Alternative fuel systems is a fancy way to say that something uses something different than coal or petroleum or natural gas, the fossil fuels, to produce energy. It can refer to solar energy, wind, hydroelectric, or biomass fuels. The most important to consider over the long term is the use of biomass and alternative fuel systems.
Biomass refers to the vast amount of waste matter that is composed of parts from living or recently dead organisms. A dead tree, fallen leaves, animal byproducts and dung are all forms of biomass. All of these can be used to produce alternative fuels that can replace coal and other fossil fuels for producing energy.
Boilers and furnaces that have relied on coal as fuel in the past can now burn briquettes of compress biomass that hold as much energy as the coal that they normally require. Methane gas, also known as swamp gas or landfill gas, can be used in place of natural gas or LP gas as a source of heat. Cars and trucks that run on petroleum based fuels such as gas and diesel can be run using biodiesel and alcohol that are produced from biomass.
In many cases, the conversion of boilers and engines to make use of these alternative fuels is a relatively minor adjustment and the results are reliable sources of energy and less pollution in the atmosphere. Some systems that rely on fossil fuels at the moment would take a major overhaul to be able to accept these alternative fuels, but the expense of conversion would be well worth it in the long term.
One of the biggest problems facing biomass proponents is that it is, in its raw state, not very economical to use as a fuel and burning it poses the risk of releasing a greater amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the carbon cycle can process in a timely manner, which could lead to added global warming.
In order to be useful as a major source of energy, biomass must be processed in such a manner as to convert as much as possible to either an alcohol or to methane gas. This requires the addition of energy to the biomass, which yields a net decrease in the amount of energy that is gained from using biomass. This dilemma is overcome by processing it in large quantities at a mass processing plant instead of dealing with small quantities.
When compared to the fossil fuels that are being used today, biomass shows the greatest potential for providing a replacement. There are still some issues that must be overcome before changing completely over to biomass fuels as an alternative fuel system, but changes are being made in the way power plants and engines are built that make it easier to accommodate biomass fuels.
Biomass and alternative fuel systems are growing in popularity as potential replacements for the fossil fuels in use today. As a renewable resource, biomass shows a great deal of promise and has many benefits. There are some drawbacks, but knowing them now makes all plans for using biomass much more realistic than original thoughts on fossil fuels at the time of the industrial revolution.