For years now, we’ve known we need to find alternatives to burning gas, oil and coal. Here we look at how exciting alternatives could help deal with the environmental challenges we now face.
With fossil fuels, it seems that human demand might always outweigh supply. There’s also an economic and political side to the story; naturally not every country has equal access to the planet’s sources of energy and the race is on to achieve energy independence.
Smart businesses are beginning to ask: is there a cost-effective and ecological answer to the issues surrounding ongoing use?
What are some of the possible alternatives?
Hydrocarbon, buried deep beneath the seabed, could be one answer. Although we’re still in the early stages of research, some hope that this new source of fuel might signal an end to the environmental, economic, political and social problems linked to traditional fossil fuels.
Methane hydrate (‘fire ice’) is also a potential game-changer. It’s natural methane gas trapped within ice crystals found on the outer edges of continental shelves (where the seabed drops to the deeper ocean floor). There are vast quantities of this trapped methane, and experts think it contains the same amount of carbon as all the world’s oil, gas and coal combined.
Although it seems relatively easy to release the methane, by raising the temperature or lowering the pressure to break the gas down, the problem will lie in actually accessing the hydrates themselves without damaging the seabed or overall environment. Although methane hydrate is an undeniably cleaner source of fuel than the fossil fuels we currently use, it’s still a hydrocarbon and carries significant potential risks. According to the latest research, methane is 30 times more damaging than CO2.
Still, methane hydrate as a future energy source is a focus for many of the world’s leading economies, with Japan, the USA, and Canada already investing money in test projects, and South Korea, India and China entering the research phase.
Technological advances make solar energy another option. Scientists have recently found a way to use carbon nanotubes to collect 100 times more solar energy than a regular photovoltaic cell. This works by capturing and funneling sunlight onto solar arrays, just like the solar panels we see today. The difference is, rather than cover an entire rooftop, just a small area would deliver the same results.
Could any of these be the answer to the challenge of meeting future energy demands?