proving a success. It has demonstrated the ability to provide normal looking vehicles with the same performance, if not greater, than gasoline fueled vehicles with a reduction in fuel prices and almost non-existent emissions of harmful pollutant into the atmosphere.

BMW was able to achieve this by liquefying hydrogen. Once it did this it developed an engine that can handle this energy source, with the same performance that gasoline would provide to a vehicle. At this point BMW has showcased its fleet of hydrogen powered vehicle very successfully and hope's to have the cars on the market in Europe in 2005.

Before thinking that Hydrogen is ready for use right now, it should be noted that there are issues to be resolved to make this system work as perfectly as it should. As mentioned earlier, BMW has achieved some measure of success with their hydrogen fueled vehicles, but what was not mentioned is that in order for this fuel to work properly in these cars, it has to be compressed enough to provide the required amount to make it practical (around 400 miles from a full tank) therefore it has to be cooled to a temperature of -423 degrees Fahrenheit. BMW has safely achieved this with its fuel tank, but now needs to make the fuel tank cost effective and mass produce it. If it were not cooled, the fuel tank would be too large for any automobile. Also the fuel tank would have to be insulated and designed to keep it at that temperature and because it is compressed it would need to withstand 10,000 psi - 50 times the pressure of a normal gas tank.

The infrastructure is a large problem to overcome: how to begin manufacturing, storing and building or retrofitting fueling stations across the nation, this in itself is an enormous economic undertaking to overcome. It will require a commitment from the private and government sector similar to that taken by President Kennedy in the space program to land a man on the moon within 10 years.

It is important to note that the whole economic infrastructure in the United States and many other industrialized nations is built on an oil based economy. To change that will require a total commitment from many nations of which some have made commitments to different fuels and that's to start the process.

Does all of this really seem feasible? You may ask, isn't there any alternative fuel that will be less overwhelming domestically and internationally from an economic scale? Can we afford to overhaul our economy which is based on oil, and has taken approximately 150 years to reach this point? It's been estimated by some researchers that it will take less than 50 years for us to run out of oil. If that's true, can we afford to hang on? And can we afford to keep spewing out greenhouse gases for that amount of time and live to tell about it? To look at resolving some of these questions we'll examine a couple



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