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The Rate Of Growth Of Technology Environmental Sciences Essay

The rate of growth of technology has provided humans with a higher standard of living. People always try to make their life easier and more comfortable. Anyone would like to own a beautiful and powerful car, without considering the effects on his own or that of future generations' lives. There are fast, luxury, convertible and many other cars, which nowadays can be easily purchased. This gives people the opportunity to choose from a great variety of cars when calling to buy one.

Although car manufactures have started producing alternative fueled cars, such as, electric, hybrid and hydrogen, most of the consumers insist on buying petrol or diesel cars. It is difficult for people to realize the need of protect their lives and the environment for the hazards which occur of the use of such cars.

There are many issues that come from car usage. This essay will mention, analyse and discuss some of them, mainly ethical and emission topics. It will also try to provide solutions about a sustainable future for car fuels. A definition of sustainability (1) is "conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources". Hence, there is a need for a sustainable car fuel, i.e. a fuel with unlimited stocks in nature, if this could be possible.

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Car fuels have their history and hopefully their future. Beginning with steam, then petrol and diesel to electricity, hybrid and hydrogen. All of them have benefits and harmful effects. It has to be considered that road transport is the third largest source of greenhouse gases. So, there is no doubt that car emissions and generally transportation emissions have a great impact on the amount of pollution in the environment. As it had been calculated cars produced the 13% of total COâ‚‚ emissions in UK in 2010 (2).

Currently in UK's roads, it is estimated that there are about 30 million cars. This number is big enough to have an impact, apart for the emissions, to the environment. Bearing in mind the energy consumption in order all this vehicles to be produced, someone can realize the effect they have in the environment.

Taking into consideration all the above, the use of a sustainable and environment friendly fuel, should be considered as an urgent need. But it must not been forgotten that any fuel which will be used for vehicles, should be based on the human need of a new car fuel.


There are some waste products that cars emit during their operation. Some of them are dangerous for people's life, while others cause damage to the environment and so, in long term, can also be harmful for people. These waste products are called emissions.

The main cars' emissions, which are not directly harmful for mankind, are carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen gas (N2) and water vapour (H2O). These are some of the greenhouse gases and in bigger than the normal concentrations are dangerous for the environment, because they have negative impact in the greenhouse effect. Thus, they contribute to the climate change and indirectly they are hurtful for mankind. Although carbon dioxide has no direct effect on peoples' health, high concentrations may lead to suffocating. Nitrogen gas consists the 78% of the Earth's air. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless which in bigger than normal concentrations affects environment's balance. Water vapour, as mentioned before, is a greenhouse gas, which in normal concentration is useful to the atmosphere, but in higher concentration it affects the natural procedure of greenhouse effect.

On the other hand there are some emissions which have a directly impact to human's lives. Some of these are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), unburned hydrocarbons, aldehydes, lead, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and certain particulates. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas which, even in low concentration can cause suffocation. Nitrogen oxides, such as nitrogen monoxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), are very likely to create atmospheric problems, such as acid rain and smog. They are also dangerous for human lives, because they can cause lung and mucous membranes irritation. Unburned hydrocarbons have a roughly narcotic effect. They also irritate human's mucous membranes like sulphur dioxide (SO2) does, while having a carcinogenic effect. In terms of environment, hydrocarbons are sufficient to create smog. Aldehydes are components with a sharp smell and narcotic effect. They are also considered to cause cancer. Lead is a poisonous substance and when enters human body it reduces O2 absorption of the blood. Particulates which are been emitted by cars, can enter the lungs and deposit substances which are dangerous for human. They also have carcinogenic effect since they contain soot.

Considering the environmental effect carbon dioxide (CO2) has, reducing its production is urgent. There have to be measurements not only locally, but also globally; in order the emitted carbon dioxide (CO2) will be reduced. Due to legislations, UK has to reduce the emission of COâ‚‚. Regarding the Kyoto Protocol, UK has to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent below base year levels (1990) over the 2008-2012 period. This means that the total COâ‚‚ emissions have to be an average of 682.4 million tonnes per year over that period. Also the Climate Change Act (CCA), states that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by at least 80 per cent below base year levels (2010) by 2050. This is thought to be the minimum reduction which has to be achieved, if global temperature is to be held below the generally accepted limit of 2oC. This means that the total emissions of COâ‚‚ have to be less than 154.2 million tonnes (3).

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As mentioned before, cars are responsible for 13% of total emissions. It is reasonable to expect that transport emissions will have to be reduced by a similar, or even better, bigger percentage. It is clear that if the emissions of cars will be reduced to zero, then the UK would at least reach the limit which Kyoto Protocol has set. This may be an ideal thought, but it has to be mentioned. Also reducing cars' emissions will benefit both present and future generations in terms of their health. Pollutants are very dangerous not only for the Environment but also they are responsible for many health problems. People who live in big cities with a big amount of pollution are more likely to suffer from breathing problems and other serious diseases.

Transport will play a critical role in delivering the CO2 emissions cuts needed to meet global political climate change targets. The world's car fleet is expected to triple by 2050, with 80% of the growth in rapidly developing economies. At the same time the car manufacturing industry is facing huge difficulties in the economic recession. It would be grateful to reconcile legitimate aspirations for mobility, an ambitious reduction in CO2 from cars worldwide and global economic recovery. There are opportunities to combine support for the industry with measures to achieve governments environmental and energy policy goals.

(http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-car-emissions.htm 11/11/2012)


Petroleum is a black liquid which is pumped out of the ground. It is created by the remains of animals and plants that have been held under tremendous pressure for millions of years. So, it is considered as a fossil fuel. Although crude oil is the source of gasoline and diesel, it is not limitless. Today, petroleum is the main source of energy for the whole world. It contains hydrocarbons which differ in the length, i.e. the number of carbons in their chain. Hydrocarbons' behaviors and properties have to do with the number of carbons they have. So, hydrocarbons of different lengths have not the same behavior and properties. According to the procedure which crude oil goes through, different products come up. The main characteristic in those procedures is the occurred temperature. Generally the longer the chain is, the higher its boiling point. Because of that, different hydrocarbons are been separated by a procedure called distillation. The main hydrocarbons, considering this essay are from C7H16 through C11H24, which are used in order for gasoline to be produced and their boiling point is above 100oC and from C8H18 to C21H44, which are used in order for diesel to be produced and have higher boiling point.

Due to its usage, petroleum is considered as vital to peoples' everyday life. Technology as we know it would grind to halt without petroleum. The crude oil is the main source of electricity and for many other goods, as well, apart from car fuel. It is the most used way of heating. Also it is been used as fuel for airplanes, ships, trains and all the means of transportation. Considering all these, it is becoming clear how vital it had been for previous and present generations. The problem is that because it is not unlimited in the nature and given the demand it has, in less than few decades it would be vanished. Also, because of its synthesis, treating it has the most of times, negative effects directly in peoples' life or in environment and so indirectly in peoples' life as well.

Steam Engines

Historically speaking, steam is a fuel worth mentioning. Steam engines were the first engine type to see widespread use. Tomas Newcomen first invented them in 1705. Later on, in 1769, James Watt made some crucial improvements to them. Steam engines powered all early locomotives, steam boats, factories and therefore acted as the foundation of the Industrial Revolution. (*)

It was not a century later, when the first steam engine vehicle was manufactured. A private mean of transport was something new at that time and certainly many people would like to own one. It was nothing but a small step which had to be done, in order to start moving. So, undoubtedly they helped the improvement of the quality of life. Although, there are some issues which have to be discussed.

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Steam cars used water and some kind of electricity as fuels, usually coal. Water is not limitless in nature. Already, governments face big drought problems. Using water as a car fuel would lead to great increase of its demand. Therefore, water could not be considered as a sustainable fuel.

Apart from sustainability problem, there are many other issues regarding steam vehicles and their history, mainly environmental and social.

Due to the fact that the only fuel for steam engines is water, someone can state that they were environment friendly vehicles. For the operation of a steam engine, though, high pressure steam is needed. Somehow, the water has to be converted into steam. The easiest and probably the only way of doing this, especially that period was by heating the water with coal. Hence, it is clear that there were emissions such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2) and unburned carbon. It is true that those emissions are less than those of petrol cars, but they are still emissions which should not be disregarded.

Last but not least steam cars, because of being the first produced car caused some social problems. Only few people had the opportunity to own a car that period of time. Owning a car was mainly a way of recognition and was a privilege only rich people had. This may was the only ethical issue in this period and this actually was the enforcement of a class struggle.

Taking all these under consideration, steam engine cars should not be considered as a sustainable solution to the problem. In addition to this, they could not help UK government to reach its aims for greenhouse gasses.


There is no doubt that gasoline can be considered as a vital fluid, as it has helped the most to the rise of technology. Gasoline is made up by hydrogen and carbon arranged in chain, like all aliphatic hydrocarbons.

Petroleum is the source of production of gasoline. When petroleum is collected from the Earth, it goes through a procedure named as thermal cracking. During thermal cracking heat is introduced in order to break down the large molecules of the crude oil and create smaller ones. Then, apart from high temperatures, petroleum is also been pressured in order for large hydrocarbons to be broken into smaller ones. The small-chained hydrocarbons, as been said previously from C7H16 through C11H24, create the gasoline which is burned by vehicles' engines.

Due to high temperatures during the thermal cracking, production of gasoline is considered to be a dangerous procedure, because the possibility of an explosion is very high. In addition to this, other unwanted products are been formed favored by risen temperatures. After research scientists, since 1937, use an inert catalyst in order to achieve the procedure with lower temperatures.

There are also some environmental issues because of the usage of gasoline as a fuel. When gasoline is burned, it ideally produces only carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and a lot of heat. But engines do not burn the gasoline ideally so they have some other emissions too. Although catalyst converters reduce many of those emissions, they cannot eliminate them totally. So, when cars which use gasoline as a fuel burning it apart from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) they emit carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and unburned hydrocarbons as well. Those emissions have an asset to global warming. Especially for carbon dioxide (CO2), it worth mentioning that gasoline includes a lot of carbon. A gallon (0.003 tonnes) of gasoline might release 2.5 kg of carbon into the atmosphere. Considering that, when carbon is burned, it turns into carbon dioxide (CO2), it is clear to be seen that the emitted carbon dioxide (CO2) by burning gasoline, exists in a great amount in the atmosphere.

Taking into account all the above, it becomes clear that gasoline cannot contribute to a sustainable fueled-future. Given the demand petroleum has for other activities, its usage for vehicles' engines, has to be reduced.


It was in 1878, when Rudolf Diesel, a student from Germany, mentioned that the efficiency of existing engines (steam and gasoline) were too low. This information made him start the research and the procedures to create a new engine with higher efficiency. So he did and by 1892, Diesel had managed to design a new engine which took his name and until now it is called diesel engine. They are used in transportation and also in other applications, such as heating.

Diesel engines use diesel as a fuel. There are three different types of diesel; these are petrol-diesel, bio-diesel and synthetic diesel. All of them differ in the sources they come from, as well as, the procedures which have to be followed in order the final product to come up.

Petrol-diesel is produced when petroleum goes through a process called fractional distillation. During this procedure the petroleum is getting warmed until it boils. Petroleum is mainly made up by aliphatic hydrocarbons which vary in length, so they have different characteristics that shown up when heat is introduced. This is the time that different elements are separated. The required temperature for this procedure varies between 177oC and 350oC. In such temperatures the danger for explosions is very high. This fact makes the production of petrol-diesel not such a safe procedure.

Bio-diesel is mainly derived from animal fat, cooking oil waste and vegetable oil. In order for the biodiesel to be produced raw materials go through a process called trans esterification. During this procedure the oil reacts with alcohol and a combustible by-product is produced. This is the bio-fuel. It can be used either in its pure form or mixed with petrol-diesel. Bio-diesel can be considered as a sustainable fuel since it is not produced by fossil fuels.

The last kind of diesel fuel, synthetic diesel, derived primarily from garbage, wood, corn or any biodegradable material, when they go through "biomass to liquid" (BTL) and "gas to liquid" (GTL) processes. The BTL is a process which firstly extracts the fuel from the source, using the Fischer - Tropsch process, and then it dries the materials turning them into gas. The produced gas then, goes through the GTL process in order to become liquid and usable for diesel engines. It worth mentioning, that this is not the only use of GTL process. It is also been used in order to convert natural gas to diesel fuel. In this occasion, methane, which is a main component of natural gas, is separated to carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H) and vapour water (H2O). That way hydrocarbons without longer chains are been produced.

Although bio-diesel and synthetic diesel are much safer than petrol diesel, considering the sources and the production procedures, petrol-diesel is preferable because of the cost of production. Petrol-diesel is cheaper to be produced and so it is massively used by diesel engines.

According to the environment, diesel engines have some advantages and some disadvantages. Due to the fact that diesel does not contain lead, engines which burn diesel as a fuel do not emit great amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrocarbons which are emissions that lead to global warming. On the other hand, diesel engines emit high amounts of nitrogen compounds and particulates, which lead to other environmental disasters, such as acid rain and smog. This is the main reason some governments do not allow the usage of diesel cars inside big cities.

Although car manufacturers have tried to reduce emissions of diesel car, regarding to government policy and legislation, they remain a vehicle with serious and dangerous emissions for both the environment and the mankind directly. In recent years diesel vehicle have larger fleet than petrol. This is mainly because diesel is a more efficient fuel. Due to its structure, an amount of diesel fuel can give more power to a vehicle, comparing with the same amount of petrol. Also, because petrol vehicle use bigger amount of fuel in order to move. Comparing to petrol cars, diesel may be cleaner, due to their greater fuel economy. As said before, though, they have serious effects in the environment and an increase of their number may has important implications on city air quality.

Bearing in mind that petroleum is a fossil fuel and it comes from inside the Earth, petrol-diesel is definitely not a sustainable fuel. Also considering that petroleum is not only been used by cars, but also for heating and other procedures, it is very important to reduce its demand as far as possible. If people continue to use petroleum the way they do, Earth is going to be run out of it. Supplanting the diesel with other vehicles will be a good way to reduce petroleum demands.

Electric Cars

Car manufacturers have started the massive production of electric vehicles (EVs), in recent years. It is a fact that, while moving, electric cars have lower emissions than those operating with petrol or diesel. They haven't been in the market for long (relatively speaking) and so they are not so popular. It was estimated that, in 2010 only a few thousand, of the 28.5 million cars in UK were electric (**).

Electric vehicles use electricity to drive their wheels. All, or part of the needed electricity, is stored in large, rechargeable batteries. There are two different types of electric vehicles. The all-electric EVs, where the battery is the only power source and, the most commonly used, plug-in hybrid EVs where the electricity generator can switch between battery and fossil fuels (**).

Cars which use electricity as fuel, offer the benefit of zero emission at point of use. This means that the emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are transferred to the power station which produces the electricity (5). So, there are emissions in order a battery to get charged. It is estimated that the life cycle carbon emissions for a typical electric car in the UK is about 100gCO2/km (*). The emissions, which occur by the charging of an electric vehicle in UK, are estimated to be reduced by 40% comparing to the emissions of a small petrol car. However, this reduction is smaller (25%), but still reduction, if an electric car is compared with a fuel efficient diesel car (*). The main reason for this reduction is that electric cars are more efficient than those which operate with fossil fuels.

The only way, though, to have zero emissions at point of use, is the all-electric EVs. Speaking about plug-in hybrid, it is becoming clear that there are additional emissions when they use, as additional power generator any fossil fuel. So, they could not be regarded as a sustainable solution.

On the one hand, all-electric vehicles offer, as mentioned earlier, zero emission, but there are some disadvantages regarding their use. They are not widespread known because of their higher prices and their performance and range comparing to petrol or diesel cars. It is worth to say, that a vehicle which uses only electricity requires about 7-10 hours for a full charge, depending on the battery. This may not be a problem, considering that they can be charged in the owner's garage during the night. The problem is that they have a maximum range of 50 miles with a full-charged battery. Another problem which needs a solution is the size and the weight of the batteries.

Charging the batteries will not has to be considered as a problem. Anyone who owns such a car can charge its battery at his house. Furthermore, there are many charging points in the UK, for mid-travelling charging. Transport for London is aiming for 25000 charging points in 2015 (**).

Whether electric cars offer reduced amounts on carbon emissions compared with cars which use fossil fuels, depends on how the electricity is produced. If it is produced in a renewable way, such as nuclear, hydro-electric power, photovoltaic panels or wind turbines, then electric vehicles will offer reduced greenhouse gasses. If it is produced with fired coal, then they do not offer any real reduction (5).

Nowadays in the UK there are 28.5 million cars. As said earlier, the amount of energy which is required for a battery to be full-charged is 12 kilowatt-hours. If, hypothetically, all those cars were electric, 34.2 Gigawatt-hours would be needed for one charge per day. This amount of electricity is too high for the national grid in its current form and it is even difficult, considering that the electricity should be 100% from renewables.

On the other hand, there are the plug-in hybrid EVs which use more than one energy store. Usually such a vehicle uses a fossil fuel to generate the electricity to charge its battery. Then when the battery is charged, it powers the electric motor which moves the car. An alternative configuration is that both the engine and the electric motor can drive the vehicle (5).

It is not possible for those cars to have zero emissions, since they use petrol or diesel. Comparing to a conventional (petrol or diesel) car, they do have less emissions, as well as being quieter. In addition to this, comparing to all electric cars, they offer much greater range. Also, because the fuel can be used to charge the vehicle's batteries, there is no need for a dedicated electric recharging infrastructure.

However, because of the usage of fossil fuels, even if it is not the same amount as conventional cars, hybrids could not be considered either as sustainable or as environment friendly vehicles. Hence, only the all-electric EVs could be a solution to the problem of a sustainable and environment friendly vehicle. Although an improvement in both battery technology and national grid is needed before electric vehicles can compare to conventionally powered vehicles, the market for battery vehicles may develop as increasing emphasis is placed to sustainability and environment. Batteries should be able to store more electricity, in order the range and the performance of vehicles to increase. Likewise, national grid should be based more on renewables (5).

Fuel Cells

This may be the most uncommon type of fuel. It worth mentioning that in UK, there are only 27 hydrogen filling stations of which 13 are in operation (4). But this is something which UK Government plans to invest a great amount of money for. The question which occurs is if hydrogen, as a fuel, worth such an investment.

In order for the electricity to be produced in a fuel cell, hydrogen is combined with air's oxygen inside the tack. Inside the car's tank some kind of fuel should be stored. The fuel can be directly hydrogen (H2) gas compressed at extremely high pressure. It also can be a hydrogen rich fuel, such as methanol (CH4O) or petrol. If the vehicle operates by hydrogen, then the only roadside emission is water vapour. Otherwise, either with methanol or petrol the vehicle emits water vapour as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) (5).

Petrol has low hydrogen content. In addition to this it is not a sustainable fuel and it does not help to the reduction of emissions. Methanol has high hydrogen content and can be created by renewable resources, so it can be considered as sustainable solution. The main problem, in this time, is that there are no methanol filling stations, or at least it is very difficult to be founded in UK. It does not cost a lot of money, though, for petrol filling stations to be modified to methanol filling stations.(5)

Hydrogen, in contrast to methanol and petrol, has the great advantage that does not require any process on-board. In addition to this, it produces only water vapour at the tailpipe. On the other hand, it would be very expensive to create a dedicated infrastructure. It is also a fact that, producing and compressing hydrogen requires significant amount of energy which somehow has to be produced.

Hydrogen can be obtained from different sources. Some of them are fossil fuels (natural gas reforming, coal gasification), electricity (water electrolysis), nuclear (photo-electrolysis, biological production, high temperature water splitting) and renewable (biomass processes). All those procedures, of creating hydrogen, emit carbon dioxide (CO2), so they require CO2 capture and storage (CCS). After that, using hydrogen, as vehicle fuel, can be a carbon free process.(6)

It is estimated (6) that in 2007, 60 million tonnes of hydrogen were produced. 48% of these were obtained from natural gas, while 30% from refinery of gases, 18% from coal and the rest 4% from electrolysis. This amount of hydrogen was for captive use in the chemical and refinery industries.

None of the above ways is a renewable source of hydrogen (H2). So, it can be seen, that no hydrogen (H2) is produced from renewables. There are some ways in which hydrogen can be produced from biomass, such as pyrolysis, gasification and anaerobic digestion. In those three procedures, syngas is produced. Syngas is a gas which consists of hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO). So, by collecting hydrogen there are carbon monoxide emissions. Although, these, are much lower compared to car emissions. But, this is a very expensive technology, at least for the moment and this is the main reason it is not yet widespread known.

Regarding the emissions of a fuel cell car, no combustion takes place into the tank, so the roadside emissions are negligible. If the vehicle is fuelled by hydrogen the only waste product is water vapour, but if the fuel is any hydrocarbon then in additional to water vapour it also emits carbon dioxide, as it had been mentioned before.(5)

There are some hazards which occur by the use of those cars. Hydrogen requires lower ignition energy in order to be ignited, than gasoline. This fact make hydrogen extremely dangerous as fuel and this is a fact which needs to be carefully evaluated.(5)

Another disadvantage of this technology is the procedure in order to produce hydrogen. As mentioned before, the only way to produce hydrogen by renewables is by biomass. The produced syngas has to be split up in order to take the hydrogen of it. This is an expensive procedure though and it is very difficult to be applied widespread. So production from biomass will always be limited, at least with the existing technology, and will always be difficult to be used for large economies of scale.(7)

It is clear to understand, that in order for fuel cells vehicles to be considered as a sustainable and environment friendly solution two conditions have to be met. Firstly, the vehicle's tank should be filled in directly with hydrogen and secondly this amount of hydrogen should be produced by renewables. The only way to achieve this, the Government should invest money, in order the hydrogen to be easier available to people.

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