The cost of fuel has tripled in the space of twenty years, and this isn??™t just road fuel, it is home fuel as well. In fact, the average amount of money that is being paid out yearly by a household is around ?1000. I will be taking the programmes examples of using bio gas and alcohol to power a moped or motorbike, as well as looking at oil extraction and fracking.
150km off the coast of Norway is an oil rig known as Draugen. Deep beneath the sea there are deposits of oil and gas. They would have been formed by remains of ancient fossilised organisms. The Draugen oil rig sits 2 km above a reservoir full of highly pressurised oil and gas and can produce up to 200 million tonnes of oil and gas every year.
The oil rig actually consists of 7 separate wells; as the gas and oil rise up to the platform under hydrostatic pressure, the oil and gas would be pumped back down through pipes into seven storage tanks. These storage tanks can reach 1 million barrels of oil and gas and therefore need to be emptied by tankers which have to visit the site every week to do so.
As many oil rigs will find, once the reservoir starts to empty, the pressure will become weak. Particularly at Draugen oil rig, a way of dealing with this is by injecting sea water via a platform at each end of the reservoir; this will maintain the pressure needed to extract the oil and gas. Although this solves the problem in the short term, in the long run, this will not be affective as there will be no oil and gas left to be extracted. This will mean that a new site will need to be identified, possibly further out to sea. This will implicate things as it will be deeper water, the pressure will have increased, and the temperature of the oil will increase as well.
Oil and gas are what is known as a finite resource. This is where we are using it far quicker than what is being made naturally. We are reliant on oil and gas as it is the main fuel source. Extracting the oil is a huge and expensive process and challenge that is faced by all oil rigs. There are many factors that will affect the price of fuel. For example, as it gets harder to find sources of oil and gas in reservoirs, the prices will continue to rise.
Much of the price is based on the tax that is put on to the fuel that we purchase; 60% of the cost is due to tax. It is also the new technology that we are paying for, to find new deposits will cost yet more money. Another factor that is causing us to pay for a higher price is the production itself. One of Europe??™s biggest oil refineries has enough pipes to go round the world four times over. It can refine 750 litres of crude oil every second, but yet it only meets a fraction of Europe??™s fuel demand.
Not only are we paying with money for the oil and gas, the environment is also having to pay. Large areas of land and sea are being disrupted by oil rigs and oil refineries. This is another reason why we will need to find alternative resources.
Advantages: | Disadvantages: |
Oil is found in lots of different places around the world | It is a finite resource |
Oil is relatively easy to store and to transport between source and end-user ??“ its liquid form means that it can be pumped through pipelines where possible and containerised where this is not possible | Expensive process with production and tax as examples |
200 million tonnes of oil is produced every year by Draugen oil rig alone | Environmental damage can be caused when building the rig and by accidental oil spillages |
| Burning these fuels releases greenhouse gases into the air. This may add to global warming |
There were three main ideas that the team on ???Bang Goes the Theory??™ came up with for powering a motorbike or moped. They were methane gas, icing sugar, and polish vodka (alcohol at 95%). They found that the icing sugar worked, but in time would have clogged up the engine. Therefore, methane gas and alcohol were to be tested.
Methane, also known as bio gas, is a highly flammable gas that occurs naturally in a variety of locations. Cows for instance, hold bacteria in their stomachs to help digest their dinner and in the process produce methane gas. A similar process is being used with the help of food waste collections. These would be turned into biofuels. In Oxford in particular, the gas that is burnt in the engines produces enough electricity to power 4,000 homes and the gas elsewhere is piped straight back into the gas mains.
To find the best producer of methane gas, he took a variety of foods which were baked beans, sprouts, digestive biscuits, and fish. A mechanical stomach was then needed as they contain anaerobic bacteria and can heat things at body temperature. The gas being produced would have been collecting in the bags and measured.
Over the period of one night, the digestive biscuits were shown to be the best producer of this gas, with 12 and half litres of bio gas. Over the next few days, there should have been enough gas to power the motorbike or moped. The only problem with the gas was that it was not pure; it was made up of methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulphide. Although methane burns well, with it mixed with carbon dioxide, the whole process would be put out. To remove the carbon dioxide from the gas collected, it needed to go through drain cleaner. The gas needed to be pumped through a pipe in the bubbling drain cleaner; taking out the carbon dioxide bubbles and essentially leading to pure methane.
Once this process had been accomplished, filtering a few hundred litres of bio gas with a bike pump took time. With the bio gas, the maximum length of miles that the motorbike could accomplish would be in the region of 5 miles. Another concept would be the bags getting ungainly on top of the motorbike. He needed to find something that would compress all of the gas into it. The best way that this could have been achieved was with pop bottles, and lots of them.
Advantages: | Disadvantages: |
It occurs naturally and therefore do not need a lot of technology to use methane gas | Not everyone has a mechanical stomach |
Once perfected, it is a much cleaner fuel and can be used by anybody | With all of the methane that he produced using this method, he would still only be able to reach a maximum of 5 miles |
Most of the items used are everyday things such as pop bottles and drain cleaner | Not everybody will know how to use the scientific process of removing the carbon dioxide via the drain cleaner |
It is not polluting the earth as much as it would be if he was to use carbon dioxide | It is a very long and slow process |
The other way around powering a motorbike with cleaner fuel was with alcohol. In this case, he used cider. By using the raw material, the apples, he would be able to come up with a strong alcohol, in theory. The apples needed to be put through a shredder, which would reduce the apples to a pulp. Then, by using the traditional pressing methods, the pulp needed to be spread over a mesh, and layers would be built on the inside of a wooden vice. By applying a little pressure, the apple juice would pour out of the vice and collected in a bucket. Shortly afterwards, yeast needed to be added to the juice as fungus for respiration to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast is
happiest when it is at body temperature, and so a free heat source would be a pile of manure. Where he had dug a hole in the manure, the temperature reached 400, ideal for the yeast to be at its best over night. One night would not be enough for the liquid to ferment properly, but even if it was left to fully ferment, it would not have been able to power the motorbike at just 4% roughly. The next thing he needed to do was to get rid of the excess water and get the alcohol level to around 95%.
He needed to find a place where they had a license to distil and permission from the company or owners to distil the alcohol. With this achieved, the alcohol would be super heated and the alcohol should evaporate and condense in copper towers, leaving him with the fuel for his motorbike. Unfortunately, his alcohol reached just 55%. In order to get round this, a bottle of 95% cider was given to him by the owners of the distillery.
Advantages: | Disadvantages: |
Most of the things you need are readily available | You would either have to be a distiller or know a distiller for it to work properly |
He used traditional methods of squeezing the apple juice out, making use of the traditional values | Takes time, and lots of it |
By using the manure, it uses a resource that would otherwise probably go to waste | The likelihood would be that you would never get to, or would take you a very long time, to get the 95% of alcohol needed |
Fracking is a controversial way of extracting gas which is deep beneath the earth. France has already said no to this; South Africa halted it; and in part of the United States, people are frantic over it. Fracking is a way of mining for hard to reach gas reserves trapped deep underground in the most common type of sedimentary rock, shale. Shale started out as mud, but over millions of years, the heat and pressure would have forced it into the rock. As the rock formed, organic matter trapped between the layers would have turned into natural methane gas. Potentially, in the UK, there should be enough to meet the demands for decades to come.
The problems that are faced with fracking would be that it is deep underground. We would need to drill into the ground to get to the gas; drilling down twice the height of Ben Nevis. To release the gas from where it is, we would need a tool that is flexible, powerful, and can find its way into every weakness; to get this, you need high pressured water. High pressure water can be forced down a pipe, right into the heart of the rock and will find any weaknesses. It will then burrow into the crack, prising apart the shale, hopefully releasing the gas.
It is not just water that is sent down, it is also sand. The little grains of sand serve to prop all the cracks open so that all the pockets of gas have been joined up and can seep back towards the pipe where it can be easily extracted.
Disturbing bed rock of the earth can have unexpected side effects. For instance, in 2011 in Lancashire, earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 2.3 were triggered in Britain??™s first fracking tests. Within a typical month, ten earthquakes of this size could occur. According to the British geological survey, it shouldn??™t have caused any damage. There is concern however that water may have got into the fault and was able to lubricate the planes that meet in the fault, causing them to move a little. Some other problems that fracking may cause could be the chemicals added to the water or the methane itself could leak into groundwater and affect the drinking supplies. There are more problems other than the physical as well; it is still a fossil fuel which gives off carbon dioxide, it is still
experimental and do not know how it will affect the prices of fuel, and we are still talking about a finite resource (the gas will run out one day).
Advantages: | Disadvantages: |
High pressured water is easy to find | Other countries have already said no to this, making the future look bleak for this idea |
There are plenty of areas within the UK where this gas can be found in shale | Earthquakes of magnitude 2.3 were created by this fracking |
The problems can be managed | There are fears that the chemicals and methane may leak into the drinking supplies |
| It is a fossil fuel and therefore still produces carbon dioxide |
| It is a finite resource |
| It will affect the environment surrounding the area |