Fossil Fuels
 
 
 
 
theworldisfinite.com 
 
Essays     Essays Archive     Book Reviews     Links 
 
Links  > Fossil Fuels 
 
 
 
 
 
Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.    
 
Kenneth E. Boulding 
Oil Depletion 
 
Jean Laherrère Article on Oil Reserve Growth - This article was orginally publish in Geopolitics of Energy Issue 22 n°4, p7-16, April 1999. Laherrere presents a very readable explanation of why officially reported oil reserve are substantially inflated. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash - This is the Website of Matt Savinar, a poltical science graduate, in which he discusses the phenomenon of peak oil. He is particularly brutal and pessimistic in his efforts to debunk the rosy scenarios of an easy transition to a post petroleum world. I am more optimitic than he is about humanity's ability to adapt to petroleum depletion. Nevertheless this is the website which woke me up to the reality of the end of ecomic growth within the context of the current market system and which led me to the belief that a social revolution will be required. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
The Oil Drum - This website is frequently updated with news and information about fossil fuel depletion and alternate energy technology. The site has mutiple contributors, many of whom appear to have a stong technical background. On the specific issue of fossil fuel depletion this web site is highly informative, and they consistently maintain that that major societal changes will be required in relatively near future to deal with declining supplies of fossil fuel of high economic quality. However, the discussion about the exact nature of the required changes leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part the writers seem to believe in purely technocratic solutions. That is, they believe that a combination of alternate energy technology, increased efficiency of energy use, and goverment policy in the form of taxation and subsidies will enable the machinery of private finance capitalism to go on functioning healthily into the indefinite future. They do not seem to understand that the stock market requires constantly increasing levels of productivity for its proper function, and that, therefore, its days as the ruling institution of human society are numbered. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
The Oil Depletion Resource Page - This is a small website with a number of good articles about oil depletion. If you do not like wandering about enourmous web sites, this is a good starting point for learning about peak oil. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
dieoff.org - Another cheerful website predicting the collapse of technological civilization and a massive dieoff of the earth's human populaton as fossil fuels are depleted. Again I believe they are too pessmistic in their evalualtion of the impact of fossil fuel depletion. Of course a massive dieoff of the human population will eventually occur if population size and ecological destruction are not brought under control independent of what happens to our energy supply. In fact one could make an inverse argument that the discovery of a new oil province of the size of the Middle East would be the kiss of death for humanit,y since it would convince us that there no need to moderate or end economic growth. It may be that a financial collapse induced by high oil prices may wake us up to our danger before it is too late to save ourselves. I include this site, because it is a huge resource with a rich variety of articles on oil depletion, economics, overpopulation, ecology, etc. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
 
Fossil Alternatives to Oil 
 
Qatar Fischer-Tropsch GTL Capital Costs Rising - The production of diesel fuel and other liquid hydrocarbon products from synthesis gas (a mixture of CO and H2) was pioneered by German scientists during the WWII. Natual gas can be steam reformed to produce synthesis gas and thus become a source of liquid hydrocarbon products. Steam reforming natural gas produces lots of CO2 and the process is energy (more than 30% of the orginal energy of the gas is lost) and capital intensive. The Shell-Oil/Qatar GTL project is the largest ever constructed (planned capacity is 120,000 barrels of petroleum equivalent per day). As oil prices go up this technology will find a wider niche, but no one seems to believe it will provide more than a small fraction of world's total liquid hydrocarbon demand. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
GRT gas to liquids processed based on a solid cataloreactant - Various groups are working on various alternatives to Fischer-Tropsch sythesis which are hopefully more energy efficient, less capital intensive, and which have lower CO2 emission per unit of output. None of these alternatives have reached the stage of commercialization. Here is a discription of one such process. (Viewed10/04/2007) 
 
Rentech to convert natural gas Fishcher Tropsch plant to coal based plant - Coal can be gasified to produce synthesis gas (CO plus H2) which can then be chemically processed into liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Using coal as a feedstock for synthesis gas produces a lot more CO2 than does natural gas used for the same purpose. However, since coal supplies are larger than natural gas supplies energy companies are turning their eyes toward this potential source of transporatation fuel. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
SASOL to build coal to liquid fuels plants in China - Another project to turn coal into liquid hydrocarbon fuels, this one in China. The article claims that we have 100 years supply of coal left at current usage rates. Of course if coal were to become a major source of transportation fuel and an engine for economic growth in China and India it will not last for 100 years. Furthemore increasing coal use means increasing CO2 emisssions. Humanity will undoubtedly continue to utilize coal energy for decades to come, but to convert it into an engine of economic growth will probably result in disaster. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
USGS fact sheet on heavy oil and bitumen (tar sands) - This fact sheet gives an evaluation of the magintude of the world's technically recoverable reserves of heavy oil and bitumen (also called tar sands). The fact sheet also contains a brief description of current recovery techniqes. At first sight the estimated total of technically recovery reserves (1085 billion barrels) seems hopeful. This total is approximately equal to all of the convential petroleum produced to date. However, the question is how economically can this resource be produced and how much will its production increase emisssions of CO2. This fact sheet does not address these issues. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
SUNCOR ships billionth barrel of tar sands oil - An article on the Canadian corporation which is processing synthetic crude oil out of the Canadian tar sands. Current crude oil prices make this process economically competive, but of course the cost of increased CO2 emissions is not considered. The road to continued economic growth is paved with environmental destruction. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
American Association of Petroleum Geologists on Oil Shale - An article on oil shale. Large United States deposits of oil shale are not being exploited in spite of high oil prices because the cost of production is still too high.  If oil cost ever rise to the point where oil shale processing is profitiable, this will be one more source of excess CO2 emissions. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
Clean Coal 
 
(The world's reserve's of coal are much larger than its reserves of oil, but it produces much more CO2 per unit of energy extracted as well as other nasty emissions. Therefore true believers in the religion of eternal growth, are looking for way to produce clean energy from coal.) 
 
Direct Carbon Fuel Cells - Direct carbon fuel cells react carbon nano-particles with oxygen to produce electricty in a non combustion process similar to that used in hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells have a theoretical maximum energy converson efficiency of 73%, but in practice only acheive 40% efficiency. Direct carbon fuel cells, on the other hand, have a theoretical maximum efficiency of 100%, and prototype cells have already acheived 80% conversion efficiency. The total efficiency of enegry conversion is lower because energy must be consumed to produce the carbon nano-particles which are required by the fuel cell. However, researchers at Lawrence Livermore Labs beleive that using lignite coal (the most plentiful kind) a total efficiency of near to 70% can be acheived. Of course if carbon is used as a source of chemical potential energy the extraction of that energy inevitably results in the producton of CO2, and direct carbon fuel cells are no exception to this rule. However, these fuel cells have several potential advantages over traditional coal fired power plants. 
 
1. Greater efficiency (70% compared to 40%) so that less CO2 is produced per kWhr. 
2. Pre-treatment of coal to produce carbon particles extract sulpher and other nasty ingedients of the coal 
3. The output of the fuel cell is a relative pure stream of low temperature CO2 which can be easily captured and squestered. 
 
A number of people have questioned the effectiveness (not to mention the cost) of CO2 squestration. However, 'clean coal' requires sequestration since coal use and CO2 generation inevitiably go together. (Viewed 10/04/2007) 
 
The real science of political economy, which has yet to be distinguished from the bastard science, as medicine from witchcraft, and astronomy from astrology, is that which teaches nations to desire and labor for the things that lead to life; and which teaches them to scorn and destroy the things which lead to destruction. 
 
John Ruskin
 
 
 
 
Roger Brown 
Rogerkb@theworldisfinite.com