9/10/2008

The Truth about Oil Independence

Not possible. Period. The alternatives being looked at start with nuclear power. Nuke, while being a supplement to our power needs, if implemented would cause the price of uranium to go to the moon and would exhaust the commodity within five or so years. It would take roughly 10,000 super huge nuclear power facilities to supply our needs. We can build some but it will only help, not cure.

Shale oil, AKA "Heavy Oil," so called because it is oil left over after drilling for the good stuff. Wringing oil out of shale is expensive and gets more so the more you use up.

Coal: Oil was created when so-called source rock, full of organic inclusions, sank deep within the earth. The inside of the earth is heated by natural radioactivity, and the deeper you go, the hotter it gets. This source rock sank just deep enough into the heated interior for the organic matter to get cooked into oil. Rock that sank deeper got overcooked and became natural gas. Rock that sank to a more shallow level became......

Shale oil, which is essentially unborn oil that can be made into a fuel by strip-mining, crushing, and heating the rocks until you generate a usable liquid. People who have invested many millions of dollars into trying to exploit this resource have come to the conclusion that it will probably always be energy-negative, meaning that you will always have to put more energy into acquiring and processing it than you will ever get out of it.

Methane hydrate:
is a solid that looks like ice, but that burns if you ignite it. It consists of methane trapped in a sort of cage of water molecules and it gets created when methane comes into contact with water under very high pressure at very low temperatures close to the freezing point of water. Nobody has any idea of where it all is, how much there is, whether it can be mined, or how it could be used—all we know is that this stuff exists.

Finally, there is coal. We are told that there is enough coal in the ground for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, at the present rate of use. The fact that these estimates range over a factor of ten tells you immediately that nobody has the foggiest notion of how much coal is actually available. But even those projections might be considered reliable, compared to the second part of that optimistic sentence: “at the present rate of use”!

The largest coal deposits are in the United States. WE know that China and Russia have very large reserves as well. Coal can be liquefied and made into a substitute for oil. That was done in Nazi Germany during World War II, and in South Africa under apartheid. That alone should tell you that you have to be fairly desperate to do it, but it can be done. But, coal is a dirty, dirty fuel. It often comes with nasty impurities, including mercury, arsenic, and sulfur. The mercury that accumulates in the bodies of tuna or swordfish—and which has led to FDA warnings to limit our consumption of these fish—originates in coal-fired power plants in the United States. We use now about twice as much energy from oil as we do from coal, so if you wanted to mine enough coal to replace the missing oil, you’d have to mine it at a much higher rate, not only to replace the oil, but also because the conversion process to oil is extremely inefficient. You’d have to mine it at levels at least five times beyond those we mine now—a coal mining industry on an absolutely unimaginable scale.

Hydrogen, the magic bullet: the penultimate liberal enviro fantasy. There are only two commercially viable ways of making hydrogen. One is to make it out of methane, which is a fossil fuel. The other is to use fossil fuel to generate the electricity that you need to electrolyze water and get hydrogen. The economics of doing that are such that you end up using the equivalent of six gallons of gasoline to make enough hydrogen to replace one gallon of gasoline. So this solution is not a winner in the short run. In the long run, if the problem of harnessing thermonuclear fusion can be solved and we have more power than we know what to do with, you could use that form of energy to make hydrogen for mobile fuel.

The only real solution, one that is on the horizon but may not be realizable, is controlled thermonuclear fusion. This solution has been twenty five years away for twenty five years and we are no closer to it now than we were in 1950. We are working at it in various think tanks and universities, but this may take more time than we have.

Wind: there are not enough wind corridors in the world to solve the problem. Wind will at best give us twenty percent of our needs IF, and it is IF, the population doesn't want their precious views contaminated by windmills.

So it's drill drill drill, research research research, and pray pray pray.

6 comments:

ChrisJ said...

Howard, the USA at the moment has 103 electricity-generating nuclear reactors that produce 21 percent of the nation's electricity. That suggests that about 400 more reactors of the same size could produce as much electricity as the country uses now. If electric cars became popular, Americans woiuld need a hell of a lot more electricity, that's for sure, but "10,000 super huge reactors"?

Howard said...

DOE figures are 19% from the 104. But this assumes figures will hold for entire USA, which would include EVERY nook and cranny and it is in those nooks that most of our energy needs lie. The costs per reactor would be $2bln, and it would take a thousand just to handle basic needs. If we convert cars to electricity things get radical. The figure of 10,000 or more assumes smaller and cheaper reactors. Keep in mind that even with nuclear a huge portion of the energy generated is lost through transmission. To electrify the entire country the DOE estimates 10,000.

David Davenport said...

Howie,

What's your comment on Boone Picken's energy plans?

Howard said...

I'm for it, but the precious elites don't want their views spoiled so most of our wind corridors will remain wind tower free zones. The hysterical left will die in the streets before allowing a single new nuclear power plant, and they are already screaming that Pickens will make money of natural gas.

Xiaoding said...

Well, your way off on the nuclear thing. We got enough for forever, basically, and it don't matter how many reactors you build.

Oil...you burn it, it's gone. And there is no way to burn it better, it's one use only.

But uranium, is subject to advances in technology, making it, way, WAY, different! Use a diferent process, get a big boost in output, see?

We have absoloutly NO idea how much uranium there is in the world. But we know there is a LOT.

What about thorium? Got plenty of that, too. What will be the efect of improved superconducting wires? Improved solar power?

We are on the edge of a gigantic increase in power output. Energy is no problem, except in the short term.

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on IDT