Sunday, August 30, 2009

Michael Lynch -- (Part Five, Final)

"But the solution, as ever, is for the industry to shift investment into new regions, and that’s what it is doing. Yet peak-oil advocates take advantage of the inevitable delay in bringing this new production on line to claim that global production is on an irreversible decline." --Lynch

"Industry to shift investment into new regions". In case Lynch missed the Everestian evidence on hand the past half-century, these "new regions" have already been tested. No alternative basket can approach oil's burn-for-the-buck, safety, reliability, compactness, availability, adaptability, plenteousness, versatility, and, last but not least, and to the point of this excerpt, union with trillion-dollar-plus infrastructure.

Wind? A plausible vehicle for individuals on plains and slopes where it's more powerful than a shill's voice through a carnival megaphone, but wind generation is unreliable (frequently 85 % of it is taken over by the transitive method); wind itself is unreliable; the mills' generators and electrical conduction is powered by oil; and, certainly most damning, cannot be built to a large- scale operation (it would take windmills from Vancouver to Abbotsford to power the household electricity needed to light up Richmond).

Ethanol? The worst of the options. Already we're seeing famine in India and elsewhere as a result of fields of corn being used for ethanol/gas instead of food exports; ethanol has an abysmal ERoEI (of at, and even below, zero).

Hydrogen cells? Too expensive (the procedures for freeing hydrogen and then combining it with carbon takes more energy than the resulting compound produces, in addition to expensive compression in many stages of its shipment and storage); too dangerous (hydrogen is very unstable and inflammatory); too caustic (because of its low weight, it leaks, diffuses, and when it gets into other areas, corrodes them since hydrogen always attaches itself to surrounding elements/objects); too much space (for storage, shipping, fuel compartments); best-case ERoEI ratio of 1.4 : 1, before layered maintenance.

Electric cars? Research, money, development, have been ongoing for many decades, but engineering and economic drawbacks have rendered "progress" ineffective. And it still takes oil to run the products, both on the consuming and on the supply side.

Solar power? After thirty years and billions of dollars of investment, it still costs five times as much as coal-fired power.

Nuclear energy and liquified coal are the best alternatives, even though they'll never replace oil in large-scale effectiveness, but they would need to be retrofitted in an internationally agreed-upon structural overhaul to the tune of 50 + trillion dollars, with results not being apparent for at least fifteen years. Think any one-term politician, let alone a consensus of them, will go to town with that option?

"In the end, perhaps the most misleading claim of the peak-oil advocates is that the earth was endowed with only 2 trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil. Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there. A century ago, only 10 percent of it was considered recoverable, but improvements in technology should allow us to recover some 35 percent — another 2.5 trillion barrels — in an economically viable way. And this doesn’t even include such potential sources as tar sands, which in time we may be able to efficiently tap."--Lynch

I refuse to even take the trouble to refute this. This is based on a dream, Lynch, or on abiotic tinfoilers?

"Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward in the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota"--Lynch

My refutations have already been made on this. All oil is not created equal. It's like thinking of all poetry as equally wonderful and effective. But the Shakespeares, in this admittedly inaccurate analogy, have been extracted, and all that remains are the constant black drippings from ubuweb. A lot of effort for fool's gold.

"But that may not keep the Chicken Littles from convincing policymakers in Washington and elsewhere that oil, being finite, must increase in price"--Lynch

The opposite is true, as I've already maintained in another context. Oil is being depressed in price, if you want to go the conspiracy route. But water, and oil, eventually finds its true level. When the U.S. dollar collapses, oil will go back to $147 a barrel, and then beyond. Economics 101: supply and demand. Where's the supply, Lynch? Anyone can certainly see where the demand is coming from, even if Americans can't afford too many new cars these days.


Feedback, pro or con, is welcome.


Alex said...

You think liquified coal is one of the best alternatives? The stuff I've read about that hasn't been very promising. And that's leaving aside the environmental impact.

Quite an impressive critique though!

Brian palmu said...

Thanks for dropping by, Alex.

Current coal-fired power is, of course, tremendously polluting, and carbon capture/sequestration isn't an ideal alternative. But it's better than a lot of other "clean" options. Research into it is still developing, but already there's talk of it knocking off 40% of atmospheric pollutants, while raising electricity costs only 30% - 50%. (I say "only" -- it's all relative -- Obama's cap-and-trade-tax would raise home energy costs by over 50 % immediately, if implemented.)The process itself is, yes, controversial, but safe storage -- effective sequestration -- is still a young engineering and scientific exploration. We'll see.

Alex said...

This is from J. David Hughes's essay in Carbon Shift (may not be the last word on the subject, but it's one expert's opinion):

"I have been responsible for Canada's National Coal Inventory for many years and have communicated with many other experts in other countries on the topic of coal reserves. In situ coal resources are very large, but when the constraints of recoverability are imposed (seam thickness, seam depth, environmental contaminants, geological complexities, surface land use, etc.) these resources are a great deal smaller. Some of the most attractive deposits I worked on coming out of university in the 1970s are now mined out. The concept that there is enough coal to replace oil through coal-to-liquids technology is a complete non-starter in my view. I think we'd best get on with the paradigm shift required to move to a more sustainable energy future."

Even assuming this isn't a problem, carbon sequestration takes a lot of energy. Around 30% of the energy produced by a typical coal plant would have to go into the process. Technology may be able to get that down, but it's still going to be one of those net energy drains that reduces coal's real feasibility as an alternative. And the global demand for cheap-though-dirty energy will likely put off implementation of any such plans on a widespread basis.

Brian Palmu said...

Just heading out for two days, quick note:

The coal option only has a chance to work if the energy benefits outweigh the costs to a significant degree -- I've heard 20% is lost in the process -- and North American engineering would have to take this to a better level. The worry, to me at least, is what China (another big coal producer) would do with crude burning when their energy usage keeps increasing. Already it's worse there than brown-air Los Angeles in some parts.