Sunday, 20 November 2011

More battery breakthroughs

So things are getting interesting in the battery arena.

Right now we have batteries for electric cars that cost around $20,000 for 150 mile range, which while it will avert a collapse in the transportation and logistics network if it is all we have (it's not), the price is currently so high that it's not *very* competitive with lower end internal combustion based engines.

We really need at a minimum, double the range and half the price to bring costs and utility to a level at which the average buyer of today's vehicles will purchase them on mass.
Even better, obviously would be a battery which has three times the range and half the cost or less of today's batteries.

Well as it happens, the batteries we are using today are 2003's technology. While it may be frustrating to watch that it's taking something like 9 years to produce batteries with adequate range and pricing, compared with information technology which improves by 2X it's performance every 18 months, we are nearly there. As I make it there are now four viable improved battery technologies in the lab at a pre-production stage. There are, in fact, more than four promised technologies but if we put faith in batteries promised by large organizations with the funding and the process, engineering and production capacity to actually bring the technology to market in any kind of meaningful way then there are four.

They are:
IBM's battery 500 which is the result of millions of hours of supercomputer advanced simulation of different chemistries of anodes and cathodes for the holy grail of lithium batteris: lithium air. If this battery is real then it will have a 500 mile range for the same cost as today's batteries. Definitely adequate. On an off topic note, I wish there was a paper somewhere explaining how their model worked, because the way they rapidly scanned over 20 million chemicals make me suspect AI was somehow involved and that would be even bigger news than just a new battery. IBM promises to have a prototype ready by 2013 and if successful, it hopes a battery manufacturer will license the technology and be in production by 2020.

Toshiba's SCiB lithium titanate battery with double the range and the same cost, coming to market in 2013.

Nissan has developed a new better anode in it's battery which it uses in the Nissan leaf which currently has a 100 mile range. It plans to release these new batteries with double the range in 2015.

Altairnano, LG Chem and A123 Systems all have a variety of more efficient cathode's for more advanced lithium ion batteries with lower costs.

It's also worth pointing out that there are also magnesium chemistry batteries in the lab as well as Iron phosphate lithium batteries and various other technologies being worked on that are further away from the market.

Now a corrollary to the battery advances and cost reductions is the reduction in intermittency of renewable sources of electricity such as wind and solar. The problem of intermittency isn't really a problem of technology, since we already have technical solutions to these problems: geographic dispersement of wind farms, hydro storage, compressed air, vanadium flow batteries etc etc, it's really a problem of price (same as with electric cars). If prices of batteries become low enough that they can be added on existing electric renewable infrastructure with no large scale increase in price to the consumer it will be a no brainer to do so.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Death by Carbon Dioxide?

The global warming models propounded by the climate change scaremongers suggest warming of a "dangerous" level of 4-8C. Quite why an *average* temperature increase across the whole planet over a whole year including both daytime and night-time temperatures of that level is quite so scary escapes me. I'd like to see more granular data explaining why such and such an increase over a smaller region would be catastrophic over a smaller timescale for example.

But I'm not going to look at that today. Instead I'm going to look at the *science*.

If we examine the actual math, the scientific equation for absorbtion/emissivity by carbon dioxide produces three salient facts.
1. It's about a ONE degree increase in temperature per DOUBLING of carbon dioxide
2. All things being equal absorbtion and emissivity are roughly in balance. The more radiation coming in, the higher the emissivity. End result is it should be a wash.
3. Increases in temperature are *instant* if you double carbon dioxide. There is *no* lag.

So what gives?

Well the climate "scientists" are quoting temperature increases of much higher than one degree and absorbtion/emissivity model says it should be a wash so that means that the higher temperature increases are due to something else instead of carbon dioxide since carbon dioxide only leads to an increase of one measly degree per doubling.

At one degree per doubling that means going from pre-industrial times i.e. 200 parts per million we should see a one degree increase to 400 parts per million and a two degree increase to 800 parts per million and a three degree increase to 1600 parts per million and a four degree increase to 3200 parts per million and a five degree increase to 6400 parts per million and a six degree increase to a 12800 parts per million.

We have to go to ridiculous volumes of carbon dioxide to get to the high numbers proposed by the climate "scientists".

So what can possibly be causing it since we *have* seen an increase in temperature? (Although it has to be said that the observed increase in temperature is not as high as the scary climate models propounded by the scaremongers).

Well in order to get to "scary" levels of temperature increase there has to be a lag effect since the observed temperature increase hasn't corresponded with scary temperature increases.
Also we have to have significant positive feedback effects such as the melting of the ice sheets and the reduction of forest cover.

Now we can definitively say that both ice sheets and forest cover have decreased and that both of these are positive feedback effects thus increasing the temperature increase we would normally see above and beyond the temperature increase of one degree per doubling of carbon dioxide on it's own.

Additional negative feedbacks are cloud cover and smoke/aerosols, with increased cloud cover tending to decrease temperature and smoke/aerosols tending to crease temperature.

Putative positive feedbacks increasing warming include methane gas increases.

Now the observable facts are these:

Ice cover has decreased. Forest cover has decreased. Cloud cover has decreased. Fossil fuel burning has increased. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased. Smoke and aerosol emissions have increased.

What can we speculate from this?

Decreasing ice cover should lead to increased temperature increases over and above carbon dioxide emissions.
Decreasing forest cover should lead to increased temperature increases over and above carbon-dioxide emissions.
Fossil fuel burning will increase both carbon dioxide and smoke and aerosol.
Carbon dioxide increases should lead to a one degree increase in temperature per doubling (which is piffling little as shown above compared to actual concentrations observed).
Smoke and aerosol increases should have lead to a lowering of temperature below what has been observed.

So to explain any not observable putative future temperature increases over and above the one degree per doubling as well as the not-observed increase over one degree by the observed increase in carbon dioxide increases we have to invoke very large feedback effects.

i.e. increase the melting of ice cover by a large amount and increase the amount of deforestation and invoke possibilities such as the release of methane from methane clathrates on the ocean floor.

But here's the rub: once *all* the ice has melted and the entire planet has been converted to agriculture by removing *all* of the forests there's *no more* possible positive feedbacks from those two drivers. Likewise methane persists in the atmosphere for only a handful of years and though it's a *much* more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, once the methane degrades into carbon dioxide the amount of warming is again limited to one degree per doubling. Not really a substantial amount.

So we're left with clouds.

So to pin the blame on carbon dioxide we have to invoke a huge positive feedback by showing that increasing carbon dioxide increases cloud cover which increases temperature.

Unfortunately the data goes in the opposite direction. Increasing cloud cover results in a cooler world, not a warmer one.

But *yet* the temperatures have increased and carbon dioxide has also increased (although by not as much as the scary models which include the ridiculous positive feedbacks). So what gives?

Cloud cover has actually decreased.

But that doesn't make sense if it's carbon dioxide that's driving it.

In fact, it's *not* carbon dioxide that's driving it though it *is* man-made emissions that are driving it.

It's *smoke*.

Now here's an interesting fact: millions of years ago there were massive eruptions called the "eruption of the deccan traps" which released a shit-load of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere probably because the deccan traps were sitting on top of huge coal deposits. But here's the rub: although temperatures increased by a whopping amount (12C or thereabouts and then quickly leveled out to about a 6C increase), carbon dioxide alone could not have possibly done that. Even if you invoke a pulse effect melting the methane clathrates then you'd have had at *most* a temporary spike so there should only have been the 6C increase. But the data show otherwise. Looks like there might have been something else. I suspect it's smoke.

Getting back to present times:

If we remove smoke from the picture and increase carbon dioxide we should see an increase in temperature MEDIATED BY an increase in cloud cover.

But we don't see that. Instead we see decreased cloud cover and a temperature increase *exactly* predicted by the increase of carbon dioxide. So the putative predicted temperature increase by the climate change scaremongers is due to alleged positive feedbacks.

Now we've already shown that there's a limit to the duration of the positive feedbacks so they can't generate *possibly* generate a "runaway greenhouse effect". We've also shown that carbon dioxide emissions by themselves should only create a one degree increase per doubling AND that should be mediated by increased cloud cover. Once the positive feedback mechanisms of melting the icecaps and deforestation have done their job we should only see a one degree increase from then on per doubling and the huge volume of carbon dioxide emissions required to get to multiple doublings of emissions is absolutely staggering.

In other words in order to go for a horror scenario the only possible blame we can pin on emissions is that of smoke and aerosols. Smoke and aerosols are what lead to reduced cloud cover. If we continue to increase our burning of fossil fuels we will continue to increase our smoke/aerosol emissions and *that* will amplify any increases in temperature above one degree in any continuing way.

So what we ought to do is not limit emissions per se, if we want to decrease temperature increases to only one degree per doubling we have to reduce smoke/aerosol emissions.

But we're not seeing that as a position by the greenies. Instead we're seeing an attack on multiple levels against all forms of industrial activity on a large scale. But that position isn't justified by the effects of increased carbon dioxide emissions by themselves and if we remove smoke/aerosols from the equation then we need to increase our carbon dioxide emissions by an unfeasibly massive amount in order to get to so called "scary" temperature increases.

So what gives?

The actual position propounded by you greenies is not based on a desire to limit carbon dioxide emissions per se. Instead it's based on limiting interference with the global ecosystem by man made means and from that angle, *everything* is being attacked from the burning of fuels, to agriculture, to extractive mining, to transport of products and/or the transport of people in order to allow the ecosystem to return to a natural state with no interference by humankind.

So basically if you're in favor of human dieoff, let's put the greenies, the druids and the ecologists in charge.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Somewhat off topic almost science fiction like dieoff scenarios

So I've revisited the carter catastrophe using the mediocrity principle and also looked at a possible extinction event with relevance to us (competition from an equally intelligent competitor species).

Life has existed for approximately 3.5 billion years and the sun has existed for approximately 4.5 billion years.
Since we have no evidence of life other than our own and our sun has existed for only 4.5 billion years then by the principle of mediocrity we have to say that every newborn star in the galaxy that fits the category of our sun (i.e. G class stars) will develop life after 1 billion years and life will continue once it has gotten started in spite of extinction events and that there shall be at least five extinction events during the 3.5 billion years of life.

What can we say about the species existing? Well nothing much during the entire period because we don't have the data but we can say that right now we have about 10 million species right now and approximately 1 in 100,000 species are what can be classified as "living fossils" or in other words species that have survived a significant percentage of the time that animal life has existed. Some of these living fossils have been around for 450 million years and it's therefore arguable that they have been around since the beginning of vertebrate life. Thus we can say that some species have existed unchanged and have not gone extinct in the entire period that animal life has been around and have passed through 5 major extinction events. That said since we have no examples of living fossils longer than the period of animal life (500 million years) we cannot argue that they last any longer than 500 million years. We have to say that's the top line.
If we accept the principle of mediocrity for species we can therefore say that 0.001 percent of all species will be long lived during the 4.5 billion years after a star forms. According to the principle of mediocrity we also have to say that 1 in 100,000 of all *intelligent* species will be long lived. Intelligent species are us. Only one species. 1 in 10 million. So one in 100,000 x 10 million intelligent species should therefore last 500 million years and the rest will last the normal period of time at the most which is 2 million years for a species.
Now 100,000 x 10 million makes 100,000,000,000 is 100 billion. Which gives us an answer that there are *no* long lived intelligent species in our galaxy and in fact there is only 1 long lived species in 100 galaxies. But let's ignore that inconvenient fact for now.

Since we have no evidence of any intelligent species that last 500 million years unless it is us (and we're not there yet) then we have to leave the putative long lived species out of the picture. Even though right there we have resolved the fermi paradox.

Now the interesting thing is this: intelligence clearly isn't normal because it's only 1 in 10 million species. So can we apply the principle of mediocrity to it? Hard to say, but let's say that we can at least with regards to *other* potential intelligent signal transmitting species.
We need big brains, hands, and communication in order to generate human like intelligence (i.e. a species that can send signals. We have to exclude the possibility that stellar travel is possible because we haven't done it but since we have sent signals then by the principle of mediocrity so can other intelligent species like ourselves). How common are the conditions that lead to the development of intelligence? Big brains obviously, but that's not all. Whales, Elephants and Dolphins all have big brains and though it can be argued that they communicate, that's not enough. We need coordinated communication, big brains and tool making. Tool making requires hands. There are several species with hands but only us with big brains.
Coordinated communication exists in wolf packs and other pack animals. Coordinated communication also exists in herds of prey animals. So we can argue that the three things that together can lead to an intelligent species that can make tools are fairly common. We can likewise argue that the thing required to kickstart civilization in addition to tool making, coordinated communication and big brains is agriculture. There are several species that do this such as ants among others and if you broaden the definition to symbiosis there are many many species. So the conditions for the development of agriculture by tool making, big brained coordinated communication intelligent creatures are common. It just takes a long time. Not till the last 10,000 years. We can also say that it's only during the last 100 years of a 4.5 billion period since a new star formed that a species can send a signal. We can also say that it can't possibly have happened in the *first* 4.5 billion year period of the universe since all stars in that period were only type I stars (i.e. no heavy elements surrounding them) and we have to wait until type II stars are formed. So that cuts out the possibility of a long lived species appearing in the first part of the history of the universe. Now the first type II stars formed around 9 billion years ago so that means that in our galactic space we ought to have had at least two intelligent species that lasted 500 million years within the sphere of the nearest 200 galaxies. But we're talking GALAXIES!!! It's one thing to meet the ridiculous challenge of interstellar colonization and quite another to meet the challenge of intergalactic. Never mind that we have to assume that the two putative civilizations *stayed civilized* during the entire period *and* coincided with us. Likely? I think not.

But lets get back to signals from our putative signalling civilization.

What we can't say is whether such a signal will be received or indeed whether it can even be understood over stellar distances because although we have been sending signals for some 100 years via radio waves we haven't in fact received anything, so it may in fact be impossible to receive signals stellar distances via our level of technology.

But we can't say anything about that because we have no evidence so instead looking at the evidence (i.e. we can SEND signals and nothing about whether they can be received) let's ask the question how many species can send signals?

About 1 in 13 stars in the Galaxy are G Class stars which are the same type of star as the sun.
Since the principle of mediocrity demands that we aren't special we have to say therefore that all G type stars in the galaxy have life and the capacity to generate intelligent species.
That is to say there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy approximately 7 billion of which are G class. If G class stars are evenly distributed then since the average distance between stars is about 5 light years then that means the average distance between civilizations like ours ought to be 5x13 = 65 light years.

In our sphere shaped region of space we will have thousands of stars capable of signalling us at
the current time if the principle of mediocrity is true. So either we're not listening or
we can't hear or there are no signals.

But... the ingredients for life seem to be pretty common all throughout the universe so that's
probably not it. And if life gets started we have to assume that it will eventually lead
to something like us, so something else must be happening...

If we argue that over the last million years there has been at least one other contender intelligent species but only we discovered agriculture then that pushes the light cone out to 130 light years. There we have one possible explanation for why we haven't received any signals yet if they are understandable or receivable over stellar distances: the signal hasn't reached us yet.

So that's fairly straightforward. We're going to receive signals sometime in the next 50 years if we're not unique and we are capable of receiving or understanding the signal at our current level of technology.

So now let's look and see if we can determine how long we're going to last.
We can conjecture that we have about a 1 in 100,000 chance of surviving 500 million years
and 99,999 chance of surviving less than that. Australopithecines lasted about 2 million years
so we can argue that we have an evens chance of lasting 2 million years. Homo Sapiens has been
around for about 200,000 years and neanderthals also lasted about 200,000 years.
So we can say we have close to evens chance of lasting 200,000.
So our time could be up about now or else we have about a 49% chance of lasting another 1.8 million years and about a 1 in 100,000,000,000 chance of surviving 500 million years.
So most species around us last somewhere from 200,000 to 2 million years and hardly anyone lasts 500 million years. We have to rule out the possibility that any species lasts 4.5 billion years which are our time chunks for the formation of intelligent species from single celled life beginning to end.

So which is it? How long do *we* last.

Unfortunately we can't know without receiving any more signals. If we don't receive *any* signals within the next 65 years that would indicate that civilizations that are capable of signalling other civilizations are rarer than can be predicted just from obverving us which in turn says that we are missing something in our predictions from the principle of mediocrity. On the other hand, if we receive signals from *all* of the predicted civilizations then we can fairly confidently say that in a sphere of space containig 100,000,000,000 civilizations, one of them will be composed of a species that will last for 500 million years. It doesn't, however, say that during that 500 milllion years it will maintain the ability to signal for that entire length of time, just that there should be one long lived species.

It's also interesting to note that dinosaur killer events take place approximately 700 million years so it's quite possible that a long lived species will be born, life it's life and then die out in between those large extinction events, so large extinction events might not be what put an end to it.

In the case of the short lived species (200,000 to 2 million years) it's even less likely that
a dinosaur killer event would put an end to them because they simply don't happen often enough
and if there are lots in a volume of space then the small chance of an extinction event taking
place during the 2 million years for all of them is vanishingly small.

What *can* we say?
Well during the last 200,000 years there were at least two and potentially up to five competing
intelligent species in the same spot and only one of us survived so we can say that in a 200,000
year space an intelligent species has about a 50% to an 80% chance of being outcompeted by another intelligent species and about a 50% to a 20% chance of surving the competition.

Since we can rule out extinction events such as dinosaur killers doing us in and we can rule out visitation by star faring aliens we have to assume that it's competition from another intelligent species right here on Earth. We do in fact have a candidate: sufficiently intelligent machines. So let's look at that.

If we then take the roughly 49.999999% chance of being wiped out right now multiplied by 20-50%
we have thus about 10-25% chance of surving competition by another species plus 49.999999% of surviving at least 1.8 million years and some small fraction of surving 500 million years then it's at worst about a 40 per cent chance of extinction with a 60% survival likelihood and at best 75% of surving *if* we are the better fitted to the conditions.

Now that's where it gets interesting.
Since the only example we have is of a fitter species outcompeting less fit species, what's so
special about us? Are we more violent, more cooperative, simply better at acquiring resources or what?

In fact in the case of the neanderthals and the denisovans they have left 6% of their DNA in us and somewhat around 10% in total including
other species. So statistically if it's us that get outcompeted it looks like we don't get wiped out, we get absorbed.

Since what we're most likely to be facing in the near future in terms of competition is that from our machines and
more specifically competition from intelligent machines we can argue that if we are to go extinct we probably will hold out for quite
some time and eventually get absorbed by our machines which will be somewhat like us and have some
of us in them and thus we can probably safely rule out an extinction event predicated by an unfriendly AI
in a hard takeoff scenario, though we cannot rule out partial extinction by machines.

So somewhere between 40% likely we will be absorbed by machines and 60% likely we will still be
recognizably human in 1.8 million years with a vanishingly small chance that we will be recognizably human in 500 million years.

Interestingly, we're going to have to become significantly more intelligent to defeat machine intelligences or else our machine intelligences will be incapable of becoming much more intelligent than us and we outcompete them in some other way but in either case it's likely that our ability to process data will increase significantly. What's interesting about that is it could answer the question of whether we are capable of understanding or receiving messages transmitted over stellar distances but we just don't have the technologies.

In any case, as far as I'm concerned the fermi paradox is resolved. Putative signalling civilizations are too far apart, there's no proof we are even capable of hearing their signal, they won't coincide with us in time *and* there might be a "great filter" which wipes them out.
Or not.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Abiotic oil not false after all

So although this is unusable, it's interesting to note that not only is there abiotic methane (i.e. natural gas) formed in a gigantic deposit on saturn's moons, but it turns out there is also abiotic oil and coal in space. Perhaps some of our own oil and coal were abiotically formed?

This is only interesting from a scientific perspective however, because even if large deposits of abiotic oil or coal were formed, we've still found most of it and still are unable to continue increasing production endlessly. Peak oil is still going to happen because it's a limit on effectively how fast you can pull it out. Where we're arguing is really about decline rates, but regardless this post is about abiotic oil.

Turns out that "Prof. Sun Kwok and Dr. Yong Zhang of The University of Hong Kong show that an organic substance commonly found throughout the Universe contains a mixture of aromatic (ring-like) and aliphatic (chain-like) components. The compounds are so complex that their chemical structures resemble those of coal and petroleum. Since coal and oil are remnants of ancient life, this type of organic matter was thought to arise only from living organisms. The team's discovery suggests that complex organic compounds can be synthesized in space even when no life forms are present."

Interesting. We apparently haven't learned all there is to know about petroleum just yet.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Electric Car: Batteries cross the finish line

Toshiba just announced that it will be producing a lithium-ion solid state millable sheet fabricated battery with high energy density starting in the 2015 timeframe.

The energy densities are about 3X the current energy density for the best li-ion batteries currently on the market with about the same cost and 1/3 the volume. So instead of a battery that costs $20,000 and delivers a range of 200KM in something like a leaf we're talking about the same size of battery by volume, the same price but a 600KM range. For those who can't do kilometers that's about a 400 mile range.

I know we've heard this before this decade with various different small companies but this is one of the big boys who are generally speaking able to deliver on promises and are nearly always late to the party. There are likely to be even better (in terms of price) technologies out there that are not ready.

My take on this is that we have now crossed the finish line technically and all that's left is the process engineering and the building of the plants.

If the ultimate costs are 2X what they currently are for vehicles then either some people are going to have to stop driving or else it will take longer to pay for a car. Either way we're now at a reasonable range since the likelihood anyone needs to drive more than 400 miles in a day is small compared to all the times you will need to drive far less than 400 miles in a day.

It's going to be an interesting decade.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What could I have been proved right *already*? And we haven't even *peaked* yet!!!

So I haven't posted for a while, mainly because I've been quietly living my life and not as doomers would assume busily packing away guns and ammo and MREs and fortifying my basement for the eventual onslaught of oil-apocalypse zombie accountants.

True there's been a *financial-world-induced* recession and low growth continues but far as I know the oil apocalypse famine hasn't begun in earnest yet. I wonder if JD has lost any weight yet in his dieoff diet?

Anyways, today I want to talk about depleted oil fields, solar panels and EROEI. Yes I'll talk about EROEI because even though in a previous post I debunked the use of EROEI in a single direction and as a sole metric to predict the future based on hubbert curves and *sole direction* declining EROEI of the world's energy supplies. The whole dieoff premise is based on the idea that we can only consider oil as a valid energy source, oil's average EROEI is declining and NOTHING else can replace oil. Not solar, not wind, not nuclear. And thus we
are ipso facto doomed and we should hunker down and prepare for the zombie hordes.

Well as it turns out freaking CHEVRON of all companies is now using SOLAR PANELS to get oil out of the ground.

I had thought that once the alleged EROEI of oil gets so low that it "takes a barrel of oil to get a barrel of oil" we could no longer get any oil out of the ground?!?

Well, first of all this just goes to show what I've said all along. In spite of the doomers denying economics and blindly ignoring other energy sources as viable, it's MONEY that gets oil out of the ground.

Even if we turn to the bogus EROEI argument (and nobody talks about EROEI in the oil industry - trust me I work in the oil patch) then duh.
Solar panels have a positive EOREI and it could be easily swapped out for Wind turbines or nuclear power or hydro or whatever.

But here's the interesting thing: doomers will *rightly* point out that this means the endgame is near because we're now using renewables to get oil out. But *what* endgame are we really talking about? It's certainly not doom and "the road" scenarios.

I will point out the corrolary that what this really means is that renewables are now cheap enough in both cost and energy invested terms that it's worth it to use electricity to get oil out of the ground because oil is worth more than electricity at the current time. The price gap between even electricity generated by expensive sources and electricity generated by *horrors* "low EROEI oil" makes it worth it to do. Because you will get MONEY back.

This means there is a massive arbitrage opportunity to leverage cheap electricity to get expensive oil to supply the end product: transportation.

There's another word for this: Profit Potential.

And everywhere in capitalist based economies, profit potential lead to new products to capture this profit potential.

We can either continue to dig oil out of the ground using electricity (but we'll ultimately run into the plateau and decline) OR we can start to use the electricity itself directly for transportation.

My guess is we will do both.

Certain market segments of the rich world and the most successful of the developing county economies (read China) will start to buy expensive electrified vehicles (hybrids, plug in hybrids and fully electric) and the rest will buy cheap but more fuel efficient ICE vehicles and both market segments will have their transportation needs met.

It's going to be a very interesting decade.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Yet more proof "global warming" is overblown

Many of the global warming doomers claim that if we "don't limit" temperature increases to 2C or less (and thus kill the economy in doing so) then we will possibly end up with runaway global warming. I have always doubted this because the eocene, hot as it was, didn't end up with runaway global warming even though there was MUCH MORE C02 in the atmosphere than today.

Seems that even in the Eocene it wasn't quite the horror story that the ridiculous computer models by the eco-fanatics would suggest:

Hot off the presses from yale university:
""The early Eocene Epoch (50 million years ago) was about as warm as the Earth has been over the past 65 million years, since the extinction of the dinosaurs," Ivany says. "There were crocodiles above the Arctic Circle and palm trees in Alaska. The questions we are trying to answer are how much warmer was it at different latitudes and how can that information be used to project future temperatures based on what we know about CO2 levels?"
Previous studies have suggested that the polar regions (high-latitude areas) during the Eocene were very hot -- greater than 30 degrees centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit). However, because the sun's rays are strongest at Earth's equator, tropical and subtropical areas (lower latitude) will always be at least as warm as polar areas, if not hotter. Until now, temperature data for subtropical regions were limited.
The SU and Yale research team found that average Eocene water temperature along the subtropical U.S. Gulf Coast hovered around 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees Fahrenheit), slightly cooler than earlier studies predicted. Modern temperatures in the study area average 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the scientists discovered that, during the Eocene, temperatures in the study area did not change more than 3 to 5 degrees centigrade across seasons, whereas today, the area's seasonal temperatures fluctuate by 12 degrees centigrade. The new results indicate that the polar and sub-polar regions, while still very warm, could not have been quite as hot as previously suggested"

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Most Recent Deutsche Bank Peak Oil Report

I reckon many if not most Doomers would read the latest Deutsche Bank Peak Oil Report as spelling doom because they come out and say they expect a peak oil price shock as early as Q2 2013.
Taken out of context that's only two years away so if at that point we were to experience global supply drops, increasing demand (from e.g. China and the Mid-East) combined with no available substitutes we would be doomed.

We're not, however, doomed. Here's why: The Deutsche Bank report although it's an outstanding piece of analysis (and I congratulate them on it) are missing the substitution effect that natural gas vehicles will bring to bear. They have, however, provided what I can only describe as a near-perfect analysis of the effect hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars will have on the transportation market and by extension, the oil price.

To quote from the report what I personally consider to be the most salient setion:
"The market is trying to shift US behaviour towards long term greater efficiency, and as we
have highlighted, that process is starting with the bankruptcy of the US auto industry and the
imposition of greater MPG requirements that may yet prove to be, in our view, be the largest
and least appreciated achievement of the Obama first term. As we have highlighted, and
expected, as automakers compete to build hybrids and electrics their costs will fall, lowering
the oil price at which they become economically attractive. As shown below, we are not at a
high enough price yet to incentivise a US consumer to buy a Prius instead of a Corolla for
purely economic reasons based on greater efficiency vs relative price premium, but that point
is rapidly approaching and explains why our long term price charts have falling real prices. By
2014, US consumers will be incentived to buy a hybrid rather than conventional car at
$3/gallon and falling."

here's my observations and analysis from this piece:
1. Americans are stubborn SOBs and the major problem is that Americans don't want to give up driving big trucks. But they *will* and it will happen within the next five years.
2. There's likely to be another recession in the US around Q4 2013 forced by high oil prices
3. The costs of driving hybrids and electrics will fall due to lowering battery prices and competition so much that it will be a no-brainer to do so. Especially when faced with the choice between taking the bus or driving a smaller electric vehicle. All those F-150s will be left sitting on the driveway and kept only for cases where it's economic to use them (like driving to Disneyland with a family of four as opposed to flying).
4. 2013-2014 is going to be interesting
5. The Canadian dollar will likely be significantly higher than the US dollar during 2013.
6. Electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and Plug-in Hybrids such as the GM volt will likely be sold out and going for higher than sticker price during 2013
7. Diesels will likely also be sold out and going for higher than sticker price during 2013
8. There will be a secondary market in conversions to natural gas for those who can't get their hands on electrics or plug-in hybrids or diesels.
9. I predict I myself will be driving a volt or a nissan leaf or equivalent or else a natural gas vehicle on or before 2013.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

So how much would it cost to drive if the world was 100% fueled by renewables?

I haven't been posting much because I've basically been smugly sitting back on my butt waiting for the market to take care of a bunch of the problems we're going to face even before peak oil arrives in a hard way around 2015. But it's nearly the summer and I've been thinking a little about what the world would look like if we had to run it off of electricity derived purely from renewables. We don't of course because we have brickloads of nuclear and shale gas as well as unconventional oil (which will of course eventually peak and decline but not today or next week or next decade even).

So let's get to the meat:

Doomers basically say we're screwed no matter what we do, so let's ignore them. Detractors on the other hand are not religious fanatics (generally), just highly conservative late adopters. The type of person who still buys CDs instead of downloading music from itunes for example.

So anyways. Let's take a look at the question above.

Well, let's establish some baselines. I have previously established that in certain areas we already have par with fossil fuels for solar and wind but let's assume that they are 2X as expensive.

So we're still stuck right? Because the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow?

Wrong. The missing but implicit assumption that isn't talked about is this: we could store the energy in batteries or salt mines or whatever, just that it's EXPENSIVE to do so.

Well what does that mean? Well let's take Vanadium flow batteries as an example. They add between 1.5X to 3X the cost depending on whose figures you take.

So that means if we're being uncharitable to renewables we are looking at 3X to 6X the cost of current electricity if we use the most expensive means of storage.

So let's take a look at that.

Right now in North America, the cost of a kilowatt hour varies between about 10c and 25c.

Let's look at the most inefficient electric vehicle: the Volt. It has to carry around a gasoline engine in addition to it's electric motors (something like the leaf would be better but let's use the Volt as our baseline).

The Volt uses 8 KW/h of electricity to drive 40 miles. That's a reasonable comparison to a gallon of gas in a car that size. So the equivalent of a gallon of gas for a Volt at today's prices is between 80c/gallon and $2 a gallon. That's compared to close to $4 a gallon for gasoline/diesel based vehicles (ignoring the fact that most North American vehicles only get 15-20 mpg but let's ignore that inconvenient fact for now).

So if it costs 80c a gallon at 10c per KW/h then using our estimate for the most expensive storage methods we're looking at between $1.20 per gallon and $2.40 per gallon equivalent. Still cheaper than today's gasoline prices.

If we take the high end at 25c per KW/h as being $2 per gallon then we're looking at between $3 and $6 per gallon.

Now $6 a gallon will have most North Americans weeping in their beer but most of the rest of the world is ALREADY paying more than that TODAY .

To be sure if Americans had to pay $6 every 40 miles driven I doubt there would be so many trips to the ocean or the mountain or stupid trips like driving to NYC from the midwest to pick up some furniture and then back again. But North Americans being resilient folk would figure out how to get around minor problems like that and continue on their merry way.

On another note: one of the problems with Solar Panels Cost right now is that most of the material is wasted during the deposition process. It would be nice if someone could come up with a way to reduce wastage so that the costs could drop. Especially since the Chinese (as is their right) have hiked prices on rare earths to try to force high tech manufacturing to move to China (where the internal price is lower). Anyways, as it happens one of the technical departments in an Oregon university (I forget if it's OSU or PSU) has developed a process to use a type of inkjet printing which should reduce costs. Now if we take the word "most" (as in most of the material is wasted) to mean merely 51% of the material is wasted then we're looking at a 50% drop in materials costs. As materials costs for solar panels are about 2/3 of the final store price, we're looking at a 33% reduction in price for the end consumer. Not too shabby, considering that we're already at par with fossil fuels for the Southern States and Mediterranean Europe.

Interesting times.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Doom by Apocalypse when

Just a short post today.
I recently found on the internet a fairly interesting doomer book called "Apocalypse When" by a professor named Willard Wells. He references someone named Carter and I wonder if this is the Carter of the famed Carter Catastrophe. I'm going to debunk it but I won't go into too too much detail because the incorrect assumptions are so glaringly obvious as to be laughable.

Basically the gist of the book is that this professor has supposedly calculated the probability that civilization will crash and the probability that humanity will go extinct.

Most of his assumptions are actually quite reasonable except two.

1. The more civilized you are the more likely you are to go extinct.
2. The higher level of technology you have the more likely you are to go extinct.

In fact his thesis seems to be that the survivability of the human race ultimately depends on a major catastrophe that wipes out a large chunk of the population and thus in theory removes the man made extinction events which will wipe us out entirely.

He seems to be ignoring history. Primitive peoples are remarkably unable to deal with natural disaster and he seems to be saying that primitive peoples will survive just by being spread out, because they don't have any other advantages.

In fact archaeological evidence shows that human beings have been around as homo sapiens for at least 200,000 years and pre-humans have been around for 2 to 3 million years.

His assumption, however doesn't hold up though because he's basically saying that a large human population sustained by artificial means is more vulnerable to the rug being pulled out from under it than a sparse primitive civilization does.

70,000 years ago there was a large volcanic event that virtually wiped out the entire human race (which probably numbered around a quarter million to a million at the time) and reduced it to some 2,000 individuals. I make that a 98% wipeout worst case.

Now let's consider a scenario like "the road" whereby all crops and food animals are gone. Civilization collapses of course and almost everyone starves (not the cannibals eeek!). Even here, however, civilization is clearly superior to primitive states because of storage technology. All over the planet there are stores of canned goods and seeds et cetera. Moreover there are also stores of *knowledge* in the form of libraries et cetera. Any putative collapse isn't going to go all the way back to primitive times since the infrastructure, the seeds et cetera is *still there*. Thus any so called collapse of civilization is simply a delay until civilization pops up again. But civilization in and of itself generally increases human wellbeing, not decreases, so short of a scenario whereby the entire planet is converted into gray goo (which has also been debunked elsewhere) any putative man-made disaster isn't going to do much worse damage than the event 70,000 years ago and in fact is very likely to do less. I'm including, by the way, a full scale nuclear exchange and nuclear winter et cetera in this. Not everything would be destroyed and especially not knowledge. There is civilization and knowledge *everywhere* on this planet. Civilization will be very resilient to destruction.

So, sorry doomers, I don't buy it. It's a nice book but it's basically doomer porn. For the record, according to the assumptions, we have 72 years left until DOOOOOOM. But then again we are facing olduvai doom RIGHT NOW according to the dieoff crowd and we are facing limits-to-growth doom in about 15 years.

It makes me laugh though it really does. It's like the global warming doomers. Allegedly all co2 being added to the atmosphere can only cause *bad things* to happen and good things never happen. If you design your model to say one thing always then obviously you're going to get the result you want. But a model is not in fact a scientific experiment. It's an animated hypothesis with built in assumptions and is not valid for testing science AT ALL. One example is that global warming will cause everywhere to get drier and thus crops will fail et cetera and WE WILL ALL DIE. Sadly for those raving fruitbars it turns out that increased carbon dioxide in the previous super greenhouse actually made things wetter. Hmmm. I'm thinking that will in fact *increase* the crop growing range and allow us to grow more food. So now we will have to deal with all the tornadoes et cetera that this will cause. Well duh. Build *underground*. Anyways I digressed.

Basically neither us as a species nor our civilization is doomed, though the doomers themselves are all sweaty praying for our destruction.

Ain't happening.

A big fart in the general direction of the doomers. I will now go back to ignoring you again.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Abiotic Oil back from the dead?

I've always been intrigued by the possibility of oil having been formed by non biological processes. Especially since there are trillions of tons of methane out there in space such as on Saturn's moon titan. It stands to reason that there could be non-biological processes which are capable of converting methane into longer chain hydrocarbons.

Now some scientists at UC Davis, Livermore National Labs and Shell Oil Corporation have created a theory and functional computer based model which shows that long chain hydrocarbons could be formed at extreme pressures and temperatures under the Earth's crust at a depth of about 70 kilometers.

That said, as interesting as the science of this is, it in no way changes the fact that we have a flow problem: even if abiotic oil were real, then if we extracted it far faster than it was created, we'd still hit peak oil. So it's not a solution to declining production, just an interesting tidbit of science.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Shale Gas to the Rescue?

As you know I've been writing a reasonable amount about shale gas and its potential to impact any putative decline in conventional oil production. Here's an interesting graph:

You will note two things.
1. The global resource of recoverable shale gas is some 5,500 trillion cubic feet (as compared with the nearly 900 trillion cubic feet to be found in the US.
2. With the exception of China (who though they are a competitor, they are not as outright hostile as some of our other competitors) most of the shale gas reserves are to be found in "friendly" nations.

Also: given that the US has been able to bring online the shale gas equivalent of about a million barrels a day of oil in the last two years by itself, it's reasonable to argue that globally, shale gas could bring online about to five million barrels per day equivalent each year.

That should about cover us for a 5% decline rate in the best possible scenario whereby we can do a smooth transition for appropriate uses to natural gas.

I suspect, however, that between increasing demand for energy and friction costs of moving to oil alternatives for appropriate use cases (such as long distance trucking or shipping), we're still going to see a bumpy ride, though perhaps not quite so bumpy as a total collapse as predicted by our doomer friends.

Maybe it's time to short sell the guns n ammo manufacturers?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Hydrocarbon producing bacteria

University of Minnesota researcher Janice Frias has cracked a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Graduate student Janice Frias, who earned her doctorate in January, made the critical step by figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels.

Why this is different from other "biofuels" is that instead of generating biomass which is cooked into ethanol (along with the need to have vehicles that can run on ethanol), this process is a drop in replacement for standard diesel.

Ketones are especially useful because they can be dropped into standard catalytic cracking processes which generate standard diesel or other hydrocarbons as output. The inputs are only bacteria, sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Given the political hot-potato of "climate change", there is significant interest in using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to generate fuels. Using carbon dioxide as a source is a double win, because it's freely found in the atmosphere and removing it should be good for the environment.

The bacteria used in Synechococcus, which fixes carbon dioxide into sugars using sunlight as an input. These sugars are in turn passed as feedstock to another bacteria, Shewanella, which produces ketones as an output. The ketones are then cracked into hydrocarbons.

I don't know how scalable this is, but every little helps.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

What Doomers believe according to Wikipedia Mar 08 2011

Some Anonymous doomers have attempted to taint the comments page (and in the process make this blog into a carbon copy of the other doomer peak oil cesspool blogs and forums). Additionally they have tried to muddy the waters by claiming that no doomer really believes in dieoff or collapse or indeed any of the other typical doomeresque crazy-as-a-loon beliefs held by our doomer friends.

Out of interest I decided to check the verifiable source of the truth: Wikipedia.

The results are pretty bleak: if wikipedia is correct and you're a doomer, it's time to hunker down in your basement awaiting the zombie hordes which will be created by a malthusian collapse of the population down past "carrying capacity" of the earths "depleted soil" which can "only be supported by oil-based-fertilizers."


As of March 8th 2011, The Wikipedia entry for doomers has the following to say:

"A convinced Doomer believes that the Green Revolution will collapse at the end of cheap oil.[1][dead link] According to Doomers, humanity will be in a state of overshoot after oil depletion makes modern farming methods economically unviable. Various academics have calculated that our numbers would then far exceed the carrying capacity of the earth. For example: they believe our situation is comparable to bacteria in a petri dish with cheap oil as the human growth medium. As the “growth medium” is consumed and runs out the “bacteria” dies off.
Doomers also hold a wide range of theories about the collapse of complex societies and systems.[2][dead link] The influences of Thomas Malthus and the Club of Rome are present in the doomer movement,[3][dead link][4][dead link][5] as are some of the more recent works by Joseph Tainter who wrote The Collapse of Complex Societies in 1988, and Richard C. Duncan who presented his Phd The Peak of World Oil Production and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge in 1989 (now known as the Olduvai theory.) The lectures and DVD by Albert Bartlett, Arithmetic, Population and Energy is also highly influential. (See below for online video streaming of the lecture he has been presenting and refining for over 30 years.)
The common concerns are that of overpopulation leading to resource and energy depletion, soil degradation and environmental destruction all culminating in agricultural collapse and famine. Some Doomers estimate that the anarchic collapse will be so catastrophic that population levels may fall below the levels prior to the industrial revolution — possibly below 2 billion. When trying to calculate the extent of the postulated dieoff, the most extreme doomer will also take into account that the existing eco-infrastructure is massively supported by oil based fertilizers and that we will not only hit peak oil but peak phosphate and peak nitrogen simultaneously. When oil production starts to decline the productivity of the soil will drop far below that of pre-industrial times and thus a drop down to 2 billion is optimistic. This kind of doomer will also ignore technology and dismiss it with commonly believed ideas such as "wind farms cost more energy to build than they get out". This common refrain is generally applied to all technology solutions since it is assumed a priori that a population crash is inevitable."

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Dieoff by Peak Water

So could we conceivably see Dieoff (capital D) from "peak water" i.e. the death of industrial civilization?

This one is interesting in a morbid kind of way because to a certain extent there is in fact already shortage of water.

Looked at one particular way, that is.

Interestingly, however, industrial civilization has not collapsed due to localized water shortages anywhere in the world so at the very beginning of the post we have to say, "no 'peak water' won't cause the dieoff of industrial civilization".

But let's continue, because we're just interested in general in knowing about water "shortages" and how they are solved.

If we ask the question: what water are we potentially short of and what are the solutions, it gets a lot more interesting.

Also: water is not like oil. It's not a non-renewable resource. Quite the contrary. There is such a thing as the water cycle. This is a problem of how to extract the maximum possible for the flow.

Anyways, lets ask some questions.

Are there water *shortages*? If so, what shortages are there? Lastly, how can we conceivably address these water shortages?

Are there water shortages?
Some people and industries would certainly say so, but I'd like to point out that the planet is covered in water. Only 28% of the planet is land therefore the other 72% is covered in water.

Since that water is seven miles deep in places we have a lot of water on the planet. An estimate of the mass of water might be somewhere around one and a half times ten to the 18 tonnes. In English that's something like 1.5 billion billion metric tonnes of water.
So what is the problem?

Well, for us land based creatures, we generally speaking need fresh water.

Of the gazzillion tonnes of water only 2 percent of that is fresh water of which three quarters is locked up in the polar caps. And if the caps melt, that water will join the rest of the salty water.

So we have an abundance of salt water and much less so of fresh water.

In fact, what we have is a distributed allocation of water. Some places are water rich and others are water poor. We have wet countries like Canada and Scotland and dry countries like Saudi Arabia. Parts of the USA are dry too such as the southwest.

Now, left to it's own devices without any human interference (i.e. let's sit round the campfire, sing kumbaya and let everything be taken care of by the "ecosystem") people who live in dry regions are short of fresh water.

How is that a problem?
If the dry region is *rich* it's not a problem. They have options such as importing bottled water, paying for a pipeline or aqueducts from a wetter region (such as the california aqueduct), building desalination plants (such as the wind turbine powered desalination plant in perth, western australia), buying their food from regions with water so they don't have to grow their food themselves et cetera et cetera

-Perth Desalination Plant-

There are endless ways to solve that particular problem if you have money.

What if you do not have money?

Well realistically we're talking about industrial civilization, whose main goal is to make money in the service of the economy. Those who are poor are of course the losers in the system and in any human system there are always unfortunately some losers.

In any case, what can be done?

Well many of the water "shortages" are in regions of the world with severely degraded soils due to overgrazing (such as by grazing the land with goats which notoriously eat almost everything and end up desertifying the land eventually). Additionally, many of the water "shortages" are in regions which are heavily overpopulated AND whose population mainly survive through erratic subsistence agriculture.

So... we essentially have 3 problems to overcome:

1. Desertification
2. Shortage of actual water supplies due to being in arid regions
3. Lack of industrial infrastructure leading to dependence on subsistence farming.

Sadly, there is not much to be done in poor regions if there are no funds since recovering land from the desert is expensive. It can be done but it's expensive and thus poor people can't do it.

Water shortages can be dealt with, on the other hand by conserving water and recycling it.
There are technical solutions to this such including water management whereby flash rains are stored rather than let evaporate away.

-Cheap Indian Water Storage System-

Additionally water can also be conserved by for example, instead of flushing it away into the ocean, wash your hands by dry alternatives or use chemical or hole-in-the-ground toilet facilities.

My main argument, however, would be to raise the living standards of the population so they could afford to trade and thus could take advantage of the available technology that could solve the problems.

Failing that, if the people continue to depend on subsistence farming the soil as it is and the lack of fresh water as it is will inevitably lead to not enough food and water to go around for the overpopulation in arid areas. Israel is a good example of a mid-income nation who has been able to reclaim some of the land back from the desert and has excellent conservation practises to the extent that they export food due to for example, the Israeli invention of drip agriculture which is a super efficient irrigation method. But again, these are rich people solutions.

-Israeli Drip Irrigation-

What would be required to solve that particular problem without building e.g. aqueduct infrastructure or expensive desalination plants (not even the cheap ones such as glass buildings with guttering built over shallow lagoons) would be to develop drought resistant crops and salt water tolerant crops for those who live near to the coast and have access to ocean water. That way, trade could be kick-started and industrial development could take place at a rate great enough to enable the population to buy what they need from further afield if it's not available where they live.

Saltwater crops are very interesting because Seawater has 80% of the necessary crop nutrients in adequate concentrations for crop growing. Thus the need for fertilizer would be minimized if saltwater tolerant crops could be developed.

There has been some limited progress in developing saltwater tolerant crops. One particular example is a hybrid version of a galapagus island cherry tomato which can be grown in a 70% solution of seawater. It will take further work before these tomatoes could be grown in 100% seawater, but progress is being made.

One other idea that springs to mind is the use of drought tolerant biofuel crops such as agave that could be grown in desert regions with very little water, then traded for food crops grown in water rich regions.

A harder solution is the political one: in overpopulated regions, they should try to balance their population by trying to move towards 2 children per family instead of more. Luckily, even there progress is being made since as of 2010 there are only a handful remaining of the 180 some countries whose population growth is higher than 2 children per family. Projections are for the population to top out at 9.5 billion around 2040 and then gently decline in subsequent decades.

In short, rather than water shortages, what we have is an uneven distribution of wealth due to uneven distribution of resources. That is nothing to do with any putatitve peaks caused allegedly by any "limits to growth" and instead is a feature of human society. I do not propose to try to solve it or to make it worse, instead I will point out that uneven water distribution will not cause the end of civilization as we know it.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

How well does the Volt really work for saving gasoline?

Those of you who read this blog know I'm a big fan of electric cars to displace oil usage from the soon to be declining oil production.

Those who buy an electric car will be laughing all the way to the bank as the nay-saying F150 (and similar) will be whining about gas prices north of $5 a gallon.

So let's look at a real-world example of this:

Lyle Dennis, who lives in New York state and owns was given one of the first pre-production volts back in November last year. I'm going to report on how it went.

Lyle had the vehicle for 90 days and drove it 5100 miles. It has to be noted that this period was during the frigid weather we've been having so it was a fairly good winter test. (Though I'd like to see an equivalent test in the summer time in Arizona but let's not quibble).

Anyways, the results were he drove 5,100 miles and used 46 gallons of gasoline. It should be noted that his commute was greater than the all electric range of the volt so someone whose commute is less will be mostly all electric.

Now if we assume 36KW/h per 100 miles driven that gives us 36x51 = 1836 KW/h. The average price for electricity in the US varies between 10c/KW/h up to 20c/KW/h. Let's take the high end.
20 cents times 1836 gives us $367 plus $3 per gallon @ ($3x46=$138) gives us a total fuel cost of $505. Now it's somewhat less than that because I don't know how much extra he drove outside the electric range, but let's assume it was 10%. So that means the total cost was in the region of $470 for 5,100 miles at today's price of $3 per gallon.

If, instead, he had driven a diesel sub-compact such as a VW jetta, whose fuel efficiency is about 45 miles per gallon we would have 5,100 / 45 x $3 = $340.

So at $3 per gallon, it's still about 20% cheaper to drive a high efficiency diesel (assuming we can get fuel) using the HIGHEST prices in the country for electricity. (Note, however, that most of the country will be around 15c per KW/h meaning we have breakeven but let's continue to be unfair to the volt by using the highest possible cost for electricity).

If we drive a more regular small car at 30 miles per gallon, then at today's prices the cost is $510. So we're ahead of the average small vehicle with "good" gas mileage in the USA today at current prices, just not a high efficiency diesel like a VW Jetta.

Let's fast forward into a future of higher gas prices and instability of supply such as we are temporarily experiencing with libya et cetera.

At $4 a gallon 46 gallons cost 4x46 = $184 and we still pay $337 for electricity (since electricity prices are not affected by oil supplies or unrest in the mideast). That gives us a fuel cost for the volt of $521 for the 5,100 miles.

For the high efficiency vehicle we get 5,100/45 x $4 = $453. It's now 10% cheaper to drive a high efficiency diesel than it would cost for the most expensive electricity in the country, but all the rest would now be cheaper.

For the average small vehicle at only 30 mpg it's starting to mount up. It's now $680.

So let's look further ahead, at $5 a gallon. (Note that $5 a gallon is a sure thing by 2015 even without supply disruptions based on current trends).

The volt will cost 46x$5 = $230 plus $330 is $560. As you can see, even at $5 per gallon the cost has only gone up slightly for the volt because part of the fuel usage is shielded from price rises.

Now let's look at the Jetta again: $566. Now even the Jetta costs more (one of the most fuel efficient production vehicles of it's size in the world).

For the average small car it's a whopping $850 a month.

The F-150 driver at this point will be screaming, because he'll be paying nearly $1700 a month in gas for the same commute. Ouch!

In any event, the doomers will say "well I'm better off with a jetta (until gas prices hit $5 a gallon)".

My response is, that's 2-3 years away at best. Unless you plan to lease a new Jetta NOW and then get another one at the end of the lease AND you pay top dollar for electricity, you're better off getting a volt.

Not just that: the moral smugness of driving a vehicle powered by electricity produced by Americans instead of paying for a war to maintain oil supplies in foreign lands.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Electric Cars and the magic date of 2015

The Baker Institute for Public Policy put out a report indicating that by far the best bang for the buck in mediating any putative oil crisis would be the rapid and aggressive uptake of electric cars.

I tend to agree with that.

Noting that it is stated Obama policy to have a million electric cars on the road in the US by 2015, I have wondered if that may have been a little optimistic given the continued and persistent whining you hear from the big truck drivers who believe that electric cars are very expensive glorified golf carts which are unsafe etc etc and they just won't drive them.

Sounds like a baby throwing it's toys out of the stroller in a tantrum to my ears, but nevertheless, there is indeed some price resistance even with the generous rebates given by the federal government. The production numbers in terms of vehicles produced per year were also on the low side to my eyes, so I suspected that though there is seed production capacity currently under construction or already in operation by most of the major auto manufacturers I had felt it would be premature to ask "are we there yet?" and answer with a definitive yes.

Now, however, into the scene jumps China, the 800 lb gorilla in the room. They have just come out and made a statement that they want to manufacture 1 million vehicles per YEAR by 2015.

Now that is more like it. If we are seeing prices in current ranges with production capacities in the thousands of units then I suspect that we may see between a 30-50% drop in price for the batteries with current generation. That could mean that e.g. a volt could be sold for $25,000-$30,000 and a leaf could be sold for $15,000-$20,000.

Now THOSE are numbers the average joe can work with.

Good times.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

New Biodiesel Process based on Photosynthesis

There has been a paper published in "Photosynthesis Research Magazine" which is a peer reviewed journal in which a spinoff from Harvard, Joule Research, outlines its process.

The claims are nothing short of extraordinary.

Allegedly, Joule has bio-engineered an organism which is capable of continuously excreting what amounts to bio-diesel without the need for energetically expensive pre-processing of biomass.

The result is allegedly 10X greater than predicted yields from algae or 50X greater than the best biomass crops of today.

If we assume an extremely skeptical eye (i.e. not believing in magic) and imagine that the process works but it's not 50X but more like 2X or even 1X then we could still conceivably have a lower cost process depending on the cost of the industrial plant required.

I suspect we would be looking at some kind of bioreactor so the costs could be anywhere from "more expensive" to "significant" and thus the at-the-pump cost would of course depend on yield.

Let's wait and see on this one.

Libyan Oil Exports Destination

This is a short post for now with just some regurgitation of facts and very little analysis.

What is the current gap between supply and demand in the world oil market?

About 4 million barrels per day.

What is the size of libyan oil exports?

About a million and a half barrels per day.

Where do Libyan Oil Exports go?
In 2009, Brazil took 3%, Italy took 32%, Germany took 14%, China took 10%, France took 10%, Spain took 9%, the US took 5%, Other European countries took 14% and Other Asian Countries took 14%.

What is the oil consumption of Europe?
About 14 million barrels per day. So the loss of Libyan oil is about 9-10% of the EU oil supply.

On a positive note we still have about 4 million barrels per day of excess capacity so we're not (yet) short and unlikely to be facing a "last light" scenario any time soon.

This, however, does underline the need to ramp up non-oil based alternatives.

Hopefully any price spike ($4 a gallon anyone?) will convince the F150 and Dodge Ram drivers that they may need to start thinking about e.g. a GM Volt for their daily commute

Any case, we're about to find out if the global economy really does collapse based on "high" oil prices. I suspect it won't because my theory is that high prices (notwithstanding oil shocks) are generally driven by a strong economy instead of the other way round.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Historical Natural Gas Production in the US

I've been having a conversation with a fellow peak oiler about historical natural gas production in the USA and I decided to have a look at it.
First of all, according to dieoff theory, once a resource peaks the only way to extract any more is at lower EROEI and lower EROEI and since our inputs are also declining we reach a point of diminishing returns and at that point peak is reach and nothing can be done to reverse the decline in supplies. So let's take a look at the graphs. This is the graph of US natural gas production since 1970 leading up to 2000.

And this is the graph of natural gas production from 1990 project out
to 2035 from the EIA.

Now what you can see from these graphs is the following:
The highest point of production (i.e. the "peak") in the first graph was in 1970 at 21TCF and subsequently production dropped to about 16TCF in 1985. Production bounced around 16-18TCF until abut 1990.
On the second graph you can see that production continued bouncing around 16-18TCF (not including imports from e.g. Canada) until 2000 when conventional supplies started on a downslope (aka the "final" peak and decline).

Five years later, however, you can see that the decline has been reversed by the addition of shale gas (which has been enabled by the development of fraccing technology to liberate natural gas from the massive shale deposits). In 2010 we are slightly above the 1970 domestic production of natural gas. Including imports from Canada, the US consumption is currently running about 3TCF higher than the peak in the 1970s.

Now if you were a doomer you might turn round and say that it's hardly a mark of success that it has taken us 41 years to return to the same production levels we had in 1970.

On the other hand, any alleged peak is supposed to be final and lead to the collapse of industrial civilization.

But, the doomers might say, you're still doomed because we can barely get back above 1970s levels even with increased production.

Not so. In order to keep the wheels turning, we only need to cover the percentage decline from oil. If we look at transportation as the main consuner (2/3 of all oil usage) then we run about 12 million barrels per day consumed in the US. If we don't try to increase mpg and don't use any other substitutes at 5% decline rate (brutal by anyone's imagination and likely decline rates are in the region of 2%) that means we have to replace 0.6 million barrels per day in the USA to keep the fleet running.
Using the conversion factor of 1 million cubic feet of natural gas equals 172 barrels of oil. So to replace 600,000 we need 3488 mmcf which is 3.5 TCF. If we look at production from 2005 to 2010 we increased production about 5 TCF so that means we can do an increase of 1 TCF per year.

So we're short using all the assumptions and taking the position that 1 TCF increase per year is the maximum increase we can do.

If we ignore imports from Canada which could probably boost production, we're short about 2.5 TCF per year increased production to replace the lost 0.6 million barrels per day oil supplies. We'll also ignore the increasing domestic US oil production from the bakken and similar formations and also ignore increasing Canadian oil production from the oil sands.

The current US fleet runs about 15 mpg. Can we increase efficiency by 3 times?
Yes we can.

So how many increased fuel efficiency vehicles do we need combined with a yearly increase in production of natural gas of only 1TCF when what we need is 3.5 TCF if we did nothing?

We need to increase the fuel efficiency equivalent to the decline rate.
That means if 5% of our fleet no longer has any oil to fuel it, then we need to increase the fuel efficiency of that component of the fleet in order to be able to utilize the available increased natural gas production.

The current US fleet is about 220 million vehicles. 5% of the fleet is therefore 11 million vehicles.

What is the current annual market in new US vehicles? The answer is about 18 million vehicles.

So clearly we are already buying enough vehicles every year.

My conclusion is the following: If we ignore increasing domestic oil supplies from the bakken and other similar formations, ignore increasing oil production from the Canadian oil sands, then we can maintain the US fleet at the current size with no interruption if half of new vehicles purchased each year have a fuel efficiency rating of 45 miles per gallon and are converted to natural gas.

Of course we also have the facility for some of those vehicles to be hybrids or diesel or electric, so we don't really need to convert 10 million vehicles a year to high fuel effiency.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bakkens, Export land and oil depletion

Contrary to what the doomers would have us believe, we are in fact able to increase recoverable reserves by the use of technology. This is common wisdom in the oil industry and you have to be some kind of conspiracy whack job to dismiss this out of hand.

Two such obvious examples are the recent technological breakthroughs that allow extraction of shale gas in such great quantities that not only has a decade long peak and decline been reversed in North America, but the USA in particular is now so awash in the stuff that they are exporting it to Europe.

Although oil is harder to do than gas and in all likelihood, the USA by itself won't be able to replace ENTIRELY it's conventional output by unconventional oil, there have nevertheless been significant breakthroughs.

The Bakken field in North Dakota has been the focus of much frantic activity in the last five years as new technology was developed by the likes of Chesapeake Energy to extract oil from the tight reservoirs in the Bakken which were previously inaccessible by older technologies. This technology has now become so mature that the decline in oil production in the USA since the 1970s has stopped and actually gone into reverse.

I thought this wasn't supposed to happen?

In any case, it doesn't stop there. Ask yourself this question: Are there likely to be similar reservoirs to the Bakken in other countries?

Is it likely that the Bakken is the only such reservoir in the world?

In fact there ARE other such reservoirs and now industry analysts are predicting that it could be conceivable that the USA would be able to close it's import gap by up to 60% by 2020.

That in contrast to the so-called "Export Land Model" which says the USA will be screwed. In fact it might be Saudi Arabia which instead has a potential problem because their economy is extremely dependent on oil exports.

I'll go further: the Bakken formation on the Canadian side is *underdeveloped* and it's likely that there will be other Bakken types formations in Canada and that continuing and ongoing improvements in process engineering in the oil sands will enable the potential to close the export gap *altogether* with the help of imports from Canada and other friendly nations such as Australia which has recently discovered it's own version of the Bakken which may end up being even more prolific.

I say potential Saudi problem and potential export gap, because I doubt that trade will just stop even if friendly countries can in fact meet the import needs of the USA. We will *still* buy some oil from Saudi. Saudi Arabia is an ally after all and they need to eat. We produce a lot of wheat and other agricultural products and they need to feed their population. We might need to re-sell the oil we buy from them onto the world market but we won't let them starve.

PS This is not to say we should all go out and buy Hummers. Instead I propose we all buy electric cars and we export ALL of our oil. Then there might be a glut. Wouldn't that be a blast.

Follow up on Saudi Wikileaks "scandal"

Saudi Oil Minister al-Husseini says wikileaks quoted him out of context.

Wikileaks effectively says that the oil minister said that the Kingdom does not have the estimated reserves bandied about and thus the oil reserves are overstated by 40%.

In fact, what he was alluding to was that in 2007 Saudi State Oil Company Aramco said that their reserves were 716 billion barrels which would on current technology trends rise to 900 billion barrels recoverable in 20 years time (2027).

The denial wikileaks alleged meant that the 716 billion barrels were false.

In fact, al-Husseini goes on record to say that the 716 billion barrels reserves are almost certainly correct whereas he was skeptical about the 900 billion barrels.

The full story is here:

Make up your own minds

More on Saudi Arabia

The big buzz at the minute on the doomer sites is that wikileaks says the Saudis effectively say peak oil is real and that it's coming to a town near you by 2015.

The detail, however, is more interesting.

Unlike the more extremist doomer peak oil sites like dieoff which will now start ranting about the collapse of global industrial civilization circa 2015 caused by rapid depletion of oil supplies upon which *everything* depends, what the Saudis are actually saying is this:

By 2015 there will be a global production plateau which will be difficult to breach without significant investment. This plateau will last about 15 years followed by a sharp and then decelerating slow decline.

That's not too too far off of my own estimate, although I reckon the plateau will be closer to 10 years and that much of the decline will be mitigated by substitution, demand destruction as well as efficiency.

The upside to this is that it means we have something like 15-20 years to do a switchover.
Hirsch said that if we hit peak then we would have needed a crash program 10 years in advance of *depletion* in order to avoid liquid fuels shortages.

If we take the Hirsch report as reasonable rather than the out on the looney farm fringes (and I do, in spite of his failure to address certain substitutes) then we can say the following based on what the Saudis are saying:

1. We still have time to start the 10 year crash program if so needed
2. If we start now then maybe we don't need a "crash" program and merely an intensive program will be adequate

In fact, we have *already* started. Pressure to electrify the transportation system has been mounting since at least 2003. Great progress has been made on process engineering and cost reduction for both renewables and energy storage. Great progress has also been made in the transportation sector itself. We have viable (though still somewhat expensive) electric vehicles coming into production from almost all major manufacturers as well as Natural Gas alternative fueled vehicles. We also have made great leaps in our ability to extract natural gas from shale and are making increasing strides in our ability to extract from formations similar to the bakken. There are improvements to the processes for extracting usable synthetic crude from the oil sands. There has been deepwater oil discovered in quantities great enough to stave off depletion for probably another five to ten years giving us yet more breathing room. There is significant pressure to move towards fast breeder reactors to extend uranium reserves and additionally there is now a program by both India and China to attempt to utilize the much greater resource of thorium. There are efficiency programs underway also through tax breaks in many countries. In short we have options even if we have been slower on the uptake than at "emergency ramming speed".

While I do not think things are going to be easy (particularly due to the financial crisis in the western world instigated by the housing bubble and subsequent popping thereof) and I suspect we in the "developed" world are possibly going to see something like a combination of high inflation a la Britain in the early 1970s punctuated with recessions for the next two decades, I seriously doubt we are going to see fullscale collapse as foreseen by the extreme doomers.

We have the pieces in play, now it's just time to watch and see what shakes out.
I'm excited. We live in interesting times.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Economy is driven by oil

This is a very short post, fueled by Taco Bell euphoria on a friday afternoon.

So here's a thought: Many of the doomers are of the opinion that if oil production declines then GDP will decline because there is a 1:1 correlation between oil usage and the economy.

Sounds plausible right?

OK How about this for a thought experiment:

Simply buy as much oil as you can and burn it. Will that cause the economy to grow faster than anybody else?

In other words does energy inefficiency drive the economy?

I'll stick my neck out and say, NO.

I suspect that rather than the economy being driven by the amount of energy it consumes, I think there is a correlation (though NOT 1:1) between the better the economy, the more energy used all things being equal.

When you try to look at the data, however, it's hard to get a clear picture. What's definitely not true is that profligate energy consumers have the best economy in terms of GDP per head except possibly in the case of Norway.

Seems to be that Norway wastes a shit load of energy per unit of GDP and so also does Iran.
But yet, Norway is rich and Iran is poor. What gives? Maybe the *real* correlation is that if you have a ton of it, you *waste it*?

China (not a rich country in terms of GDP per head), the Netherlands and the US all use about the same amount of energy to produce a unit of GDP. China is partly self sufficient in energy and so is the USA. The Netherlands imports much of it's energy.

Germany, Japan, the UK and India all generate GDP using less energy per unit of GDP generated.

What's interesting about that is that if you look at the GDP numbers per head instead of GDP per unit of energy the ranking is different.
#1 Norway $52,238
#2 USA $47,132
#3 NL $40,777
#4 Germany $35,930
#5 UK $35,053
#6 Japan $33,828
#7 Iran $11,024
#8 China $7,518
#9 India $3,290

So what do the rankings show: The highest (out of this small section) is Norway, which has a large oil production per capita. The only other large oil exporter in the list is Iran who is down at the bottom end and nowhere near the rich countries. The world's pre-eminent manufacturing rising star is China, who is no more efficient nor more inefficient at producing GDP using energy than the United States or the Netherlands.

The interesting question is this: where are the countries placed who have no oil resources of their own?

Japan, the Netherlands and Germany virtually have to import all of their oil yet they are all firmly in the rich country grouping. What gives?

Perhaps the relationship of GDP to energy usage for a country is more complicated than the doomers make out hmmm?

Monday, 31 January 2011

What *is* the present day grid parity cost of Solar Panels in the US?

Grid parity always seems to be around the corner. It's already there in sunnier parts of Southern Europe and South Africa. But what about the U.S.? Is there anywhere it's already reached grid parity?

As it turns out, the answer is yes. In Dallas, Texas, it's possible today to purchase a solar panel system which over the course of 40 years (the active service life of installed solar panels, with data reaching back to the 1970s), the per kilowatt cost of solar panels installed today is at par with electricity bought from the spot market.


We're not there yet for the rest of the country for varying reasons, but I suspect we're pretty close.

Now we may ask a particularly relevant question:
What does this mean?

Well let's take a couple of scenarios:
Scenario 1:
Let's say that fossil fuels are doomed to decline over the next twenty years or so.
Scenario 2:
Technology will be developed to unlock the vast resource of unconventional fossil fuels.

In the case of Scenario #1, the price of fossil fuels will start on an upward slope and since it will be far cheaper to generate power from solar panels then that's exactly what we'll get.
The economy will probably grow slower initially since although the electrical economy is more efficient than the fossil fuels powered one, renewables are starting from further back and so will take some time to build up a head of steam.

In Scenario #2 we will get more of the same (i.e. greater quantities of fossil fuels than before). The economy will continue to grow based on the old paradigm, but technology will continue to advance and the transition to a sustainable renewables powered electrical economy will just take longer than in scenario #1.

In either case, however, we're not going to be seeing any kind of dieoff graph. Instead we're going to continue to see the global economy grow.

Wide Spectrum Solar Panels coming to a theater near you

So I've talked a bit about solar panels in the past and I'm a big fan of them, not least because one of America's most successful inventors of all time predicated they would ne the ultimate in energy production.

To my mind, the piece we're missing is *inexpensive* and *easy to manufacture in bulk* are the key pieces missing. Looks like we might be nearly there.

Recently, however, the US department of Energy's Berkeley lab demonstrated a solar cell which can be made cheaply and easily using a well known and commonly used manufacturing process from the semi-conductor industry.

In other words we're more or less talking about solar cells being printed as if they are silicon chips.

On a related note, even without this technology, the naysayers (such as Exxon Mobil) are saying that in their estimation, solar will continue to grow at 10% annually till 2030.

Back In reality, however, the installed base of solar has been doubling every two years, not every seven. At that rate of growth we will see 10% of electricity supplied by solar by 2022 and 20% by 2024. Along with wind, hydro and nuclear we should be easily over 50% by the projected end date, with the balance made up by coal, natural gas and greater efficiency.

Given the greater efficiency of electrically powered transportation - 4x - (by far the greatest consumer of oil), it is not a stretch of the imagination to take a guess and say that even if we maintain total energy production at today's rate but change the ratio from 80% fossil fuels and 20% renewables/nuclear to 50% fossil fuels and 50% renewables/nuclear then we in fact have two times the total utility from a static energy supply. Also it's worth pointing out that once we see grid parity (i.e. the cost of solar energy produced by solar is the same as that produced by other forms of electricity) we should see solar power explode in terms of installations. There is evidence to suggest that we're already there in some parts of the world and will be there in North America by 2015 and China earlier still.

If we assume (and this is incorrect - but let's play their game to be ultra-conservative) that there's a 1:1 correlation between energy utility and GDP growth then we're talking about doubling the size of the global economy by 2030. I make that to be an annual average growth rate of 3.7% even while standing still in terms of energy output. Not too shabby.