By Pawan Naidu
There are over seven billion people in the world, and throughout history, humans have used Earth’s natural resources to better their living. With our population increasing and resources decreasing, we can’t help but worry about our natural resources running out one day. Some of our planets assets already have an expiration date.
Governments have taken notice and there has been a global push to move towards alternatives to try to save the planet and humanity. For every resource that is running out due to human consumption, there is an alternative that can serve the same purpose. Let’s take a look at the five resources in danger of extinction and their alternatives.
Out of all the fossil fuels, we make use of, coal has the largest reserves left. However, China and other developing countries are increasing their appetite for the black carbon mineral and demand could soon outpace supply. We currently have enough coal to meet 150 years of global demand but we need to think about the future.
Coal is primarily used as fuel to generate electric power. The mineral is burned and the heat given off is used to convert water into steam, which drives a turbine. In 2012, about 39 percent of all electricity in the United States was generated by coal-fueled power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Certain types of coal can also be used for metallurgical processes, like forging steel, smelting metals, or even in smelting sands, which are used to cast metal. It can also be burned to provide heat for individual homes.
To preserve the world’s coal supply, we are going to need to cut down on usage, which is harmful to the environment, or find alternative ways to generate energy. Four tactics have been implemented, but the one that could be the most effective is geothermal power.
Geothermal power is power extracted from heat stored in the earth. Geothermal energy is generated in the Earth’s core, where temperatures that can be as hot as the sun’s surface are continuously produced by the slow decay of radioactive particles. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) use heat-mining technology to extract and utilize the earth’s stored thermal energy.
A 2006 report by MIT, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, on EGS found that U.S. EGS resources far exceeded the country’s energy use in 2005, and that with an R&D investment of $1 billion over 15 years, EGS could be capable of producing electricity for as low as 3.9 cents/kWh.
Other sources of renewable energy are photovoltaics, thermal solar power, and wind power. At the end of 2009, wind power made up 2 percent of the world’s energy usage.
Without this element, plants cannot grow. Essential for fertilizer, phosphate rock is only found in a handful of countries, including the US, China, and Morocco. With the need to feed seven billion people, scientists from the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative predict we could run out of phosphorus in the next 50 to 100 years unless new reserves of the element are found.
Additionally, phosphorus serves as an energy storage medium within cells (ATP) in the form of phosphate. Studies have also revealed that phosphorus is related to the growth of cellular structures and the deficiency of this nutrient can hamper plant growth to a significant extent.
It is safe to say preserving plant growth is vital to our survival. To protect the phosphorus supply in the world, we are either going to have to find new reserves or preserve the ones we have already, or find a better alternative to the element. The answer might be not sound great to everyone, but bones could help solve the problems.
Bone meal is created by steaming animal bones and then grinding them down. It is not a complete fertilizer, but it does contain high levels of phosphorus, up to 10-13 percent. This benefits the plants by helping with seed production and root growth. Bone meal is considered a slow-release fertilizer since it takes time for the plants to break down the nutrients.
Bone meal is normally beef bones but they can be the bones of any animal. Because bone meal is made from mostly beef bones, some people wonder if it is possible to get bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE (also known as Mad Cow Disease), from handling bone meal. This is not possible, because animals are tested and diseased ones aren’t used.
3. Natural Gas
Natural gas is an alternative to fossil fuels and people believe it to be a sustainable alternative. However, it might be too popular as reserves are being depleted. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that as of January 1, 2016, there were about 2,462 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of technically recoverable resources of dry natural gas in the United States.
At the rate of U.S. natural gas consumption in 2016 of about 27.5 Tcf per year, the United States has enough natural gas to last about 90 years. The actual number of years will depend on the amount consumed each year, imports and exports, and the discovery of other natural gas reserves.
The fastest growing use of natural gas today is for the generation of electric power. Natural gas power plants generate electricity in gas turbines, derived from jet engines, directly using the hot exhaust gases of fuel combustion. About half of all U.S. homes made use of natural gas for heating in 2013, and 70 percent of all new homes built have gas heating systems.
Natural gas is a good alternative to fossil fuels but the supply is running low, and there needs to be something else that people can tap into. The answer might be nuclear energy.
Nuclear power is the most effective substitute to fossil fuels for future energy consumption. Compared to coal, gas, oil, and ethanol, nuclear power produces negligible adverse climate effects.
More importantly, nuclear power can run much more cheaply than other clean energy forms, such as solar, wind or hydropower. This is meaningless in the U.S. (and many other countries), where politicians have put a stop to nuclear expansion for decades.
The U.S. has 99 nuclear power reactors that provide an about 20 percent of all domestic electrical output. Many other countries have larger concentrations of nuclear energy with France, for example, being the world’s foremost nuclear power and generates almost 80 percent of its electricity through nuclear.
There are, however, dangers with nuclear power that will need to be mitigated. People are rightfully scared of a nuclear meltdown, with Chernobyl and Fukushima showing the damage it can cause.
The fear of running out of oil continues to haunt the oil industry. The British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy measured total global oil reserves at 188.8 million tonnes, from proved oil resources at the end of 2010. This is only enough to oil for the next 46 years, should global production remain at the current level.
75 percent of the 6.79 billion barrels of petroleum used in the US in 2012 were for gasoline, heating oil, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.
However, petroleum is not just used for fuel. Petroleum products are also used to make various plastics, synthetic materials, and chemical products. In fact, petroleum can be found in many common household items.
The U.S. and the world use a lot of petrol for a lot of reasons. Just over 40 years of reserves isn’t a long time and we need to find alternative materials to make the products that we hold as valuable.
There has been a move to substitute oil with electricity. Governments are declaring that they wish to pursue getting as many electric cars on the road as possible and retiring combustion vehicles.
Electricity is a transportation alternative fuel for our current gasoline and diesel cars.
Battery powered electric vehicles store power in batteries that are recharged by plugging the vehicle into a standard electrical source. Fuel-cell vehicles are another alternative. They run on electricity that is produced through an electrochemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen and oxygen are combined.
One alternative for plastic products is making the products out of starch. It is biodegradable, low-cost, renewable and natural polymer. Starch has been receiving lots of attention for developing sustainable materials recently.
1. Fresh Water
Freshwater only makes 2.5 percent of the total volume of the world’s water, which is about 35 million km3. However, 70 percent of that freshwater is in the form of ice and permanent snow cover trapped in ice caps and glaciers. We only have access to 200,000 km3 of freshwater overall, it isn’t surprising that demand for water could soon exceed supply.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is predicting that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity. I would call this a crisis ladies and gentleman.
About 75 percent of the freshwater used in the U.S. in 2010 came from surface-water sources. The other 25 percent came from groundwater.
Most of the fresh-water withdrawals, 38 percent, were for thermoelectric-power generation. Water used to cool equipment in thermoelectric-power plants is also fresh water and is most often returned to the water bodies it was taken from.
That is why the more significant use of surface water is irrigation, which used about 38 percent of all fresh surface water. Public supply and industrial were the next largest users of surface water.
An Israeli company thinks it can help alleviate the crisis by producing drinking water from thin air.
Water-Gen has developed an Atmospheric Water-Generation Unit using its “GENius” heat exchanger to chill air and condense water vapor.
“The clean air enters our GENius heat exchanger system where it is dehumidified, the water is removed from the air and collected in a collection tank inside the unit,” said co-CEO Arye Kohavi.
“From there the water is passed through an extensive water filtration system which cleans it from possible chemical and microbiological contaminants,” he explained. “The clean purified water is stored in an internal water tank which is kept continuously preserved to keep it at high quality over time.”
Kohavi believes that the technology can do for countries that lack clean water, such as Haiti, what it has done for the Philippines. It can be the technology used not only to filter water but to save lives.