Renewable, sustainable solutions to energy crisis

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God has blessed Pakistan with diverse climatic conditions, natural resources and unique flora and fauna. It is the sixth most populous country of the world with a high number of available manpower. Flora of Pakistan is rich with more than 6000 higher plant species; of which more than 600 plant species are highly medicinal. Pakistan is ranked 7th in the world and 1st in Asia for possessing lignitic coal reserves. It has the worlds best canal system and more than 34.09 per cent of the total land is used for agriculture purposes. The soil, topography and climate are suitable for the year round agriculture.

A stable and self-sufficient Pakistan is the key to maintain harmony and facilitate progress in South Asia. However, Pakistan is these days facing energy crisis because of the huge gap between electricity generation and demand which is roughly more than 4000 MW. Therefore, to build a stable and more prosperous economy, Pakistan needs to overcome its energy problems. Currently, the country is producing electricity from fossil fuels, hydroelectric sources and nuclear energy with a small quantity from solar and wind resources. However, the problem of electricity shortfall is increasing day by day. Now the question is that how Pakistan can sustainably address the power crisis? For this we have to improve the efficiency of our electricity sector and have to expand and diversify electricity generating capacity.

Principles of biology and chemistry are applied worldwide for solving energy problems. Various types of biological resources are exploited for generation of power. Industrial bio-energy, nuclear energy, geo-engineering and related technologies like genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and synthetic biology are viable options.

Biodiesel is renewable and alternative fuel to petroleum diesel and is produced from vegetable oil or animal fats. The production of biodiesel from vegetable oil is cost effective because of its extensive utilization in food production. These concerns have increased the interest in developing second generation biofuels produced from non-food feed stocks such as microalgae, which potentially offer greatest opportunities in the longer term. The micro-algae have the potential to harvest solar radiations and produce sufficient quantity of vegetable oil which can be converted to biodiesel. Algal biodiesel is a feasible option for establishment of biodiesel industry in developing countries because the biomass yields per acre of algae are significantly greater than other feed stocks, leading to larger oil yields.

Bio-oil is a special type of oil which is made through a fast pyrolysis process. In the process of production, wood is heated, breaks down into various flammable gases and charcoal in the absence of oxygen. The resulting vapors are condensed to form the bio-oil. Bio-oil is a light brown, free-flowing liquid that has roughly the same fuel value as ethanol. It can be used for power generation and heating using traditional equipment with minor modifications.

Ethanol is another type of biofuel which is usually produced through the process of fermentation from various sources such as corn, sugarcane, or grasses. Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel produced from wood, grasses, or the inedible parts of plants. Cellulosic material like wheat, maize and rice straw and flax stems etc can be easily available with production of reasonable amounts of ethanol without compromising on food materials.Biogas is another suitable option which can help in overcoming the current energy problems prevailing in country. Biogas is composed of methane (natural gas) and carbon dioxide and is generated from waste materials like green waste, cattle manure, municipal waste, residue of crops etc. Biogas production is very economical because the raw material is easily available which is almost free, byproducts of the process are rich in nitrogenous and organic matters and can be used as organic fertilizers.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field of science which deals with the designing and construction of biological devices and systems for useful purposes. In this technology, enzymatic machinery is borrowed from one cell type into another, thereby combining critical pathways from species of different origins to create novel metabolic network and produce molecules of choice. Professor John Love and his team at University of Exeter UK have engineered a bacterium Escherichia coli (E.coli) which convert sugars into an oil that is almost identical to conventional diesel.

The other sources of renewable energy include solar, hydro, geothermal and wind power. Exploration of these resources for power generation will be helping the government in solving the current energy crisis in the country. Introduction and exploration of genetically modified crops like canola, corn, soybean etc will also be helpful in commercialization of biofuel in the country. However, biosafety assessment of GMOs prior to cultivation in farmer field is necessary.

The successful establishment of the above-mentioned technologies in Pakistan is possible through collaboration between scientists from many disciplines, with expertise ranging from molecular biology to mathematical analysis and engineering. Higher Education Commission of Pakistan can provide the platform for researchers working in universities and other research institutes and connecting them with the industry. Availability of biogas plants, solar panels and biodiesel production kits to public by government on subsidized rates will help in solving the prevailing energy crisis.

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Published in: Volume 05 Issue 34

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