Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Our Alternatives To Oil Are Zero

Argumentative Lecture Against Green Alternative Fuel Sources

“Our Alternatives to Oil are Almost Nil”

It is foolish and wasteful to assume solar, bio-fuels, shale oil, and coal can ever replace the 3000% return oil pays back on energy invested.

EROEI = energy returned on energy invested.

Oil's EROEI is 30. Nothing even comes close to such a transportable and powerful little volume of energy in every gallon of petrol.

Few people realize how much energy is concentrated in even a small amount of oil or gas. A barrel of oil contains the energy-equivalent of almost 25,000 hours of human labor. A single gallon of gasoline contains the energy-equivalent of 500 hours of human labor. You try to push a 3-ton SUV one mile in one minute.

Solar Power

Solar power is incapable of meeting our urgent need for a new energy source that - like oil - is dense, affordable, and transportable.

For instance, it would take 4 Manhattan size city blocks of solar equipment to produce the amount of energy distributed by a single gas station in one day.

On a similar note, it would take close to 220,000 square miles of solar panels to power the global economy via solar power. You pick the country, we’ll be happy to level it entirely for solar power.

Wind Power

Wind is better than solar, but the essential problem - a lack of energy density - is still present. To illustrate, it takes all of California's 13,000 wind turbines to generate as much electricity as a single 555-megawatt natural gas fired power plant.

Hydrogen by Electrolysis

Unfortunately, solar and wind cannot be used as industrial-scale transportation fuels unless they are used to crack hydrogen from water via electrolysis. The electrolysis process is a simple one, but unfortunately it consumes 1.3 units of energy for every 1 unit of energy it produces. In other words, it results in a net loss of energy.

Wake up folks, you can't replace oil - which has a positive EROEI of about 30 - with alternative energy sources that all actually carry a negative EROEI.

Wave and Geothermal Power

While other alternative energy sources, such as wave and geothermal power, are fantastic sources of energy in and of themselves, they are incapable of replacing more than a fraction of our petroleum usage for the same reasons as solar and wind: they are nowhere near as energy dense as petroleum and they are inappropriate as transportation fuels.

Also, they are also limited by geography - wave power is only technically viable in coastal locations.

Only a handful of nations, such as Iceland, have access to enough geothermal power to make up for much of their petroleum consumption.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power

Hydrogen fuels cells aren't the answer either.

As of 2003, the average fuel cell costs close to $1,000,000. Unlike other alternatives, hydrogen fuel cells have shown little sign of coming down in price.

Even if the cost is lowered by 98%, placing the price at $20,000 per cell, hydrogen fuel cells will never power more than a handful of cars due to a worldwide shortage of platinum:

To further discredit those proclaiming Hydrogen will save us all and power our huge automobiles, we still lose from the get-go. If the hydrogen economy were anything other than a total red herring, such issues would eventually arise, as 80 percent of the world’s proven platinum reserves are located in that bastion of geopolitical stability, South Africa.

As mentioned previously, solar, wind, or nuclear energy can be used to "crack" hydrogen from water via a process known as electrolysis. The electrolysis process is a simple one, but unfortunately it consumes more energy than it produces, yielding again, another negative EROEI vs. Oil's positive return of 30:1.

Nuclear Power

Nukes may only serve as a temporary substitute.

Nuclear energy requires uranium - of which the US has enough to power existing reactors for 25-40 years. As with oil, the extraction of uranium follows a bell-curve. If a large-scale nuclear program was undertaken the supply of US domestically derived uranium would likely peak in under 15 years.

Even if such a program is undertaken, there is no guarantee the energy generated from nuclear sources would be any cheaper than energy generated from fossil fuels. Attempts by China and India to scale up their use of nuclear energy, for instance, have already caused uranium prices to skyrocket.

In regards to Bio-fuels, we lose again. Ethanol alcohol from agricultural endeavors requires massive amounts of petrochemicals; fertilizer, pesticides, and process machinery.

Bio-fuels such as Bio-diesel, ethanol, methanol etc. are great, but only in small doses. Bio-fuels are all grown with massive fossil fuel inputs (pesticides and fertilizers) and suffer from horribly low, sometimes negative, EROEI’s. The production of ethanol, for instance, requires six units of energy to produce just one. That means it consumes more energy than it produces and thus will only serve to compound our energy deficit.

In addition, there is the problem of where to grow the stuff, as we are rapidly running out of arable land on which to grow food, let alone fuel. This is no small problem as the amount of land it takes to grow even a small amount of bio-fuel is quite staggering. As journalist Lee Dye points out in a July 2004 article entitled "Old Policies Make Shift From Foreign Oil Tough:"

"Relying on corn for our future energy needs would devastate the nation's food production. It takes 11 acres to grow enough corn to fuel one automobile with ethanol for 10,000 miles, or about a year's driving.

According to industry analyst Pimentel “That's the amount of land needed to feed seven persons for the same period of time.”

“If we decided to power all of our automobiles with ethanol, we would need to cover 97 percent of our land with corn, he adds. “

Bio-diesel is considerably better than ethanol and offers the most potential as a petroleum substitute, but still only has an EROEI of 3 and doesn't compare to oil that has had an EROEI of about 30.

We've heard news of converting our landfills into power plants.

Thermal de-polymerization is an intriguing solution to our landfill problems, but since most of the feedstock (such as tires and turkey guts) requires high-grade oil to make in the first place, it is more "high-tech recycling" than it is a solution to a permanent oil shortage.

While the following analogy is certainly a bit disgusting, it should clearly illustrate why thermal de-polymerization won't do much to soften the coming collapse:

"Expecting thermal de-polymerization to help solve our long-term energy problems makes as much sense as expecting the consumption of our own feces to help solve a long-term famine."

In both cases, the energy-starved party is simply recycling a small portion of the energy they had previously consumed.

First, there is the problem of the technology's net energy - or more accurately, lack thereof. According to the company itself, the process has an efficiency of 85%. This means 100 units of energy go in, 85 come out. That's a negative EROEI of .85. You can't hope to replace or even supplement traditional oil's positive EROEI of 30 (or more) with a process that carries a negative EROEI.

Then there is the problem of production costs. According to a recent article in Fortune Magazine, a barrel of oil produced via the thermal de-polymerization process costs $80 to produce as of January 2005.

To put that figure in perspective, consider the fact that oil pulled out of the ground in Saudi Arabia costs less than $2.50 per barrel, while oil pulled out of the ground in Iraq costs only $1.00 per barrel.

(Close with quote from Cheney)

“None of the alternatives offer even 1/10th the energy we derive out of oil.”

End Lecture

Questions and Answers


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