The world we live in revolves around the culminationof various energy sources to operate the daily necessities of living, such asfood, shelter, electricity, transportation and much more. The following paper will evaluate theconventional energy technologies used as well as alternative energy sources,and their impact on Earth. Furthermore,the chemistry behind the functionality of the energy sources will be analyzed.
One of the largest environment-impacting energysources used involves fossil fuel burning. Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons that are produced from the remains of deadanimals and plants. Coal, fuel oil, andnatural gas are common examples of fossil fuels. A hydrocarbon is an organic compound thatconsists of hydrogen and carbon.
Whendecomposed, hydrocarbons provide a large quantity of carbon and hydrogen which,when bonded, could form chains. Theprimary use of hydrocarbons is as a combustible fuel source. Chemistry principles could be used todescribe the burning of methane or the carbon in coal. The reaction: C+ O2 -> CO2 is the basicreaction of the burning of carbon which provides the greatest energy source. This reaction occurs in coal, natural gas,and oil, all of which are fossil fuels.
Energywithin this reaction is only present because of the solar energy within theplants, which are then processed for millions of years under the pressure in theEarth. Carbon molecules in coal are attached,thus, there is only one C-C bond for every C atom. To determine the efficiency of thismechanism, one must calculate the energy release from creating CO2. Carnegie Mellon University states that thenet release is 152 kcal/mole of carbon.
Therefore,1 kg of carbon gives approximately 11000 kcal. The university also states that 44g of CO2 is produced for every 12g ofcarbon burnt. The contribution thatcarbon dioxide has to global climate change is substantial and is one of themajor problems of fossil fuel economy. To put the environmental impact inperspective, power plants that burn coal produce more harmful carbon dioxidethan all cars, trucks, planes, and other forms of transportation combined (FossilFuels Affect the Environment,” 2018). Greenhouse gases are contributing toglobal warming as the sun’s energy is trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. The remainder of this paper will examine thealternative energy sources from the sun, wind and ocean as these modes couldhelp reduce the use of fossil fuels. Theserenewable energy sources do not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, whichis an imperative step towards helping the planet. The Sun, which would provide at least another 4billion years of solar energy striking Earth daily, harnesses a powerful energysource for electricity and could be one of the best options to combat globalwarming.
However, for solar panels to beefficient, a variety of factors must be met. Majority of solar panels are made with a layer of protective glass overthe cells that sunlight must pass through. Reflection of the glass is to be minimal, as well, the amount of energy utilizeddepends on the angle of which light is passing through. The user also must be aware of thepositioning and angle of the panel upon installation. The panel should be installed so that themaximum amount of sunlight is shining on it to maximize efficiency.
This would include avoiding shade and findingthe optimal position on a roof (Empire RenewableEnergy, 2018). Solar panels function through solar cellswithin the panels. A single solar cellis composed of two kinds of semiconductors called p-type and n-type silicon.
Boron/gallium are p-type silicon and is createdby adding atoms as they have one fewer electrons in the outer energy level.Since boron has one less electron than necessary to form bonds with siliconatoms, an electron hole is produced. This is perfect because in an n-type silicon there is one more electronin the outer level, i.e., phosphorus.
Therefore, binding with surrounding atomscould occur, however, one electron is not included in bonding. The electron is instead allowed to freelytravel inside the silicon structure. Thus, within a solar cell there is a p-type silicon placed inconjunction to a layer of n-type silicon. The n-type layer has extra electrons,whereas the p-type layer is excessively charged with positive holes. Between the layers, the electrons on one sidenavigate into the holes of the other side. A junction is formed, known as the depletion zone. Once the holes are filled in this zone, thep-type now carries negatively charged ions, and the n-type side carriespositively charged ions. With these oppositely charged ions generated, anelectric field would impede electrons in the n-type layer to fill the holes inthe p-type layer.
Upon sunlight strikinga solar cell, electrons in the silicon are released, which leads to theformation of holes. Having this occur inan electric field would move the electrons from n-type to p-type. Solar panels are built with metallic wireswhich would allow the electrons to move from n-type to p-type by crossing thedepletion zone previously discussed; this generates the flow of electricity (American Chemical Society, 2017).As the main goal is to reduce global warmingemissions, solar panels do a relatively good job compared to natural gas andcoal. It is estimated that solar powerranges from 0.08-0.2 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour.
This is far less than its counterpart of coalat 1.4-3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (Unionof Concerned Scientists, 2013).Apart from solar energy, hydro is also one of the bestmethods of energy source because of its ability to use waves and water currentsto produce electricity.
Hydroelectricpower plants utilize a dam on a river to store water in a reservoir. The flowof water, once the reservoir is released, spins a turbine which then activatesa power generator to create electricity. There are power lines that areconnected to the generator that bring electricity produced to homes. Moreover, hydropower is quite efficient asthere are power plants that could store power, called a ‘pumped storage plant’. Power is discharged from a power grid intothe electric generators. When generatorsspin the turbines backwards, it causes the turbines to pump water from theriver/lower reservoir to an upper reservoir. This is where the power is stored.
To utilize that stored energy, the water is released from the upperreservoir back into the river or lower reservoir, causing forward spinning ofthe turbines and ultimately initiating the generators to generate electricity(Renewable Energy World, 2018). The movement of water does not negatively affect theenvironment; it is safe and clean, which is why it is the world’s leadingsource of renewable energy. Since wateris a sustainable source, it would not run out and could be used over andover. By using water as energy, there isno decrease in the volume of water. However, speeds, flow of water, and sometimes temperature, are changed.
Toput in perspective how beneficial hydropower really is, Wisconsin ValleyImprovement Company’s website has some staggering facts. Hydropower prevents the burning of 22 billiongallons of oil and 120 million tonnes of coal each year. It is such anefficient way to produce electricity as turbines could convert the 90% ofpotential energy of water and gravity into electricity. On the other hand, even the best of fossilfuel power plants are only 50% energy efficient. As discussed in this paper, fossil fuels are not a topchoice for energy production.
With themodern development of solar panels and hydroelectric power, it eliminates theneed for other energy production methods that produce harmful greenhouse gases. It is imperative for everyone to promoterenewable energy as it could one day be the sole factor to whether the Earth ishabitable for mankind or not.