Power Management Technology and WindPower  

Posted by Big Gav


Where there's wind, there's broadband
TreeHugger has an interesting post up about managing the flow of wind generated power into the grid. They also note the emerging practice of delivering broadband via power lines - one less reason not to head for the hills !
There's plenty good news on new wind farm projects and environmentally compatible turbines. Balance-of-system wind farm components deserve some attention as well. Without the devices that manage voltage outputs from wind turbines, and match wind-energy to the grid requirements, there'd be no renewable energy for the masses, for example. Case in point: American Superconductor Corporation recently announced that one of its voltage regulation systems will provide centralized control of the voltage for a 39.6-Megawatt (MW) facility in Canada. This will be the ninth wind farm in North America to rely on AMSC's voltage control technologies to connect wind- generated power to transmission grids.

Some TreeHuggers may be familiar with a recent proposal, also in Canada, to utilize electrical utility lines for provision of broadband internet access. Utility lines already have far greater geographic coverage than cable-TV lines. Wind farm projects; and, now, the potential for broadband over utility wires, drive government support to extend the grid deeper into windy, rural areas. Here's the green kicker: broadband over utility offers the possibility of remote monitoring wind farm and even individual wind turbine power outputs. That's a help for system maintenance, of course, but even a bigger help for those marketing and distributing green power.

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Apocalypse denial in America  

Posted by Big Gav

Here's a TomDispatch article from last year on the 4 horseman of the apocalypse visting Washington. (via Code Three)

Earlier this year, four gaunt horsemen in black shrouds cantered down Pennsylvania Avenue. Since no one complained or even noticed, they grazed their hungry steeds on the White House lawn. They've been there ever since and threaten never to leave.

This interview with them is a Tomdispatch exclusive:

"First Horseman, please state your name for our readers."

"My name is Oil and my price is $50 per barrel and higher yet to come."

"Fine, and you're from…?"

"Hubbert's Peak."

"Is that in Colorado?"

No response.

"Are you in Washington for business or pleasure?"

"Both, actually. While wrecking the American economy, I'm also hoping to bring immense happiness to a handful of giant energy corporations."

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The Emissions Neutral Vehicle  

Posted by Big Gav

I often wonder how people will get around in a lower energy future (assuming the bleaker predictions of mass die off or world war 3 breaking out are incorrect of course). The third world often seems to be a useful guide, as they've already reached that lower energy future before us. One thing I always noticed about third world cities (before they became newly industrialised and everyone bought cars to sit in the traffic jams in) was the vast fleets of scooters. The other thing you notice is that efficient public transport systems don't exist - which is probably due to a combination of poverty and politicians deciding that aid money is best spent on things like weapons or improving their own personal standard of living.

Now - obviously streets full of Vespas isn't a pleasant thought, but assuming we ever find an efficient way of producing hydrogen, these fuel cell based motorbikes could be a good way of getting around.

These bikes were designed by the British team Intelligent Energy. The ENV bike is fully-functional and is based around their Core Fuel Cell from the ground up. The Core, which is completely detachable from the bike, is a compact fuel cell, capable of powering anything from a motorboat to a small domestic property.

It is also virtually silent (with noise equivalent to an everyday home computer) and its emissions are almost completely clean.

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Fallujah as Guernica, Venezuela as Nicaragua ?  

Posted by Big Gav

The Guardian has a good story about omnipresent US apparatchik Bob Zoellick's recent visit to Fallujah.

One thing is certain: the attack on Falluja has done nothing to still the insurgency against the US-British occupation nor produced the death of al-Zarqawi - any more than the invasion of Afghanistan achieved the capture or death of Osama bin Laden. Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies.

At least Zoellick went to see. He gave no hint of the impression that the trip left him with, but is too smart not to have understood something of the reality. The lesson ought not to be lost on Blair and Straw. Every time the prime minister claims it is time to "move on" from the issue of the war's legality and rejoice at Iraq's transformation since Saddam Hussein was toppled, the answer must be: "Remember Falluja." When the foreign secretary next visits Iraq, he should put on a flak jacket and tour the city that Britain had a share in destroying.

The government keeps hoping Iraq will go away as an election issue. It stubbornly refuses to do so. Voters are not only angry that the war was illegal, illegitimate and unnecessary. The treatment inflicted on Iraqis since the invasion by the US and Britain is equally important.

In the 1930s the Spanish city of Guernica became a symbol of wanton murder and destruction. In the 1990s Grozny was cruelly flattened by the Russians; it still lies in ruins. This decade's unforgettable monument to brutality and overkill is Falluja, a text-book case of how not to handle an insurgency, and a reminder that unpopular occupations will always degenerate into desperation and atrocity.

There are alternatives to the approach used in Fallujah of course - this is an interesting history of US interventions in Latin America over the years, and how these same methods are being applied in Venezuela.
Former-CIA agent Felix Rodríguez recently told Miami television that the US was looking for a change in Venezuela, possibly one brought about by violence. He gave the Reagan administration's assassination attempt against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi as an example.

Is this a likely scenario for US intervention in Venezuela ? Well, remember that where Qaddafi is concerned, the United States believed that Qaddafi had organized the bombing of this discothéque in Berlin, and the raid on Tripoli was in retaliation. Now Chávez has made no provocation like that, so there is no justification for a military strike and I cannot believe that the United States has come to the point where they would so blatantly seek to assassinate the President of another country. I mean, things are bad enough in the United States—worse than they've ever been—but I don't think we've quite come to that.

One thing that is very important for the Chávez movement, the Bolivarian movement here, to keep in mind always, is that the United States will never stop trying to turn the clock back. US interests are defined as the unfettered access to natural resources, to labor, and to the markets of foreign countries. It is countries like the Latin American countries that assure prosperity in the United States. The more governments with their own agendas, with an element of nationalism, and that oppose US policies such as the neoliberal agenda come to power, the more of a threat these movement are seen to be in Washington, because what's at stake is the stability of the political system in the United States, and the security of the political class in the United States.

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Some Thoughts on "Peak Oil" as a "Disinformation Campaign"  

Posted by Big Gav

There's a good post up by Steven at Deconsumption analysing the possibility that peak oil is just a disinformation campaign - with some interesting insights on the process of creating (and deconstructing) memes on the internet as opposed to traditional methods.

First of all, the Peak Oil argument is not new, by any means...it has actually been around for many decades (I somewhat remember a reference to it being posited "in theory" even prior to the turn of the 20th century), but has been steadily gaining a weight of evidence and popular acceptance only recently. If it appears to have suddenly "burst" onto the scene it's due to two principle factors: 1) the "tipping point" is only now fast being realized, and 2) the rise of the internet has given the public a comprehensive, responsive and uncensored media forum in which to recognize it. The former factor stems from the prevalent human characteristic for ignoring undesireable signs and warnings until they can no longer be ignored. But the latter is, I believe, the key to the whole question....

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OGEC ?  

Posted by Big Gav

There is some speculation today about the formation of a natural gas equivalent to OPEC. If we're in for peak oil in the near future and with natural gas already seemingly in short supply in some countries it hardly seems necessary to form a cartel. Interesting that Australia isn't on the list.

The concept of a natural gas OPEC is becoming less far-fetched. On Apr. 25-27, a little-known, four-year-old organization called the Gas Exporting Countries Forum will meet in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Although the organization says it wants to promote cooperation with gas-consuming nations and "does not seek to control...pricing and supply," in past meetings members have discussed mutual efforts to capture a bigger share of the wealth generated by their own natural resources. That's exactly the line of inquiry that led to the formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries 45 years ago.

Natural gas meets one key requirement for price-fixing: a high degree of market concentration. In the last quarter of 2004 members of the forum accounted for 53% of the natural gas imported by the industrialized nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. That's in line with the 52% share of OECD oil imports that OPEC provided in the quarter, according to the International Energy Agency. The Trinidadian hosts list the countries invited as forum members as Algeria, Bolivia, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. Many are OPEC members and thus know a thing or two about price-fixing. Norway, Argentina, and Equatorial Guinea have been invited to observe.

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CO2 Injection  

Posted by Big Gav

Rigzone has a little article up on Norway's flirtation with using CO2 to enhance offshore oil production - apparently its not worth the effort.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) has, on assignment from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy (MPE), conducted a feasibility study of projects entailing CO2 injection for increased oil recovery on the Norwegian continental shelf. The conclusion is that, at the present time, CO2 injection does not appear to be a commercial alternative for improved oil recovery for the licensees on the Norwegian shelf.

Update: The link seems to have disappeared, but it is still in Google cache.

Update: Even Google cache has been cleansed - but the original Norwegian source still exists (at the moment anyway - though it may mysteriously disappear as well one day I guess) (pdf).
Access to large volumes of CO2 is needed if we are to implement use of CO2 for improved oil recovery on the Norwegian continental shelf. To reduce capture and transport costs, the CO2 sources should be large point emissions situated as close to the fields as possible.

Many studies have been conducted with the aim of identifying CO2 sources in Norway and in Northern Europe. Only a few sources in Norway are large enough to supply fields on the Norwegian shelf with CO2. Planned new gas power plants may make interesting volumes available near the relevant fields.

There are major point emissions of CO2 in Europe, e.g. the coal power plants in Denmark, which could supply the fields on the Norwegian shelf with CO2. Large-scale import of CO2 will be a precondition for extracting the entire potential of improved recovery through CO2 injection on the Norwegian shelf.

The technology required for capture of CO2 from gas power plants is available, but has not been demonstrated for large gas power plants. Potential cost savings have been identified, but these will probably not be available for another five-six years. Research, development of technology and demonstration projects may, in the long term, contribute to reduced capture costs.

CO2 can be transported in pipelines or by ship. Given today's technology, pipelines to the fields are required, either directly from the source or from an interim storage. Transport by ship is needed if CO2 is to be transported from small or scattered sources far from established CO2 storage facilities. Delivery of CO2 from ships directly to an oil field may be a long-term alternative, if new technology is qualified and field-specific conditions so permit.

Fields with CO2 injection only require CO2 for a limited period of time - as long as the field uses CO2 for increased recovery. In addition, both planned and unplanned operational shutdowns will occur on the field. In order to avoid large emissions of CO2 during periods when the field cannot use CO2 for improved recovery, the infrastructure, capture and transport should be linked to a long-term storage alternative so that delivered CO2 can be accepted continuously throughout the lifetime of the gas power plant/source. This increases the threshold costs for the first field that may elect to use CO2 for this purpose.

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Richard Heinberg On Megaprojects Update  

Posted by Big Gav

Energy Bulletin has an interview with Richard Heinberg discussing the approach to the peak.

And what might be going on is that if peak is coming as soon as the evidence is starting to point to then talk of peak becomes of historical interest and then, surely, the talk should then turn to decline. How do you think that’s going to play out?

Well, it’s impossible to say, because we are in entirely new territory here. As soon as supply is unable to keep up with demand – and I think that’s going to happen probably before we reach the actual peak by a year or two – but it’s hard to say. And certainly by the time we actually reach the peak we will be in very new territory in terms of economics and geopolitics.

If we can get through this critical period without a significant war starting I’ll be a happy man, I’ll tell you (chuckles). Because I think this is a very critical period for global war and peace. The sort of reflex reaction of governments in this situation – where their economies are in peril – is to find scapegoats to blame. And one can see this process beginning right now – actually over the last couple of years – where the scapegoats are being lined up on both sides.

So I’m very concerned about the geopolitical implications of all of this. And also as the economy starts to turn sour because of high energy prices I think people in places like America, that are so dependent on oil and on oil imports, are going to react in rather unpredictable ways. They’re used to having their cheap easy way of life and when that starts to erode from beneath their feet they may grow restless in various ways.

Can you be a little more specific? Because a lot more people are becoming very worried about these restless ways.

Yes. Well, I think the U.S. Federal government has been busily putting in place a kind of authoritarian infrastructure over the last four years with the Patriot Act and various other measures. And I think ultimately these are intended – at least partially – for domestic use, to control social disorder, as the economy starts to come apart.

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Microbial Hydrogen Generation  

Posted by Big Gav

One of the alternative energy sources that I like (and there are a few of them) is hydrogen - albeit not the stupider forms of hydrogen that are generated from natural gas (why bother) or nuclear power (just shifting the problem upstream).

WorldChanging has a new post on microbial fuel cells, inside which bacteria process waste water and spit out hydrogen.

Although some fear that the hydrogen economy, should it come, will be built atop of nuclear power plants, and others hope that solar and wind will provide enough juice to crack hydrogen from water, it may well turn out that the ideal source of hydrogen for fuel cells is the lowly bacteria.

We've mentioned microbial fuel cells before, tiny powerhouses that generate electricity while cleaning wastewater. But researchers at Penn State have taken the microbial fuel cell off in a new direction, pulling hydrogen out of wastewater at a rate four times greater than the standard fermentation process, and ten times greater than straight electolysis.

One caveat is that this process does require some electrical power input, so I'd like to see the end-to-end EROEI calculation - but it does at least sound promising.

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Comrade Chavez  

Posted by Big Gav

"Peak Oil Optimist" Rob has thankfully stopped ranting about his machine gun based final solution to the "eco-anarchist problem" and instead optimistically fixed his sights on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez who appears to be the next demon that needs to be slain. (Note the obligatory pineapple-faced Noriega clone picture in Rob's post just in case you can't work out who the bad guy is.)

He isn't the only one - the headlines seem to be filling up with speculation about the fate of Venezuela's oil, with the New York Times publishing a slightly hawkish article recently "U.S. Considers Toughening Stance Toward Venezuela".

The United States, he said, is particularly concerned because Venezuela is one of four top providers of foreign oil to the United States. "You can't write him off," the aide said of Mr. Chávez. "He's sitting on an energy source that's critical to us." A main problem for the United States is that Washington has little, if any, influence over Caracas. The high price of oil has left Venezuela with no need for the loans or other aid that the United States could use as leverage.

Nor does the Bush administration have much support in Latin America, where left-leaning leaders now govern two-thirds of the continent. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to raise concerns about Venezuela in a four-country tour through the region this week. Political analysts say she will have a hard time finding support. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on a recent trip to Brazil, publicly raised concerns about Mr. Chávez. Days later, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, in a meeting in Venezuela with Mr. Chávez and the leaders of Colombia and Argentina, pointedly said, "We don't accept defamation and insinuations against a compañero," meaning a close friend.

"Venezuela has the right to be a sovereign country, to make its own decisions," he added.

For his part, Mr. Chávez, who is famous for his rambling, often outrageous speeches, has grown more belligerent, using his anti-American posturing to bolster his popular support. He has accused the United States of planning an invasion, prompting a threat to cut oil sales, and has hurled sexually tinged insults at Secretary Rice.

While other Venezuelan officials stress that oil sales to the United States would never cease, Venezuela's new energy ties with China have worried Washington, as did Mr. Chávez's recent meeting with President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, which he declared "has every right" to develop its atomic energy program.

Mr. Chávez is also forming a popular militia that he says will eventually have two million members and has plans to buy 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles from Russia and fighter jets from Brazil.

"All governments recognize the democratic character of the Venezuelan government, its peaceful vocation, and they want to establish relations with Venezuela, with just one exception, the United States," Alí Rodríguez, the Venezuelan foreign minister, said in an interview. "It has gone to great lengths to isolate Venezuela, but no government is playing along. It has failed, and that's because there is no reason to isolate Venezuela."

Many influential Democrats in Congress also oppose a more aggressive approach.

"I think it creates further estrangement," said Representative Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and a member of the House International Relations Committee who has met many times with Mr. Chávez. "One cannot get around the fact that Hugo Chávez is a democratically elected president."

As Lula and others pointed out - regardless of what you may think of Hugo's politics (or socialism in general) Chavez is democratically elected, its Venezuela's oil and they are a sovereign nation and should be able to do whatever they want with their own natural resources.

Unlike Canada and Mexico (and possibly Australia ? I really should read the FTA in detail one day), Venezuela hasn't signed up to provide its energy reserves to the US no matter what - and given US backed coup attempts against Chavez its not surprising he's looking for friends elsewhere.

This is one of a spate of articles on Venezuela appearing lately, such as the India Daily asking "Is Venezuela the next Iraq ?" (as well as bizarre rumours about a Venezuelan nuclear program).

Maybe Iran appears to be a harder target than the US military can currently chew on - but then again, perhaps they lining up all their ducks in a row ?

Of course, even if the US does successfully invade and occupy Venezuela, there is no guarantee they will be able to take control of the actual oilfields.

The India Daily article (and I'm not sure how serious a newspaper this is) notes the obvious problem with all the sabre rattling as we approach the peak:
According to sources, China and Russia both are keen on supporting Venezuela and have enormous interest in the Venezuelan Energy resources. India and Venezuela have started working on joint projects on the energy sector.

We may be looking into another Iraq where American Oil companies force the American Government to take some action. But this time it may be a little different. The energy world war that started in 1991 never manifested its teeth so badly till America invaded Iraq and Oil prices reached $55 per barrel.

Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC alliance) may not let another Iraq happen so easily. India and Brazil have a lot of influence on the American policies being close allies to Washington. China and Russia possess enormous geopolitical strength. In the coming energy world war, the Europeans will side with the Americans but with a lot of reservations. They may not support unnecessary confrontation with Venezuela.

However, the energy crisis will take a nasty turn for one simple reason in the next one-year. India and China have not increased the domestic oil prices for their own citizens although energy prices have gone up 60% over one year period. People in India, for example, enjoys 2003 oil prices. The Indians and Chinese keep buying cars and other equipments that need more energy. With more than two and a half billion people in India and China, the energy crisis will spike. At that moment all hell will go loose. Countries will go after energy resources by force and with all fiscal reserves they have.

I'm not quite sure how strong the mortar is in the "BRIC" alliance, but the more the US tries to corner world oil reserves the stronger these ties are likely to grow.

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Die Off In The Rainforest  

Posted by Big Gav

One of the most dire misfortunes that can befall any group of indiginous people is to find themselves living nearby to a supply of oil.

ChevronTexaco investors are in for an unsettling interlude when they gather for the annual shareholders' meeting at company headquarters in San Ramon April 27. Two indigenous Amazonian leaders, as well as numerous concerned local citizens, are set to interrupt the drab, predictable corporate discourse with testimonials about Texaco's toxic legacy in Ecuador. Humberto Piaguaje, who's lost two family members to different strains of cancer, will be among them.

"Crude Reflections: ChevronTexaco's Rainforest Legacy," an exhibit of 50 photographs taken by Bay Area photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak and documenting what some experts say is the worst environmental devastation caused by an oil company in the history of the planet, opened at a nearby restaurant April 25 and will help reinforce the Ecuadorans' case.

Increasingly, oil industry analysts are pointing to an impending crisis that's likely to result in a surge of these kinds of offenses around the globe, as oil companies vie for a dwindling supply of the black gold that fuels our economy. The analysts refer to the phenomenon as "peak oil".

"The idea of peak oil is that oil's finite, and once you've reached the halfway point of a particular field, it's progressively harder to keep your daily production [rate] the same," Paul Roberts, Harper's magazine contributor and author of "The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World" told us. As we reach the global peak, oil becomes harder to extract and prices begin to climb – with dire consequences for economies predicated on oil for everything from manufacturing to heating and air conditioning, transportation, and "defense."

And as it gets harder and harder to extract oil from below the earth, companies will go to greater and greater lengths – with the potential for even further environmental disaster and human tragedy – to find those last few drops.

Iraq – with oil reserves rivaling, or possibly exceeding, those of Saudi Arabia – is obviously in the eye of the storm. "But even if you look at Colombia, the U.S. is indirectly getting drawn into the conflict there, by providing money and to some extent personnel to guard oil export pipelines," Michael Renner, senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute, told us. "There are now a whole number of either permanent or temporary U.S. military bases that have come into place after 9/11 in the name of the war on terror." What we're seeing, he said, is "a militarization of energy policy."

Of course, a related crisis – infinitely graver than the one felt by whiny SUV drivers at U.S. gas stations – has already walloped northern Ecuador's Amazon region, where, advocates say, at least five indigenous groups face possible extinction thanks to millions, and possibly billions, of gallons of toxic sludge left in Texaco's wake.

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The Great Saudi Hope  

Posted by Big Gav

Reports from the middle east on the oil situation often seem more likely to be real than the stuff we mostly get fed.

President Bush’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at his ranch in Crawford, Texas on Monday focused on soaring global oil prices as well as political reform in Saudi Arabia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the so-called “war on terror.” The Saudis reiterated their recent pledge that the oil-rich nation will soon increase its output, currently running at 9.5 million barrels per day.

But Adel Al Jubeir, Prince Abdullah’s foreign affairs adviser, told reporters in Crawford that Saudi leaders had little to offer Bush beyond that, saying the high prices are the result of a lack of adequate refining capacity in the United States and elsewhere. “Saudi Arabia is producing all the oil that our customers are requesting,” he said.

James Paul, executive director of the New York based-Global Policy Forum, and author of the report “Oil in Iraq: The Heart of the Crisis” (www.globalpolicy.org), warned that world production is reaching its peak. “The Bush administration would have the US public believe that there’s an unlimited supply of oil and that the nasty environmentalists and greedy sheiks are keeping oil from reaching consumers. It’s a catastrophic lie. There is growing consensus that worldwide oil production is reaching its peak. The Saudis are now pumping very near full capacity and all of OPEC is operating at full tilt. OPEC has been trying to lower oil prices to keep the markets stable but without success. Worldwide demand is going up and supply can’t rise to meet it.

“What’s happening is that world production is hitting its peak now, and the Energy Information Administration in the US projects that world production of petroleum will rise up to 125 million bpd by 2025, and that’s way off the charts. Oil is not running out, but it is reaching its peak,” said Paul.

Paul voiced misgivings over the US invasion of Iraq. “Many believe the war was about gaining control over Iraq’s oil reserves for the US and UK, but this was a desperate gamble because Iraq has huge super-giant fields, such as Majnun, and there are expectations they will find some new fields in the western desert. The problem is that oil companies new technical capacities for finding oil is the way up, but the results are way down, and as a result we’re experiencing a worldwide crunch.”

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China Eyeing More LNG Contracts In Australian Gas Fields  

Posted by Big Gav

There are reports out of Beijing that more Australia-China gas deals could be on the way - there seems to be quite a stick and carrot act going on lately.

Chinese oil giants are in talks with Australian partners to import more Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and equity options in major Australian gas fields, the Chinese media today said.

If the talks are fruitful, Chinese oil companies, including China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) and SINOPEC, may also buy equity in some of Australia's largest gas projects, such as Gorgon, Browse and Sunrise, media quoted senior officials as saying. The deal would make Australia China's largest supplier of LNG. The country has already clinched a record-breaking 19 billion US dollar deal to ship the super-cool, condensed fuel to a CNOOC terminal in South China's Guangdong province for 25 years from 2006, 'China Daily' reported.

"We will further explore cooperation in projects such as Gorgon and Browse," Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission Mai Kai said. "We are making progress. We pay special attention to cooperation with Australia as we have had successful cooperation before. We hope Australia cherishes the market opportunity and continues to deepen the co-operation".

The Gorgon Project, located off the northwest coast of Australia, is estimated to have gas reserves of 40 trillion cubic feet, nearly one-third of Australia's proven total. The Browse gas project is estimated to have gas reserves of more than 20 trillion cubic feet. Sunrise in the Timor Sea has a reserve of more than nine trillion cubic feet.

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The Twilight Zone  

Posted by Big Gav

The ASPO conference in Scotland is getting plenty of press, with both the Independent (The Twilight Zone) and the Guardian (Analyst fears global oil crisis in three years) running peak oil stories today - there should be a bit of a buzz about this in the UK at least (Reuters also had a wire article - I'm not sure about the Times or the Telegraph).

From the Guardian:

One of the world's leading energy analysts yesterday called for an independent assessment of global oil reserves because he believed that Middle Eastern countries may have far less than officially stated and that oil prices could double to more than $100 a barrel within three years, triggering economic collapse.

Matthew Simmons, an adviser to President George Bush and chairman of the Wall Street energy investment company Simmons, said that "peak oil" - when global oil production rises to its highest point before declining irreversibly - was rapidly approaching even as demand was increasing.

"This is a new era," Mr Simmons told a conference of oil industry analysts, government officials and academics in Edinburgh. "There is a big chance that Saudi Arabia actually peaked production in 1981. We have no reliable data. Our data collection system for oil is rubbish. I suspect that if we had, we would find that we are over-producing in most of our major fields and that we should be throttling back. We may have passed that point."

And from the Independent:
From time to time, the world is taken by surprise by a high-impact phenomenon that ought to have been foreseen. How, for example, did governments not manage to spot that CFCs would attack the ozone layer? What about global warming?

The answer is that some scientists do know these things are happening, but nobody listens. We have failed to learn the lessons made clear by such "oversight phenomena", and are currently facing the biggest short-term threat to our economic wellbeing that the modern world has ever seen, involving the commodity that society is most dependent on.

Almost nothing, however, is heard of the phenomenon of "peak oil". According to conventional wisdom, we have plenty of oil left. The current high oil prices will come to an end, whereafter we will be able to look forward to a return to cheap oil, and continuing supplies of it well into the century. Ergo, our oil-addicted economies can remain healthy and continue to grow. We have plenty of time to develop alternatives to oil. No need for concern, much less panic.

Yet, according to increasingly vocal whistleblowers, oil is depleting fast, and the age of cheap oil will soon be over. Economies can't function without cheap oil. We have no time to develop energy alternatives. Economic depression akin to that of the 1930s lurks around the corner.

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Firms Turn To Drilling Heavy Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

Hubbert theory says that as it gets harder to find light, sweet crude oil suppliers are forced to exploit less economic reserves like deep water, polar and heavy oil. In Alaska, they have started pumping heavy polar oil - once they start going offshore from Alaska in search of heavy sour crude, we'll know we're at the bottom of the barrel.

PRUDHOE BAY, Alaska - BP and ConocoPhillips are betting that heavy oil in Alaska will result in a big payoff.

Heavy oil - which has the consistency of thick molasses instead of olive oil - lies in sandstone above the huge reservoir of North Slope light oil that has been flowing down the trans-Alaska pipeline since 1977. With that reservoir being drawn down, the companies are turning to hard-to-pump heavy oil to extend the life of the oil fields.

Viscous oil makes sense because of increases in worldwide oil demand, said Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst for Alaron Trading Co., a Chicago-based futures brokerage firm.

"These alternative fuels that we thought just a few years ago would never be profitable to get out of the ground, at $50 a barrel it is," Flynn said. "We are going to find more and more situations where we are going to squeeze every barrel out of the ground." The companies describe their joint effort as unprecedented. So far, they've spent over $1 billion on heavy oil and are putting millions more into the effort.

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Going Beyond the End of the World  

Posted by Big Gav

Those who believe a peak oil initiated die off is imminent are going to be disappointed, but a panel of 10 scientists has listed their main worries for the world and peak oil hasn't made the list.

Of course, that may just mean these guys have been hiding under a rock (and how did "terrorism" get on the list I might ask) - but in any case, Alex at WorldChanging has some words on why focussing too heavily on the doom and gloom side of things isn't good for you, nor is it particularly productive.

Worldending is easy. That is, predicting that horrible, cataclysmic events will occur is far easier than imagining that humanity will in fact rise above all the awful forms of "game over" destruction which face us to build a better, perhaps perpetual, future. (Thought experiment: when was the last time you imagined humanity never ending, but continuing on to the final moments of our universe -- perhaps beyond. When was the last time you regarded the human future as infinite?)

But still, anticipating the truly awful is one way to help our species live long enough to become perpetual. Along those lines, check out this list of 10 prominent scientists' greatest fears:

1: Climate Change. 2: Telomere Erosion. 3: Viral Pandemic. 4: Terrorism. 5: Nuclear war. 6: Meteorite impact. 7: Robots taking over. 8: Cosmic ray blast from exploding star. 9: Super-volcanos. 10: Earth swallowed by a black hole

Worth reading, though I recommend immediately countering it by planting a nut tree or in some other way directly investing in the long-term future. It's not healthy to stay in a state of nervous exhaustion worrying about these things.

I think it is also true that the challenge of imagining worthwhile futures receives far less attention than it ought to. Indeed, I am pretty sure that they're two sides of the same coin. Our society is unable to respond to the massive dangers we now face (and to hell with the distant and improbable ones: we're talking epidemic disease and climate change here: things experts agree are disasters waiting to happen right now) for precisely the same reasons we are unable to envision a radically better future. Which, I'd even go so far as to say, are the same reasons so many people find millenarian prophecies and fundamentalist beliefs appealling.

But here's the great thing: while spending too much time thinking about all the ways the world can end will make you depressed, mean and non-rational, thinking about what the world would be like if a given set of problems were solved tends to make you (or at least me) happier, more energized, and more creative. And I personally find this to be more true, the more real the possibility of actually solving those problems is. Pragmatic optimism (and the creative will to express it) is, I think, not only the antidote for what ails us in contemporary society, but may be the best path forward for tackling these gigantic species-level challenges, these looming disasters, as well.

Imagine a civilization which could go on forever, joyfully. That is ultimately what sustainability has to mean. But we can't build it, if we can't imagine it.

Worldchanging starts inside our heads. Everything else is an after-effect.

Now - how the hell do I stop my telomeres eroding !

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No Nukes 3  

Posted by Big Gav

The Herald's Diary of a Day Trader seems to have discovered peak oil, so I guess its safe to say pretty much everyone knows what it is now.

There was great excitement at the number of floats this week: Curnamona, Southern Gold, Kalgoorlie-Boulder Resources, Seek, Novacoat, Api Fund, Fat Prophets and Macquarie Radio.

The day traders went into their usual paroxysms of indecision.

In the resources, everyone seemed to think Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Southern Gold would do well. Curnamona mines uranium, which naturally horrified Professor Valerie Carr-Edwards, our ethical investment consultant.

One is tempted to invest in an unethical stock simply to enrage Val. But there was another reason: Val clearly hasn't heard of the great new hope for nuclear power, which is looking like the planet's only option after China drains the last oil barrel in 2020.

I went for Kalgoorlie, for no other reason than I like the town's topless barmaid policy: it's so Western Australian, and one sometimes wishes the state had seceded from the federation, if only to pursue its novel approach to selling beer.

Curnamona is just one of a slew of small uranium miners (or prospectors, to be more accurate about it) that have been getting attention this year, although the prices for some of these day trader playthings have fallen a bit since they peaked in March (actual uranium prices still seem to be setting new highs though).

Discussion of the nuclear power option is still gathering steam - Grist (which is as good a place to go for the environmentalist viewpoint as any) has a piece up called "Half-Life Is Beautiful? On nuclear energy", which discusses the pos and cons of nuclear power in view of the issues created by both global warming and peak oil.
My thoughts on the reconsidering of nuclear power: Well, like you, my head is awhirl from a recent conversation. This fascinating chat was with -- real name here -- Roel Hammerschlag. Roel runs the Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment, a nonprofit dedicated to translating life-cycle assessments (LCAs) from dense studies to readable recommendations. Life-cycle assessments are what you, dear readers, long for when you face the choice between paper towels and hand dryers in the bathroom. In short, they are a scientific way to evaluate the energy use of an object or action over the course of its whole life. As an LCA expert, Roel lives and breathes energy analysis, and when I asked him to rank energy sources, he shocked me as your scientist shocked you. Nuclear is not out of the running for him, and here are his reasons why.

To Roel, and to every knowledgeable environmental writer, scientist, activist, politico, and Grist-er, climate change is the No. 1, emergency-level ecological problem. Unless we deal with this make-or-break situation, nothing else will matter. As a result, Roel says, energy sources must be evaluated with their long-term climate impact in mind. Although nuclear power produces dangerous waste that we have yet to find a way to safely manage, it does not produce greenhouse gases, as does the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas.

Here's Roel's rundown on the energy situation: We are going to run out of oil. Roel is of the Hubbert curve school of thought, which holds that we are halfway through the world's oil supply and will see production dip dramatically within our lifetimes. Given its pending disappearance, Roel says, oil is not the big bad guy. Coal is.

While the article itself says we need to look at nuclear energy anew, most of the commenters are less sanguine about the prospect (although one Norris McDonald gets the idiot award for his comment "Australia is not America" along with numerous other pieces of freeper stupidity).

Meanwhile, (as previously noted by Monkeygrinder) Helen Caldicott has written a good article outlining the numerous problems with nuclear energy, and Grist has another, less positive, view of nuclear energy called "Nuclear Falling Out".

All in all I haven't seen a convincing summation anywhere of either the full end-to-end lifecycle costs (and hence EROEI) for nuclear power, or of any possible "peak uranium" problem that possibly renders the whole exercise pointless in the medium term anyway.

Given the known drawbacks associated with waste disposal and the like, at this point it seems safe to say the justification for a massive program of nuclear power plant building doesn't really exist.

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Peak Oil Prevalence  

Posted by Big Gav

The Oil Drum has a good post up comparing blog references to the term "peak oil" compared to other oil related phrases like "saudi oil" and "OPEC".

Peak Oil is clearly becoming a hot topic out in the general blogosphere, as the graph shows.



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David Suzuki On Peak Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

In a recent interview, David Suzuki has echoed Chomsky's view of peak oil - it could have a silver lining in terms of the impact we're having on the environment.

Q: With Earth Day here, can we take action to motivate people?

David Suzuki: We're going backwards. After Rachael Carson published "Silent Spring" in 1962, the growth of the environmental movement was immense. She put the environment on the agenda to such an extent that by 1972 we had the first World Environmental Conference in Stockholm.

To me, 1988 was the peak: That was the year Margaret Thatcher was filmed picking up litter in Hyde Park in London, saying, "I'm a greenie too." That was the year a man named George Bush ran for office and said, "If you elect me, I will be an environmental president." So much for election promises -- but that was also the year Canada elevated its minister of the environment into the inner Cabinet. That was the peak, and we've been going down ever since.

Now the economy has become everything. We're told, If the economy is in trouble we can't afford to protect the environment. People feel helpless, because they know we're going in the wrong direction, but they feel there's nothing they can do about the global economy. Ninety-three percent of Canadians believe that nature is absolutely critical to their identity as Canadians, and over 90 percent are willing to have higher taxes in order to protect the environment, and yet our governments dont reflect that.

Q: Do you both feel that governments are failing to act by prioritizing the economy over health and environment?

DS: Yes. I don't know about Japan, but in Canada it's because of the enormous power of the private sector, which funds most political campaigns. So the minute someone gets elected, if they have received major funding from a corporation, you can bet that corporation can call that politician anytime and get straight through. An average person trying to get through will not.

Q: The picture looks bleak. It seems we need to warn people but we also want to encourage them. However, if the message is upbeat then people just think someone else is taking care of it; and if the outlook is fearful they simply tune out. What is the critical tipping point?

DS: Well, that's what you hope, that there is a tipping point. But the reality is that this huge juggernaut of a globalized economy and transnational corporations is hugely powerful -- it's just got so much momentum that it's going to be very, very hard to begin to deflect it.

To me, a hope is that we are going to hit peak oil - and some geologists say we already hit it last year. The business community is now starting to take this very seriously. The first thing to happen would be the big-box stores, like Home Depot and Walmart, collapsing because they are dependent on cheap oil to ship cheap goods. Also, in the suburbs of Canada we have these gigantic homes with two or three people in them, and the heating and cooling bills are enormous, and they depend on cars. But the big thing is food. In Canada, food travels an average of 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from where it's grown to where it's eaten. This can't go on. The impact of [fossil fuel depletion] is going to create enormous suffering, no doubt about it.

CW Nicol: Have you been to China recently? I was there a month ago and the activity was frenetic. You may think Tokyo's air is bad, but there I got rashes all over my body. And this may be too simple, but this anti-Japanese hysteria is not just about textbooks. It's about that contested border on the South China Sea and who gets the natural gas, who gets the energy.

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Saudi's To Allow Maxiumum Production  

Posted by Big Gav

Land of Black Gold makes the interesting observation that the Saudi's are now saying the OPEC production quote doesn't matter any more - they will pump as much as they can. Indonesia has also given up on OPEC quotas and may become an observer in future.

Maybe the global Hubbert's Peak is here now (as this echoes the TRC giving up on its quota system in the US in the 1970's). Then again, maybe Iran (and Iraq, if the locals would stop blowing up pipelines) still have some swing production capacity - not that it makes much difference in the long run.

Ali Naimi, Saudi Arabia's oil minister, also said the kingdom had tossed aside its production cap set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and is willing to sell its customers every barrel of oil they want, up to its current capacity of 11 million barrels a day.

The guys at "The Oil Drum" also have some interesting comments on "The meaning of the Saudi oil mix" which would seem to corroborate the view that the Saudi's are working hard to pump as fast as they currently are.

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Oil Wars  

Posted by Big Gav

There seem to be a lot of broker reports talking about peak oil these days - here's a Canadian perspective from Safe Haven.

It should not be surprising that you probably would not find many out there who believe we are in the early stages of oil wars that will dominate the first half of this century. And if oil is the commodity of choice in the first half of this century then water will probably become the focal point in the second half of the century. But right now it is oil that is up front. Oil (energy) is the engine of the global economy. Without it we could quickly revert to a Road Warrior type of world run by warlords whose armies fight over the remaining pockets and supplies of oil (energy). That still might be our future baring of course some huge changes in how we run our economies or major discoveries and conversion to alternative forms of energy.

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America's Peak Experience  

Posted by Big Gav

Common Dreams has a good general peak oil blame allocation story today.

If you are a Monty Python fan, you will remember the famous restaurant scene from "The Meaning of Life." In it a fawning waiter begs his grossly over-weight client, who has just finished a meal of obscene proportions, to have "just one thin mint." The diner's gut is already strained to the breaking point, and when he finally ingests the mint, his body explodes.

Unfortunately, America bears a remarkable resemblance to the diner in the Monty Python skit. On a daily basis we gobble up several times more petroleum than we produce. Our gluttonous appetite for oil has brought the economy to the breaking point. Will we come to our senses and realize that we must curb our oil addiction? Or will we have to "explode" first?

In 1972 Donella and Dennis Meadows, together with Jorgen Randers and William Behrens, published "The Limits to Growth," which analyzed the interrelated impacts of population growth, industrialization, malnutrition, environmental deterioration, and depletion of nonrenewable resources - in particular, oil. They predicted that the planet would reach its limits to growth within the next 100 years. The first crisis would be the world supply of oil, which they predicted to diminish around the year 2000.

After years of cheap oil, Americans are beginning to experience the combined affect of diminishing supplies of oil and increased demand. The price for a barrel of crude oil hovers near the all-time high of $58 and experts are talking about prices in the $75-105 range. The price for a gallon of gasoline will probably hit $3 this summer. Criticism of the Bush Administration usually begins with its poor record at predicting future events. A prime example would, of course, be Iraq, where they promised that Iraqi oil production would pay for the occupation. The truth is that today's Iraqi oil production is less than it was before the invasion and we have to import oil 1.7 million gallons of fuel per day, into Iraq, in order to fuel the American occupation; as a result, the occupation has cost billions more than original estimates. No doubt, this inability to forecast will also be the lasting record of the Bush Administration with regards to peak oil.

History will judge George and company harshly because of their indifference to the looming oil crisis. Rather than lead the US away from its oil addiction, the President seems content to play the role of fawning waiter, approaching gluttonous America, begging, "Please sir, just one thin mint."

Meanwhile, over in the UK ex-Energy Minister Brian Wilson plans to mutter harsh words about 'gas-guzzling' Americans at the ASPO conference in Scotland.

Back in the US, Alan Greenspan thinks it might be a good idea to have an energy policy (I thought they had one - invade whoever has oil) - and he thinks those good old methane hydrates might be the solution (the cornucopian fantasy du jour it seems).
When asked at a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee if he thought America needs a national energy policy, Greenspan said, "I think that we better have one because it's something which is integrated not only into our economic system but into our national security system as well."

He said it is possible new technologies will lead to alternative sources for the fuels consumers use now.

"There's an awful lot of what we call natural gas hydrates (of which) we have in the United States huge reserves. Which is sort of a methane that's encased in ice crystals and which we're now only beginning to look at," the Fed chief said.

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Chomsky on Peak Oil  

Posted by Big Gav

Noam Chomsky has spoken about peak oil in a recent interview. He doesn't think OPEC production will peak for quite a while (but he's basing his views on Exxon's data), and can actually see a bright side to it.

If you're interested - I don't know if we have time to talk about it - there's quite an interesting article about it in the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists, in the current issue ["Oil: Caveat Empty" By Alfred J. Cavallo], which is a very serious journal, and the person who wrote it I know is very good.

He points out that Exxon/Mobil, the biggest energy corporation, and the one that's very quiet and conservative about this, just published its forecasts, and for the first time ever, they bring this up.

What they predict is that within five years - five years - non-Opec oil will have reached the peak. Non-OPEC means U.S., Canada, and so on. Venezuela - Venezuela isn't OPEC, but most of the non-OPEC oil producers will have leveled off. That's five years.

And Exxon does not predict that alternative sources like tar sands, shale and so on will replace it - they think that's way too expensive and uses too much energy in fact.

Their prediction is that it's just going to have to come from OPEC, meaning mainly the Gulf. So the gulf states are going to have to sharply increase oil production even to meet current demand, let alone the future demand, which is rising. And that's not a long way off, they're talking about five years.

So yeah, this is a very serious issue, and my own guess is that if we ever get the secret documents about the planning for the Iraq war, my expectation is that these considerations will have entered significantly.

As to when you get a peak for OPEC, that's farther off - decades, but it's certainly real.

There's another side to this, there's a sense in which it's advantageous if the oil peak is earlier. The reason why is it will compel the world, primarily the U.S. here, to move toward something like sustainable energy.

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LED Lights - The Future Of Lighting ?  

Posted by Big Gav

The Alternative Energy blog has a good post up on the new wave of energy efficient light bulbs made from LED's.

LED lamps were unthinkable until the technology cleared a major hurdle just a dozen years ago. Since then, LEDs have evolved quickly and are being adapted for many uses, including pool illumination and reading lights, as evidenced at the Lightfair trade show in New York this week.

More widespread use could lead to big energy savings and a minor revolution in the way we think about lighting.

WorldChanging has more detail - "LEDs go mainstream"

Update: Mobjectivist has followed up with a post on the history and physics of the blue laser diode.

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Sunken Treasure Or Pandora's Box ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Another article on the quest to exploit methane hydrates.

Far beneath the shifting waves of the earth's oceans lie frozen crystals containing enough natural gas to meet the nation's growing energy needs for decades — maybe even centuries. It may sound far-fetched, but nations around the globe are racing to find and ultimately tap vast deposits of gas-bearing methane hydrate, an energy source that could dwarf the planet's remaining accessible oil, coal and natural gas reserves.

Roger Sassen, a gas hydrate geochemist at Texas A&M University, sees methane hydrates as the country's best shot at meeting its ravenous thirst for energy, particularly in the face of an ever-diminishing supply of oil and natural gas.

"It's the last chance," he said. "There is an awful lot of it out there, and unless it works there is going to be a problem. People are complaining about gas prices at $2 a gallon, but we may have to live with prices 10 times that high all of a sudden."

Unfortunately, no one is sure how to accurately find large accumulations of crystals, or safely and economically withdraw the gas from the depths - and some scientists are warning that a misstep in the pursuit of methane hydrate could lead to catastrophic consequences — ruining the ocean environment and speeding up global warming.

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The Greening of Plastics  

Posted by Big Gav

This sounds almost too good to be true - TreeHugger reports on a company making bioengineered, non-oil based plastic.

The Cambridge Massachusetts based company Metabolix produces a sustainable, biodegradable, high-grade, environmentally friendly plastic. Yes, I too have heard the rumors of how biodegradable plastics just don’t hold up to more traditional oil based products, but not in this case. With partners like BP and a long line of grants at their doorstep, the privately held company appears poised to make a large dent in the market. Their ‘bioplastic’ is produced through clever bioengineering (developed at M.I.T), and a good grasp of plastics chemistry. Metabolix bioplastic are polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHA’s. If you’re a chemistry fan- then well …I don’t know what to say to you, but their website has a wonderful basic overview of the biology and chemistry behind the products that even I can understand.

From the Metabolix web site:
Metabolix produces a wide variety of bioplastics through the fermentation of natural sugars and oils using microbial biofactories. These materials range in properties from stiff thermoplastics suitable for molded goods, to highly elastic grades, to grades suitable for adhesives and coatings. In some cases, bioplastics offer combinations of properties not available in synthetic materials. For example, bioplastics, excellent water resistance with biodegradability, allowing flushable personal hygiene products and wet wipes. In the future, bioplastics will be produced directly in plants, making them cost-competitive with even general purpose resins such as polyethylene. PHAs will serve as environmentally friendly alternatives to over half of the plastics used today.

Who said plastic doesn't grow on trees.

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Digital Oil Fields ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Rig Zone reports on the tech boom in the oil industry.

The digital oil field of the future has taken shape in ChevronTexaco Corp.'s new headquarters in Houston since early January - and it looks like the set of a Cold War melodrama.

In a screen-filled war room, technicians monitor real-time data flowing via fiber-optic cable and satellite links from sensors behind the drill bit below a Gulf of Mexico platform.

By looking at the acoustic, temperature and pressure information, engineers can almost hear and feel the pulse of the drill, and receive e-mail alerts of any emergency to their Blackberries if they're out of the office.

Developments like these could help add 125 billion barrels to global reserves in the next 10 years, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

CERA analysts predict digital oil fields could improve reserve recovery by 6%, raise production rates by up to 10% and cut operating costs by up to 25% through better reservoir management and reduced on-site crews. The technology would be a boon for oil companies being pressured to find and pump more oil amid a shortage of qualified labor.

Rig Zone is also speculating that OPEC may now be more afraid of an oversupply than a shortage - "OPEC Fearing An Oil Glut ?". Assuming the figures coming out of ODAC and the like lately are correct, its hard to imagine that this would be anything other than temporary - but they could be right if it turns out the peak is still a way off.

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BBC Video - Oil And War  

Posted by Big Gav

Past Peak notes the BBC has a documentary out on oil and war (a couple of years old now, but very good).

You simply must watch this video from BBC2 (courtesy of ICH).

The desperate worldwide struggle for the oil that remains is only just beginning. Maybe you do not believe it yet, but elite planners clearly do. The scramble is on, and it is likely to accelerate rapidly: when growth is exponential, limits arrive suddenly.

I urge you to watch the video. Then consider what is going to happen to suburbia-based America when oil production no longer meets demand. Will you be ready?

The video has an interesting URL overlaid at the end which is worth poking around in.

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Reports Reveal Zarqawi Nuclear Threat !  

Posted by Big Gav

Reverend Moon's "Washington Times" is turning up the fear level again - this time its time to worry about Abu Musab Zarqawi detonating a dirty bomb in the US.

Recurrent intelligence reports say al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi has obtained a nuclear device or is preparing a radiological explosive -- or dirty bomb -- for an attack, according to U.S. officials, who also say analysts are unable to gauge the reliability of the information's sources.

The classified reports have been distributed to U.S. intelligence agencies for several consecutive months and say Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, has stored the nuclear device or dirty bomb in Afghanistan, said officials familiar with the intelligence.

Between this dire threat to the US population and that posed by Iranian nukes, those members of the american government who are considering opposing the renewal of the "Patriot" act might decide this could be viewed as unpatriotic and a dangerous threat to the nation (not to mention their own reputations). I imagine once the act gets rammed through and the Iran invasion gets underway, these reports will subside - hopefully a demonstration isn't required to keep everyone in line.

Orwell's "Big Brother" had Emmanuel Goldstein to scare the masses with - the American government has gone even better and can choose between Osama, Abu Musab and the Mad Mullahs of Tehran it seems.

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Wave Power - Alternative Energy Available Today  

Posted by Big Gav

TreeHugger has a review of a selection of wave power projects.

Like all renewable energy systems, wave power isn't perfect, but in the future we will have to get used to getting energy from a variety of renewable sources that are widely distributed.

Sustainable alternative energy is becoming attractive as oil costs rise and the negative side effects of traditional energy systems begin to become apparent. One often overlooked, but rapidly growing alternative is wave power. There are fascinating new designs for harnessing the power of the wave. I found four significant technologies, all of which are in their first steps of operation and succeeding wildly.

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The Future Of Ethanol  

Posted by Big Gav

CommonDreams has a good article up on the Brazilian biofuels industry.

Want to see the potential of biofuels? Visit Brazil, as I did a few weeks ago.

In Brazil, by law, all gasoline contains a minimum of 25 percent alcohol. Yet ethanol is so popular it actually accounts for 40 percent of all vehicle fuel. By 2007, 100 percent of all new Brazilian cars may be able to run on 100 percent ethanol. Brazilian sugar-cane-fed biorefineries will be capable of producing sufficient ethanol to allow the entire fleet, new and old cars alike, to do so.

In Brazil, ethanol is now being used in aviation. Small planes, like crop dusters, are switching to ethanol because it is a superior fuel and is more widely available, even in remote parts of the country, than conventional aviation fuel.

Its stunning success with ethanol has encouraged Brazil to begin displacing diesel fuel with vegetable oils from its vast soybean crop. Within 15 years it expects to substitute biodiesel for 20 percent of its conventional diesel.

One more detail. Back in the mid 1990s, Brazil ended its ethanol subsidies. Nevertheless, with world oil prices hovering around $55 a barrel, the price of ethanol today is only half that of gasoline. Since its inception, Brazil's ethanol program has displaced imported oil worth $120 billion.

Its quite amazing how much success the Brazilians have been having - if they can afford to produce (unsubsidised) ethanol that sells for half the price of petrol, then you'd have to conclude that the EROEI for sugar cane based ethanol must be pretty good (even if that of ethanol produced from north american corn may be debatable).

This raises the question of why ethanol has fared so poorly in Australia ? We have lots of sugar cane, and its not particularly valuable given the low prices and trade barriers faced by the sugar industry.

Australian ethanol has only made the news on a few occasions that I can remember - firstly as a minor scandal involving the rodent handing out subsidies to his mate Dick Honan at local ethanol monopoly Manildra (while slapping on a sudden excise to prevent Brazilian ethanol being imported), then later with a fear-mongering campaign being conducted suggesting the use of ethanol in car engines is causing them damage (presumably conducted by the oil companies).

Manildra as a company isn't doing well, and according to this article Australian produced ethanol costs around twice as much to produce as petrol (the gap has probably narrowed as oil prices have risen) - so the obvious question is - why is Brazilian ethanol so much cheaper to produce the the local stuff ?

(the article also notes that sugar cane may not be the best feedstock for ehtanol proudction - Instead of wasting millions of dollars on industry handouts, to support an industry and technology that has proved ineffective, and dallying in pork-barreling and cronyism, the government should fund research and development into the production of ethanol from lignocellulosic materials. Lignocellulosic materials such as wood, crop residues, and municipal wastes, provide a large readily available supply of cheap feedstock that can be broken down and used for the production of ethanol. Research shows that the amount of ethanol yielded from lignocellulosic materials is much more than conventional sugarcane and wheat feedstocks.)

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As The World Burns  

Posted by Big Gav

I've had a post on this topic gestating for a very long time now, so naturally someone else has beaten me to it.

If you're interested in the global warming "debate", have a read of "As The World Burns" in Mother Jones, which does a great job of explaining both science and the background behind the disinformation campaign being waged (largely by Exxon) to try and delay action like carbon taxes and implementation of the Kyoto treaty.

It was around eight in the morning in the vast convention hall in Kyoto. The negotiations over a worldwide treaty to limit global warming gases, which were supposed to have ended the evening before, had gone on through the night. Drifts of paper—treaty drafts, industry talking points, environmentalist press releases—overflowed every wastebasket. Delegates in suits and ties were passed out on couches, noisily mouth breathing. And polite squadrons of workers were shooing people out of the hall so that some trade show—tool and die makers, I think—could set up its displays.

Finally, from behind the closed doors, word emerged that we had a treaty. The greens all cheered, halfheartedly—since it wasn't as though the agreement would go anywhere near far enough to arrest global warming—but firm in their conviction that the tide on the issue had finally turned. After a decade of resistance, the oil companies and the car companies and all the other deniers of global warming had seen their power matched.

Or so it seemed. I was standing next to a top industry lobbyist, a man who had spent the last week engineering opposition to the treaty, huddling with Exxon lawyers and Saudi delegates, detailing the Venezuelans to change this word, the Kuwaitis to soften that number. Right now he looked just plain tired. "I can't wait to get back to Washington," he said. "In Washington we'll get this under control again."


If this sort of thing doesn't drive you crazy, then you might enjoy playing Tim Lambert's "Global Warming Skeptic Bingo" next time you have to listen to one of these nuts spouting some stream of fetid non-science.

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More Podcasts  

Posted by Big Gav

The Oil Drum notes its not just FTD who has a directory of podcasts up - there is also OilCast as well.

I had a quick look around the iPodder Podcast Directory and couldn't see them in there - but maybe there just isn't an obvious category for peak oil sites...

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Too Much News  

Posted by Big Gav

EnergyBulletin is moving towards providing a more concise daily news update to handle the growing volume of news - and who can blame them - there's a torrent of articles appearing.

Recent items of note include Marshall Auerbach declaring "High Energy Prices Are Here To Stay", a new interview with Republican Congressman "Roscoe Bartlett", more dire economic prognostications from Morgan Stanley's Steven Roach (""Tilt !"), dependency metaphors from Berkeley Daily Planet "Confronting America's Oil Addiction", a good presentation from Matt Simmons to the Boston Committee On Foreign Relations "The Coming Saudi Oil Shock And The World Economy" and James Kunstler saying that we're heading into "1914" again.

With the warnings about large economic readjustments becoming more frequent, and yesterdays note on the monetary system fresh in my mind, I was reminded of Richard Heinberg's "Meditations on Collapse".

The global economic system and the world's monetary system are becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Currently, the US dollar functions as the global reserve currency, and the dollar (like most other currencies) is loaned into existence at interest. This means that continual economic growth is structurally required in order to stave off a currency crash. Yet infinite growth within a closed system (e.g., the Earth) is impossible. So how long can growth continue? There are strong signs that the American economy, and hence that of the entire world, is headed soon toward a "correction" of unprecedented proportions. US debt (in the forms of consumer debt, government debt, and trade deficits) is at truly frightening levels and the American mortgage and real estate bubbles appear ready to burst at any moment. If one looks deeper, there are still other reasons to conclude that the global economy has nearly reached fundamental and non-negotiable restrictions on expansion. In his book The Limits of Business Development and Economic Growth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), business strategist Mats Larsson makes the point that most of technology and business development in the past has had as its goal the reduction of time and cost in manufacturing. But nothing can be done at less than no time or at less than no cost. He cites the example of the printing and distribution of books and other written media: with these, Gutenberg famously reduced time and cost. Now, the Internet enables the electronic reproduction and distribution of books, films, and music at almost no cost and in almost no time. Similarly, labor cost in China is probably now at close to the absolute theoretical minimum. Larsson's conclusion is that economic growth is perilously close to its ultimate bounds, even when resource constraints are not factored into the calculation.

Averting collapse would require changes that must be championed and partly implemented by political leaders: unprecedented levels of national and international cooperation would be needed in order to allocate essential resources in order to avert deadly competition for them as they become scarce, and our economic and monetary systems would have to be reformed despite pressure from the entrenched interests of wealthy elites. Yet the American political regime - the most important in the world, given US military supremacy and economic clout - has evidently become terminally dysfunctional, and is now the province of a group of extremist ideologues who apparently have virtually no interest in international cooperation or economic reform. This is a fact widely recognized outside the US, and by many sober observers within the country. The problem is not merely that politicians are being bought and sold by corporations (this has been going on for decades), but that the entire system has been hijacked by partisans who pride themselves on making decisions solely on the basis of ideology and in supreme disdain for "reality." At the same time, the US electoral system has been eviscerated and commandeered by a single party (using various forms of systematic fraud that have now become endemic), so that a peaceful rectification of the situation by a vote of the people has become virtually impossible. Moreover, the American media have been so cowed and co-opted by the dominant party that most oft he citizenry is blissfully unaware of its plight and is thus extremely unlikely to vigorously oppose the current trends. Diamond shows some limited awareness of this truly horrifying state of affairs, and he realizes that wise political leadership would be essential to the avoidance of collapse. Yet he refuses to draw the obvious conclusion: the most powerful of the world's current leaders are every bit as irrational as the befuddled kings and chiefs who brought the Maya and Easter Islanders to their ruin.

In local news, Brisbane's Courier Mail has an article predicting that major road infrastructure projects will become a thing of the past as peak oil bites and personal motor vehicle usage declines. Quite an optimistic reading of the tea leaves compared to the predictions of doom above I guess.
At an estimated cost of $4 billion, and scheduled to take 20 years to build, the proposed TransApex tunnel network is arguably the most ambitious construction project in Brisbane's history. But chances are the project probably will be discontinued after the tunnel to the airport is completed in 2013.

The reason – what is known as "peak oil" will have solved Brisbane's traffic congestion by making motoring far too expensive. "Peak oil" is the theory that the world will face a sudden and disastrous decline in oil supplies after global production peaks in the next 14 years.

Queensland MLA Andrew McNamara believes peak oil will come sooner rather than later and the impact on our lives will be greater than terrorism, global warming, nuclear war or bird flu. "The challenges we face after peak oil will require localised food production and industry in a way not seen for 100 years," he told Parliament in February. "Local rail lines and fishing fleets will be vital to regional communities. Self-contained communities living close to work, farms, services and schools will not be merely desirable; they will be essential."

One thing most analysts and observers appear to agree on is that the world won't realise that it's reached peak oil until after the phenomenon has been and gone. Predictions put its date at somewhere between 2004 and 2020.

As the world's oil reserves are expected to be totally depleted by about 2040, according to BP, we're left with about a decade at best to effect a century's worth of changes to the way we live. It won't be easy, as it's a change for which we're not prepared. If we're lucky, peak oil will arrive soon and give us more time to adjust to the shock. If we're intelligent, we'll get to work to adapt our cities and lifestyles to something approximating McNamara's vision. But we're not likely to be that lucky.

And – with governments that flog off our remaining oil, gas and coal reserves overseas to help build up US and Chinese energy stockpiles while spending billions of dollars on subterranean freeways that will probably be obsolete long before they're finished – it doesn't look as if we're all that intelligent, either.

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DKos: Is Peak Oil A Myth ?  

Posted by Big Gav

Lawnorder at DailyKos has a diary up examining the question "is peak oil a myth" ? The author decides it isn't, and gives a new (to me) example of post oil crash agricultural failure - North Korea.

Agriculture in DPRK requires approximately 700,000 tons of fertilizer per year. North Korea used to manufacture 80 to 90% of its own fertilizer... Since [the Soviet Union stopped giving them Oil in 1995] DPRK has had difficulty producing even 100,000 tons per year... The DPRK fertilizer industry relies on coal as both an energy source and a feedstock. They require 1.5 to 2.0 million tons of coal per year to produce 700,000 tons of fertilizer. To obtain this coal, the fertilizer industry must compete with the steel industry, electricity generation, home heating and cooking needs, and a host of other consumers. Flooded mine shafts and broken down mining equipment have severely cut the coal supply. Likewise, delivery of this coal has been curtailed by the breakdown of railway infrastructure. Furthermore, transporting 2 million tons of coal by rail requires 5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity while electricity supply is diminished because of lack of coal, silting of dams and infrastructure failure. So once again, we have another vicious positive feedback loop. Finally, infrastructure failure limits the ability to ship the fertilizer--1.5 to 2.5 million tons in bulk--from factories to farms... The result of this systemic failure is that agriculture in DPRK is operating with only 20 to 30% of the normal soil nutrient inputs... [furthermore, ] North Koreans turned to burning biomass, thus impacting their remaining forests. Deforestation led, in turn, to more flooding and increasing levels of soil erosion. Likewise, soils were depleted as plant matter was burned for heat, rather than being mulched and composted.. Agriculture has been further impacted by the limited availability of diesel fuel... The result is an 80% reduction in the use of farm equipment... Observers in 1998 reported seeing tractors and other farm equipment lying unused and unusable while farmers struggled to work their fields by hand. The observers also reported seeing piles of harvested grain left on the fields for weeks, leading to post-harvest crop losses.

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A Whiff Of Stagflation  

Posted by Big Gav

Paul Krugman's latest column looks at the signs of stagflation appearing and considers the various risks the world economy is exposed to.

What's driving inflation? Not wages: labor costs have been falling, because wages are growing less than productivity. Oil prices are a big part of the story, but not all of it. Other commodity prices are also rising; health care costs are once again on the march. And a combination of capacity shortages, rising Asian demand and a weakening dollar has given industries like cement and steel new "pricing power."

It all adds up to a mild case of stagflation: inflation is leading the Fed to tap on the brakes, even though this doesn't look or feel like a full-employment economy.

We shouldn't overstate the case: we're not back to the economic misery of the 1970's. But the fact that we're already experiencing mild stagflation means that there will be no good options if something else goes wrong.

Suppose, for example, that the consumer pullback visible in recent data turns out to be bigger than we now think, and growth stalls. (Not that long ago many economists thought that an oil price in the 50's would cause a recession.) Can the Fed stop raising interest rates and go back to rate cuts without causing the dollar to plunge and inflation to soar?

Or suppose that there's some kind of oil supply disruption - or that warnings about declining production from Saudi oil fields turn out to be right. Suppose that Asian central banks decide that they already have too many dollars. Suppose that the housing bubble bursts. Any of these events could easily turn our mild case of stagflation into something much more serious.

How do we get out of this bind? As the old joke goes, I wouldn't start from here. We should have spent the years of cheap oil encouraging conservation; we should have spent the years of modest growth in medical costs reforming our health care system. Oh, and we'd have a wider range of policy options if the budget weren't so deeply in deficit.

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The World Is Not Enough  

Posted by Big Gav

Apparently secret agent Rumsfeld has been negotiating to set up a base just across from the Iranian border in Azerbaijan. No doubt all those oil wells and the local dictator made him feel right at home.

Hardly any country on the planet sits in a more crucial spot than the harsh dictatorship of Azerbaijan, so that's probably why Don Rumsfeld sneaked off to its rowdy capital, Baku, earlier this week.

Do you hear the neocons beating the oil drums of war?

Rumsfeld's visit this week to Iraq generated some smoke, especially his laughable warnings to the Iraqis about "government corruption". But then, like the mysterious Mr. Arkadin, Rumsfeld left Iraq, flew to Baku for meetings, spent the night, and then sneaked out the next day—with no announcements from the Pentagon and (as a result) no notice from the U.S. press.

Plenty of Azeris, chafing under the Aliyev family's harsh rule and fearing war or other trouble from the oil-hungry U.S., freaked out, and there were stories in the Turkish and Russian press. But leave it to the excellent news service EurasiaNet to capture the not-meant-to-be-captured moment. In a story posted April 13, political analyst Alman Talyshli wrote from Baku:
"Rumsfeld is interested in oil!" read a headline in the April 12 edition of the popular daily Echo. The April 12 visit of the Pentagon chief to Azerbaijan was a natural target for local media hungry for sensational news. But not only the press is looking for answers.

Rumsfeld's visit took place under extreme secrecy, with limited public information, leaving many local analysts and pundits to speculate about the reasons for the U.S. secretary of defense's trip, the third such visit in the past 15 months.

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has warned that the U.S. has been making plans to attack Iran — one of Azerbaijan's neighbors — this summer. That's not as farfetched as you may think. Seymour Hersh has said basically the same thing. In "The Coming Wars," a mid-January piece in The New Yorker that zeroed in on Rumsfeld's various plottings.

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DonkeyTalk  

Posted by Big Gav

FTD has been very busy lately - if you haven't checked out his collection of peak oil interviews, then click on the link.

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Rubber - Critical and Vulnerable  

Posted by Big Gav

EnergyBulletin has an article up on the importance of rubber to the industrial world. Rubber can be obtained in its natural form from rubber trees, or produced synthetically from petrochemicals. As oil becomes scarce and more expensive, this means we become more dependent on natural rubber. Unfortunately relying on rubber trees has its own risks.

The world's rubber needs are met through both natural and synthetic sources, each supplying nearly equal amounts. Synthetic rubber requires petrochemicals as a feedstock for its manufacture, using roughly 3.5 times more oil than what is required for a rubber tree plantation. This dependence on oil has led to a dramatic price increase in synthetic rubber over the last few years. Not surprisingly, this has fuelled an increased demand for natural rubber.

Nearly 90% of the world’s natural rubber is supplied by plantations in South East Asia. The millions of rubber trees there are all clones coming from only a handful of seeds originating from the Amazon, and descendents are taken as cuttings from these trees. A huge population of species supporting an extremely small genetic base causes any weaknesses to be greatly amplified. These trees are all known to be very susceptible to the fungal disease known as leaf blight. If one were to become infected, the risk of it spreading is very high.

South America's rubber trees have encountered numerous problems with leaf blight during the history of the industry there. On the other hand, South East Asia has only encountered a few cases, all from different, less damaging, varieties of leaf blight. To date, no epidemics of the South American version have occurred in South East Asia. However, there is speculation that this could happen at any time and cause a major disruption in the world rubber supply.

From the book 'One River' author Wade Davis states "To this day a single act of biological terrorism, the systematic introduction of fungal spores so small as to be readily concealed in a shoe, could wipe out the plantations, shutting down production of natural rubber for at least a decade. It is difficult to think of any other raw material that is as vital and vulnerable."

I can just see the next neocon conspiracy theory being breathlessly announced in World Nut Daily - "The quest for rubber security - US must invade Malaysia to prevent islamic terrorists destroying critical rubber infrastructure using biological weapons supplied by Iran".

Moving back to the real world, the importance of rubber has been underscored in the two world wars, with Germany struggling to find substitutes in World War 1 (as the British denied them access to it) and the US putting a lot of effort into developing synthetic substitutes (as the Japanese denied them access to rubber from south east asia).

While non-oil based alternatives to rubber don't seem to exist, John Dobozy's rubber recycling technology has been getting a bit of attention lately - so if the rubber trees get wiped out by blight we can always mine the tire mountains that blight various regions.

Moving away from the subject of rubber, if you've never read anything by Wade Davis (referenced above) he's worth having a look at - ethnobotany is a lot more interesting than you might imagine. If you'd like to become proficient at raising the dead and commanding a zombie slave army, then I highly recommend "The Serpent and the Rainbow". His other books, including "Shadows in the Sun", "Light at the End of the World" and "Rainforest: Ancient realm of the Pacific Northwest" are excellent as well.

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