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Page added on June 22, 2012

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Solar Fuels Cannot Avert an Imminent Petroluem Fuels Crisis.

Alternative Energy
 [This is the conclusion of a long article published in the journal Science Progress, the entire article is available at Energy Balance]
Since the article (immediately previous posting) to which this refers is rather long, I am extracting its concluding section here, rather than leaving the reader to wade through all of it. It will also be published in full in the next issue of the journal Science Progress.

In a nutshell, since the expected rate of depletion of conventional crude oil (petroleum) is around 3.4%/year, another 2.9 million barrels a day will need to be “found” year on year. Thus, by 2020, we will be short on conventional crude by about 23 mbd or just over one quarter of current production. Filling this hole by solar fuels is practically impossible, and so another techno-fix appears to bite the dust. If we are unable to solve the problem from the supply side, we need to look to the demand side. Since the main and most immediate effect will be on transportation, all arrows point to a relocalisation of civilization and its societies. This means a complete rethink of how we live, and though the foreseeable transition to a lower energy and more localised way of life is unequivocally daunting, there are reasons for optimism.

Overall Summary and Outlook.

In conclusion, we are faced with an overall serious energy problem, and most pressingly the challenge of how to fill the enlarging hole created by a declining production of conventional crude oil. It appears almost certain that there will be profound efforts made in obtaining “unconventional oil” from shale and in liberating gas from various geological formations by “fracking”; the production of “synthetic crude” from tar-sands will doubtless increase too. Noting that world light crude oil production peaked in 2005, it is increasingly the heavy oils, e.g. from the Orinoco Belt in Venezuela, that will need to be recovered and processed, requiring the building of a new swathe of oil refineries that can handle this kind of material. Thus, not only are supplies of conventional crude oil going to fall, but what is recovered will be increasingly difficult to process. How difficult it is to produce an energy resource is usually expressed by the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI). Thus in the halcyon days of the Texan “giant gushers”, 100 barrels of crude oil could be recovered using the energy equivalent to that contained in one barrel of crude oil, which gives an EROEI = 100. The figure has fallen since then, and presently EROEIs in the range 11 -18 are obtained for North Sea (Brent Crude) oil, and as low as 3 – 5 for heavy oil and tar sands “oil”.

More of the conclusion and the complete article itself can be found at Energy Balance

17 Comments on "Solar Fuels Cannot Avert an Imminent Petroluem Fuels Crisis."

  1. BillT on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 11:44 am 

    It appears that the world is waking up? This is not news to most who post on here. It is just reality. Real growth is over. Contraction is the new norm. Adjust.

  2. Kenz300 on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 12:44 pm 

    Biofuel can now be made from trash or waste. The world produces a lot of trash every day. Those landfills can be converted to produce biofuels, energy (methane) and recycled materials for new products. This is a more sustainable way to manage trash than putting it in a landfill.

  3. Hugh Culliton on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 1:57 pm 

    While bio-waste can be used as fuel in the short term, remember that it too is a product of an oil-based economy. As the cost-effective oil dries-up it to will disappear. We can’t rely on the eating of our own waste to propell us into the future. Vultures do well scavenging, but only because there’s growth elsewhere. We don’t have that luxury. We need sustainability, and that means contraction of our energy use, and a dramatic change in our social arraignments.

  4. BillT on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 2:01 pm 

    Kenz, what is possible and what is practical are tow different things. Yes trash can be recycled into numerous things, but if you really think it is going to happen, I think you are dreaming.

    The best example of what I am saying is, that the worlds ocean water contains more uranium than we have mined in the last hundred years and more gold than has been mined in the history of man. But, there it will stay as the recovery is not worth the cost. The usual land fill is full of metals, minerals, poisons, bacteria, germs, virus’, and misc. stuff that would be very very difficult to separate into useful items. No, you cannot just cover a mound and turn it into biofuels.

    There is one very good reason why many ideas will never be put into practice. If it isn’t profitable/practical, it will NOT happen. EROEI is not just a law useful in petroleum or natural gas. It is a universal law that cannot be changed by economics, politics, or opinion.

  5. Rick on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 6:53 pm 

    Anyone who thinks technology will replace easy cheap oil, is sadly mistaken. The party is over, and those who can adjust, before too long, will have a chance.

  6. sheilach on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 8:16 pm 

    As oil declines, so will our excessive population. Declining fuel is not just for transportation, it also grows, protects and transports our food,makes most of our clothing, medications, paints etc etc etc. Declining oil = a declining human population through hunger, wars, disease and finally, starvation.
    The decline will not be easy or nice. I’m also glad I’m old.

  7. ActionCjackson on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 10:28 pm 


    Will people (in mass numbers) react violently in scared panic when we really do go short on energy and there’s no food on the shelves? Either way, when and how will it look? Will it be as sudden as there is no food on the shelves or more gradual like the unemployment and food prices are so high the country collapses? Will it touch all areas (of the USA)? How is this going to play out?

  8. DMyers on Fri, 22nd Jun 2012 11:34 pm 

    Kenz, re biofuels. has an article up now that offers some interesting information about biofuels. The paper is about large problems now being faced by refineries. The paper indicates that biofuels perform very badly, which affects demand, which affects refining profitability.

    The above article touches on the topic of heavy oil refinement. “…. what is recovered will be increasingly difficult to process.” I mention it because it seems to be a much neglected topic. I’m going on the gut level here and looking for insight from more knowledgeable minds. My sense is that we will face up-close problems, e.g. gas lines, much sooner from refinery deficiencies than from global supply fall-off. But this is not mentioned nearly so much as diminishing production of conventional oil. A major crunch could come very suddenly as the expense of refining heavy oil makes the refining unprofitable and no useful distillate gets produced. This heavy stuff requires a lot of new infrastructure that may not be forthcoming, for many reasons.

    Cars don’t run on oil. They run on gas or an equivalent distillate. No refineries, no go. That’s not to mention the scenario of heavy oil supply line back up.

  9. BillT on Sat, 23rd Jun 2012 1:30 am 

    DM, your gut is correct. I see the same unmentioned problem. The oil out there is not much above the asphalt in the street in front of your house. It is there, but will take a lot of refining capacity that currently does not exist in the quantities needed to maintain fuel supplies at today’s levels.

    Nor are there likely to be any new refineries built with a dwindling oil supply and an unknown future. The billions of dollars and years of construction are just too big a gamble for the big oil companies in today’s economy. The refinery might be completed just in time to sit unused because there is no demand due to a depression/war, both of which are quite possible in the near future.

    If the Empire nationalized the oil companies and resources and built the refinery, then it might happen, but I do not see that in the near future. The elite would panic at outright seizure of an industry because it would open a huge door to other confiscation.

  10. Harquebus on Sat, 23rd Jun 2012 4:24 am 

    Recycling uses a lot of energy Kenz300. How much rubbish should we make to keep these biofuels coming.

  11. Arthur on Sat, 23rd Jun 2012 7:36 am

    CEO of a large energy supplier in Holland says that in the future energy will become too expensive for the lower incomes. Back to the 19th century.

  12. BillT on Sat, 23rd Jun 2012 8:26 am 

    Lol…I think you are correct Arthur. There will still be oil in the ground when we stop using it because it will be too expensive to retrieve. Think about things that are getting more and more expensive everyday because of increases in energy costs. Wait, maybe it would be a shorter list to think of things that are NOT getting more expensive every day.

    What happened to nuclear electric being “too cheap to meter”? Or the electric trolly lines that used to take you between towns instead of diesel buses or cars? I remember them and I am only 67 years old. What happened? Why, the federal reserve and corporate monopolies happened. Life has been down hill ever since.

  13. Arthur on Sat, 23rd Jun 2012 8:55 am

    Scroll down a bit and have a look at a 100 years old picture of immigrants in the US. Those were the days, soon in a street near you.

  14. FarQ3 on Sat, 23rd Jun 2012 9:43 pm 

    Authur …. unfortunately that may be our childrens children, middle income earners of the future.

  15. BillT on Sun, 24th Jun 2012 1:14 am 

    FarQ3, perhaps our grand children will not even have that. Coal is not easily mined by hand today. We move mountains to get at it. Tunnel mining is very deep and will require pumps to keep water out at those depths. What will run the pumps? The poor grade of coal that they will mine? EROEI.

    No, our great grand kids, if there are any, will live on what grows from sunlight on the surface. Trees for fuel, vegetables, and whatever fish, animals and bird species that will survive the climate changes. Meat will be a luxury, and may be things you never thought about eating like rats.

    THAT is the kind of world we are leaving to our survivors.

  16. SOS on Mon, 25th Jun 2012 8:08 pm 

    Lots of misinformation here. Crude from one of the worlds largest paying formations, the Bakken tight shale, is very sweet crude. Lucky for peak oil enthusiasts the government is working hard to make delivery and production of this immense treasure as difficult and expensive as they can. Unfortunately for the peak oil enthusiasts most of that immense reserve is on private and state lands.

    Peak oil in political. It is not a real constraint. Change the politics and change the future. North Dakotas budget surplus is now over 2 billion even as the state pours money into development of infrastructure.

  17. SOS on Mon, 25th Jun 2012 8:13 pm 

    Some coal is underground. Huge reserves are also found on the surface. Coal is our largest and cheapest energy source. The USA has very high grade coal. Lots of it is being exported because of increasing government regulation making it too expensive to use.

    Recognizing the truth about how much energy we have In the USA and supporting orderly development of those resources will end peak oil and expensive energy for everyone.

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