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The End of the Oil Age 1100

Posted by michael
from the glug-glug dept.
geekstreak quotes "'The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.' Ways to break the tyranny of oil are coming into view. Governments need to promote them."
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The End of the Oil Age

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  • by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:10AM (#7299796) Homepage Journal
    Governments need to promote them.

    And Oil Industries need to subdue them.
    • Re:So it goes... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alyeska (611286) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:01AM (#7300376) Homepage
      As someone else on here said, there's no such thing as an "oil company" any more. People around here need to update their propaganda. The various energy companies I've worked for couldn't care less whether it's oil, gas, hydrogen, or twinkies, as long as the profit margin is high.

      But then again, I'm an evil oil-man, and will be by his evening to collect all of your children and pets to torture. It's what we eeeeeevil people do. Stretches my credibility, what?

      • True. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by raygundan (16760)
        They certainly don't care what KIND of fuel they have to sell you. What doesn't exist, however, is any incentive for them to encourage efficiency. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The more efficient stuff gets, the less people have to buy their products.

        I don't have a good solution or anything-- just pointing out the problem. A company that sells energy in a more-or-less pure capitalist economy is doing what they're supposed to do for their shareholders if they fight tooth and nail against efficien
        • by duck_prime (585628) on Friday October 24, 2003 @01:34PM (#7302119)
          They certainly don't care what KIND of fuel they have to sell you. What doesn't exist, however, is any incentive for them to encourage efficiency. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The more efficient stuff gets, the less people have to buy their products.
          That's why the energy companies don't make cars and toasters. Someone else makes the energy-consuming devices, and that someone has a very large vested interest in efficiency, at least efficiency w.r.t. the competition's device.

          The problem with the world going over to some alternate source of energy is twofold:

          1). The first-mover problem. The first corp switching to methane/gerbil/whatever power on a large scale will make all the costly mistakes, much to the delight and edification of their competition, so I can imagine a ... reluctance ... to be the first one.

          2). Don't forget that we need a source for PLASTIC. Right now our enormous chemical industries guzzle down oil like you wouldn't believe, and we still need to find an alternative for that. And with the way fractional distillation works, if you separate enough oil to get gloop to make plastic out of, you get as a side effect lots and lots of, well, gasoline. What are they supposed to do with it?

          I do favor alternate energy sources (heck, alternate plastic sources too, if any) but let's not forget that it will take really hard work to cut over, and that it's not as simple as tossing up a couple of windmills. The energy corps today aren't using oil just because they like polluting. Here's some guy's take [denbeste.nu] on the problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:11AM (#7299802)
    ...Then what will KFC fry their chicken in?
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:11AM (#7299805) Homepage
    The article mentions hydrogen fuel cells as a way to break big oil. But last I heard, the most effecient way to make hydrogen is from coal, which is a dirty nasty process. (Or so I hear). Am I wrong on this?
    • by tiled_rainbows (686195) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:18AM (#7299872) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, that's what gets me, too. All this talk about "the hydrogen economy" yadda yaddda yadda tends to assume that people will be charging their fuel cell up from renewable energy sources. But surely, in a free market, they'll be charging it up from the cheapest energy source, which will be the same as the variety of (generally non-renewable) sources that drive today's power grids. So it won't make a blind bit of difference. And I bet that OPEC et al are looking into the most efficient way to convert oil into hydrogen - I mean, what else are they going to do with it once eveyone starts driving fuel-cell powered cars?

      Anyway, point of this slightly incoherent post: Fuel cells are cool, but, unlike oil, they are not an energy source and therefore will not replace oil. Hopefully something will, though.
      • by raygundan (16760) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:34AM (#7300061) Homepage
        You are quite correct. The "Hydrogen Economy" buzzword-crap refers to the idea of using hydrogen as an energy distribution mechanism, like a battery. You "charge up" your hydrogen tank by using electricity to split H out of H2O, and the electricity has to come from somewhere. You are also correct that it will come from whatever's cheapest, and only the environmental nuts with rooftop PV panels will make hydrogen cleanly.

        However-- that's not the point. At least not initially. The idea is to transition to an infrastructure that does not depend on any particular generation method. This opens the way for your car to be powered by anything-- not just gasoline. Once you can put hydrogen in, you're no longer tied to a single source. As more efficient generators and methods (nuclear, solar, excercise-club treadmills) come into play, your existing car will be able to immediately take advantage of them.

        To sum up, you're right. It will still be gasoline and coal on the backend for a long while. But every time a more efficient nuke plant pops up, cars can instantly switch their power source by just sourcing hydrogen from somewhere else. Contrast that to our existing infrastructure, where to take advantage of a more efficient generation method or fuel source, you need a new car for each technology advance (say, hybrid vehicles or VW diesels) or non-gasoline-compatible fuel.

        It's just a way to disconnect generation from distribution and usage, and it works a hell of a lot better than a stack of Li-ion batteries that weighs as much as your car.

        • The idea is to transition to an infrastructure that does not depend on any particular generation method. This opens the way for your car to be powered by anything-- not just gasoline. Once you can put hydrogen in, you're no longer tied to a single source. As more efficient generators and methods (nuclear, solar, excercise-club treadmills) come into play, your existing car will be able to immediately take advantage of them.

          Correct. But there are other instantaneous advantages also. While converting oil and

        • by ThinWhiteDuke (464916) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:30AM (#7300675)
          Not quite sure oil & coal are cheaper than nukes to produce energy. In France, 90% of our electricity comes from nuclear plants and it's reasonnably cheap. I gather that the investments were huge but they're paying off. We're actually exporting electricity to our neighbors which would hint that our cost is competitive.
          • by Courageous (228506) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:43AM (#7300783)
            In France, 90% of our electricity comes from nuclear plants and it's reasonnably cheap. I gather that the investments were huge but they're paying off.

            (my fellow) Americans are (somewhat) irrationally afraid of nuclear. As a consequence, our safety standards are very, very high. This increases total cost of generating power beyond the cost of other power generating techniques. If Americans were a bit less nuclear-paranoid, we might be able to look rationally at some of the emerging/new techniques at safely and cheaply generating power.

            C//
            • by ThinWhiteDuke (464916) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:57AM (#7300987)
              France also has its share of irrational fear of the nukes - hehe, another common point between us ;) - I don't think any new plant has been built in the latest 20 years and Greenpeace guys call Doomsday everytime a lightbulb dies within 20 miles of a nuclear plant. Our plants are safe, no significant problem has been reported since the beginning of the program (like 50 years ago). I guess our safety standard are world-class too. Still electricity can be produced cheaply.

              I think the main barrier to nuclear power is not economical, it's political. No elected official wants to risk his (her) reelection by building a new nuclear plant.
        • Yes, very insightful.

          Really, people should be pushed to think of hydrogen as a new form of extremely efficient battery, and more importantly, one that *never* needs to be replaced. This is because the 'battery' consists entirely of the fuel it contains, and can be broken down very cleanly.

          Once you start thinking about it that way, moving to a hydrogen economy is basically moving to a 'battery economy', from a 'generation on-the-fly' economy.

          Or something.
        • You are also correct that [electricity to generate hydrogen] will come from whatever's cheapest, and only the environmental nuts with rooftop PV panels will make hydrogen cleanly.

          Even rooftop panels aren't "clean".

          They trap virtually all the light that strikes them and turn most of it into local heat. (Several times more energy comes out as heat than comes out as electricity.) Meanwhile the energy that made hydrogen is eventually releleased as heat when the hydrogen is used.

          The surface area they cover
      • by Sgt York (591446) <jvolm&earthlink,net> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:58AM (#7300337)
        OK, let's say that over the next 15-20 years we phase into hydrogen powered cars. I'm not predicting, I'm just pulling the number from my sphincter. Anyway, let's just say that 80-85% of the cars on the road in 2023 are hydrogen powered. No doubt: the hydrogen to power these cars will come from processes driven by hydrocarbon based fuel, provided there is any left. It's the cheapest, and readily available.

        However, that is still a good thing. It may or may not improve current environmental condidtions (efficiency of scale, concentration of pollutants, etc), but it is still overall a good thing. In this scenario, cars are then ready for greener fuels.

        Let's say that in 2050 we perfect cheap solar/wind/fusion/total conversion/cosmic ray harvesting/whatever as a "green" energy source. If cars are already set up to use hydrogen as a fuel, the general populace is all set to take full advantage of that new green source. Large companies will have incentive to shift to the new tech because it's cheaper and gives good PR. The general populace won't care, because it doesn't affect their daily activities. If cars are all set on gasoline, people will resist the shift. Get the resistance to the new tech out of the way now, because we can.

      • by radtea (464814) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:51AM (#7300903)
        Several other people have pointed out that hydrogen has value as a means of transmission of power that makes it a useful step in the transition toward complete reliance upon indefinitely sustainable energy sources. Hydrogen/solar and hydrogen/wind are natural combinations, as both sun and wind are abundant resources that often aren't co-located with high densities of energy consumers.

        But it gets better.

        Hydrogen as a transport medium has three big advantages over electricity: transmission is relatively lossless, hydrogen can be stored far more easily than electricity, and hydrogen is better suited to powering small mobile engines, such as those found in automobiles. On the first point, roughly 40% of electricity generated in Canada (admittedly a worst case) goes into line losses. The number in the U.S. isn't that much lower. Ergo, hydrogen production can be moderately inefficient compared to simple electricity generation and still break even on efficiency grounds.

        Most importantly, however, cars that use hydrogen generated from burning coal, oil or gas would be far more energy-efficient and less poluting of the atmosphere than gasoline powered automobiles. The reason for this is simply that large stationary power-plants are much easier to load with all kinds of fancy efficiency-enhancing, polution-reducing technology than cars are. Small, mobile power plants suffer from all kinds of practical engineering constraints (weight, size, cycle-of-use,...) that don't affect big stationary power plants.

        --Tom
    • It depends on what you want to use it for. Cracking coal to create hydrogen might be a useful way of liberating energy stored up from earths past, but if we have enough energy, say from sunlight we could use it to generate hydrogen from water. we are really not generating energy from hydrogen, but using hydrogen as a carrier for Solar energy since hydrogen is easier to transport and can run cars for longer than batteries.
    • (no attack on the original poster, as he was dead on)
      Hydrogen fuel cell discussions always chap my ass, because people miss the basic facts about the technology that will keep it from ever being more than an electric car-style gimmick.

      Hydrogen in a fuel cell is not an energy source in the global sense; it's an energy holder. Ie. the hydrogen in there was not simply pulled from some place at a small expense and placed in the cell. Generating hydrogen from water requires large amounts of energy, which will
    • The half dozen or so hydrogen stations in California will extract their hydrogen from natural gas. Read here [wired.com]
    • by kfg (145172) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:44AM (#7300186)
      And also energy intensive. That energy has to come from somewhere. See the second law. The hydrogen derived from the process cannot be used as the energy source for the process.

      Catalytic cracking from methanol is another possibility. Energy must be used to refine and manufacture the catalysts( and those catalysts expire, requiring energy to dispose of), as well as to produce the methanol. See above reference to the second law. The quickest dodge around the outside of the second law in this case is to use some naturally occuring process to reduce the energy need. That's why 90% of the "wood alcohol" produced today is produced from. . .are you ready for it?

      Oil!

      Ah, but what about that bioethanol the article talks about, I hear you cry. That isn't made from petroleum oil.

      No. It isn't. Then why is it so expensive? Because of the energy needed to grow the plants ( do you know how much fuel is used in farming?) and the energy needed to produce the ethanol from the plants. See the second law.

      Effectively all hydrogen on earth is in a bound molecular compound. Energy must be added to free it. See the second law. Producing hydrogen will always be done at an energy loss.

      From whence will we derive the energy to make up that loss?

      Ummmmmmmmm, oil?

      There's no such thing as a free lunch. You can't win. You can only break even. Oh yeah, and you can't break even.

      There are many benefits to be derived from using hydrogen as a fuel. Saving energy from other sources isn't one of them. The big energy companies, even those specializing in oil and nuclear, are going to frikkin' love the "hydrogen economy."

      It's going to allow them to sell us more oil for less benefit than ever before.

      KFG
      • Energy must be added to free it. See the second law.

        The earth is *not* a closed system. Reflect on this a while before continuing your second-law litany.

        C//
        • by kfg (145172) on Friday October 24, 2003 @12:31PM (#7301395)
          No. It isn't. That's why we have oil. It is in large part the stored solar energy (with a dash of geothermal) of millions of years.

          That's why it will be the surest and cheapest source of hydrogen for many, many years to come. That's why the so called "hydrogen economy" will be an oil economy.

          When the oil runs out it's back to the wood pile and other forms of solar energy. Or nuclear.

          Now as it happens I can live on solar energy just fine. I already raise much of my own food. I ride a bicycle. I produce electricity with my bicycle and my food. My family has a 20 acre wood lot. I live this way because I enjoy living this way. Most look on my "lifestyle" with distaste.

          NYC is going to be fucked though. Nevermind Las Vegas.

          Can you produce enough solar energy to supply downstate NY with enough hydrogen to meet its current energy needs, and without starving them to death? 'Cause we already "sucked Niagra dry."

          Doing it without striping the Catskills bare would be a plus. We tried that once. It wasn't pretty.

          The world can live on solar power just fine. It did so for billions of years. It did so, however, without electric lights, automobiles, PCes and hydrogen fuel for them.

          And without so damned many people.

          Hydrogen fuels will not solve our oil crisis. It will only accelerate it. Once the oil is so far gone that it's too expensive the surest source of hydrogen is water, to which you must add energy.

          Back to the wood pile.

          KFG
      • by cens0r (655208)
        No. It isn't. Then why is it so expensive? Because of the energy needed to grow the plants ( do you know how much fuel is used in farming?) and the energy needed to produce the ethanol from the plants. See the second law.

        Why don't you tell the weeds in my yard that the 2nd law says thay can't grow because no one is giving them energy. That would save me the trouble of expending energy to halt their growth.

        The earth is not a closed system. The sun pumps in tons of energy to the earth. Plants convert
    • The article mentions hydrogen fuel cells as a way to break big oil. But last I heard, the most effecient way to make hydrogen is from coal, which is a dirty nasty process. (Or so I hear). Am I wrong on this?

      First, it would at least be better than now. First, the process of making H2 from coal isn't as bad as burning it. Second, coal is a resource that is a bit, ah, more evenly distributed in the world. For America, this would be a good way to get the hell out of the Middle East, for good or bad.

      Ultima

  • by YanceyAI (192279) * <yanceyai@yahoo.com> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:12AM (#7299811)
    What is more, because hydrogen can be made in a geographically distributed fashion, by any producer anywhere, no OPEC cartel or would-be successor to it could ever manipulate the supplies or the price. There need never be another war over energy.

    Nice sentiment, but I'm sure some big corporation, or perhaps some lobbying coalition of corporations will probably patent the technology, then lobby to make certain patents never expire. Even much of major university research is now funded by corporations and results in patents.

    Think I'm paranoid? Ask the RIAA how long they think a copyright should be good for. So no wars, just draconian lawsuits that continue the inequitable distribution of energy, food, and wealth.

  • A gas tax would do nothing but piss off everyone in the States while the oil corporations whine like crazy over it.
  • The real cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by melonman (608440) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:12AM (#7299816) Journal
    Surely the problem with all these wonderful schemes is that they involve a reduction in our standard of living, at least in the short and medium term, if only due to increased taxation, and there is little evidence that this is a vote-winning idea. Sure, we can blame the politicians, but if the electorate was begging for higher taxes on fuel, I suspect they would be happy to deliver.
  • Middle East (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 1000101 (584896) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:12AM (#7299818)
    You think the situation in the Middle East is bad now? Wait until the world no longer relies on them for their oil and their economies fall apart. It will be a complete disaster. I would like to not have to rely on oil as much as the next guy, but I think it's going to cause just as many social problems as it will solve environmental problems.
    • MODS mark parent as Insightful

      Let me flip it on you also, wait until the middle east has had it with our shit, and witholds their oil, that would be a complete disaster as well. There would be a unapologetic, no fluff war-for-oil then. The middle East has us by the short and curlies as far as oil goes.

      • They tried that (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dark Paladin (116525) * <`jhummel' `at' `johnhummel.net'> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:33AM (#7300038) Homepage
        Back in the 1970's - the fuel shortage.

        About the same time, fuel efficiency jumped from 10 miles per gallon to 25.

        For the last 30 years, nothing has changed for fuel efficiency (a little here and there, but let's face it, not on a huge scale).

        Why? No economic incentive. But if another fuel crisis occured, you can bet that Necessity would mother quite a few inventions to increase fuel efficiency. Especially when car makers find they can make more money doing so.

        And that's what it's all about: money. Cars won't be more fuel efficient, people won't buy more car efficient cars until they have a pocketbook reason to. Right now, even though gas is expensive, it's still "cheap" compared to what it should be for inflation's sake.
        • Re:They tried that (Score:5, Informative)

          by TGK (262438) <Killfile@Nepha[ ]s.Com ['ndu' in gap]> on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:08AM (#7300433) Homepage Journal
          We say gas is expensive, but it's not -=that=- expensive. Consider that gallon of milk can run you twice what a gallon of gas costs.

          Similarly, consider the price of a handle of vodka. Almost every refined product we purchase costs more per gallon than gasoline.

          The real question should be this. At what level are US Citizen prepared to take drastic means to keep energy prices down? California seems to be tolerating relitively high gas prices in comparison to the rest of the US. Admittedly it's California, so there's a bit of inherent irrationality there, but they haven't done a whole lot more than lobby for their regulations to be implemented on the national level.

          When push comes to shove I think it would take a massive shift in policy almost completely by suprise. If gas prices climb slowly you won't see a change. If they spike upward (like if the Mid East decides tomorow it doesn't want to sell oil to the US and we're stuck with no one but Vesesuela) suddenly however, I think you'll see a bunch of angry SUV driving soccer moms.

          A slow rise in gas prices might lead to exploration of alternative energy sources. When gas hits $3.50 a gallon I think you'll see a real economic pressure to provide super fuel efficient cars etc. Similarly as electric bills rise you'll see more money going to alternate sources of electric energy as well.

          As for jumps, I think we'd have to hit around $6 a gallon... maybe more before you saw a real unapologetic war for oil. Most of the US population isn't as bloodthirsty as the rest of the world belives us to be (complaicent yes, bloodthirsty no). To get the public to rally behind a war of conquest for a material good you'd have to see some pretty rough consequences from pasifism.
      • Re:Middle East (Score:3, Informative)

        by ebh (116526) *
        Been there, done that.

        I'm old enough to remember the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Gas prices went through the roof. At their worst, gas was around $3.00/gal (in today's dollars, and yes, I know that's nothing compared to most of Europe). Pretty nasty when very few cars got over 15mpg.

        The problem was that the vast majority of our oil was imported from the Middle East then, so when they stopped shipping there was none to be had at any price, hence the legendary gas lines and odd-even rationing.

        Today, the Arab
    • Re:Middle East (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stretch0611 (603238)
      You think the situation in the Middle East is bad now? Wait until the world no longer relies on them for their oil and their economies fall apart

      I agree with you. However, They are going to have to learn to base their economy on something else (like maybe stealing high-tech jobs from india). Also we are not going to eliminate the need for oil overnight. GM won't start rolling out fuel-cell powered cars for another 4-6 years. Few people will be able to afford the initial version and it will be a few more ye

      • Re:Middle East (Score:3, Insightful)

        To your point that "few people will be able to afford the initial version"....That's why the initial version needs to be built to appeal to early adopters. There need to be two early versions, one a large honkin SUV that seats 7 or 8 people, and one a stupid-silly-fast sports-car type that seats 2 and does a quarter mile in less time than a good motorcycle.

        Don't build 4-door sedans or boring-ass 4-seat 2-door cars that get back and forth to work at a whopping top speed of 65MPH (Insight or Previa anyone?)
    • Re:Middle East (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Viol8 (599362)
      You mean oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia where women can't even drive or take their kids to hospital when they're ill without a male
      "guardian" might collapse? Oh quelle tragedie! Not. Most middle eastern oil revenue never makes it to the people anyway which is why most of them br are dirt poor while their leaders drive around in top of the range Mercs.
  • It can be done, hell there's cars that can run off of used cooking grease [greasecar.com](well, oil, vegetable oil). But the same old problem comes up, it's too big of an industry, with too many "power" people involved making their fortunes from it. Just like tobacco and the hellish medical insurance industry here in the US.They would not, and have not, taken the phase out of crude oil sitting down.
  • Commence beating! [slashdot.org]

    =Smidge=
  • by southpolesammy (150094) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:14AM (#7299831) Journal
    weellcome our (hic) neww bio (hic) bio (hic) bioethanol supplying overlawrds... (burp)...
  • by dolo666 (195584) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:14AM (#7299843) Journal
    1. Wait.
    2. Buy stuff from only your home town.
    3. Eat less.
    4. Shop less.
    5. Buy an electric car.
    6. Walk.
    7. Run.
    8. Bike.
    9. Have lots of sex. (ok these aren't in order)
    10. Make fun of people who drive or buy things from far away or shop too much or don't have much sex.
  • by John Jorsett (171560) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:18AM (#7299873)
    Ways to break the tyranny of oil are coming into view. Governments need to promote them."

    Did governments need to promote the alternatives to stone? A thing whose time has come shouldn't need "help". In fact, I'd argue that having government in your corner is often the worst thing that could happen.

  • by tyler_larson (558763) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:19AM (#7299884) Homepage
    Thanks to rapid advances in thermal depolymerization [slashdot.org], oil will likely be the fuel of the future. Only, we won't be getting it out of the ground. Instead, we'll be manufacturing it the same way the earth does: heat and pressure. But instead of taking millions of years, it takes just a few minutes.

    And what can you make oil out of? Pretty much anything. Sewage, yard waste, paper, plastic, road-kill...

    Recycling at its best. And this isn't theoretically-possible technology. This is currently-profitable-and-expanding technology.

  • by ellem (147712) * <ellem52@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:21AM (#7299913) Homepage Journal
    Oooh, so Mother Nature needs a favor?! Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys! Nature started the fight for survival, and now she wants to quit because she's losing. Well I say, hard cheese.
  • by Dark Paladin (116525) * <`jhummel' `at' `johnhummel.net'> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:24AM (#7299940) Homepage
    The problem with humanity in general, except in rare occasions when a truly forward thinking person comes into power, is that they usually won't do anything until "it's just about too late."

    So yes, oil dependance for the world is a problem. It's allowed a single section of the world to weild incredible economic power over others, and has allowed a group of religious extremists more money than they really deserve. Saudi Arabians (not the entire country, mind you - just folks with way too much money on their hands) exporting schools to Afganistan with a branch of extreme Islam that pretty much hates, well, everybody, Iran putting a gigantic bounty of Salman Rushdie's head because he wrote a book he didn't like:

    "We will make the proper decision about the increase of the bounty at the right time and considering the circumstances," the Iranian Jumhouri Islami newspaper quoted Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, head of the 15th Khordad foundation, as saying.


    "Thank God we have the necessary finance to pay for the bounty," he said. (Brief on Iran No 839 [iran-e-azad.org].


    So here's what I see happening:

    Now:

    United States: Oil good!


    World: Oil good, pollution bad!

    United States: Fuck you, Kyoto Treaty!

    OPEC: Ka-Ching!


    50 years from now:

    United States: Oil good!


    OPEC: Damn - we're running out. Oil now $50 a barrel!

    United States: Fuck oil! Hydrogen and ethenol - good!

    OPEC: Damn.

    Religious Extremists Groups: Anybody got change for a rocket launcher? Anybody?

    Rest of the World: Damn it - now where are we going to get fuel from?

    Iowa Corn Farmers: Ka-Ching!


    It's a simplistic view, I admit - but I figure nothing will be done on a US national scale, let alone a global one, until there is A Problem With Oil Supplies.

    Which, I'm guessing at around 50 years. Perhaps by then we'll have fusion systems or some other cool way of gathering energy. Until then, nobody really wants to do anything because it will cost too much money.

    And in the end, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

    Of course, this is just my opinion - I could be wrong.
  • Not likely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:27AM (#7299969)
    Oils are used as a base ingrediant in plastics. While we may someday move a hyrdogen economy, and we might even eventually get away from the internal combustion engine. Were not about to stop using plastics. Petroleum products go into a whole lot more than our gas tank, something many people are oblivious too.

    Not only that but the oil companies are smart enough to realize there not in the oil business but the energy business. Point to example, BP/Amoco is the world's largest seller of Solar panels. Why anybody would think that these companies would stand by and not partake in new energy technology is beyond me.
    • Re:Not likely (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:29AM (#7300005) Journal
      Why anybody would think that these companies would stand by and not partake in new energy technology is beyond me.

      Because a monochromatic world of simple good and simple evil filled with shadowy bogeymen and vast conspiracies is easier for many to accept than the more complicated worldview known as "reality".

    • Re:Not likely (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Obasan (28761)
      Plastics use a fraction of the amount of oil that goes into the automobile. America could probably supply all the necessary oil from its own pumps without needing to import oil for quite a long time if the only demand for oil was from the plastics industry.

      There's no great conspiracy - but, it is also obviously not in the oil industries best interests for the world to get "unhooked" off of oil. They have a huge investment in manufacturing, storage and other physical plant facilities, and transportation o
    • Re:Not likely (Score:3, Interesting)

      by David Leppik (158017)


      Oils are used as a base ingrediant in plastics. While we may someday move a hyrdogen economy, and we might even eventually get away from the internal combustion engine. Were not about to stop using plastics. Petroleum products go into a whole lot more than our gas tank, something many people are oblivious too.

      Petroleum is hardly the only source of oil. Ever since I was a kid the nice people at the Minnesota State Fair were handing out plastic pens made from corn. Right now polymers made from corn an

  • by Mysticalfruit (533341) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:27AM (#7299978) Journal
    I think one technology that has great potential for both recycling and reducing our need out foreign oil is "Thermal Depolymerization". Essensially, TDP uses heat and pressure to digest any hydorgen or carbon based organic material into it's base components + oil and gas.

    This technology had a couple false starts and inital designs sucked in terms of ROI for energy spent, but company called "Changing World Technolgies" built a demonstration plant that worked and then built a plant next to a turkey processing plant that digests the left overs from the turkey plant into 40 weight oil and gas (which it uses as fuel in the first stage of the digester).

    *puts down the pom-poms* I think this technology is great. It's not perfect because it still keeps us dependant on oil (just not oil from foreign contributors) however, I think it's a step in the right direction.

    I went looking for the link I read in the Discover magazine and it seems dead, so I've put in the google cache link instead.

    Anything into oil [216.239.39.104]

  • by Dr. Bent (533421) <.ben. .at. .int.com.> on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:28AM (#7299994) Homepage
    "The only long-term solution to this connected set of problems is to reduce the world's reliance on oil. Achieving this once seemed pie-in-the-sky. No longer. Hydrogen fuel cells are at last becoming a viable alternative."

    Oh fantastic! I just zip right on down to the Ford dealership and pick myself up a Hydrogen powered car. Then I can go to the nearest gas station and fill it up with liquid Hyrdogen. I'm sure it'll be cheaper than the $1.40 a gallon I paid to fill up my car this morning.

    Lets get real here, people. Nobody knows for sure if fuel cell cars will actually work in the marketplace. There are lots of hurdles to overcome like safety issues (New for 2005! The Buick Hindenburg XT!), distribution and production issues for Hydrogen, not to mention the fact that fuel cells may be a tough sell to consumers as long as they can buy gas at a reasonable price.

    Fuel cells may be a good idea...they may be a fantastic idea. Or they could be the next Segway. A wait and see attitude is more prudent here before we go throwing out 100 years worth of research and development on the internal combustion engine.
    • Sitting on a tank full of explosive fuel DOES sound pretty dangerous. So it's a good thing we don't drive cars with an explosive fuel tank now. Seriously-- i thought everybody on slashdot already knew that it was the *skin* of the hindenburg (essentially solid rocket fuel) that did most of the burning. Hydrogen rises, and dissipates quickly. Gasoline explodes, and has this nasty liquid peculiarity at normal car-operating temperatures that allows it to "flow" and "pool" and "coat" surfaces in the event o
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:31AM (#7300024) Homepage Journal
    US is one of the few countries where gasoline is still an affordable commodity. In several countries, the price of petrol has skyrocketed in the past decade (now about $5 per liter (about 0.5 gallons) taking into account the cost of living).

    With gas increasingly becoming an expensive commodity, people are turning to other means for powering their gasoline engined vehicles. A European country (Italian?) already makes car conversion kits, which cost about $50, take about 2 hours to attach, and allow the car to run on liquefied petroleum gas (butane) commonly used as cooking gas. A cylinder of LPG fits comfortably in the trunk, lasts upto 200 miles, and can be exchanged for a new one at the gas station. A switch allows you to switch between gas and LPG on the fly....I've actually seen this work...if you want to switch from LPG to petrol, you turn the switch to OFF, allow the car to stall slightly and turn it to the petrol position...that's it....as easy as that. Not only is LPG a cleaner fuel, but it is also typically 5-6 times cheaper than normal petrol.

    Another point.US is also one of the few countries where 2 wheeled vehicles like motorbikes/scooters are almost non existent. They are pretty widespread in European counties like Spain and in Asia. Not only are they more fuel efficient, but release lower amounts of polluting gases (atleast the 4 stroke versions, 2 stroke engines release more harmful gases for the same amount of fuel). I have noticed a growing use of scooters in the US, atleast in and around college campuses.

  • It gets worse. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:33AM (#7300039) Homepage Journal
    20, 50 or 100 years from now. Whenever this oil depedency has hit rock bottom. Countries in the middle east will simply blame america for their lack of revenue (assuming they don't move on to some other form of business, they must adapt, or perish). In 20-50 years the world will be much more tightly connected and it will only become easier for a country to sue another country. For example. all the damage Saudi Arabia has done to their people and environment by drilling for oil would be blamed on the US's massive consumption.

    Not only is the US gouged on prices, when the money runs out, these countries will turn around and litigate for more.

    I say the sooner we throw off the shackles of depedency on a tiny region of the world, the less damage they can do to us. America has always been fiecely indepedent, to the point of being pig-headed. I think we're due for some pig-headedness now. Cut ourselves now, to avoid worse wounding in the future.

    Of course I doubt anything will happen until the last possible second. Politicians don't seem to react unless it's an "oh shit" situation. Doing nothing substantial pisses off fewer people, and limiting the number of people you piss off is what it takes to survive in politics.
  • by Jack_Frost (28997) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:35AM (#7300066)
    The linked article (gasp I read it first) notes that hydrogen can be generated from any electrical source, even nuclear. Electrolysis is an energy intensive process - using the electrical output of a nuclear plant to crack water would be a waste of useful electricity. Radiolysis, the breakdown of water into hydrogen and oxygen by the action of neutrons, is a by-product of the nuclear reaction in water moderated reactors (virtually every commercial nuclear plant in the U.S.).

    Using the nuclear reactors to make electricity, sans greenhouse emissions, and siphoning off the hydrogen evolved from radiolysis is a much more efficient solution. One pound of nuclear fuel ( 5% U-235) can generate an absurd amount of hydrogen. A lot more than the electricity evolved from that same amount of fuel could through electrolysis.
  • by panurge (573432) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:46AM (#7300206)
    And counts for little. But it is an interesting argument. In parts of the West a lot of people equate access to personal transport with "standard of living", but the truth is that in many places driving is increasingly unpleasant as a result of the sheer number of other people that want to do it. I am sure that the bulk buying of SUVs is partly a response to the fact that highway driving is rarely enjoyable nowadays. I look back to when I was a kid with a Triumph Bonneville. Roads where you could travel legally and, actually, pretty safely at 100mph. Traffic jams something that only happened in the very center of large cities. When I visit clients it can now easily take 2 hours to travel 70-80 miles. The answer is not necessarily more and better roads because they open up development: just look at the population growth in places like Arizona.

    The problem is that we have created urban (and suburban, and exurban) town patterns that are useless for mass transit. But all the "green" power sources - wave, wind, solar, nuclear (yes, I do think nuclear power can be perfectly safe if it is regulated and not used to produce military by-products) are large-scale or spread out so they favor mass transport designs. They will work well in much of Europe, China and, ultimately, India, but not in the US.

    The hydrogen economy remains a possibility - alternative power could be used to create hydrogen efficiently by splitting water - and if the storage and distribution problems can be solved, could fix the US transport problem. But it is a huge threat to the Bush family (and the Cheneys, and many party backers) UNLESS hydrogen generation can be linked to the use of oil or coal. It's a truly vicious circle: Oil is good for the Bushes because its price fluctuates, military and business savvy is needed to maintain supplies, and the US consumer thinks he gets cheap oil, not realising he is actually subsidising the same people that gave us Al-Queda. Terrorism or the threat thereof destabilises oil security, so actually benefits the oil industry by helping to keep prices up. A credible hydrogen economy based on alternative energy would actually reduce oil prices, weaken the corporatism of the US, and benefit the end user. So is it going to happen? Not while Exxon has a breath left in its body.

  • by bartyboy (99076) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:51AM (#7300270)
    From the article:

    The best way to curb the demand for oil and promote innovation in oil alternatives is to tell the world's energy markets that the "externalities" of oil consumption--security considerations and environmental issues alike--really will influence policy from now on. And the way to do that is to impose a gradually rising gasoline tax.

    The effect of that will be smaller and more efficient combustion engines. Just look at what they drive in Europe and the gas prices there.

    The only way a gasoline tax will ever work is if alternatives (hydrogen, electricity, fuel cells) have an infrastructure equal to that of current gas stations. Until I can charge my car in 2 minutes or fill it up with hydrogen at any station, this won't happen.

  • by DaveWhite99 (525748) on Friday October 24, 2003 @10:52AM (#7300279)
    This article pays homage to future alternative fuels such as hydrogen and bioethanol, but does not even mention the most practical, affordable, and widely used alternative fuel : biodiesel. Biodiesel is commonly blended with petroleum diesel and is used in school buses, trucking fleets, and by individuals like myself. I run commercial-grade biodiesel in my non-modified (straight off the showroom floor) VW TDI. I even have it delivered to my garage door in 55 gallon drums for $2.50/gallon, all taxes and transport included.

    This article is just one in a long line of many that only pays attention to trendy, non-practical technologies like fuel cells (a battery-powered car is still cheaper and faster than any fuel cell car) and bioethanol, while completely ignoring the practical, relevant, and current technologies like biodiesel.

  • by dkoyanagi (222827) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:05AM (#7300405)
    I posted this comment a few days ago on the energy poll but the poll changed before anyone had a chance to read it. Here it is again.

    While googling around for information on world oil production I came across something called the Hubbert Curve. [216.239.57.104]

    The Hubbert Curve is a mathematical model that predicts petroleum production levels. It was developed in 1956 by M. King Hubbert, a petroleum geologist at Shell Oil.

    It basically says that the rate of production of oil over the life of the reserve roughly follows a normal (ie, "bell curve") distribution. In other words, the rate of production will increase until half of the available oil has been produced, then the rate of production will begin to decline.

    Here [216.239.57.104] is a Hubbert curve plotted in 1996 using the latest available data at the time. The first graph shows the world output of conventional oil in millons of barrels per day over a 100 year span starting in 1950. It assumes an Ultimate Recovery (total amount of oil in the world) of 1750 Gb (gigabarrels). The plot does not include non-conventional sources such as oilsands. The full report is here [oilcrisis.com]

    The graph predicts that global production will peak in the early 2000's and will decline steadily over the next fifty years. By 2050 production from conventional sources will have decrease by 70%. The second graph shows the Hubbert curve for conventional, non-conventional and gas liquid sources, plus the combined curve for conventional and non-conventional oil. Although production from non-conventional sources is predicted to double over the next 50 year it will not offset the predicted decline in production from conventional sources.

    The graph has both its supporters and detractors. One of the inputs to calculating the curve is the Ultimate Recovery and its hard to know exactly what will be. I've found figures on the web that range from 1750 Gb to as high as 2300 Gb. However, as this [wri.org] article states, even if ultimate recovery is as high as 2600 Gb, the peak will only be delayed till 2019. Here [216.239.57.104] is a critique of the Hubbert Curve.

    What I find interesting about the curve is that oil production will not suddenly drop to zero when the oil runs out (the doomsday scenario). Rather production will steadily decline over a long period as existing sources dry up and new sources become harder and more expensive to exploit. At the same time, increasing oil prices will lead to the development of new sources of energy. As new energy production expands demand for oil will probably decrease, leading to lower oil prices. Oil production will finally stop when the cost of extracting the remaining oil exceeds market price.
  • by John Murdoch (102085) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:07AM (#7300426) Homepage Journal

    Hi!

    While there is tremendous potential for hydrogen-based fuel cells, there's a little detail that seems to be overlooked. The vast majority of the world's production of liquid or gaseous hydrogen is produced from off-gases that are byproducts of oil refining.

    The world's leading producer of liquid hydrogen is Air Products and Chemicals [airproducts.com] of Trexlertown, Pa. I've done a lot of work for them over the years--and their hydrogen business is based on "HYCO" plants that take refinery gases, extract the hydrogen and return carbon dioxide (and sometimes hydrogen) back "over the fence" to the refinery. Key point: no refinery, no hydrogen. There are other means of producing hydrogen--but HYCO plants are by far the cheapest.

    A point of philosophy:
    Immanual Kant's Categorical Imperative can be expressed like this: if your philosophy requires having sinners to do the sinning for you, your philosophy is bankrupt. Getting hydrogen as a byproduct of petroleum production--and then expecting hydrogen to free us from dependency on petroleum--won't work. If everybody stops using petroleum and switches to hydrogen, there won't be any petroleum refined--and thus there won't be any hydrogen. In order to have volume production of hydrogen, you need gas-guzzling petrol users to do the sinning for you.

    As I wrote above, there are other sources of hydrogen. As the use of hydrogen increases (and let's not forget--liquid hydrogen is significantly more explosive than gasoline, and touching it will cause body parts to freeze and shatter) new sources of hydrogen will have to be developed, and new processes developed to extract the hydrogen cheaply. That will take time, ingenuity, and money. There's a lot of push behind the idea (if you're in high school, pursuing a college degree in chemical engineering with a focus on cryogenics and hydrogen in particular would be a VERY smart idea) but it will take time to appear. This will not be an overnight sensation.

    And don't forget the Saudis
    The Saudis are sitting on 2/3 of the world's oil. As they see their dominance dwindling, they will respond. The biggest challenge to the development of a replacement technology like LH will be economic: the Saudis and the rest of OPEC will simply slash prices. When gas costs $.30 per gallon (which still makes them billions) it will be difficult to justify the price per "gallon" of LH.

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Friday October 24, 2003 @11:16AM (#7300522)
    The bigger trend is a declining importance of physical energy to the economy. Even the U.S., profilgate user of energy that it is, is less dependent on oil than it was back in the 1970s. When the first oil crisis occured, energy costs consumed about 8% of U.S. GDP, as of about 2001, energy costs were down to 3% of U.S. GDP. The U.S. may use more energy than it did in past, but GPD has grow even faster than has energy consumption. Moreover, I'd bet that a greater fraction of U.S. energy consumption is now discretionary -- we use energy (drive SUVs & have lots of home appliances) because it is fun, not because we have to.

    The end of oil is inevitable because the importance of energy is declining.
  • by LinuxParanoid (64467) * on Friday October 24, 2003 @06:45PM (#7305130) Homepage Journal
    I've done hobbiest-class research into the topic of oil substitutes and here are two oft-neglected issues to keep in mind:

    1) Energy density. It's hard to improve upon oil/gasoline's energy-per-unit-volume with economical substitutes. Hydrogen fuel cells don't have nearly the energy density of gasoline. (Fuel cells tend to be far bulkier for this reason, or you can't travel as many miles with equivalent space.) I suspect consumers would accept a car with a smaller range; I dunno about other applications though. Technology and mass-production may drop fuel cell costs, but improving energy density takes some serious physics/chemistry.

    2) Saudi Arabia (and other low-cost oil producers) have plenty of room to drop the price. Sure, it's not hard to see plenty of economical substitutes showing up at $30/barrel (today's price, historically well above average.) And even matching the long-term average price of oil at $15/barrel is conceivable. But the Saudis can produce oil at costs of $1-$2/barrel. [cdi.org] Now I'm comparing end-prices to costs here which is a bit unfair (so add a 50% margin to $1-$2), but even if a energy substitute could produce power matching today's oil prices, it'd have to reduce in cost 30-fold in order for us to long-term wean ourselves completely off oil. And that's assuming the Saudi's don't get more efficient in the meantime. At least from an economic standpoint, ignoring costs of externalities like security/pollution.

    So I see alternative fuel use increasing, but I don't see oil vanishing from the picture in my lifetime (or my kids'). Heck, I'd be delighted if we just cut our oil usage in half in my lifetime; that'd be a stunning success in my book.

    I suspect the Saudi's are just talking down their influence for current political reasons.

    --LP, probably posting a bit too late to get mod points

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