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Future Energy Resources

Future Energy Resources

Isn't it wonderful when predictions come true? Our interests and imagination have been stirred by oral and written stories for centuries. From favourite science fiction shows based on reality like Star Trek to books like Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, which took inspiration from early submarine prototypes.

For most of us nowadays, the push of a button in the comfort of our homes is enough to ensure that gas can be ignited, electricity can circulate, freshwater can flow, and lights can come on. This comes from improved access to energy-dense resources. Various geographical areas may have more or less of one resource or accessibility to the resource.

The meaning of future energy resource

Future energy resources refer to those resources that may become widely available to use in the future, thanks to technological advancements or new scientific discoveries. Future energy resources will differ from today's due to several combined factors.

ReasonDetails

Availability shortage

New technologies are needed where the surface deposits of a resource have been depleted.

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the injection of high-pressure water and other chemicals into rocks to fracture them and allow for fossil fuel extraction.

New technologies

Improved health and environmental safety, as well as improved efficiency.

Improved filtration, separation membranes and solutions for (fossil) oil and gas processing.1

Environmental concerns

Biodiversity extinction rates directly indicate improper resource utilization practices.

Energy will be invested, by law, in biodiversity gain.

Public opinion and investments

The public is more aware of health, industry and environmental concern factors and invests in different sources of revenue.

National and international security

Threats to security may trigger additional energy needs.

Investment in planetary defence systems against asteroids.2

The types of future energy resources

Efforts are being made to build technology that allows us to harvest and store less dense energy forms, such as sunlight and wind. In this section, we will start with nuclear power, which is ever-present in future energy plans.

Nuclear

Nuclear energy is one of the densest energy forms that humanity is learning to handle. The nuclear technology of the future can be split into fission and fusion.

  • Nuclear fission, or the splitting of atoms, is the most common worldwide, but it may be less common in the future.

  • Nuclear fusion, or the fusion (combination) of atoms, yields more energy than fission, but it is still in testing.

  • New fission technologies include molten salt reactors, laser fusion which fuses atoms through a high-energy laser beam, and thorium or plutonium reactors.

  • New fusion technologies include toroidal reactors and laser fusion, which uses a laser beam to fuse hydrogen isotopes.

Renewable

Renewable energy resources were a popular energy choice before the 18th century. They became less common when technological advancements allowed for fossil fuel use.

Technologies of the future include:

  • Solar sails and solar photovoltaic panels, more of which may be made from perovskite or gallium arsenide, two materials that can replace silicone. Carbon nanotube materials for solar thermal energy are also expected. Moreover, solar panel fields may be converted into CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) systems that use mirrors to focus sun rays onto a single source.

    Solar panels can now be made transparent and used as windows.

  • Water wheels (low-head, for small-scale exploitation), Kaplan turbines or Gorlov helical turbines (different blade designs) will be able to rotate their blades in the direction in which the strongest currents flow to harness more kinetic energy.

    These hydroelectric power turbines may also change their shape or position to match times when the water table is lower or higher.

  • Wave energy and tidal power, used close to the seashore, harvest water's kinetic power. In the future, they may also be able to harvest energy from the changing temperature and salinity gradients that exist and mix in layers of seawater.3

    Tidal barrages and lagoons can also be built to amplify the effect of changing water levels.

  • Wind power is among the most flexible. Different blade shapes can be designed to increase speed, reduce turbulence and drag or ensure a smoother rotation (e.g. blade-tip fins, blade nacelles, helical vertical and horizontal wind turbine axes -VAWTs and HAWTs).

    Wind-assisted ships that require only one, or very few people, to operate them, will be more common in the future.

  • Biofuels can come from agricultural and supermarket food waste and dedicated plantations, such as the grass miscanthus. The biofuel of the future is often considered algae, as it generates methane and hydrogen when decomposing. Liquid (bioethanol), solid (humus) and gaseous (biogas) fuels can be obtained from biomass. All three can also be obtained from biodigesters, which use microorganisms to digest waste.

  • Geothermal energy is available only in specific locations that benefit from volcanic activity. Usually, it uses hot water and steam to power engines. In the future, it will be paired with liquids with low boiling points, such as butane, to generate electricity at lower overall temperatures.

Non-renewable

Coal, oil and gas will likely continue to be used in the future due to their high energy output when burned. However, their pollution capacity remains high, resulting in the release of heavy metals or greenhouse gases.

The combustion facilities of the near future need to capture such pollutants and emissions.

  • Coal: coal gasification and liquefaction are processes that convert coal into other usable forms of energy. Both techniques are more efficient than combustion.4

    • Coal gasification involves the partial combustion of coal to produce a gas that can be used for heating or power generation.

    • Liquefaction, on the other hand, entails the conversion of coal into a liquid fuel that can be used in transportation.

  • Oil: subsea production wells, tar sand and oil shale use, and drilling will be paired with highly efficient enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques. EOR techniques that will be improved upon include the following:

    • Primary oil recovery, pumping oil from the ground and separating it from the water and other impurities.

    • Secondary oil recovery, using water or chemicals to increase the flow of oil from the reservoir to the well.

    • Tertiary oil recovery, injecting steam or other fluids into the reservoir to heat the oil, so it flows more easily.5

  • Natural gas: enhanced gas recovery could be paired with fracking to capture gases more efficiently.

How to better extract the energy resources of the future?

  • Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) are controlled by a remote operator.
  • Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles (AUV) are autonomous, meaning they can operate independently.

Both are used in situations that are not safe or practical for humans.

Examples of future energy resources

The future of energy is ever-changing, making it difficult to forecast what energy sources will be used.

  • Molten salt reactors are improved fission technology designs that may serve us more widely as an energy resource. Salt or salt mixtures are used as a cooler and allow nuclear power to operate at higher temperatures than if cooled by water alone.

The Fuji Molten Salt Reactor, Japan.

  • Improved fusion technology may obtain energy from deuterium and tritium, which are isotopes ("species") of hydrogen.

Toroidal reactors, named so after the doughnut shape in which they keep plasma (the energy source) confined, are being tried in numerous places around the world, such as the UK (JET, Culham), France (the ITER megaproject in Provence), or USA (the San Diego tokamak).

Plasma inside a tokamak is made of extremely hot hydrogen that becomes electrically charged.

Strategies to secure future energy supplies

In recent years, efforts to improve access to electricity have made Earth's population (recorded by birth certificate) change in only 30 years from 70% to 90%.

Some strategies can still be employed to help secure future energy supplies.

  • Diversify energy sources using a mix of renewable (solar, tidal, wind, biomass) and non-renewable sources (oil).

    This helps to hedge against price fluctuations and supply disruptions.

  • Invest in energy efficiency. Transport, building and industrial energy conservation are paramount to a sustainable future of energy resource usage.

  • Building insulation with energy-efficient and cost-effective solutions (e.g. triple-glazing) or renewable materials with good thermal properties, such as straw, animal waste (dung) or a mix of plant fibres.

  • Vehicle design and choice of materials to help reduce weight and drag.

  • Heat recovery systems and passive ventilation.

  • Develop storage technologies that can store excess energy when demand is high. By employing these strategies, we can help ensure that future generations can access reliable and affordable energy supplies.

Research is ongoing into batteries made of diamond encasing that can function on radiation.6

  • Habitat conservation and enhancement ensure that natural cycles can continue producing energy sources usable by humans.

Examples include wood, peat and other biomass.

Peat needs a combination of factors to keep forming, such as a high water table (the water near the surface of the soil), waterlogged soils and specific vegetation (e.g. Sphagnum mosses). If drainage is built in peat habitats or trees are planted, the whole habitat degrades, and peat stops forming.

Issues with future energy resources

All activities, including the extraction, processing, transport, use and disposal of all resources and their technologies (e.g. the building of a wind turbine nacelle), leave an environmental footprint.

An environmental footprint measures the impact on the environment of all afferent activities of a group of people. It considers resource use, land, and the waste and pollution generated.

Polluters aren't widely held responsible for pollution damage. Will they be in the future? Greenhouse gas taxes are currently being implemented in European countries and the US, but some may not come into force until 2024.7 Will domestic consumers be equally impacted by the taxes?

Other risks include:

  • New energy resources that could be energy dense but difficult to handle, contain and transport.

Nuclear elements volatility and hydrogen gas permeability (it can pass through many materials and leak from tanks).

  • Habitat and geological damage.

Biodiversity life loss, earthquakes, etc.

  • "The quickest and cheapest option" decisions.

Reopening coal mines once gas and oil reserves are depleted.

Non-conventional energy resources

Some non-conventional energy resources are already being implemented.

Magnetic energy is promising, as a set of powerful magnets can both attract and repel. Magnetic energy will be instrumental in the transportation and building sectors. Magnetic fields already help toroidal reactors function.

The Maglev train transportation system uses electromagnets to "float" the train approximately 10 centimetres in the air. This elimination of friction allows countries which employ the system, such as Germany and Japan, to benefit from high-speed trains. We can essentially call this magnetic levitation. They are also less noisy!

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) could help reduce the carbon footprint of the extractive industries. Carbon mineralisation uses technology that captures air for its CO2 molecules and injects it into the ground to form rocks and minerals.

One example is "Orca", employed by Iceland, a technology which mimics the natural process of rock formation that would usually take hundreds of years.

Additionally, the widely available bio-batteries of the future should be able to harness the power of organic molecules, such as enzymes, sugars or bacteria, which could be contained in substances like tree sap or blood.8


We will always dream of tapping into energy sources and technologies that allow us to live and learn differently. Whatever their origins, we must ensure that they are ethical and do not cause environmental damage to the natural world or our built cities and landscapes.

Future Energy Resources - Key takeaways

  • Resource availability shortage, new technologies, environmental concerns, public opinion and investments, and national and international security are reasons why future energy supplies will differ from today.
  • Examples of future energy supplies currently employed but in testing include hydrogen for nuclear fission, electromagnetic transportation, and helical wind and water turbines.
  • Fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources will also likely remain an energy source.
  • Diversifying energy resources (rather than being dependent on fossil fuels), investing in energy efficiency, developing new storage abilities and conserving or enhancing natural habitats are among the preferred strategies to secure future energy supplies.
  • Risks of future energy resources include their availability, volatility, permeability and pollution capabilities.

References

  1. Zane Vorenberg, Argonne scientists create new oil-resistant filter technology, 2018
  2. Josh Handal, NASA’s DART Mission Hits Asteroid in First-Ever Planetary Defense Test, 2022
  3. UNFCCC, Wave of The Future, 2021
  4. civils360, Coal Gasification and Liquefaction, 2022
  5. rigzone, What Is EOR, and How Does It Work?, 2022
  6. Jennifer Johnson, FEATURE: Diamond batteries are forever, 2021
  7. Myles McCormick, The Inflation Reduction Act Applies the Polluter Pays Principal: Carbon Tax Will Accelerate Reduction of Methane Emissions, 2022
  8. University of East Anglia, Bio-batteries, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions about Future Energy Resources

Future energy resources are


Examples of future energy resources include


Possible challenges for future energy resources include resource scarcity, climate instability, highly risky nature of the new resources


The types of future energy resources are


Non-conventional energy resources are 

Final Future Energy Resources Quiz

Question

Hydroelectric power is the most commonly used source of renewable energy worldwide: true or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

What is hydroelectric power?

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Answer

Hydroelectric power is a form of electricity produced by converting the potential energy of fast-flowing water.

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Question

This type of hydroelectric power plant uses a series of canals to channel water towards turbines.

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Answer

Diversion facility

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Question

What is the powerhouse?

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Answer

The powerhouse is the structure housing turbines and generators in a hydroelectric power plant.

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Question

What role do generators play in hydroelectric power plants?

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Answer

Generators convert the mechanical energy of the turbines into electricity.

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Question

The larger the head, the less power the turbine can generate. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of these is not a valuable trait of helical turbines?

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Answer

They increase the size of the head

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Question

What type of power plant uses a dam to create a large head?

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Answer

Impoundment facility

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Question

What type of power plant stores renewable energy from other sources?

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Answer

Pumped storage facility

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Question

Which of these is not an advantage of hydroelectric power?

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Answer

Siltation

Show question

Question

How can operating a hydroelectric power plant affect a reservoir?

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Answer

Operating the plant can increase the temperature of the water.

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Question

Flooding is a byproduct of building a dam. What problems can this cause?

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Answer

Flooding can destroy wetland habitats, displace local residents and destroy farmland.

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Question

What is degassing?

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Answer

Degassing is the release of methane downstream through turbines. The methane is formed due to anoxic waters below the thermocline.

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Question

What are anoxic waters?

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Answer

Anoxic waters contain little to no oxygen.

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Question

Smaller heads provide minimal environmental impact: true or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

Define tides.

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Answer

Tides are the regular rise and fall of sea level caused by the gravitational pulls of the Moon and the Sun.

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Question

Define tidal power.

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Answer

Tidal power is a renewable source of energy produced by surging ocean waters during the rise and fall of tides.

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Question

Tidal energy is a form of what kind of energy?

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Answer

Tidal energy is a form of kinetic energy.

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Question

What is a turbine?

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Answer

A turbine is a series of blades mounted on a rotor shaft.

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Question

What is the role of a generator in a tidal power plant?

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Answer

The generator converts the kinetic energy of the rotor into electrical energy.

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Question

Water is denser than air - by how much?

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Answer

800 times

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Question

Define tidal stream.

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Answer

A tidal stream is a fast-flowing current created by tides. 

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Question

How does a tidal barrage work?

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Answer

The dam-like structure traps water at high tide. It is released at a controlled rate through turbines.

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Question

How does a tidal lagoon work?

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Answer

The body of water is partially enclosed. Trapped water is released through turbines.

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Question

Where are in-stream turbines most effective?

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Answer

In-stream turbines are most effective in shallow water.

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Question

What is the average lifespan of a tidal power plant?

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Answer

100 years

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Question

Tidal power has a lower energy density than most other forms of renewable energy.

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Answer

False

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Question

Define tidal range.

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Answer

Tidal range is the vertical difference between a high and a low tide in a given area.

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Question

What is the minimum tidal range required for a tidal power plant to be economically viable?

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Answer

The minimum tidal range required is ten feet.

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Question

What are some ecological problems caused by the construction of tidal power plants?

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Answer

Salinity changes

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Question

Define wind power.

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Answer

Wind power is power obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind.

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Question

Where are wind turbines often found?

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Answer

Wind turbines are often found in hilly areas, coastal regions and offshore.

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Question

What is a turbine?

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Answer

A turbine is a series of blades mounted on a rotor shaft.

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Question

What are some disadvantages of horizontal-axis wind turbines?

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Answer

Heavy

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Question

Where are vertical-axis wind turbines most suited?

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Answer

Residential areas

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Question

Vertical-axis wind turbines are omnidirectional. Why is this useful?

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Answer

These turbines don't need to be adjusted according to wind direction.

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Question

Rotor sails can reduce fuel consumption. But by how much?

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Answer

20%

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Question

Which of these is not an advantage of wind power?

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Answer

Reliability

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Question

What animals have been killed by turbines?

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Answer

Birds and bats have been killed by flying into turbine blades.

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Question

At what efficiency do wind turbines usually operate?

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Answer

Wind turbines operate between 40% and 50% efficiency.

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Question

How much of the UK's electricity comes from wind power?

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Answer

24% of the UK's electricity comes from wind power.

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Question

China has more offshore wind farms than any other country.

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Answer

False

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Question

What is the world's largest offshore wind farm called?

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Answer

The world's largest offshore wind farm is called Hornsea One.

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Question

What are some challenges presented by new wind propulsion systems?

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Answer

The sails are expensive and take up lots of space on deck. Ships cannot rely on wind propulsion alone.

Show question

Question

Which type of turbine face into the wind?

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Answer

Horizontal-axis wind turbines

Show question

Question

Define biofuel.

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Answer

A biofuel is a fuel derived from biomass.

Show question

Question

How is bioethanol made?

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Answer

Bioethanol is made by fermenting starch or sugar.

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Question

What plants are commonly used to make biodiesel?

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Answer

Soybean and oil palm are commonly used to make biodiesel.

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a component of lignocellulose?

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Answer

Cellulose

Show question

Question

What is the gas released when manure is burned?

Show answer

Answer

Methane is released when manure is burned.

Show question

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