Peak Oil Doomsday… Apocolypse no?

I like to think of myself as at least moderately informed on the current energy and oil problem going on in the world, the concept of peak oil and our current solutions to the coming problem.  I’m a big supporter of moving off gasoline and onto alternative energy sources (although not biofuels, come on corn lobbyists there are people starving in Africa), because I believe that the energy sources exist and failure to move to these solutions quickly will result in bad things (read global warming).  I’m convinced that moving off oil as quickly as “humanly” possible is critical, and that we shouldn’t be concerned about running out of gas, because we should turn off the key for the oil machine LONG before that happens.  Then I saw this informative and err… entertaining video by youtuber oilycassandra.  She quite articulately and intelligently makes the point that Oil is running out, and that our way of life will change drastically when it does:

It all seems reasonable albeit a bit alarmist… digging deeper we find a less “flashy” video where she outlines the peak oil doomsday theory more clearly:

Now, I LOVE that she has started a debate on this topic, because more then anything else, this sort of debate, and the resulting drive to disprove the theories of others while proving your own is where science derives its enthusiasm.  And in the end, regardless of who is right, human kind ends up with all that research, one step closer to the truth, and hopefully with a solution to the problem at hand.  So I’m digging in, and as lewd as it may sound “Oily Cassandra I take your challenge”.  I’m going to troll a theory out there, and while it is certainly not flawless, I think it demonstrates that if an armchair scientist like myself can twiddle even an incomplete theory like this one, we can stop waving our arms about the end of the world because technology will prevail.  I’m afraid I’ve got no good answer for plastics at the moment, imagining an oil free society is to imagine one without plastics (although bioplastics are a possibility, I mentioned earlier how I detest using our crops for anything other then feeding starving people, there are plenty of hungry mouths to send it to, enough to justify drinking out of aluminum cans and paying more for my recycled, or oil shale plastic products); the death of cheap plastic isn’t the death of the world, there are other alternatives they’re just more expensive.

Here goes:

Automobile Distribution Chain

  • Non carbon electric plants (Nuclear, Hydro-electric, geothermal, solar, wind) generate electricity.
  • Electricity sent both over existing power grid, and new power channels to existing gas fuel stations.
  • Electricity converted into Hydrogen and stored at Fuel stations.
  • Hydrogen pumped into hydrogen fuel cell hybrid cars (“Honda FCX”)

For my hypothesis I’m going to represent the difficulties in completely replacing all the oil consumption in the US with power from nuculear reactors alone, though these numbers could be helped along by solar, wind, etc.

The numbers

  • 87 Million barrels of oil used per day (“How much?”)
  • 87 Million Barrels * 364 days = 31.668 billion barrels of oil used per year
  • 1,700 kWh power per barrel of oil (“Bioenergy Conversion”)
  • 31.668 billion barrels * 1,700 kWh per barrel = 53,800 billion kWh of fossil fuel power used annually
  • 12.4 billion kWh average annual nuclear power plant production (“Energy Information Administration”)
  • 53,800 billion kWh / 12.4 billion kWh per plant = 4,339 plants

Soo… the short story?  4,339 plants need to be built for us to continue consuming as much energy as we do.  Sound like a lot?  Well consider that number will be lower because the average per plant output I used was based off old nuclear technology, and we can use larger and more modern reactor techonology (For instance, China has already announced plans to build 30 reactors by 2025 and have added capacity for 300 Megawatts (4 times the amount currently used by fossil fuels) by 2050 (“Thousand reactors bloom”) using safer and more efficient helium cooled high temperature nuclear reactors.  There are currently 616 (“EIA”) coal fired plants in the US, by converting those to high output nuclear plants (producing 1000 MW or more) we could solve our energy needs without coal.  And nuclear power is safer and cleaner then coal power.

So everybody keeps on filling their tanks (but now it’s hydrogen instead of carbon based fuels), and nobody is the wiser.  Except there is no more CO2 output from vehicles (Hydrogen fuel cell cars exhale only water) no more coal smog, and maybe we can avoid the real crisis looming… global warming.  As an added bonus, if we move fast enough, we can use the saved oil to keep plastics around for a while 🙂

Even as I write this theory down, I see plenty more problems (the skeptic in me) but I’m hopeful that as long as we keep working toward a solution one will be found, and the rate of development will increase with economic pressure (Already Hybrid cars, Fuel Cell technology, etc, all now commercially viable thanks to increasing fossil fuel prices), and in the worst case the cost of living goes up and therefore the quality of life in first world countries goes down.  Feel free to start sniping the above theory in the comment section below, lets come up with more problems and more answers, add some data and round out this plan.

Update: (answering questions on youtube)
  • How do you know Helium reactors are safer:  Wired Article.
  • We can’t build that many so fast:  We just have to build them to keep up with oil declining, which means starting now, and replacing current carbon infrastructure (refineries, coal power plants) with upgraded nuclear, electric, and solar plants and upgrading existing power grids and gas stations for hydrogen distribution.  As oil goes down our capacity for hydrogen power needs to go up.
  • Where do we get the billions annually required to pay for this:  Leave Iraq (100+ billion dollars a year) it is a wasted effort to secure oil, and has only served to put pressure on OPEC resulting in less oil for the US and higher oil prices.  And apply a net profit tax to the Oil companies that are getting rich off market situations (fixed supply high demand, mixed with fixed selling price thanks to market speculation) out of their control but certainly to their benefit (Collectively they made 120 billion dollars AFTER taxes last year FOR WHAT??)  Despite their promises to turn this money into research reason tells us that alternative power IS NOT in their best interests.
  • How does it happen:  WE get the word out to help motivate scientists who are tirelessly working RIGHT NOW on getting specific solutions to these problems, and more importantly rocking the vote for politicians who want change, and e-mailing their representatives to help bring about the HUGE political change (tax law, zoning and nuclear certification law, incentive programs to convert fossil fuel architecture into hydrogen or sustainable solutions) so get to e-mailing.  I did.
  • Where do we get the Uranium?  Why by disarming, we have WAY more nukes then needed and you can turn them into reactors.
Works Cited
“Bioenergy Conversion Factors.” Bioenergy.Gov. 17 June 2008 <http://bioenergy.ornl.gov/papers/misc/energy_conv.html>.
“Biofuels for Transportation.” Geonomics Government Site. 17 June 2008 <http://genomicsgtl.energy.gov/biofuels/transportation.shtml>.
“Energy Information Administration.” Department of Energy. 17 June 2008 <http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/ask/electricity_faqs.asp>.
“Honda FCX Demo Video.” Cars.Com. 17 June 2008 <http://xrl.us/cmk76>.
“How Much?” Star Telegram. 17 June 2008 <http://www.star-telegram.com/245/story/680746.html>.

5 thoughts on “Peak Oil Doomsday… Apocolypse no?”

  1. thanks for thinking this through! as you’ve critiqued your own arguments (how many people can do that???) i ask you to go a step further.

    who is “we”? 6.8 billion? Americans? your readers?

    consider the time gaps between what would need to be done to continue this way of life and growth, and whom should/shall receive the benefits/hardships that follow. furthermore, ask, “what will the world look like during this gap between avail energy depreciation and energy sufficiency? and are the hardships of that gap extreme enough to prevent all the fancy techno stuff we want to happen?”

    in other words, if there is time for a techno-fix, how much will things suck in the meantime? 🙂

  2. Hydrogen is a pipedream. It is the fuel of the future and will remain so for a long time to come. Hydrogen is not going to save us from peak oil. If you want to learn about the problems of Hydrogen, read what our current Energy secretary (and Nobel Laureate) Steven Chu says about Hydrogen. And for more details read what Joseph Romm writes about Hydrogen.

    There is a reason why Nissan and GM are rolling out EVs and not Hydrogen cars . . . Hydrogen is just not viable now or in the near future.

  3. J Lee – Not given up. We are making many more strides in the right direction. Technology moves pretty quickly. Solar and Battery (Lithium-whatever) technology seems to have taken a lead at the moment, but I’m not really sure if the rare earth minerals required for their production are as sustainable as we’d like. I think that many environmentalists were pacified by Obama taking office (Right around the time I was making this post originally), in hopes that he would have a more progressive energy policy then his predecessor…. and we were right ($90 billion for green energy). But the problem is not gone yet for sure.

    I’m not the woman in the video, but her video stirred me into some momentary activism. And at the very least, I added to the noise of people demanding change on the subject. And will continue to do so as needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *