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Environmental Science Paper

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Using Waste for Energy One of the most important environmental issues faced by our generation, as well as future generations, is without doubt energy. This is of major concern because we are using up our nonrenewable sources at a much faster rate than they are being replenished, but at the same time we have yet to perfect ways to completely replace nonrenewable energy with renewable energy. The article “Could Generating Energy from Waste be the Answer?” explains how researchers at Teesside University have discovered a way to produce biofuels using waste. I personally found this article interesting because it gave me new hope and insight into producing energy from sources I hadn’t previously given much thought to. Biofuels are a great source of renewable energy because they do not create harmful environmental by-products like other fuels. However, according to Dr. Komang Ralebitso-Senior, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Teesside University, they create what she calls a food-fuel conflict. As Ralebitso-Senior expresses, biofuels “can encourage farmers to grow energy crops at the expense of badly-needed food, particularly in poorer countries in the world” (par. 2). Farmers often make more money growing crops to use for biofuels rather than food. This can cause a problem because as crops grown for food decline the prices to purchase them increase. Before reading this article, I had never given much thought to how producing crops, such as corn, for fuel cuts back on what we as consumers are able to buy at the grocery store. However, this makes sense and although I think it’s great to use these crops for fuel, I can see how it creates a problem as far as food shortages are concerned, particularly in underdeveloped countries. Fortunately, Dr. Ralebitso-Senior and her researchers are discovering new ways to use waste, such as domestic refuse and sewer sludge, to produce energy through the process of anaerobic digestion, which “uses naturally-occurring micro-organisms to break down waste in closed vessels” (par. 5). Although anaerobic digestion is currently being used by some waste-to-energy companies, Ralebitso-Senior claims that there is still a lot to be learned about this process. According to her, anaerobic digestion is not being utilized to its full potential, something she hopes to change as her research continues. Although I am hopeful that she and other researchers will continue to develop better ways of using anaerobic digestion to transform waste into energy, I know it will most likely take years of investigation to fully understand and utilize this process. Another point the article made that I agreed with was that if we are using waste to produce energy, than there will be less waste in landfills. Ralebitso-Senior states that “the refuse from which the biogas is produced would have ended up in landfill, with possible damage to the environment…” (par. 10). I think this is great news because not only would this energy source be truly sustainable, but it also has the added benefit of reducing the amount of waste and damage to the environment. Overall, I believe that Ralebitso-Senior sums it up best when she says that "the value of biofuels is their potential to be sustainable, providing a good balance between the environment, the economy and society” (par. 11). I could not agree more with this statement as I believe it acknowledges what producing biofuels is really all about. Although I am certain she and her researchers have a long road ahead of themselves, after reading the article I am also very hopeful that someday they will fully understand the process of converting waste into energy.

Works Cited
University of Teesside. "Could Generating Energy from Waste Be the Answer?." ScienceDaily 31 January 2010. 17 March 2010 <http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/01/100125150645.htm>.

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