Can Petroleum Be Replaced?
Today's world economy relies more than ever on a constant supply of petroleum to fuel a vast number of different vehicles and other applications. Everything from an internal combustion engine in a car to a furnace in a home use a petroleum product as the form of energy needed to make them function. With the burning of oil for energy comes the unwanted side-product of emissions such as carbon dioxide, which have now been proven to affect the Ozone and weather patterns of Earth. These emissions along with the un-rest in the Middle East, a large supplier of oil to the world, have renewed interest in possible new alternative energy sources to cut down on the global dependence on oil. Researchers at some of the top laboratories and automotive companies are now in the process of experimenting to develop these fuels; they are now closer than ever to having a viable alternative to oil.
The idea of shifting world dependence from oil to an alternative fuel source is not new, but the ability to actually succeed on a large scale has only recently developed. For over a decade small groups of researchers around the globe, but especially in the United States, have been working meticulously to find a readily available natural resource that could be turned into a fuel source. Much of the research of this time period has led to the conclusion that, using hydrogen, a system could be developed that would produce the needed energy with little to no emissions (Wakefield 36). Working to develop a workable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, Millennium Cell, a small start-up company in New Jersey, has come up with a system that creates energy by utilizing sodium borohydride (Borax), a common ingredient in soap, as the fuel. When the fuel contacts a catalyst, the ensuing reaction creates hydrogen gas, this, combined with oxygen from the air, is the basic formula for driving their prototype fuel cells. Recent tests with Millennium Cell's prototype show that the vehicle can travel for 300 miles before it needs to refuel, a distance very similar to that of an internal-combustion engine (Wakefield 36-37). Diamler Chrysler has also been hard at work on developing a fuel cell vehicle. They have developed a Town & Country mini-van with a fuel-cell engine and a battery assisted drive train. Using a Millennium Cell hydrogen supply system to supply power to a fuel cell which powers the engine the van can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a slow 16 seconds. Although the acceleration of this prototype is unimpressive at best, Chrysler is confidant that performance can be made better though more research and development (Wakefield 36-37). Other companies, including General Motors, are developing hydrogen fuel cell systems that rely on hydrogen gas compressed to about 5,000 pounds per square inch (psi) in cylinders as their source of fuel instead of removing the hydrogen from Borax. With compressed hydrogen fuel cell systems the range of the vehicle is directly linked to how high of a psi rating can be achieved. A system with a higher psi system allows more hydrogen gas to be stored in a smaller space thus the vehicle does not need to refuel as often (Burns 71). Companies like Millennium Cell, Diamler Chrysler, and General Motors are leading the way in the field of fuel cell technology. With new promise the developmental stages move forward. Designs for even better systems, which, it is hoped, will eventually be available for mass production, are now in the initial testing phases. With these signs of progress and new developments, the leaders of other companies are more willing than ever before to devote funding to research and development so that they will not be left out of the potential business boom when a fuel cell market becomes a reality. As with many new scientific developments there are some distinct disadvantages to making a switch to alternative fuels. The biggest and most obvious problem is the...
Cited: 1. Burns, Lawrence D., et. "Vehicle of Change." Scientific American. October 2002.
2. Moyer, Michael. "Fuel Cell Cares Are Here (sort of)." Popular Science.
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3. Wakefield, Julie. "The Ultimate Clean Fuel." Scientific American. May 2002. 36-37.
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