80 million barrels a day (b/d). That’s how much oil the world consumes to
meet its energy needs. The United States alone uses 20 million b/d. To put this in perspective, if Bill Gates spent $80 million a day he would be
bankrupt in just over a year. Of course the world has more oil than Bill Gates has money, but one advantage that Bill Gates has is that he can earn
more. Oil is a finite resource than cannot be replenished. Once we run out we must find other means to move our cars, trains, and airplanes. How much
oil do we have, and how long will production keep up with the growing demand? What other energy sources can we use when oil is too expensive or not
To help answer these questions I asked the experts at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security
for their input on the current situation. IAGS is a “non-profit public educational organization dedicated to research and public debate
on issues related to world’s security with special interest in energy security.” Dr. Gal Luft
executive director of IAGS was kind enough to answer my questions, without asking for anything in return. So, special thanks to him and IAGS for their
Initially I had thought of having a more traditional news article to address these issues, but there was so much good information in Dr. Luft’s
responses that I decided to leave it as a question and answer session. That way everyone could have the benefit of his knowledge in this area. To
start off the questions, we begin with the popular Hubbert Peak theory.
Q: A prominent theory is the so-called Hubbert Peak Oil Theory, which was named after the
late geophysicist, Dr. M. King Hubbert. Hubbert predicted that U.S. oil production would
peak in the early 1970’s, and the world’s oil production would peak shortly after the year 2000. His predictions were based on findings such as oil
discovery and the rate of consumption. It turns out that his predictions on the U.S. production were accurate. Can we assume that he found the correct
formula for predicting the future of oil supply?
Not necessarily. Unlike other oil domains in the world, the U.S. is well explored and we have a good sense of how much oil exists here and determine
how far we are from peak production. Other parts of the world are much less explored such as the Caspian and parts of the Middle East and Russia.
Hubbert's bell curve could still get flattened and extended if there is a breakthrough in exploration technology. Furthermore, Hubbert calculation
was based on the assessment of availability of the oil that is cheaply accessed. It does not include heavy oil, oil from tar sands or shale, oil found
under water deeper than about 1,500 feet, polar oil or gas liquids found in gas fields.
The amount of oil that can ultimately be recovered — and what oil should be included in that count — are major points of contention in this debate.
One thing is almost certain: we will only know that we reached peak production several years after this point has been reached, not beforehand.
Q: Does the fact that growth in oil production has been relatively flat [Francis 2004] since 2000; mean that Hubbert was correct in his assessment,
or do you expect production to rise as demand increases?
I expect supply to rise a little in the next few years after which we are likely to see decline in production as demand rises. Many factors will
influence the pace of the process: China’s ability to sustain its staggering growth, the state of global economy, the situation in the Middle East and
the Caspian etc.
A forecast assuming an average of 24 billion barrels of new oil discovered each year between 1995 and 2025 should be treated with skepticism if, in
reality, between 1995 and 2002 an average of only about 10 billion barrels a year have been found. In fact, since 1980 oil production has exceeded new
field discoveries by considerable margin. About 75 percent of the oil produced today comes from less than one percent of all fields. These are giant
fields requiring no sophisticated techniques in order to be discovered. But most of these fields are aging and in decline and the new fields
discovered are smaller. The average age of the world’s 14 largest oilfields, which together account for more than a fifth of total oil output, is more
than 43 years. Of the next largest 102 oilfields, together contributing about half of total world supply, most have been in production for more than
twenty years. Production from many of these fields is declining rapidly as their reserves are depleted.
To expand production capacity, the oil industry is faced with heavy investment to replace ageing infrastructure. Capital needs of the industry are
staggering. Oil companies admit that to meet projected demand in 2010 the industry would need to invest up to $1 trillion, which is substantially more
than it is spending today
Q: How do we know that each nation’s assessment of their recoverable oil is correct? It seems that it would be in each country’s interest to
stretch the truth on how much oil they have. Some OPEC countries have shown no decrease in total recoverable oil for years. [MacKenzie 2000] Shell cut
their reserve estimates by 20% this year. Is there an organization that monitors the reserve estimates?
Reserve assessment has always been fuzzy business especially when dealing with countries with very low credibility. Many of the optimistic assessments
are based on predictions that have proved to be misplaced. There is ample evidence that many oil-producing countries cook the books inflating the
reports about their reserves in order to attract foreign investment or secure more favorable OPEC quotes. In 1987, for example, despite the fact that
it was in the midst of war with Iran and its oil industry was mostly static, Iraq claimed to have more than doubled its reported reserves from 47 bbl
to 100 bbl. The increase was a lie: it was just creative bookkeeping designed to increase Baghdad's OPEC quota rather than the result of new oil
discoveries. (For more on this see, How Much Oil Does Iraq Have? www.brookings.edu...
) Almost all OPEC
countries have done the same. The entire world assumes Saudi Arabia and the other major producers can carry everyone's energy needs on its back
cheaply. But this could turn out not to be the case. The problem is that there is no mechanism of true energy transparency. The International Energy
Agency and other organizations must roll up their sleeves and work to obtain far better demand and cost data and far better decline data from oil
producing countries. Each one of the producers should provide field by field production and well-by-well data, budget details and third party
engineering reports so we can have a more accurate assessment on where we stand. The stakes are too high.
Q: Speaking of demand, China has surpassed Japan [Buttonwood 2004] as the
second largest user of crude oil in the world. I don’t suspect that the U.S. or Japan is willing to give up its usage to help China. This means that
the world’s demand for crude oil keeps increasing, as more and more countries want a modern society. How much of the world is trying to catch up, or
how much increase in demand do you suspect there will be.
Global population is projected to reach eight billion by 2025 with more than half those additional people born in Asia and Latin America; the number
of cars will by then increase to well over 1.1 billion from approximately 550 million today. As a result, transportation will absorb more than half of
total oil consumption in the world. According to the International Energy Agency, oil demand is projected to grow by 1.6 percent per year, from 80
million barrels per day (mb/d) today to 89 mb/d in 2010 and 120 mb/d in 2030. This projection assumes the market can deliver such quantities but we
doubt this. China and India together are a third of humanity. Their oil demand grows at a rapid pace. In 2003 China’s oil demand grew by 30% and it
auto market by 75%. If China’s demand continues to grow we are heading to a very difficult era unless we curb demand through increased efficiency or
move into alternatives. The oil market cannot accommodate another huge consumer like the U.S. (For more on China see, US, China Are on Collision
Course Over Oil www.iags.org...
and The Sino-Saudi Connection www.commentarymagazine.com...
more on India, INDIA'S ENERGY SECURITY CHALLENGE www.iags.org...
Q: So, we have more and more countries wanting more crude oil for their energy needs. It looks as if most countries are putting out at 90% - 100%
capacity. [Business Week 2000] The main exception to this rule would be Saudi Arabia who is only using 72% of capacity. UAE and Kuwait are 84% and 70%
capacity, but neither one could produce more than an extra 1 million barrels a day (b/d). Where does the increase in oil come from?
Spare capacity in the oil market is eroding. This means the oil market is losing is liquidity. No country wants to invest money on infrastructure that
sits idle most of the time so there is very little room to maneuver in the market. The Saudis claim they have 2-3mbd of spare capacity but this figure
seems to be exaggerated. The implications of loss of spare capacity could be severe. It means that if a major producer like Nigeria, Iraq or Venezuela
goes offline due to strike, riots or terror attack there will be nobody to replace it and there will be nothing to stop the price of oil from going
through the roof.
Q: The New York Times ran an article this year saying that the Ghawar, Saudi
Arabia’s largest oil field, was tiring. [Gerth 2004] The pressure in Arabia’s fields is kept up by pumping 7 million barrels of water a day into the
ground. [Ignatius 2003] Saudi Arabia has increased their production in the past to keep the world from having market shortages? Can we continue to
count on them, or is that time gone?
The Saudis have not been transparent when it comes to their reserve data and so far we have taken them at their word. However, in a new study soon to
be released, Matthew R. Simmons, president of Simmons and Company International, a specialized energy investment banking firm, claims that Saudi
reserve figures are not reliable. He argues that Saudi Arabia's oil fields now are in decline, that the country will not be able to satisfy the
world's thirst for oil in coming years and that its capacity will not climb much higher than its current capacity of 10mbd. Considering the growth in
demand, this could easily spark a global energy crisis. Simmons’ work seems credible to us. He analyzed 200 technical papers on Saudi reserves by the
Society of Petroleum Engineers and his work was peer reviewed by dozen senior technical experts. Of course the Saudis rushed to refute his work but
until they open their books and allow a third party to investigate their reserve data we will never know who is right. (for more, see New study
raises doubts about Saudi oil reserves www.iags.org...
Q: Realistically, the total amount of oil in the world has been in decline, since the first barrel was produced in the 1800’s. Since the Earth is a
sphere, and all spheres are finite, then there is a finite amount of oil left. What is the actual amount of oil left? How long will it last? Does
anyone know this?
There is no way we can tell how much oil is left on the planet. Since the shift from coal to oil, the world has already consumed more than 875 billion
barrels. Geologists estimate global ultimate recoverable reserves within the range of 1,600 to 2,600 billion barrels. The U.S. Geological Survey
(USGS) claimed an even higher estimate, close to 3,000. This may sound a lot considering the fact that the world consumes ‘only’ 80 million barrels
per day but if you consider the growth in demand that doesn’t leave the oil economy more than 2-3 decades to run. I think the USGS is wildly
optimistic. There are some methodological problems in its estimate. For example, the USGS derives figures of undiscovered oil by looking at different
countries and assigning a probability that oil will be found and uses the mean estimate. This is a flawed approach that gives countries credit for
having lots of oil without any evidence that this is the case.
In truth, the only way we can assess the availability of undiscovered reserves is by mathematical models which are at best dubious. There are lots of
numbers floating around but I wouldn’t give any of them much credence. What we do know is that oil is a finite resource and every barrel used cannot
be replaced. The question should not be when will we run out of oil but when will we run out of cheaply recoverable oil. As oil becomes scarce, the
cost of exploration, recovery and refining increases. Once the world reaches peak, the price of oil will never go down and it will be commercially
unfeasible to maintain the oil economy in its present form. When price of a barrel reaches $80 people would not be able to afford driving SUVs running
on 10 miles per gallon.
Q: Are the Canadian oil sands an actual source of oil, or does it take more energy to extract the
oil than is gained?
Oil sand is mud-like material composed of sand, water and clay wrapped in thick hydrocarbon called bitumen. Once the bitumen is separated from the
sand and the water it can be refined into synthetic crude. Canadian officials claim that approximately 300 billion barrels underlie the 30,000 sq.
miles of Alberta and are ultimately recoverable. What they don’t tell us is that only about 20% of the Alberta's oil sands can be mined by the
economically competitive surface mining. The rest is located in deeper layers, 75 yards and below, and can be recovered by a by a very energy
intensive process which entails either heating or diluting the bitumen, making it liquid enough to accumulate in a well and then be pumped to the
surface. In addition to causing severe groundwater contamination problems due to leakage of the diluting materials the process required a lot of
natural gas. Natural gas markets have been wrestling with tight supplies and the price of natural gas has almost tripled in the past four years. It
makes no sense for us to peg future U.S. oil supply to the whims of the natural gas market. Keep in mind: the price of natural gas is closely tied to
the price of conventional oil. When the price of oil goes up, the price of gas rises accordingly, making production of crude from oil sands even more
expensive. In sum, tar sands are only one of many available solutions but by no means is the silver bullet that can replace conventional crude. (for
more, see Can Canadian sands replace Arabia's? www.energypulse.net...
Q: Other issues beside supply and demand include
transportation. IAGS is one of the only sites I’ve seen that mentioned the fact that oil pipelines and shipping lanes were very vulnerable points of
the oil market. This gets us into the topic of terrorism. How difficult would it be to cripple the oil industry in this manner? Are the refineries and
shipping lanes well guarded?
Our energy infrastructure is very vulnerable to terror attacks. Take Saudi Arabia for example: The Saudi oil system is target rich and extremely
vulnerable to terrorist acts not only due to al Qaeda’s strong presence in the kingdom and its ability to carry out coordinated attacks but also
because of the structure of the kingdom’s oil infrastructure.
Over half of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves are contained in just eight fields. Each of these installations processes over 2mbd and some even more. A
terrorist attack on each one of these hubs of the Saudi oil complex or a simultaneous attack on few of them is not a fictional scenario. A single
terrorist cell hijacking an airplane in Kuwait or Dubai and crashing it into one of the major installations could turn the complex into an inferno.
This could take up to 50% of Saudi oil off the market for at least six months and with it most of the world’s spare capacity, sending oil prices
through the ceiling.
There is growing evidence that terrorists find the unpoliced sea to be their preferred domain of operation. Today, over 60% of the world's oil is
shipped on 3,500 tankers through a small number of 'chokepoints' – straits and channels narrow enough to be blocked, and vulnerable to piracy and
terrorism. The most important chokepoints are the Strait of Hormuz, through which 13 million barrels of oil are moved daily, Bab el-Mandab, which
connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, and the Strait of Malacca, between Indonesia and Malaysia. Thirty percent of the
world's trade and 80% of Japan's crude oil passes through the latter, including half of all sea shipments of oil bound for East Asia and two-thirds
of global liquefied natural gas shipments. Most of those critical chokepoints are located in areas where Islamic fundamentalism is prevalent. The
Strait of Hormuz is controlled by Iran; Bab el-Mandab is controlled by Yemen, the ancestral home of bin Laden. Part of the 500-mile long Strait of
Malacca courses through Indonesia's oil rich province Aceh, inhabited by one of the world’s most radical Muslim populations. Many terror experts have
expressed concern that terrorists might seize a ship or a boat or even a one-man submarine and crash it into a supertanker in one of the chokepoints.
Were terrorists to attack such a vessel the resulting explosion and spreading stain of burning oil could shut down the channel for weeks, with a
profound impact on global markets and the maritime insurance industry. (for more see, Terror's next target www.iags.org...
Q: How did it end up
that most of the world’s oil is in countries that are know for terrorism? Does the wealth from the oil encourage this behavior? Is there a connection
between the two?
Nearly in every country in which the economy is governed by oil, whether in Africa, Latin America, or the Caspian, is corrupt and dictatorial. Oil
countries suffer from what economists call the “natural resource curse,” meaning that the more an economy is based on oil or other minerals, the lower
its growth rate. A constant inflow of foreign exchange into an oil producing country leads to appreciation of its currency, making it difficult for
local manufacturers to compete. People lose the motivation to innovate or increase their productivity. Instead, they occupy themselves searching for
ways to dip into the spoils. Governments generate great wealth without accountability. In extreme cases like Saudi Arabia, a social contract is
offered: the government pockets the oil revenues--around 80 percent of Saudi government revenues come from oil--and no taxes are imposed on the
population. In exchange, the government provides all social services from cradle to grave free of charge. Being reliant on one source of income,
oil-producing countries are extremely sensitive to drops in oil prices. Over the years the regimes become detached from their peoples, class divisions
are created due to uneven distribution of wealth and a cycle of resentment and instability develops.
Over time, governments of oil producing countries, especially in the Middle East, have developed various mechanisms to deal with their disgruntled
populations. Multiple security apparatuses create an atmosphere of terror and repression, the media is tightly controlled by the regimes, while the
Islamic religious establishment provides comfort and spiritual outlet. In many cases, the religious establishment began to challenge the legitimacy
of the regime and in some cases it even replaced it such as in the case of Iran. To contain the radicals, oil monarchies in the Gulf, mainly in Saudi
Arabia, buy their legitimacy from an ultra-conservative religious establishment. Symbiotic relations are formed between the rulers and the clergy. The
Islamists use oil money to globally propagate hostility to the West, modernity, non-Muslims, and women. (for more see Fueling Terror
) The U.S. is an ideal lightening rod to capture popular anger. Its free-spirited way of life, its
egalitarianism, its democratic political system, its functioning social institutions and its support for Israel have all been invoked to deflect
people’s bitterness of their own failing social system where corruption, burgeoning population and lack of economic opportunity pervade. In recent
years this dynamic has given rise to new radical forces of change aspiring to destroy the current system and install a “pure and uncorrupted” system
Q: Since there haven’t been any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) found in Iraq. It seems that the only reason to be in Iraq with a military force
is to secure the U.S. oil future. Other countries in the world have more instability and greater reason to intervene if this was just a human rights
issue. We are spending billions on this war. If you included this in the cost of gasoline, what is the actual price you pay? Obviously the price at
the pump is just one line item.
As it is, the cost of securing our access to Middle East oil -- deploying U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, patrolling its water and supplying military
assistance to Middle East countries -- is estimated at anywhere between $40 and $65 billion per year.
The National Defense Council Foundation (www.ndcf.org...
), a Virginia-based research and educational institution has completed its year-long
analysis of the “hidden cost” of imported oil. They investigated the military and economic penalty our undue dependence on imported oil exacts from
the U.S. economy. Included in this economic toll are:
· Almost $49.1 billion in annual defense outlays to maintain the capability to defend the flow of Persian Gulf Oil – the equivalent of adding $1.17 to
the price of a gallon of gasoline;
· The loss of 828,400 jobs in the U.S. economy;
· The loss of $159.9 billion in GNP annually;
· The loss of $13.4 billion in federal and state revenues annually;
· Total economic penalties of from $297.2 to $304.9 billion annually.
If reflected at the gasoline pump, these “hidden costs” would raise the price of a gallon of gasoline to over $5.28, a fill-up would be over $105.
(Also see, How much are we paying for a gallon of gas? www.iags.org...
Q: What is the likely hood of more “oil wars” as the world realizes that it is running low, and countries compete for resources? Lately, the news
has been full of interesting bits such as Japan signing oil contracts with Iran. Japan and China are debating on where Russia should build their
newest pipeline. Venezuela has threatened to start a “100 year war” if the U.S. tries to intervene like it did in Haiti. (I’ve even heard the rumor
that Haiti was a launching pad to invade Venezuela.) How long till debate breaks down into fighting?
The notion of oil wars is not new. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was partly due to Japan’s dependence on oil. So was the German invasion of
Russia in 1941. As long as oil is an essential strategic resource, countries will do everything they can to secure their access to the world’s oil
fields. The scarcer oil becomes, the stronger the likelihood for oil wars. We are in a unique moment in human history in which technology allows us to
transition our economy from oil into next generation fuels. If this process does not begin today with full thrust and determination, we will all be
condemned to a long period of insecurity and instability.
Q: The question on everyone’s mind. Will the price of gasoline at the pump continue to rise? The U.S. is used to prices below 2.00 a gallon. How
high will the price go?
Yes. Prices will go up and $2 per gallon could soon become a fond memory. It is impossible to determine how high the price could go but consumers
should begin to adjust their expectations and realize that the era of cheap gasoline has ended. Having said this one need to remember that in the U.S.
gasoline is still perceived as a cheap commodity. A gallon of gasoline at the service station is priced lower than a gallon of bottled water.
American gasoline prices now rank among the lowest in the world for oil-importing countries, and are a third of retail prices in Europe and Japan,
where steep taxes are imposed to discourage gasoline use.
ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF ENERGY
Q: The U.S. has recently seen an increase in the number of planned coal plants. [Clayton 2004] 94 new coal-fired plants are planned across 36
states. How long will the coal supply last, and isn’t this one of the worst pollution offenders in the energy field?
The US is the Saudi Arabia of coal. We have a quarter of the world’s coal reserves, enough to last at least 200 years at current consumption rates.
China and India also have significant amounts. Coal definitely has a role in our energy mix assuming we know how to utilize it properly without making
our environmental problems worse. We've come a long way since the days when coal usage was synonymous with terrible pollution. These days clean coal
technologies, such as gasification, allow us to build plants using coal that are among the cleanest power plants in the U.S., and to cleanly
co-generate power and fuel from coal (see Clean Coal-to-Methanol project a success www.iags.org...
Q: President Bush has recently pushed the use of hydrogen fuel cells in cars
as the plan for the future. [State of the Union Address 2003] Is hydrogen the dream alternative fuel source?
The single most important thing to remember about hydrogen is that it is an energy carrier, not an energy source. Thus, it has to be produced somehow
either from coal, natural gas or by using electricity (also generated from coal, natural gas or nuclear power, as well as solar, wind, hydro, and
geothermal power) to split water through electrolysis. Hydrogen production is energy intensive and quite costly. Using hydrogen as an automotive fuel
entails multiple technological difficulties that to date have not been satisfactorily resolved:
1. It involves a complex distribution system (using hydrogen requires a totally new and costly distribution infrastructure.)
2. The existing technologies for storing hydrogen on board - namely, high-pressure compression or liquefaction - are complex and expensive. There are
some future promising technologies for on board storage of hydrogen, among them graphite fibers, carbon nanotubes, and metal hybrids. Once these
technologies become available, they could gradually be incorporated into the market. But this will take a long time, which – given the national
security implications of our oil dependence - we might not have.
3. Hydrogen is extremely flammable. The smallest molecule of any matter, hydrogen has a tendency to leak - thus exacerbating the flammability issue.
While this is avoidable in laboratory conditions, it becomes much more complex when common vehicle maintenance is involved. To avoid this problem high
safety fittings for the hydrogen system would have to be developed.
4. To power a car with hydrogen we need a fuel cell. This technology has made giant steps in recent years but the price of fuel cells is still
In sum the pure hydrogen solution is too costly and too far in the future to be a viable solution to today’s urgent problems. When thinking of fuel
cells, a more feasible solution is one that involves hydrogen carrier fuels, hydrogen rich liquid fuels with physical characteristics similar to
gasoline, which can be transported and distributed using essentially the existing infrastructure, and thus introduced to the market much more rapidly
than pure hydrogen. Methanol, a hydrogen rich alcohol fuel, is of particular interest since it can be cheaply made from coal, an abundant domestic
resource, and since it can be more easily reformed (that is, hydrogen can be extracted from it more easily either at the fuel station or onboard the
vehicle) than other fuels.
Q: What about other more questionable methods such as solar power, wind, and nuclear energy? Are these energy sources too expensive or
Nuclear energy is one of the most neglected and under appreciated industries. Just like other industries it has made a major progress in the past
three decades. We should invest more in nuclear energy simply because we don’t have a choice. Nuclear energy is the only way we can sustain our
current growth and provide power to maintain our way of life. There are many issues that need to be addressed such as safety, nuclear waste disposal
and capital costs but we need to remember that our oil economy is not safe either. Three thousands people were killed on 9/11 because our country is
oil dependent and many other have died in oil wars. No one in the US was killed in a nuclear accident.
Regarding renewable energy sources such as wind and solar: they are an essential element in our energy mix and we would like them to have a larger
share. Today renewable energy comprises less than five percent of our energy. But most of these sources of energy are still expensive. In order to
bring their price down, and level the playing field with the amply subsidized oil market, we need to provide these industries with tax credits and
other incentives. In any event, we should not deceive ourselves that our energy system can be all renewable, at least not before the middle of this
Q: What is the best plan of action for the world? Where should we be looking to ensure that future generations have the energy for their
The big bear to kill is the transportation sector. So instead of focusing on pie-in-the–sky
technologies we should invest in technologies that have passed the R&D phase and can be rapidly commercialized. There is no need to wait for fuel
cells. All major auto companies know how to produce flexible fuel vehicles (cars that can run on any mix of gasoline and alcohol) and hybrid vehicles
at an affordable price and can ramp up production within months. The marginal additional cost of a flexible fuel vehicle is less than $100. If every
car on the road was a flexible fuel car all we’d need to do is bring the alternative fuels into the market.
Particularly interesting are P-Series fuels. P-Series fuels are inexpensive fuels generated from municipal and agricultural wastes combined with
ethanol and cheap natural gas liquids. These blends have been tested successfully on flexible fuel vehicles such as Ford Taurus and Dodge Caravan.
They are 96% derived from domestic resources and reduce petroleum use by 80% as compared with gasoline. Use of P-Series fuels would also greatly
reduce toxic emissions. P-Series fuels were examined by the Department of Energy, and in 1999 were officially designated as an "alternative fuel."
P-fuels are economically competitive to gasoline. The projected retail price for P-Series including all taxes is $1.60 per gallon (New Jersey price),
about the same as mid-grade gasoline in a $/mile calculation. (for more see www.iags.org...
P-Series helps address the problem of garbage disposal. In cities like New York City or Los Angeles some 30-40,000 tons of trash are discarded each
day. The present cost of disposing of one ton of trash in New York is $250 and in Los Angeles it is close to $100. Due to the closing of local
landfills, it is expected that in 10 to 15 years Los Angeles trash will be put on trains and hauled 80 to 100 miles to outlying dessert landfills. New
York considers exporting its garbage to the Caribbean. P-Series can utilize 60% of these cities’ waste stream, cutting waste management costs hundreds
of millions of dollars annually. P-Series fuels made from ethanol and municipal waste can replace 3mbd of U.S. petroleum imports. It’s time to stop
wasting our waste. Let’s make fuel from it and stop sending money to those who want to hurt us.
Another very interesting solution is Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles. (see www.iags.org...
)Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are hybrid vehicles
(like Toyota Prius) with an added battery. As the term suggests, plug-in hybrids can be plugged in to a 120-volt outlet and charged. Plug-ins run on
the stored energy for much of a typical day's driving. Depending on the size of the battery a car could drive up to 60 miles per charge, far beyond
the commute of an average American. When the charge is used up, the car automatically keeps running on the fuel in the fuel tank. A person who drives
a distance shorter than the car's electric range between charges would never have to dip into the fuel tank. A plug-in that is fully charged every
night can reduce emissions by 50% due to the improved fuel economy and the fact that there would be no tail pipe emissions during the electric driving
phase. Plug-in can save drivers money: fuel costs for conventional vehicles stand on 7 cents per mile while the cost for plug-ins is only 3 cents per
mile including the cost of electricity. Plug-in cars can reach fuel economy of 100mpg. If one in ten American cars is a plug-in, we can replace 1mbd
of U.S. petroleum imports. DaimlerChrysler, in conjuction with EPRI, announced it is starting to produce plug-in hybrid Sprinter vans.
Finally there is Methanol (not ethanol). Methanol, a fuel with physical characteristics similar to gasoline, is not new to automotive transportation:
because of its high performance and safety characteristics -- it is much less flammable than gasoline -- methanol has been the fuel of choice for race
tracks such as the Indy 500 since the 1960s. Methanol can be produced from any carbonaceous material including natural gas and biomass (one ton of
biomass can be converted to 186 gallons of methanol). The biggest potential source of methanol in the U.S. is coal. The U.S. has hundreds of years
worth of coal reserves (25% of the world's total). In Kingsport, Tennessee a plant participating in the Department of Energy's Clean Coal Technology
Program produces methanol from coal at a cost of $0.46 a gallon. (see Clean Coal-to-Methanol project a success
The emissions of this process are well below regulatory limits, and the coal ash is converted into slag, which is used by the construction industry
for road building. The sulfur content of the coal is utilized as raw material for fertilizer production, instead of being emitted to the atmosphere as
a pollutant. Mixing gasoline with methanol can replace 1.5 mbd of U.S. petroleum imports, and methanol is also a hydrogen carrier fuel – a hydrogen
rich liquid fuel that is a user friendly and economically sensible way to store hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles. Using methanol as the
hydrogen carrying fuel of choice overcomes many of the infrastructure hurdles posed by shifting to fuel cells.
Q: What can we as individuals do to help out the world’s energy situation?
We should make energy a national priority issue and demand real world solutions from our leaders. We should not assume that the problem will go away.
It will not. Unless we mobilize our resources and ingenuity and make this the highest priority of our time, life on this planet will be tough. Sooner
or later we will have to transition our economy anyway. A shift in the energy market is bound to happen. The question is - when? Will it happen on
our terms, as a result of our concerted action, or will it be forced upon us?
Prosperity, democracy and security all hinge on a cheap, clean, uninterrupted flow of energy. It is therefore in our best interest to preemptively
embark on a revolutionary change that will lead us away from the oil age rather than drag our feet and suffer the ramifications of becoming growingly
dependent on an increasingly contested resource.
1. Francis David R. 2004. “Has Global Oil Peaked”. The Christian Science Monitor (Jan
2. Buttonwood 2004. “Crude Arguments”. The Economist Global Agenda (March 23,
3. “Oil Production and Capacity”. Business Week Online (May 2000)
4. Gerth Jeff 2004. “Forecast of Rising Oil Demand Challenges
Tired Saudi Fields”.
The New York Times (Feb 24, 2004)
5. Ignatius David 2003 “Check That Oil”. Washington Post (Nov 14,
6. MacKenzie James J. 2000. “Estimated Ultimately Recoverable (EUR) Oil”.
World Resources Institute (March 2000)
7. Clayton Mark 2004 “America’s New Coal Rush”. The Christian Science Monitor (Feb 26,
[Edited on 3-5-2004 by dbates]
[Edited on 18-5-2004 by dbates]