Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Future of Energy


The combination of events that led to this year's dramatic increase in the cost of fuel seemed like the perfect storm - no pun intended - continued trouble in the Middle East, Hurricane Katrina which knocked out 30% of the US refining capacity, what's been projected to be a particularly cold winter, and a significant increase in demand for petroleum in China and India.

In reality it has merely brought to a head a problem that's been brewing for a long time - one of our own making. The problem is related to US dependence on Middle Eastern oil, pricing of fuel, willingness to build power plants and refineries, vehicle design and preference, exploration, habitat preservation, global warming, and invention, and - of course - politics.

Some say that we have passed the half way mark - that point in time when we are using petroleum faster than we are extracting it. However when the market price goes up, more sources are worth tapping, such as the Canadian tar sands, and technology contines to allow us to reach deeper and more difficult to access deposits. The trick is not just to find more sources of petroleum. The trick is to create a stable energy ecosystem, one that doesn't release more unbound carbon into the atmosphere than is bound each year.

Carbon is bound through endothermic reactions such as photosynthesis and unbound during combustion. In the case of biodiesel, carbon comes out of the atmosphere as plants grow, and goes back into the atmosphere when the biodiesel is burned. So it is argued that biodiesel is a more sustainable energy source.

But that's not the end of the story, either. CO2 sequestering is the process of putting excess CO2 into a form where it cannot re-enter the atmosphere. Some experiments have successfully sequestered large amounts of CO2 in Basalt formations. It is both used to pressurize the oil in those formations, increasing the yield and then the CO2 reacts with the rock to form chalk.

So technology will continue to develop. We should respect the earth and do everything we can to protect it, and to avoid global warming, but we shouldn't demonize one approach or another, because we never know the end of the story. One thing that is clear, is that we should let oil prices float to market prices, because only at those prices will there be incentive to develop alternative technologies. It would be better to provide fuel credits or tax credits for seniors or those who need help than to keep the price of oil artificially low for everyone. Cheap oil has contributed to a 20 year lag in the development of cost effective alternatives.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Brandon said...

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11:14 AM  
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3:55 AM  

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