The Energy Lifecycle
Energy cannot be created nor destroyed.
This is a fundamental fact of life (as far as the world’s top scientists are aware). In simple terms, energy is stored within everything, from the blades of grass on the lawn to your kitchen sink and the wood on the log pile. When you burn the wood on the log pile, you’re simply transforming the stored energy into heat, sound and light energy.
The Simple Principles of Energy
By understanding the simple principles of energy, you can begin to understand how the use of fossil fuels impact on the environment, how biofuels are renewable, how burning waste is better than landfill and how solar energy works – to name but a few simple scenarios.
In one way or another, most of our energy comes from the sun. In a basic way, we collect the energy using solar cells, convert it to electricity and use that electricity for whatever we like. Alternatively, the sun misses the solar cells, hits the earth and is used by organisms for energy.
The sun’s rays beat down on plants, the plants convert the light energy (combine it with nutrients from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air) and store the energy as complex carbohydrates (starch) and simple carbohydrates (glucose) and as a by-product produce oxygen.
We humans then have a number of options on how to get that stored energy out and ready to use as a fuel:
We can eat the plants (if they’re edible) and have the carbohydrates and glucoses converted into energy for us to use and live on inside our bodies. However, that doesn’t really help us with transport and we don’t like to walk everywhere.
Another organism can eat the plants, like a cow and use the energy in its own body. Humans can then use that cow to provide us with our own energy, such as meat or milk, or even manual labour.
We use the plants to produce a fuel, such as biofuel or biomass. You can read about the differences between them and how they’re made in our blog here. A renewable, carbon neutral fuel which has minimal impact on the environment, the only pollutants are the same ones that have been consumed to create it and in the same quantities. In some cases, the fuel is used to produce heat and create electricity, or to produce a form of alcohol that can be used as fuel for burning in combustion engines.
We do nothing, we leave it to the natural processes and it becomes coal and oil deep underground after millions of years. As everyone knows, this is not a renewable or carbon neutral fuel. It’s like taking last month’s waste and putting it into today’s bin. Burning fossil fuels is taking the energy (and carbon dioxide) absorbed millions of years ago, and releasing it into the atmosphere today.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out which energy solutions are better for the environment than others. Fossil fuels give great energy solutions for our needs, but they output energy (in the form of chemical energy in pollution) more than necessary.
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