Engineering, Technology And Society: Report Samples
The recent slump in oil prices has raised questions about the prospects for alternative energy sources. However, in today’s global markets, the historic correlation between oil prices and the demand for alternative energy has been weakened by the fact that these two types of energy sources are used for totally different purposes. Oil is mainly used in transportation while alternative sources such as solar, biofuel and wind are used for electricity generation (Day, 2014). From basic economic principles, oil and alternative energy sources are not substitutes since a price decline of one does not constitute a subsequent decrease in demand for the other. It is therefore logical to say that alternative energy solutions need to be developed regardless of the oil prices (Rojas & Stinson, 2015).
The falling oil prices and great advances in alternative energy and environmental conservation could actually be a boon to the alternative energy industry. This can be achieved by tinkering with economic policymaking since the low oil prices offer policymakers around the globe with an opportunity to rationalize energy policies. Chief among these energy policies are subsidies on fossil fuels which were born out of decades-long government fear of soaring oil prices and scarcity. The Economist refers to these subsidies as a “rat hole” that has cost governments across the globe an estimated $550 billion in the year 2014 only. The plummeting oil prices thus offer an opportunity to rethink these energy policies and get rid of billions of dollars in subsidies while shifting taxation towards carbon use. These measures are bound to create a fairer playing ground and realize a cheaper, greener, and more reliable energy future based on alternative energy sources (The Economist, 2015).
Biofuels are liquid fuels generated from biological sources (biomass) usually plants such as soy, sugarcane, corn, algae among others. Although biofuels have been used for centuries, recent ventures in commercial biofuel production have raised a wide range of social-ethical issues and concerns.
The production of the first-generation biofuels such as corn ethanol in the US, palm oil biodiesel in Malaysia and sugarcane ethanol in Brazil is characterized by well-established technologies and mature markets. Research indicates that 1st generation biofuels have a net benefit in the reduction of Carbon emissions and energy balancing. Regardless, there are some ethical and societal concerns regarding food security since growing biofuel crops leads to high food prices and shortages and competition with fiber crops. Other issues include the true production and societal costs with the exclusion of subsidies, as well as the implications of biofuel related land use leading to deforestation and habitat loss (Sims et al., 2008).
Second-generation biofuels originate from non-food crops such as switchgrass and waste biomass such as corn and wheat stalks. While the emergence of this generation of biofuel dispels the food versus fuel conflict, issues such as using agricultural land to grow biofuel crops are still a concern (Mohr & Raman, 2013).
The third generation of biofuels is produced from algae which are low-input, but high-yielding feedstock used to produce biofuel. Algae has a 30 times more energy yield per acre than 1st generation biofuel crops. According to the Energy Technology Roadmap policy document, 3rd generation biofuel may help dispels the ethical issues raised by the 1st and 2nd generation biofuels using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) where it is possible to use advanced genomics to identify which genes produce which attributes thus helping design new organism and plants specifically for biofuel production. For example, the genomes of different algae species can be compared, and new plants or organisms can be redesigned. These plants could be even be designed to grow in disparaged and arid land thus eliminating the food versus fuel, and land issues (Science Business, 2011).
Day, R. (2014). Should the Price of Oil Really Impact the Adoption of Renewable Energy? : Greentech Media. Greentechmedia.com. Retrieved 5 February 2015, from http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/tipping-over-the-oil-barrel
Mohr, A., & Raman, S. (2013). Lessons from first generation biofuels and implications for the sustainability appraisal of second generation biofuels. Energy Policy, 63, 114-122. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2013.08.033
Rojas, V., & Stinson, P. (2015). Why Falling Oil Prices Don't Hurt Demand For Renewable Energy. Forbes. Retrieved 5 February 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/edfenergyexchange/2015/01/05/why-falling-oil-prices-dont-hurt-demand-for-renewable-energy/
Science Business,. (2011). The Energy Technology Roadmap, BIOFUELS: THE NEXT GENERATION (1st ed., pp. 14-15). Science Business Publishing Ltd. Retrieved from http://sciencebusiness.net/Assets/2de40450-5768-4b63-8bf5-4006a37a66be.pdf
Sims, R., Taylor, M., Sadler, J., & Mabee, W. (2008). From 1st to 2nd generation biofuel technologies: An overview of current industry and RD&D activities (1st ed., pp. 5-15). International Energy Agency. Retrieved from http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/2nd_Biofuel_Gen.pdf
The Economist,. (2015). Seize the day. Retrieved 5 February 2015, from http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21639501-fall-price-oil-and-gas-provides-once-generation-opportunity-fix-bad
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