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Could 3-D printers hasten peak oil demand?

Could 3-D printers hasten peak oil demand? thumbnail

A global transition away from oil and gas is well underway as booming renewable energy sources and electric cars portend major changes for the industry.

Last week BP outlined the challenges ahead, but the company’s crystal ball has yet to focus on the disruptive potential from what may be the biggest paradigm shift in manufacturing since the advent of the factory.

Speaking at the launch of its annual long-term forecast, BP’s chief economist said the oil major is planning to grapple with the energy demand implications of the digital economy’s fast-growing upstart, 3-D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, most technology watchers predict that the applications found for 3-D printing will only accelerate as networked automation, robotics, and Big Data become more pervasive.

“One of the things I think could really be transformative is additive manufacturing — artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and so on,” BP’s Dale Spencer said presenting BP’s energy outlook.

“Suppose additive manufacturing really took off, so we do 3D printing of more and more things. The whole nature of trade, the whole nature of supply chain, changes fundamentally. I do not need to ship goods from one part of the world to another, I print it.”

Indeed, the demand stakes of a slower than expected growth in road and maritime freight are significant. Over 90% of international bunker fuel use is dedicated to maritime freight and, added to road and air haulage, freight transportation accounts for over a quarter of global oil consumption, according to the IEA.

Forecasts for the growth of the 3-D printing are also bullish as technology improves. McKinsey in 2013 projected the market could explode from $5.2 billion to anywhere from $180 to $490 billion by 2025.

Others are more conservative but still bullish. Last year Wohler Associates, an additive manufacturing consultancy, estimated the market will quadruple to reach $21 billion by 2020, up from $5.2 billion in 2015.

But there are still many caveats over how 3-D printing could hit demand for oil.

While 3-D printing could disrupt traditional oil-powered supply chains, the manufacturing process itself is more energy intensive due mainly to longer production times and the peripheral devices needed to build up materials layer by layer.

According to one comparative study published in 2014, the energy consumption of additive manufacturing is estimated to be 100-fold higher than that of conventional bulk-forming processes, such as injection molding. Printing does save on materials but for most applications, their energy footprint offsets this benefit.

Demand destruction or new demand center?

A mitigating factor, however, would be the lifetime energy savings from more complex but lighter printed parts, for example, in the aerospace industry.

While some supply chains could become smaller and simpler, others may become larger and more complex. Local deliveries of made-to-order printed products to multiple end users would likely rise, made possible by more provincial production of goods.

The impact on oil companies may also be allayed as, even if 3-D printing takes off, the raw materials needed to print still need to be produced and transported traditionally.

After all, increasing volumes of crude will still go to fuel petrochemicals and feed the world’s appetite for plastics. The energy inputs needed to power printers and more digital tech will also still likely come from natural gas, a key earnings driver which many oil companies are rightly now paying more heed.

While acknowledging the demand destruction ahead, BP’s report assumes that global oil demand could actually peak later than some recent market watchers think.

Baseline estimates under BP’s outlook are for oil demand to start falling during the mid-2040’s after hitting 106 million b/d in 2035, up from 93 million b/d in 2016.

The figures make BP more bullish over oil demand than the International Energy Agency which in November predicted oil consumption would almost flat line by 2040 when it reaches 103.5 million b/d.

They also put the oil major at odds with a increasingly emerging view that oil demand could peak within the next 10-20 years. Admittedly, most of the alarming predictions are based on a sharp and radical switch to low carbon fuels needed to implement the Paris Accord on limiting climate change.

But with US President Trump now talking of leaving the Paris Accord, it may be innovations in the manufacturing sector that lead the way to lower carbon future.

Robert Perkins, Senior writer/editor

A journalist with over 15 years of experience covering finance, economics and energy industry issues, Robert has taken skills from the high-pressure, real-time news environment to develop as a journalist, writer and editor.

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18 Comments on "Could 3-D printers hasten peak oil demand?"

  1. meld on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 7:49 am 

    ummm teah you still have to ship the materials all ariund the world to put in the printer though. 3D printing will succesfully put a whole bunch of assembly line workers out of business though.

  2. Antius on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 9:46 am 

    “A global transition away from oil and gas is well underway as booming renewable energy sources and electric cars portend major changes for the industry.”

    1. Renewable electricity penetration will not reduce natural gas demand, as NG plants are the most popular form of backup generator;
    2. Electric cars will be a drop in the ocean in terms of reducing oil demand for the foreseeable future.
    3. 3D printers may work for simple components made from common materials like plastic or mild steel. They may reduce supply lines in some areas but Star Trek replicators they aint.

  3. penury on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 9:50 am 

    In addition to “oil” there may be other things the world will run out of. But human wants and needs must be satisfied. It appears that the dream of mankind will come true. A big screen tv, a big recliner chair and everything done for you, no need to move ever again, Bliss. The dream of middle America, now all we need are flying cars.

  4. coffeeguyzz on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 10:11 am 

    The recent advances in this field are truly astonishing.
    Using stem cells, fuzzy heads are trying to create human tissue to use as feedstock for 3D printing of organ replacements.

    Houses – including multi story – are already being constructed on a prototype basis using 3DP.

    As graphene continues to be used in increasing applications, the future combination of a ‘miracle’ material with this creative process (3D printing) offers incredible potential in many fields.

  5. Sissyfuss on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 10:13 am 

    When they can 3D print food then I’ll be impressed.

  6. Davy on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 10:25 am 

    PleeZe, spare me the bullshit. The techno insanities of which 3DP is part is a quick path to hunger.

    PS good one SIS.

  7. dave thompson on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 10:58 am 

    The most I have seen done with 3D printers is silly plastic trinkets.

  8. Plantagenet on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 11:44 am 

    Things printed on a 3D printer are plastic, i.e. they are made with oil.

    Think about it—- Increased use of 3D printers will likely INCREASE oil use, not reduce it.


  9. Cloggie on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 11:45 am 

    The most I have seen done with 3D printers is silly plastic trinkets.

    Think again. The revolutionary aspect of 3D-printing is that once you have a computer representation of an object, almost regardless how complex, you have it in the material world as well by a click of a mouse, with spectacular precision.

    Revolutionary consequence: send the design over the wire to the place the part is needed and print it out locally and save energy and transportation cost.

  10. GregT on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 12:13 pm 

    When they finally figure out a way to 3D print all of the species that are in decline, on the endangered list, or on the verge of extinction, only then will they be on to something worth mentioning.

    In the mean time, more consumer crap, turning natural ‘resources’ into waste destined for landfills, rivers, the atmosphere, and the oceans.

    Revolutionary consequence=evolutionary dead end for the humans.

  11. antaris on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 12:52 pm 

    For sure, it all came from Star Trek. First the flip phone, and that cool Replicator was actually a super duper 3D printer!

  12. Simon on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 12:53 pm 

    Antius – Actually if CCGT’s are being used as beckup, then they are not being run at all times, so they are actually saving fuel, however wont speculate as to the amount.

    Electric cars, so far are not reducing the amount of FF used, however they may be replacing some of it.

  13. Spiny_Norman on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 5:07 pm 


  14. makati1 on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 6:11 pm 

    This fad is a techie wet dream that will last about as long. I’ve seen these techie fads come and go many times over the years. Every one promised a great future. Never happened. Tracks in roads to guide cars, flying cars, robot maids, and on and on. Maybe possible but not practical.

    Time is running out in the financial world. When that goes, so goes most of what we know and enjoy today. I do not worry about robotics or any ‘printer’ taking over. There will be no time to build out that system other than a few small uses to give the techies a temporary high.

    As has been covered above, that junk is made from very refined materials that still have to be recovered, refined and trucked to the factory/machine. Nothing comes out of the air magically. It cannot make a high precision steel alloy gear or the billions of tons of real life necessities like glass, steel and concrete. Just toys and junk we do NOT need.

  15. Numbersman on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 7:29 pm 

    Clog et all,

    3D printers have moved beyond plastic to make specialty metal parts, but the finish generally isnt very nice on them. More like a casting that needs finishing work to get a smooth surface.

    Different powders can be mixed in the additive process, so alloys are possible. A little dab of powder and zap of a laser to melt it in and voila, part starts growing.

    Mixed material parts can be made, with variable ratios based on performance needs in different places, such as strength, lubricity, heat transfer, etc.

    I dont see it taking over the low end of casting and machining, but rather new and specialty and customized applications such as drone and medical. A key differentiator vs machining is that the cost of low qty pieces is not much different than high quantity. Very little tooling required. But finishing operations are often required.

  16. Anonymous on Tue, 7th Feb 2017 8:06 pm 

    3D printers are so bulky and cumbersome though. I just want to tell the machine what I want it to make for me, and it justs replicates it to spec. Then I can take all my new replicated toys into my holodeck and Im set.

    How long before I can order a voice-command replicator from Amazon clogtard? Or do they have those in holland already? Based on all the other miracles you keep telling us they have over there, Im sure matter replicators are available in better malls and retailers everywhere over there, right?

  17. dave thompson on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 1:19 am 

    I doubt that the corporate rulers will allow design details for critical replacement parts out willy nilly to just anyone with a computer and a 3D printer. However I have seen some nifty plastic name plates and desk caddies made. OOOOHH we are ready for the apocalypse.

  18. brough on Wed, 8th Feb 2017 4:30 am 

    I’ve spent about 12 months trying to get my head round the concept of peak oil demand. And have come to the same conclusion as most others on this message board. Peak oil production and peak oil demand are different sides of the same coin.
    There are many movements around the world today, that are bringing the petroleum age into decline. Some are enforced and some are far sighted folks that are trying to make their communities more energy secure. However the rise of 3-D printing is new one on me, but it does make sense

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