TED Conversations

Noel Laporte

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What form of renewable energy has or will have the lowest impact on biodiversity?

Climate change, air pollution, rising sea levels and species extinction can all be attributed to the increasing usage of non-renewable energy in the world today. Non-renewable energy reserves are diminishing and finite with an ever-increasing demand from countries around the world. Coal, natural gas and oil all have detrimental effects on the environment. These effects are both local and global, harming species throughout the world. As we consider different renewable forms of energy, can we rank their potential impacts on biodiversity?


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    Apr 23 2013: The type of renewable energy source that is most sustainable and minimizes any impact on biodiversity depends on the type of fossil fuel it will be replacing, and the characteristics of the area implementing the renewable energy source. A certain renewable fuel will do better in one area of the world rather than in another.

    These limitations are prominent in all renewable fuel sources. Let’s say we wanted to switch to cellulosic ethanol completely in the transportation sector so we can minimize the amount of emissions from vehicles. How much farmland would be needed? If all of the U.S. ran on biofuels like ethanol, we would need 415 million acres of corn to achieve this. However, we only have 406 million acres of usable farmland in the U.S., which is used for other agricultural purposes besides corn. If we were to expand farming, we would intensify environmental consequences. More importantly, blend wall is another problem. Automobiles today can only run on a mixture of 10% ethanol.

    Wind is another renewable energy source for electricity. Spinning fan blades powered by the wind can generate electricity for us. These turbines are cost effective, avoid greenhouse gases, and have a very clear potential for growth. One downfall is intermittency; it may be windy on certain days, and hardly windy on other days. It may be windier in a certain region, like the path of a jet stream, rather than in a rocky, mountainous area. This poses a very serious problem for electric companies since there is no way to store electricity. There might be blackouts on a city that relies on wind, especially at peak-load times.

    Knowing some of the small problems with our sustainable system, renewable energy may progress too slowly to minimize global warming. The question we must ask ourselves is not what renewable energy is best, but which one functions well in certain geographic regions.
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      Apr 23 2013: Another issue with bioethanol is that alot of times the CO2 produced when manufacturing it nullifies any benefit to the reduction of CO2 from our cars. Also the loss of habitat due to this high demand of usable farmland would be of even greater cost to biodiversity.
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      Apr 23 2013: I think in the short term the notion of this idea is good. Farmland doesn't necessarily need to be used to produce cellulosic ethanol because it is made from lignocellulose, which is found in nearly every natural, free-growing plant without agricultural effort. These plants can be acquired from a wide variety of ways that don't involve farming. However, I do not know the effectiveness of these other acquisition methods or the amount of land involved. These plants also need to go through extensive processing steps which require a variety of chemicals. Every energy production method has some form of a trade off. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulosic_ethanol

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