Why is switching from fossil fuels to renewable fuels better for the environment if your still burning something?


The renewable fuels I’m thinking of are bio diesel and ethanol, not wind or solar.

In: Chemistry

Fossil fuels need to be burned to release their energy and then produce their undesired byproducts as a side effect of being burned. Renewables include examples like wind, solar, water etc. Their energy is captured and then used. There is no burning or byproducts from releasing that captured or stored energy. I know there’s folks that can explain it better but that’s the basics.

When you burn fossil fuels you are reintroducing carbon long removed from the environment. We evolved in this lower carbon environment and Earth has adapted to it. By reintroducing it, you increase the amount of carbon, vs Biofuels which just burn the carbon that currently exists in the environment.

Worth adding that biofuels aren’t “clean”. Just significantly less problematic.

Edit: To clarify a bit. The existing carbon wouldn’t always naturally get added to the atmosphere. The carbon in a plant might be consumed by an animal and added to that animal. I’m just keeping it simple.

Burning wood that grew recently is just cycling the carbon that was taken in by the tree as it grew. Unless you can stop that wood decaying, e.g. by carbonisation, it’s a going to get back into the atmosphere sooner or later. Fossil carbon was taken out of the atmosphere aeons ago, putting it back now will increase the total at present.

However, it’s still better to use energy from other sources like wind and hydroelectric, etc. Then grow trees to sequester carbon. But you have to keep it trapped, for ever!