Podcast

Robert Rapier: The Scientific Challenges to Replacing Oil with Renewables

Saturday, November 26, 2011, 12:22 PM

So, assuming the Peak Oil camp is on to something, what's the likelihood for a disruption-free transition to another energy source that can replace the energy output we currently enjoy from oil? There's no shortage of promising claims from new laboratory experiments, and there is a lot of optimism in political and entrepreneurial circles that renewable, alternative forms of energy (wind, solar, biofuels, etc.) may be able to fill the "energy gap" in time. How realistic are these hopes?

Not very, says Robert Rapier, energy specialist and Chief Technology Officer of Merica International.

The problem is one of return on invested energy. It is extremely difficult to create fuels with the same energy density that Nature has concocted over thousands of millennia without using up as much (or more) energy in the process.

When you think about what oil is, then you understand why these biofuels companies have a tough time of making it work. I mean, oil is accumulation of millions of years of biomass that has accumulated. Nature has applied the pressure, it’s applied the heat, and it has cooked these into very energy-dense hydrocarbons. Now what we are trying to do in real time is speed all this up. Somebody has to plant the biomass, somebody has to grow the biomass where nature did it in the first place. We have to transport it, we have to bring it into a factory, we have to get it in that form, we have to convert it from biomass into some fuel. We are adding energy and labor inputs all along and then finally we get a fuel out of the back end.

A lot of the time, a lot of these so-called "biofuels" are very heavily dependent on fossil fuels to begin with. So for some of them it is not even clear that they would be viable if you took the fossil fuels out of the process. When you think about all the labor and energy that goes into making a biofuel from an annual crop it becomes apparent why oil has been the dominant fuel for the last 150 years. It is much easier to go poke a hole in the ground and get that oil out of the ground than it is to go through all the labor of actually producing the fuel. So companies are competing against that.     

On top of this, false hope and confusion is frequently created in the marketplace by new companies announcing "breakthroughs" that may indeed work in optimal laboratory environments, but just simply don't under real-world conditions, at scale:

The scale-up issue is the most important issue, because in my experience, most technologies get wiped out as they go up in scale. So something you may be able to do in a lab, 90% of those lab ideas don’t work, and only 10% will go on to make a pilot plan. And for lab experiments there are going to be all kinds of things: your catalyst didn’t work; your actual process didn’t work....

Let’s say your process did work in a lab. In the lab you are doing all kinds of things that are different than what you would do at a larger scale. Your waste products may not be a problem, you may have a small amount of bi-product that can be thrown away. Lab equipment is smaller and so the heat transfer in that lab equipment is very different than it is as you scale up. The example I give a lot is: think of a turkey. We are coming up on Thanksgiving. If you are cooking one turkey and you imagine an oven with the heating elements on the sides, that is simply one factor, and not everybody gets that right; the turkey is too dry, it’s overdone, it’s not cooked enough. Now imagine taking that turkey and scaling it up to cook, say, 1,000 turkeys an hour. You can imagine that the issues there are very, very different than they would be in a smaller oven. You maybe have turkeys in the middle that would still be cold while the turkeys on the outside are burnt to a crisp. So you are trying to get an even heating distribution across this larger oven, and it is the same as a reactor. As the reactor goes from lab scale up to larger scale, as you get heat differences and temperature differences inside that reactor you can make different products, different byproducts, more things that you didn’t want to make, or not as much of the thing that you did want to make.

And some companies will skip those steps. As you skip the steps, if you think about it – most technologies get knocked out at each step. So normally a company would go from lab scale to pilot scale to demonstration scale to a commercial scale. If somebody is jumping over steps they are greatly reducing the risk or their chance of success...

That will be the case with most of the biofuel companies out there making promises. They get out there; they will build their pilot plant. They will discover that things don’t work as they thought they would and then they will close down.     

While it is critical we invest our current resources to finding solutions to the approaching energy gap, it's also essential we approach the situation realistically and with as little magical thinking as possible. Currently, the U.S. is consuming 10 million barrels per day more than it produces domestically. For perspective, our best ethanol refineries can produce around 4,000 barrels per day (at a much lower EROEI). And if we decided tomorrow to begin converting our transportation fleet to full-electric vehicles (i.e. away from liquid fuels), it would realistically take somewhere between 30-50 years to fully build out the infrastructure and retire the combustion-engine vehicles. The short of it is there is going to be no single fuel source that replaces oil, and the transition to a post-Peak-Oil future is going to involve a period of "less energy" for society for an undetermined period of time.

I think that we hope and we believe that our energy predicament can be solved by technology. We have seen technological advancement in so many different fields and we expect this is what we are going to see in the energy field. If you look at where computers have come over the last 30 years we expect that to happen with our energy production that the whole society is going to be running off of solar and wind power going forward. I sometimes say there is not always a neat solution to every problem. We have still got the common cold. It is still with us. That has not been cured despite it being around forever. So not all problems can be solved easily. And the energy problem is one that is not going to be solved easily in my opinion. Our society has grown up on something that was rich, abundant, and pretty easy to get to. We are trying to replace that with something that the energy required to get it and process it and produce it is a lot higher than the energy required to process oil. 

There is not going to be one thing that replaces oil. I think there are going to be a lot of different things, and, more importantly, I think it is going to take a lot less oil than we are using now. The good news is we have dropped a million and a half barrels a day over the last five years. The bad news is a lot of that is because of the recession; it shows we do have some capacity to reduce our oil consumption. There is still a lot of low hanging fruit in my view. It is going to be painful as we scale down and some of the alternatives are going to have to meet somewhere -- at some level higher than they are today and at some level of oil consumption lower than we are today -- those will have to meet. 

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Robert Rapier (runtime 52m:46s): 

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Robert Rapier has been devoted to energy issues and has worked on cellulosic ethanol, butanol production, oil refining, natural gas production, and gas-to-liquids (GTL). He grew up in Oklahoma, and received his Master’s in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University.

He is presently the Chief Technology Officer for Merica International, a renewable energy company. Merica is involved in a wide variety of projects, with a core focus on the localized use of biomass to energy for the benefit of local populations.

Robert is also the proprietor of the blog R-Squared, which fosters open discussions of Energy and the Environment.


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KugsCheese's picture
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Craig Venter - Synthetic Crude Generators

youtu.be/Jc7N7554M2o

Craig Venter on using synthetic algae-like organism to make crude oil.  He proposes capturing CO2 to feed the organism in the massive grids.  (4) plants could supply all oil the US needs per his calculations.

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 Great! Let us know when

Great!

Let us know when he's out of the lab and into his first demonstration project.  Then when the pilot plant starts.  Then commercial-scale.

:)

That's the entire point of this podcast...there are so many great sounding ideas, many from visionaries,..but nothing yet running at scale.  Why is that?

Robert explains all in this podcast.

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The answer is in the numbers.

You can't answer this question without knowing the numbers. These are here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubic_mile_of_oil

I suggest you buy the book referenced in the site. Here are the short answers:

1) What's the likelihood for a disruption-free transition to another energy source that can replace the energy output we currently enjoy from oil? 

Short Answer: Slim to none.

Longer Answer: World supply chains for goods and services are dependent on money, oil and each other. Cheap transportation for physical goods, worldwide is critically dependent on ONE power source (i.e. cheap oil). Even continued oil production depends on cheap oil. When oil gets too expensive or too scarce or returns too little energy, these supply chains will break. This break may be "permanent" from the point of view of anyone living today.

2) Is this solvable?

Short Answer: Yes

Longer Answer: It won't be solved by purely capitalist societies. Purely capitalist entities like corporations act a lot like bacteria colonies. They respond to the immediate monetary environment (which you need) but often don't think ahead very far, or very well (Lehmans, AIG, Enron). That's what governments are for. China, for all it's horrendous flaws and faults is in a better position to address this because they can override short-term economic needs for long term gain. A system of purely electric trains that run on hydropower might not make economic sense right now, but will serve admirably in a situation in which petroleum is no longer viable as a fuel source.

3) Will it be solved?

Short Answer: Yes

Longer Answer: It will be "solved" by our using much less energy as a culture and individuals. We have about 20-40 years left of economically viable oil, depending on how enthusiastic we are in warfare and how much "technically" recoverable oil is actually recoverable with a positive energy return. There are lots of different energy technologies around, but none that scale with positive energy return (Algae, for example, is simply an inefficient solar collector with a direct chemical output as are solar hydrogen generators). We'll use algae, biofuel, and anything else we can, of course, but all of it, taken together won't run a civilization like the one we have now. 

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cmartenson

cmartenson wrote:

Great!

Let us know when he's out of the lab and into his first demonstration project.  Then when the pilot plant starts.  Then commercial-scale.

:)

That's the entire point of this podcast...there are so many great sounding ideas, many from visionaries,..but nothing yet running at scale.  Why is that?

Robert explains all in this podcast.

Mr Venter addresses the scalability problem in his talk.   He originally tried to find a gem species of algae with the help of Exxon, but it did not turn up.   So he proposes inventing it from scratch since it is now known how algae mechanics work and, hence, he believes they can be optimized. 

Mr. Venter left the NIH because the vested interests (scientists wanted slow money spread far and wide) did not support his radical idea on how to decode the human genome.   The company Celera actually decoded the genome far before NIH, but he decided to co-announce since he wanted to maintain good relationships with the community.

I wonder if he is up against the same forces again...and a banking problem to boot.

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Ventner is up against physics

Algae and bacteria have to get energy from somewhere to convert. This makes them either direct solar energy converters or indirect solar energy converters with even worse efficiency. The nice thing about algae is that you get a direct chemical fuel as your output, which mitigates the efficiency problem to some degree. Still, there's only so much sunlight on earth, and any sun you use to get power is sunlight that isn't growing food or supporting a natural ecology. If you were to go that route, you'd do better to use solar electricity directly.

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  Very good analysis.

Very good analysis. I find it somewhat interesting, as mentioned in the interview, that there is so much hype and enthusiasm around potential alternative technologies that really, if you do a quick overall energy analysis, can be quickly dismissed right from the get go as being unfeasible. As explained so well above, biofuels simply cannot offer a solution to our energy problems -- because the energy just isn't there! And this will become even more acute with increasing demands for food from the growing global population hitting the wall of ecological degradation and decreased per hectare productivity as fossil fuel inputs to agriculture diminish. And then there is the fabled "hydrogen highway" that could have been, and was, discounted by analysts right from day 1 as not being feasible. Yet the media laps up the hype.

Now, contrast this with the "hype" surrounding electric cars. Not only have there been tens of thousands manufactured and sold in the last year or so, but they are almost cost competitive, and if you factor in where oil prices are likely going in the next 10 years, they probably already are. Imagine that, a brand new product that has never been offered before on a mass scale, that is cost competitive in its first year of availability! That is unheard of! How many readers have driven an EV? They are a dream, they are so much fun, and they are more powerful than their ICE siblings, believe it or not. Every criticism you hear about EV's is basically false, and even the range limitation won't be an issue soon with a network of high capacity 1/2 hour charging stations being built all over the place.

Again, where is the hype? I hear more negative sentiment in the media than positive. It makes no sense. What is going on here? There are two issues at play here I think: Firstly, I think people tend to fall into two camps with regards to the energy problems we face. We either latch on to fantastical promises of unproven technology and dream our lives away in anticipation of future miracles, or alternatively we spend our time focusing on all the solutions that won't work. The obvious solutions that are sitting right in front of us aren't given the attention they deserve, because one group is an unrealistic dreamer and the other group is a pessimist.

We have the solution staring us in the face, and overall we are largely ignoring it. The other factor I think is that there are powerful forces behind the media trying to stymy the transition to electric vehicles, for obvious reasons. Call it a conspiracy theiry if you want, but there is ample evidence showing that Big Oil has some very dirty hands in its involvement with suppressing EV's. I am actually surprised that Nissan hasn't been somehow aggressively taken over by Texaco, and its EV program killed.

With Peak Oil and the limitations of biofuels, liquid fuels are dead! The only solution for mass transportation beyond bicycles and donkeys is electric transportation. So why are we beating around the bush? If it's the only solution, and if Peak Oil lasts say 10-15 years, then that does provide us with the opportunity to transition a significant portion of our infrastructure over. But as dicussed in the interview, politics being what it is, especially with the influence of big industry at the upper levels throwing wrenches into the spokes, we will not get that coordination unfortunately. But I think the various Peak Oil bloggers really could go a long way by openly supporitng this inevitable and essential transition. I am wondering when we can expect an article on CM.com about electric cars and the opportunities they present?

And the issue with solar panels is not their low EROEI -- at around 10:1 they are actually higher than many alternative oil sources -- but that it takes a few decades for that net energy to be realized. As explained in the interview, this presents a problem because in these highly volatile and uncertain economic times, investors just aren't willing to put up the money. So then, again, the problem is not technical; it is political. A solar panel returning 15% energy from sunshine is phenominally efficeint if you compare it to biofuels which are probably down around 0.1% efficient, and even to fossil fuels which had billions of years to accumulate all that solar energy. Yes, there are obvioulsy lots of problems with ramping up solar panel production but the fundamental advantage of solar energy, either though PV or solar thermal, is that the enery is indeed there for the taking, whereas with biofuels, it just isn't there, so why are we wasting our efforts and time?

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MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

MrColdWaterOfRealityMan wrote:

Algae and bacteria have to get energy from somewhere to convert. This makes them either direct solar energy converters or indirect solar energy converters with even worse efficiency. The nice thing about algae is that you get a direct chemical fuel as your output, which mitigates the efficiency problem to some degree. Still, there's only so much sunlight on earth, and any sun you use to get power is sunlight that isn't growing food or supporting a natural ecology. If you were to go that route, you'd do better to use solar electricity directly.

Venter states (see minute 14 min to about 18 min) that by reducing and optimizing the sunlight receptors, output of lipids shot up (not what one would expect).   Venter dismisses Biofuels as well; he is talking about producing crude oil.  I am missing your point on solar panels vs synthetic lipid generator arrays.   Both would occupy space on the earth and the scale/efficiency Venter is talking about would have less impact on land per unit output.   Of course, it is still theorical, but he is no dummy.

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it's about storing energy or

it's about storing energy or making appliances that work directly off of solar and chilling at night.

i use this example to understand the concept.

i have a small well insulated house that takes 3 cords of wood to heat in a michigan winter.

that's the equivilent of an oak tree that has taken 60 years to grow.

so i use up in one 6 month period what takes nature 60 years to make.

most people don't comprehend how much energy is in one gallon of gasoline.

a whole tree is stored solar energy, as is oil.

we need to pace our useage.

and probably the rich will have lawnmowers and the poor won't.

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four plants hey........

KugsCheese wrote:

youtu.be/Jc7N7554M2o

Craig Venter on using synthetic algae-like organism to make crude oil.  He proposes capturing CO2 to feed the organism in the massive grids.  (4) plants could supply all oil the US needs per his calculations.

I'd like to see that.....  four plants, each producing 5 million barrels of oil a day (6% of the global output!) or nearly 58 barrels PER SECOND!

There's gonna be some really hectic tanker queues methinks!

Mike

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My point is that this makes no sense.

" By reducing output of sunlight, lipids shot up... "OK, the energy still has to come from somewhere. In algae, the energy source is the sun. There's no magic. If lipid production increased with decreased sunlight, the energy density of the lipids decreased per volume. Total energy out = solar plus what the algae eats. You could possibly develop algae that ate an energy dense substance like sugar, which would up your energy output (with decreased efficiency due to conversion), but then, what's the point of the algae? just grow sugar cane and convert to alcohol like Brazil.

So you need sunlight to get energy for the synthetic lipid generator arrays. Without it, you get no significant energy out. Ventner can talk efficiency, but I'll believe it when I see it. At the moment, a regular photovoltaic panel and a lead acid battery would get you more useful energy, albeit in electrical, not chemical form.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that Ventner is either lying or misinformed about what algae can and can't do.

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MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

MrColdWaterOfRealityMan wrote:

" By reducing output of sunlight, lipids shot up... "OK, the energy still has to come from somewhere. In algae, the energy source is the sun. There's no magic.

Indeed.........  in fact you got me thinking.  If one of these plants were to be able to produce 5 mbls/day (using round number of 1/4 US oil consumption) then we get these figures:

1 barrel of oil contains ~1.7MWh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_of_oil_equivalent)

So 5Mbls contain 8.5TWh (5,000,000 x 1,700,000 = 8,500,000,000,000Wh)

If you assume 5 peak sunshine hours at an appropriate site, then power required = 1.7TW (8,500,000,000,000,000Wh/5h)

At 1000W/m^2 you need 1,700,000,000,000 m^2 of algae ponds converting sunlight at 100% efficiency.  That's a square with a side 1300km or 800 miles!

Of course you wouldn't get 100% efficiency, so it would need to be bigger.  Anyone know the efficiency of agael conversion?

Maybe someone else can check my calcs.....?

Mike

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Models of Reality.

I enjoyed the talk. Thank you.

Ideas come too thick and fast for my fingers to keep up.

Mr? Rapier is on top of his subject. Well done.

We have 9 Billion people to keep alive with a energy return on the farm of 10 units of oil energy makes 1 unit of food energy. Conventional thinking will doom us. We cannot solve our present crisis with yesterdays solutions.

The conversation is being tightly controlled and focused on Chemical reactions. Chemical reactions are just not going to cut the mustard. If we are going to be stuck on this model of reality then it is party time, because we are all doomed.

Chemical reactions are a cul-de-sac. A brick wall. And as Dmitri Orlov says , a brick wall is a patient teacher.

Chemical reactions yield a pathetic 5 eV per reaction. We can do much better.

Being shot at clears the sinuses. One begins to think fast. The military has being using nuclear energy for a long time. The military is takeing Cold Fusion seriously.

If small advances in chemical reactions receive overblown media coverages, why do large advances in Cold Fusion receive none? Answer: Models of Reality. Our intellectual class has (yet again) succumbed to Status.

The answers will come from what we don't know, not by regurgitating what we do.

Progress is made one death at a time.

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Botryococcus Braunii

I shall stoop to discussing Chemical reactions.

Anyone know the efficiency of agael conversion?

I had a flutter of hope with Bot. Braunii. I see from this release from Japan that they have been engineered to produce 10 thousand times larger than the natural strain. Whatever that means.

I seem to recall that the natural form of BB yielded 5% efficiency. My old computer died and with it , my notes.

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Do The Math

Arthur Robey wrote:

I shall stoop to discussing Chemical reactions.

Anyone know the efficiency of agael conversion?

I had a flutter of hope with Bot. Braunii. I see from this release from Japan that they have been engineered to produce 10 thousand times larger than the natural strain. Whatever that means.

I seem to recall that the natural form of BB yielded 5% efficiency. My old computer died and with it , my notes.

Thanks Arthur.....  at 5% efficiency of course, you need 20 times the area I calculated, or 1,700,000,000,000 km2 x 20 = 34,000,000,000,000 km2 which is 34 million square km, and with four of these, that's 140 million square km.  Seeing as the USA's surface area is "only" 9.83 million km2

Houston, I think we have a problem.........!

I propose that regardless of the REAL figures, doing anything remotely as clever as this might sound is errrrrr.......  hard to scale up as Chris said!

Mike

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If you knew the world were about to run out of oil...

...and you were a defence department official, wouldn't you invade the middle east to secure the remaining supply?

...and you were in finance, and knew the economy would collapse without cheap oil, wouldn't you break all the laws and grab as much loot as you could, whileyou could?

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Hey Damnthematrix, I think

Hey Damnthematrix, I think you got an extra factor of a thousand in your calculations somewhere. That's a lot of zeroes to keep track of. Here is what I get:

1.7 TW divided by 1000 Watts / m2 = 1.7 giga m2

This is how much area is needed to provide 1/4 of US oil consumption assuming 100% conversion efficiency which of course isn't valid.

First let's look at algae, and I am going to assume an overall efficiency of 0.1% because photosynthesis for a leaf is around 1%, but this algae pond is an ecosystem and a lot of the sunlight doesn't hit photosynthetically active surfaces, and then you have to process the biomass into the final product, and a lot of that biomass isn't oil, so 0.1% is probably roughly what you can expect. Maybe it's up to 1% efficiency and if you prefer this then just divide my final number by 10.

So 1.7 giga m2 divided by 0.1% = 1.7 tera m2.

Now, multiply this by 4 to bring up to total US oil consumption, and then by 2 because the US uses approx. twice as much energy as the oil it burns, and you get 14 tera m2.

Taking the square root, and you get that one side of this square would be 3,700 km long -- totally unfeasible, out of this world.

Now let's analyze solar panels. I assume overall 10% efficiency, so 1.7 giga m2 divided by 10% = 17 giga m2. Again, multiply by 4 and 2 to bring to total US energy consumption, and we get: 136 giga m2.

Take the square root and you get that one side of this square would be 370 km long.

Not an easy task, but not out of this world. Now, Saudi Arabia, Africa, the Andes, Mongolia, Australia, Nevada, and California all have a lot of empty desert (and Walmart roofs) that doesn't have high ecological value. Arizona desert is quite diverse so I don't think we should be paving that over with solar panels. World energy consumption is about 4X that of the US I think, so to power the whole world we'd need a block of solar panels with a side 730 km long! This is only a rough order of magnitude calculation, but it puts it into perspective.

Why are we even considering biofuels? If there was a way to so substantially increase ecological productivity, then nature would have already figured out how to do it.

And if someone can figure out nuclear fusion or thorium fission, then great. But until then we should be working with proven technologies.

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Do The Math

Mark_BC wrote:

Hey Damnthematrix, I think you got an extra factor of a thousand in your calculations somewhere. That's a lot of zeroes to keep track of.

Tell me about it..... sent my head into a spin!  Thanks for the checking...

Mark_BC wrote:
Take the square root and you get that one side of this square would be

370 km

long.

Not an easy task, but not out of this world. Now, Saudi Arabia, Africa, the Andes, Mongolia, Australia, Nevada, and California all have a lot of empty desert (and Walmart roofs) that doesn't have high ecological value. Arizona desert is quite diverse so I don't think we should be paving that over with solar panels.

And you think our deserts don't........??  BTW, it's common now for PVs to be 15%+ efficient.

Mark_BC wrote:
Why are we even considering biofuels? If there was a way to so substantially increase ecological productivity, then nature would have already figured out how to do it.

Beats me.......  of course this guy we're discussing is making OIL, which I know is strictly a biofuel as per that method, but crude oil is more than fuel, it's used for plastics, fertilisers, and a squilllion other things not least making tyres for cars......

Mark_BC wrote:
And if someone can figure out nuclear fusion or thorium fission, then great. But until then we should be working with proven technologies.

Yeah well show me one working power plant and I'll convert.... where will the money come from for starters?

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Damnthematrix wrote: And you

Damnthematrix wrote:

And you think our deserts don't........??

Yeah I know, I watched The Crocodile Hunter, but Australia is only a tenth the size of the US so I'm sure you could squeeze them in somewhere.

Damnthematrix wrote:

this guy we're discussing is making OIL, which I know is strictly a biofuel as per that method, but crude oil is more than fuel, it's used for plastics, fertilisers, and a squilllion other things not least making tyres for cars......

Yeah well show me one working power plant and I'll convert.... where will the money come from for starters?

Yes this is why it is so depressing. I guess theoretically we could use electricity to do some kind of Fischer Tropsch synthesis at a reasonable efficiency to produce all these nice products. But, the amount of coordination that is going to be needed to pull this off in the time we have left is such a tall order, and when the financial system crashes how are we going to coordinate long term investments like this? I try to be optimistic with what technology offers but realistically we just aren't going to be able to do it. I see a Malthusian Collapse in the not too distant future. I guess we should always keep trying though.

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Desperate move?

Applying many of the common alternatives, like wind and solar power, solar heat, biomass for several purposes, and being busy with this subject on a daily basis for several years now, I am not optimistic anymore. I see it as a desperate move to keep up the present standard of comfort. Although the sources are sustainable, the machines to harvest are not and cannot be made by using the harvested sources. At least not the quantity we would like to have.

In my opinion there is only one long term solution and that is slowly decending from the present level of technology to somewhere between this level and the pre-fossil fuel level. Even if the impossible goal would be achieved: finding the ultimate energy source, mankind would hit other limits within decades. We are creative, but not very self-regulating. Mankind should now start exploring decline instead of expansion. I know, that also is very un-human....

Still, enjoy present unique times! But do not allow our comfort and wealth to mislead us to the wrong direction.

Regards, DJ

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Death wish?

I cannot understand why, when our backs are against the wall, people are unwilling to consider certain discoveries that may ameliorate or perhaps even be the answer to our predicament.

We know that present knowledge is hopelessly inadequate and applying it will be fatal. (I am reminded of the Easter Islanders hanging on to their belief in their Moui until they doomed themselves)

source.

I am led to believe that the same psychological mechanism is at work. Perhaps a Death Wish.

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serious?

Mark_BC wrote:

Yeah I know, I watched The Crocodile Hunter, but Australia is only a tenth the size of the US so I'm sure you could squeeze them in somewhere.

Are you serious?  The US is 9.83 million km2

Australia 7.69 million km2

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Robbrian
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We Need a Renewable Energy Manufacturing Industry

My nominee would be industrial hemp. The industry would be built from the ground up....;Farmers, finance, truckers, processing plant workers from janitors to scientists, product design, fabrication, manufacturing, distribution, sales, accounting, etc. And, on and on with vertical and horizontal expansion.

Industrial hemp matures in 3 months, (four harvests per year in the south an one crop in Alaska), uses only ten percent of the water poured on cotton, no pesticides, (cotton uses over fifty percent of all pesticides manufactured and sold in the U.S) moreover, as cotton yields decline fertilizer use increases. Hemp uses very little fertilizer and can flourish without any as proven by its abundance as "ditch hemp."

But since the non-psychoactive Canabis has been banned along with psychoactive hemp the likelihood of it being freed from its false charges are slim to none.  Which is a monument of hypocrisy enshrining this nations fear of the fossil fuel, lumber, cotton, and phrmacutecal robber barrons..  

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Robbrian
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The GHT & Industrial Hemp

These power sources can replace crude oil without using a drop of crude oil. http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/05spr/gorlov3.asp

http://www.votehemp.com/

The problem of course is monopolistic control of gov subsidies, and legislation prohibiting the cultivation of a non-psychoactive plant.

Both constraints are artificial, hypocritical, and extremely costly.

The fossil fuel industry sucks up $4B in subsidies annually and only a pittance to renewables and less than that to wave energy. Industrial hemp competes with fossil fuels, lumber, petrochemicals, pharmacuticals, cotton and other fibers, therefore a virulent opposition to allowing a least cost alternative to flourish at the expense of legacy industires. Yes, our shortsighted approach to our energy crisis will have us stepping over the ledge we failed to see even in the short-run.  And as you say climbing back up will put us four to five generations behind the Chinese.

industria...Gorlov Helical Turbine

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Nate
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dust from the attic

Random thoughts after listening to this EXCELLENT interview:

I prefer to frame cost of biofuels discussions in energy and not dollars.  The real metric is EROEI.

What would the EROEI for corn be if we made CH4 insteasd of EtOH?  If we included the stillage in the calculations?

There are 2 basic forms of C fixation in plants (let's can CAM):  C3 and C4.  C4 plants (corn and sugar cane) are much more effecient in fixing atmospheric carbon than C3 plants.  To my knowledge there are no C4 algae plants.  How is it that algae has come up the winner here?

I grew up in Iowa on a large corporate farm.  They have a digester that uses feedlot manure to produce methane and electricity.  IF functioning properly, this digester can produce $1 million annually.  Last week I learned that 80% of this profit is tipping fees supported by current tax laws (set to expire).  The good news is that this digester produces $0.5 million in fertilizer.  The bad news is that spreading this fertilizer consumes sizable amounts of diesel.  How does this work at $200 oil or when petro is limiting?  Not well.

In Crash Course Chris mentions how certain regions of the US (or world) may fair better in a fuel starved future.  I would put the corn belt at the top of the list. 

When friends complain about the price of gasoline, I make them a deal.  I will buy firewood they cut, split, and deliver by hand for $200/cord.  Or they can purchase 2 gallons of gasoline for $25/gallon, cut, split, and deliver the wood.   It shuts them up for a few minutres, anyway.

Finally, the topic avoided is the most painful.  How many people can this planet support?  In the end, matching the number of people on this planet with available resourses will solve these problems. 

Nate

Adam - can you embed a spell-check feature in the comment box?

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JAG
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Think Micro, Evolution Will Take Care of The Macro

I really enjoyed this interview. It brings some realism to the discussion of alternative energy. 

However, I don't really care if we ever find a worldwide solution to our energy needs. I care about finding a personal solution to my energy needs.

We can only act on a personal level, so why do we spend so much time on this site debating subjects that are beyond our ability to act upon (i.e. markets, politics, macro-energy) ? Changing the world is a bottom-up process that begins with the individual. Instead of rehashing the same-old macro topics again and again, maybe this site should focus more on the micro; stories of individuals who find and create solutions to their problems. The WSID Series is a great start towards this path, and I believe it is the only viable business model for this site going forward. 

Thanks, Jeff

P.S. Mike, why haven't you posted your story to the WSID Series? I personally would find great value in it.

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Damnthematrix
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soil depletion

Robbrian wrote:

These power sources can replace crude oil without using a drop of crude oil. http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/05spr/gorlov3.asp

Really?  For how long?  Ever heard of soil depletion?  Even if you start with outstanding soil, pulling four crops a year from any patch of soil will eventually deplete it to the stage no more will grow.  Unless you apply inputs, which, ta da, are usually made with/of fossil fuels.....

Mike

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Is this solvable (item 2) with railway emphasis?

China understood need to keep & expand the railway component as they motorized and expanded the manufacturing component.    Car and aircraft deals get the headlines, and sexy high speed rail is highlighted.    But the meat of transport in China & Russia too, is generic standard-gauge railway engineering.    Except, Russians use 5' gauge, Chinese use US 56 &1/2" inch for standard...   Russians did not want Germans to have too easy a time with logistics... goes back to Kaiser Bill.

Instead of Gold as the big panacea, give thought to your  (readers') locale and dormant rail branch lines that might get rail service closer to where you live.    We visited Healdsburg CA recently, and note agonizingly slow progress bringing rail service up from the Union Pacific main at Fairfield.    These rebuild projects (freight is the important thing for victuals, etc.) are exceedingly rare; if you have a rusty streak of rail line near you, be grateful; this is orders of magnitude better than searching out old corridor already stripped of track long ago.    People think of railway as a noisy inconvenience unless they understand the military phrase: "Second Dimension Surface Transport Logistics Platform".   Meaning- a stand alone transport facilty able to self-repair, and quickly do what is necessary to keep 'em rolling.    Your family will still be on the victuals distribution network when trucks starve for fuel...  

Middle East meltdown, from Iran spasm, or Islamic internal feuding is going to crimp world oil flows!    Railways are Guarantors of Societal & Commercial Cohesion moreso than guns & Gold.    Keep your local post Office open too!   CM mentions hydropower rail lines, but interim, over the next decades, rail will operate on most any prime mover power source: diesel, electic and some smaller lines will operate with steam engines running on biomass and or coal!     CM does not talk much about worst case, but attack on US homeland is not unthinkable, and getting the 100's of strategic rail branch lines up & running ASAP is actually a smart way to keep victuals coming to your locale.    Gold is not much good when things really get out of control, in fact makes you and your family a target...  Another note on coins and bullion: expect US Federal call-back of precious metals to shore up currency in war and or energy emergency scenarios.  This is from US strategic planning sources, going back decades.   EMP strike is probable, another reason for maintaining a variety of locomotive designs.

Some readers have military connection; this railway methodology brings in reformed US Army/Guard Railway Logistics Battalions, to expedite dormant rail line return to service.    Ft. Eustis, VA is source for info and history on the Railway Operating & Maintenance Battalions.    Try also William Withuhn, Curator of Transportation at the Smithsonian Institution.    A private entrepreneur, Christopher C. Swan, is also working on a SYSTEMS approach to renewable powered railway lines.    See Swan's book " ELECTRIC WATER" (New Society 2007) for compendium of ways and means for local economic units to achieve generic railway amentity.

For US Rail Map Atlas Volumes, see spv.co.uk     -Also, "Official Guide of The Raiways" copies circa 1920-1950 for comprehensive listings of US rail lines and maps.    Keep 'Em Rolling

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Deep geothermal

Deep geothermal energy is a virtually inexhaustible, safe energy that can replace all forms of combustion-based energy  for providing electricty, heat, etc.

It is already being used and/or under development in some forward thinking countries.  

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Show me a better energy source than oil

Over history our economic and technological progress in society grew as we shifted from animals to wood to coal to oil and natural gas as major energy sources.  Each new source had more advantages and broader ranges of application.   Show me an energy source that is better than oil, in terms of density of energy, portability, steadiness, scalability, energy returned vs invested, and support from existing infrastructure.

What new alternative energy on the horizon meets or exceeds that same critiera?   I don't see it yet.  As this great podcast points out, at best the transition will be long and challenging.  

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sofistek
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Posts: 615
Our predicament does not involve only energy

As Dutch John pointed out, even if some incredibly intelligent human or humans could figure out an energy "source" that could substitute for oil (then natural gas, then coal), we would hit other limits.

We can't look at these issues in isolation, our predicament covers a lot of issues; finding an equivalent, and growing, energy (and resource) alternative to oil will leave many of those other issues untouched.

Some poster ventured to suggest that our predicament might have an answer. No, predicaments only have responses. I sincerely hope our response is not to try to keep civilization, as we know it, going.

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"renewable" energy

Ah, Hawaii...  Mr. Rapier looks kind of young so I doubt that he will remember the biomass fiasco of Molokai Electric back in the early to mid 80's.  They had some hotshot engineer, Bruce Yamashita, if I remember correctly, who sold them on the idea of a steam generated biomass plant because they had to ship in all of their diesel oil to power their electrical plant and had the the highest $/KwH cost in Hawaii...  They may still do for all that I know now.  The whole thing was a complete bust and Yamashita had to leave town.  They quickly discovered that the whole Island would be denuded in a short time if they expected to use the local vegetation to fuel the plant...  It was shut down shortly after it opened.  Why did you fail to mention the Cold Fusion work that is going on in Italy and has been proven to work?

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Low Energy Nuclear

Why did you fail to mention the Cold Fusion work that is going on in Italy and has been proven to work?

I have been following the Rossi story with some interest. There is still a small element of doubt in my mind that will evaporate when I see the energy from the device.

However, there are other  repeatable experimements that yield less spectacular energy, (This link shows heat generated and captured on an infra red camera. The hot spot temperatures are beyond the limits of the camera, which is what you would expect from nuclear.)

And there are competing hypotheses floated to explain the theory behind the phenomena. Here I offer the Widom-Widom/Larsen theory, which lures you in with pretty pictures but then plunges you into mathematics. Nice and chewy.)

One thing I discovered from Tada Mizuno's book  "Nuclear Transmutations" is that electrolysis produces pressures in the order of 30 atmospheres. So your good old lead acid battery is an extreme environment.

These more scientific experiments use exotic metals such as palladium and deuterium. So Nickel's transmutation into copper is interesting in that the resource is abundant.

Just follow the numerous links offered by Ruby Carot in her blog   or see the Alphabetical list of the impressive Library of experimental resuls  that is the result of 20 years of research around the world. And which is getting millions of hits per month.

The waste products are Trituim (Half life 12.32 years) and helium for childrens balloons.

As for other constrains, you are addressing a disciple ot the Limits to Growth team. If we do manage to get this magic bullet then exponential growth and the desire not to die will force us to the Lagrange points which are capable of supporting several orders of magnitude more people than this finite world. The Doubling of the population can then be given several more iterations and then I hand the batton on to my great grandchilren.

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Posts: 834
JAG wrote: I really enjoyed

JAG wrote:

I really enjoyed this interview. It brings some realism to the discussion of alternative energy. 

However, I don't really care if we ever find a worldwide solution to our energy needs. I care about finding a personal solution to my energy needs.

We can only act on a personal level, so why do we spend so much time on this site debating subjects that are beyond our ability to act upon (i.e. markets, politics, macro-energy) ? Changing the world is a bottom-up process that begins with the individual. Instead of rehashing the same-old macro topics again and again, maybe this site should focus more on the micro; stories of individuals who find and create solutions to their problems. The WSID Series is a great start towards this path, and I believe it is the only viable business model for this site going forward. 

Jeff - I agree with your local idea - but then yesterday morning I read a very disheartening story in a local paper. In a town next to me, an individual who owns a house next to a river with a dam and waterfall on it(which he owns) wants to install a hydroelectric system that could power as many as 30 homes. He first submitted his application 3 years ago! It had to go through all of the regulatory approvals, hence the long delay. And now, the neighbors are coming out against it because they don't want someone to ruin the scenery of water tumbling over the dam. Between regulations and nimby, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and all this while we still have time and resources to tackle future energy shortfalls.

Even on my end, I have been trying to get a 2nd quote from several different solar panel installers for a month now. I have not been able to get one of them out. One of them told me my electric usage is too low for them to install a system. I am very frustrated right now to say the least.

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cmartenson
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8Ball wrote:  Why did you

8Ball wrote:

Why did you fail to mention the Cold Fusion work that is going on in Italy and has been proven to work?

Because it has not been proven.

A 'proof' requries independent, third party validation where all the components have been assembled by that third party.  That is the essence of peer review and 'proof' cannot be claimed without replication.

That's my standard.

In the most recent Rossi 'proof' I did watch the approved video that he put out (no unapproved video taping was allowed, is my understanding) and I had to marvel at the 500kw diesel generator roaring away in the background as a yield of slightly under 500kw was claimed.  (Maybe the carburetor was dirty was my waggish thought.)

Uh, what?  I thought that only minimal input electricty was needed and then nothing for the continued reaction...there should have been dead silence.  What's the explanation for the generator in that video?

So consider me still a skeptic.

Extraordinary claims requrire extraordinary proof and such proof has not yet been provided for the Rossi device.

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Posts: 2489
joemanc wrote: Between

joemanc wrote:

Between regulations and nimby, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and all this while we still have time and resources to tackle future energy shortfalls.

Hey Joe,

Yeah, that story is pretty pathetic, especially since hydro-electric is such a great energy resource (and one that I can only dream of in my coastal flat-lands). But the only way these regulations are going to change, is by the actions of individuals like the man in your story. It's hard to be an early adopter of any technology, especially if "neighbors" are in the equation. 

Keep trying with your PV system and please share your experiences.

All the best,

Jeff

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heffe
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Posts: 95
Incentive to promote collapse and nothing else

Yawn. So more fear based posts eh?  Here are some thoughts I had while reading this blog.

The world uses 15 terrawatts of energy every year.  Every hour approximately 120,000 terrawatts of energy hit our planet via electromagnetic radiation. Almost TEN TIMES the amount of energy we use in a year hits our planet in one hour. Biofuels are a method of maintaining scarcity, with solar and electric transportation we can have more than enough.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_solar_energy_reaches_the_surface_of_the_Earth

Denmark aims to have 50% of its power needs met by 2020, via wind power!  Combined with biomass, solar, geothermal, etc, abundance is within grasp.

http://www.zeitnews.org/energy/wind-power-to-make-up-half-of-danish-energy-use-in-2020.html

In the US, over $70 billion is spent on oil subsidies. About $1 billion is spent on solar subsidies. Reverse the two, equalling a little over a billion for every state, and over a few years every city could be running on solar.

http://www.ecoinsite.com/2010/10/what-if-solar-got-the-same-subsidies-as-fossil-fuels.html

For those who aren't familiar with my position, this doesn't mean I support a continuing expansion of contemporary economic models. The monetary market model of resource distribution is the most destructive, wasteful, inefficient, and detrimental system to have ever existed. This exists due to the need to maintain cost efficiency, growth in GDP, competitive advantage, and preserve relevance of market share through maintaining artificial scarcity.

2/3 of all food grown for human consumption is thrown away, there are approx. 4 million homeless in the US, yet there are about 20 million vacant homes. We already have abundance of goods available, but due to the need for markets to create value out of scarcity, we preserve detrimental and cancerous traits like poverty, stratification, and homicide.

An important concept is the 'four fold effect', which theorizes that by creating open access economies, we can reduce consumption by four times while reducing waste by four times. Think libraries; you dont own the goods available to you, but you can use them when you like. Less waste, more access. 

I hope that the members here who view the future as 'hopeless' realize the only thing hopeless is doing nothing.  Get involved with your community, get initiatives for non-profit aquaponic greenhouse systems along with solar, wind, biomass programs.

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Damnthematrix
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Posts: 3998
NIMBY and other topics.

joemanc wrote:
And now, the neighbors are coming out against it because they don't want someone to ruin the scenery of water tumbling over the dam. Between regulations and nimby, we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and all this while we still have time and resources to tackle future energy shortfalls.

A micro hydro system (even if not so micro, would not need to "ruin the scenery", as hidden plumbing from upstream of the waterfall to divert flow and use the fall, which is after all the real source of energy, could/should be used to drive the generator/s well away from the scenery....

joemanc wrote:
Even on my end, I have been trying to get a 2nd quote from several different solar panel installers for a month now. I have not been able to get one of them out. One of them told me my electric usage is too low for them to install a system. I am very frustrated right now to say the least.

Where on Earth do you live Joe.....  here in Australia you would have people falling over themselves to sell you a solar system!

Mike

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Damnthematrix
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Posts: 3998
Incentive to promote collapse and nothing else

Heffe, I don't know what makes you think collapse needs promoting.......  it will occur with 100% certainty, the only thing no one can be certain of is when, though I suspect now it will take several decades to pan out.

I don't think anyone here promotes collapse, rather we promote the end of profligate waste (as you point out much food is wasted) and the start of voluntary austerity.

Austerity is NOT collapse.  Some people might think that having to do without their cars and plasma TVs will be the end of the world, but I happen to think it will be the start of a better life.

In the end, thermodynamics will get us with all the other energy tips you mention in your post.  Low ERoEI is THE killer.

Remember this from the CC?  It shows how much energy has to go into making ANY low ERoEI energy producer, be it solar or anything else... remember that red curtain coming down...?

You see, we might well realise a substantial amount of renewable energy supply (I run our entire house on solar http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/the-power-of-energy-effici... but we do so because we use sweet bugger all energy.....

AND we got in early before the oil cliff has us by the short and curlies, because let's not forget, EVERYTHING labelled "alternative energy" is 100% made with fossil fuels!

I also urge you to read and DIGEST http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/10/the-energy-trap/

Mike

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joemanc
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Posts: 834
Send them my way!

Damnthematrix wrote:

Where on Earth do you live Joe.....  here in Australia you would have people falling over themselves to sell you a solar system!

Mike

Well send them my way!!! I'm in New England, where we've had 2 major power outages from storms in less than 3 months. I went without power for a week the 2nd time around. We had a run on generators and I'm guessing that a lot of people, especially those with deeper pockets have been calling solar installers after the 2nd outage. But I've got a quote in hand from one installer and will just have to work with them.

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sofistek
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Posts: 615
Simplistic Assumptions

The notion that we are only scratching the surface of what's possible, as heffe, seems to think, is simplistic. There are all sorts of factors involved. Like how we feed our soils, rather than just extracting from them (with fossil fuel based fertilisers needed to replace just a fraction of what we mine). Like how much wind energy we can safely extract. Like how much energy, in general we can safely divert from natural energy systems (it's worth noting that all of the solar energy that hits the earth and is retained, is used in supporting life and natural energy flows, currently). Renewable energy systems aren't free, nor do they use zero resources or only resources that one might regard as extremely far away fom peak.

Energy is just one element of our combined predicament and even an impossible miracle of continuing to grow our energy use would leave a huge number of other issues that will need to be addressed. Predicaments only have responses, not solutions. Those responses will get harder to make, the longer we leave it. Collapse is bound to happen. If we want it to happen in a controlled way, that has the least negative impact for us humans, then we need to start acting now. That looks unlikely, at best. So get prepared.

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Oil Futures
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 14 2012
Posts: 1
Oilfuture

There is a commonly held belief that the world's supply of
oil will last until about 2040. A growing number of senior
oil industry geologists and analysts are starting to challenge
this belief publicly. They believe that it is grossly optimistic,
and dangerously misleading. Their views are being published in
reputable industry periodicals like World Oil, and the Oil &Gas
Journal. The new oil find, called Havis, could hold between 200
million and 300 million barrels of oil equivalent.

Oil Future

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