“Why does petrol contaminate cars and planes?” Asks Pauline (8 years old).

Petroleum is obtained by separating the petroleum components from a specialized plant called a refinery. Gasoline mixed with air is a combustible and explosive product that makes it possible to run car or aircraft engines. The explosion is controlled and it allows the engine parts to move the wheels of the car. For planes, we use a special gasoline called kerosene which does not freeze even if it is very cold at high altitudes.

Even though petrol is dangerous, we rarely break down and everything usually works very well. But there is a problem: air pollution. When you burn gasoline or kerosene, the engine releases carbon dioxide (which you often hear about CO₂) and products that do not burn well. And there, it gets complicated, because air pollution disrupts the climate with more heat, more droughts and floods and causes more diseases …

We know what goes into an engine: air and fuel. We know what happens there: activating the combustion engine makes it possible to move the car or aircraft forward. But what comes out of the exhaust pipe or furnace?

Problem 1: Carbon Dioxide (CO₂)

Enables combustion of oxygen (O) in the air. It then converts to carbon dioxide which combines 1 carbon atom and 2 oxygen atoms (CO₂). However, CO₂ is a greenhouse gas. It retains heat in the atmosphere. The more there is, the hotter the earth will be. And precisely, its amount increases at full speed. We didn’t find much in the atmosphere!

Earth’s surface temperature changes over 2000 years – R. Woessner? Modified from IPCC 2021 report (via conversation)

The second problem: particles that did not burn

After all, there are also emissions of other molecules that are good to avoid breathing. The best of them is less than 10 microns; We then speak of ultra-fine particles (UFP). 1 micron is a thousand times smaller than a millimeter! UFPs can stay out of the lungs without coming out. Also, molecules can be attached to each other, for example with pollen or dust in the air we breathe. All of these can be the cause of many diseases… it is in our best interest to stay away from airports and high-traffic roads.

How to eliminate petrol pollution?

The best solution is to eliminate gasoline … “I imagine workers are plugging in thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up,” said Joe Biden, president of the United States. Yes, but when will we do it? Most carmakers have announced that they will switch to all-electric between 2030 and 2050. Airbus announced its first hydrogen-electric plane in 2035.

Amazon rainforest from the sky
Sky to Amazon Rainforest – Blue Palmer – CIAT / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

We can also tinker by saying that if we have more forests, the trees will capture CO₂ to increase carbon and release oxygen. Magician! But alas, forests are being cleared all over the world. Today, even Amazon emits more CO₂ than it absorbs because we replace it with fields after burning the forest.

There is another concept with biofuels: we grow plants that are converted to fuel. When we burn it, we still release the pollution, but the trees below catch the carbon in the air. And so there is a fuel / pollution / pollution capture / fuel cycle and so on. Then we limit the damage. But the problem is: where do we get enough fields for humans and farm animals when we need them?

Inevitably, one day there will be no more oil or gas because these are natural reserves that will eventually run out. We have fought for oil and gas and we continue to do so. So, you can start with other solutions, even if it is complicated and it is going to be expensive!

This analysis was written by Raymond Weisner, a respected professor of geography at the University of Sorbonne.
The original article was published on the site Conversation.

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