Professor Alisha A. Etheredge, MS
Introduction to Physical Science
January 27, 2013
Energy is defined as the ability to do work. The energy an object has because of its position is called potential energy, and objects in motion have kinetic energy. Energy can also be categorized into five forms. Mechanical energy is that of familiar objects and machines. Chemical energy is the energy involved in chemical reactions. Radiant energy travels through space. Electrical energy comes from electromagnetic interactions. Nuclear energy is from the nucleus of an atom. Any of these forms of energy can be converted to another. For instance, an iPhone converts electrical energy into radiant energy on the screen. A solar panel converts radiant energy into electrical energy. A car converts electrical energy into mechanical energy. Energy can be transferred and it can be converted, but according to the law of conservation of energy: “Energy is never created or destroyed. Energy can be converted from one form to another but the total energy remains constant.” (Tillery, Enger, & Ross, 2009) Fossil fuels, such as petroleum, natural gas and coal, are the stored radiant energy formed from the remains of organisms that lived millions of years ago. These fuels are collected right out of the ground. Coal has been used as a source of heat in homes since the 1500s replacing low-energy wood. Natural gas was first used by the Chinese to make salt, then in t he early 1800s it was used in Europe and the US as lighting fuel. Petroleum was first used as lighting oil until the internal combustion engine was invented and propelled petroleum into the role it still plays today. Fossil fuels are inexpensive and readily available and very little refinement is needed to prepare them for use which makes them an attractive source of energy. Although not as widely used there are alternatives to fossil fuels. One example is biomass. “Biomass is any material formed by photosynthesis, including small plants, trees, and crops, and any garbage, crop residue, or animal waste. Biomass can be burned directly as a fuel, converted into a gas fuel (methane), or converted into liquid fuels such as alcohol.” (Tillery, Enger, & Ross, 2009) There are quite a few problems with this form of fuel. Right now there is a corn-based biofuel (ethanol) that is sold as an alternative to petroleum gasoline. “The Energy Independence and Security Act requires that 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based biofuel (ethanol) be produced in 2012, consuming 4.3 billion bushels of corn—almost 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop.” (Fossil Fuels) The biomass fuels require gathering the biomass then converting it to the gaseous or liquid fuel state. Not every vehicle can run on it either. If your car runs on petroleum you can use ethanol mixed with the petrol, but do not use the biodiesel. It will destroy your engine. Another alternative for fossil fuels is wind power. I lived in California for four years and while there drove past the fields of wind turbines. It is an awesome sight, yet, unfortunately wind power hasn’t been productive enough.