My mother grew up in rural North Dakota, before electricity was in the area. The stove was heated with wood, they hand-pumped their water, a creek supplied water for the cattle, and my grandfather plowed the fields with Clydesdales. By the time my mother left for college, everything had changed. The house had been fully converted to electric and indoor plumbing, the cattle had water pumped to their trough, and my grandfather plowed the fields with a gas-powered tractor.
Back then everyone was busy changing to electricity and gas-powered motors. Now there's a big push changing away from electricity and fossil fuels. What's old is new again. And the problem behind this change is, nothing does the job as well as oil. Wind doesn't blow consistently hard. Sun doesn't shine consistently strong. Other bio-stuff just isn't as efficient.
But yet we try. There's an ongoing flurry of research around the world, as the paper industry and industries at large try to determine what reduces oil usage the most. The results to date: there are currently three areas in active use in the paper industry that are working, or that hold definite promise.
- In mills in Finland and Sweden, biomass is partially replacing fossil fuels, thus reducing CO2 emissions. - Much of their biomass comes from waste which is converted via anerobic digestion. And there's plenty of that to go around.
- Another company based in Finland and Germany switched to electric boilers, thus reducing CO2 emissions by an estimated 50,000 tons per year. There was, however, no mention of how the electricity was produced - although in Europe electricity, I believe, is not typically from coal or natural gas as it is here in the United States.
(Before switching to electric anything, it's important to understand the source of your electricity, otherwise you have the potential for not solving any problems if that electricity is made using fossil fuels.)
- Lastly, hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks are getting closer to becoming a reality. Hydrogen has the advantage of having been studied in just under 100 studies for ten years. We even have come far enough to have plenty of policies on these trucks, including fuel cell and storage tank applications. More research is needed for hydrogen fuel cell heavy-duty trucks, but keep your eyes out for this one.
Changes are coming. Hopefully all this research will sort out good alternatives in time. While the researchers do their researching, and as the struggle for efficiency and source consistency continues, it's good to know that some things are actually working. Stay tuned.