Coal is probably the oldest source of fuel in the world, and it is likewise the least costly amongst its alternatives. It is also one of the top contributors of green house gases and pollution. In fact, mining methods used to extract coal such as strip mining contribute to soil erosion, leaving the land useless for vegetation to grow.
Take the Philippines for example. 27% of the energy requirements of the country comes from coal. An alarming 10.1mln metric tons were used up based on 2005 data; 7.3 mln metric tons of this amount are imported, and the rest are sourced from local producers.
A need for a viable alternative for coal as an energy source, given the damaging effects it contributes to the environment. This alternative should convert already existing carbon deposits into the atmosphere in the form of CO2 and convert these deposits into bio mass. Luckily, an opportunity for further research lies in the unassuming water fern Azolla. This plant doubles its bio mass every 2 to 3 days which makes the supply very easy to replenish. Moreover, it can grow in ponds and rice paddies. Makes you think -- maybe there is hope for the world. =)
There are a few ways how to turn azolla into fuel.
Method 1: Simply dry the Azolla and burn it as fuel in a coal fired power plant. The problem with this method is that if Azolla were grown near mines or mine tailings it absorbs heavy metals which woulb be released in the atmosphere upon being burned. One way of remedying this is to have chimneys lined with calcium carbonate. Calcium atoms readily swap places with heavy metals which means little or no heavy metal in the exhaust.
Method2: Enclose the Azolla in air tight container and allow it to decay the resulting product would be methane. Methane is highly combustible it is also the main component of natural gas which is also being used in some power plants. Problem is it can be a long process to allow it to decay and the holding tanks would cost money unlike simply drying it under the sun. To shorten the ethane conversion process you could put more bacteria in it or some enzyme that hastens decomposition. Resulting product would be methane and organic fertilizer.
Method3: Azolla bio-diesel. Being an aquatic plant Azolla evolved to be rich in fatty acids and oils to prevent it from taking in too much water, making it a candidate as a biodiesel. With current technologies though, it would be more expensive to extract biodiesel than to just extract fossil fuel diesel. I would stick with methods 1 and 2 which looks more promising.
By using Azolla in a tropical country filled with wetlands the government has a higher chance of saving on their energy needs. Less electricity cost for the consumers and also environment friendly.
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