For centuries now, people have burned fuel to produce the energy they needed. Coal and wood for heat and cooking, whale oil for lighting, and now petroleum for… well… everything!
The process of burning a source material – be it wood, coal, oil, natural gas, or otherwise – is a destructive process. It takes something full of a certain number of kCals of energy, breaks those molecular bonds, and releases the energy potential in those molecules.
What is left after the heat is gone is considered waste. Ash, CO2, car exhaust, smoke, etc. Sure, there might still be a small amount of untapped energy in the waste material, but extracting that energy is going to take more energy than it is going to make. Therefore, the result is waste.
As you burn more of the source material, you create more waste. Ask any nuclear power plant! You also diminish the amount of source material available on the Earth, and this process (reducing a valuable source of energy into piles of waste) is neither sustainable or good for the environment.
For these reasons, any “solution” to our energy and climate change problems cannot be based on burning another resource into oblivion.
Only the dealer wins in Three-Card Monty
Oilman T. Boone Pickens’ “Pickens Plan” is ostensibly to power the USA using wind power, which is an admirable goal. The only problem is that he wants to use all this wind power to get natural gas out of the ground (a power-intensive process), and use the natural gas to power all the commercial transport vehicles in the USA. (See the fourth bullet point under the bold heading The Pickens Plan on this page.)
Sorry, wrong answer Boone… you are simply replacing petroleum with natural gas, and burning it up! How long will this limited resource last?
Extracting one limited resource and burning it up to produce another kind of waste is not an answer to our fossil fuel problem. Simply replacing oil with another burnable material is the same path we followed in the past to get us where we are today, climate-wise and fuel crisis-wise.
So how DO I charge my laptop’s batteries then?!?
A true solution to our energy needs can only come from a wide range of efforts. Reducing the amount of energy we use in every way possible will reduce the amount of energy we need to make. So that is step one. Step two is to make use of the truly eternal sources of energy: sunlight, wind, hydro, and possibly geothermal (although the jury is still out on whether geothermal is an actually viable solution or not).
Trapping the energy of sunlight, gravity (hydroelectric power, whether it is rivers, lakes, or waves), and wind, and storing or transmitting that energy to where it is needed is the only possible solution to the problem.
Any solution based on burning something to make energy is just putting the day of reckoning further out.
Remember this next time someone comes up with yet another “replacement for oil”. Anything that burns a resource to create power is also diminishing the resource (therefore an unsustainable plan), and creating another waste pile.
The only truly sustainable solution is one that makes use of the forces of nature, and converts those forces to energy.