Friday, January 30, 2009

Peak Oil solutions?

It's easy to be negative isn't it?

You know. The glass half-empty thing.

We get tired, we get cranky, we don't get enough sleep.......modern life.

Peak Oil Awareness is not about being negative. Please don't misunderstand the topic.

It is about being realistic.

Living an illusion is negative. And un-patriotic too. No matter where you live in world.

And the world, especially the United States, has been living an illusion for a long time.

So, what are the solutions?

How can we change things to get the monkey off our back?

Nobody has all the answers. I certainly don't.

But a vague notion of "energy independence" is not going to cut it.

We need some very specific plans.

And those plans have to be based upon realistic assumptions and in understanding the scope and limitations of various technologies that can offer parts of the solution. We can't depend upon fantasies like dilithium crystals, can we?

So, let's be positive for a moment and think about things we can do that can be implemented without delay.

Transportation is one of the biggest areas that is being impacted by Peak Oil.

Personal mobility is a concern for everybody. Transportation to support trade and industry is another important aspect.

The challenge in the transportation space is mostly about the fact that we have built a giant global machine dependent upon non-renewable oil to provide liquid fuels.

Yeah, there are a few busses that run on natural gas, but most of the fleet of commercial trucks and other machines don't. My neighbor's Mercedes-Benz 600 doesn't.

And, even though things like corn ethanol sound good, the reality is that the conceptualization is flawed. Remember, people get hungry. And corn for fuel takes away food for hungry people.

An analysis of corn ethanol needs to also consider the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested). How good is your physics? Can you explain the concept of an "energy sink?" Its not tough. If the amount of useable energy you get out of a technology is less than the energy you put in to get it out, that technology is an energy sink and is not sustainable. That pretty much explains corn ethanol.

I have a lot of hope for algal biofuels.

I think this area offers a lot of the solution potential for decreasing the burden of having to come up with so many millions of barrels of go-go juice everyday.

It's simple. Throw some algae in a photobioreactor and make sure there is enough carbon dioxide nearby (like from a coal-burning power plant) to bubble through the mix to feed those little blue-green guys, make sure you get some radiation from the sun or grow lamps, keep the kettle stirring, and, you've got a potentially sustainable source of liquid fuels.

Then, you run the blue-green muck through a press or whatever and get the oil out and then transesterify the stuff or throw it in an adequately designed engine that can run it straight.

The strange thing about algal biofuels is that many voices claim that they are "too expensive." Well that is just silly. Continuing to run on non-renewable rock oil is way more expensive. We are heading for a disaster. It would be cheaper to subsidize algal biofuels than face the bill we will have to pay when global oil production crashes.

I already lived through the gas rationing in 1973 and 1979. It wasn't fun.

What is strange is that we just fell asleep for 36 years or so.

We don't even have an emergency plan for gasoline rationing. That would be a good solution. Get a gas rationing plan, just to have in case of an emergency, which we could have again any day.

Some of these solutions seem so simple it is amazing that they are not deployed.

The big problem is scaling them up. Making enough biofuel from algae to make a significant difference. Or making enough batteries for deploying at least some electric cars.

The other basic problem in the transportation space, especially personal transportation is the ridiculous inefficiency of most vehicles.

On average, less than one percent of the energy used to move a vehicle moves the weight of the operator! That is just stupidly inefficient.

Remember the "Africar?"

That was a cool idea!

It was all about building vehicles out of wood that could be harvested from sustainable forests and constructed with simple wood and resin technology that anybody could fix, even out in the bush in deepest Africa.

Apparently, the company was financially unsound. I would guess they didn't have a good business plan and ProForma financial statements like lots of people I try to help. Wish I could have had the chance to help them.

There are lots of other Peak Oil solutions to discuss in subsequent posts but the transportation issues are the ones that are most challenging because of the scale of the problem and huge bridge needed to span the gap between dependence on non-renewable rock oil and fuels of the future.

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