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@radtech: No high-tech alternative fuels are currently easily producible or generate as much energy as oil. Here's the problem:
Consider the difficulties that would be involved in building the sort of hydrogen economy so often touted as the solution to our approaching energy crisis. We’ll grant for the moment that the massive amounts of electricity needed to turn seawater into hydrogen gas in sufficient volume to matter turn out to be available somehow, despite the severe challenges facing every option proposed so far. Getting the electricity to make the hydrogen, though, is only the first of a series of tasks with huge price tags in money, energy, raw materials, labor, and time.

Hydrogen, after all, can’t be poured into the gas tank of a gasoline-powered car. For that matter, it can’t be dispensed from today’s gas pumps, or stored in the tanks at today’s filling stations, or shipped there by the pipelines and tanker trucks currently used to get gasoline and diesel fuel to the point of sale. Every motor vehicle on the roads, along with the vast infrastructure built up over a century to fuel them with petroleum products, would have to be replaced in order to use hydrogen as a transport fuel.
Factor the impact of declining oil production into this equation and the true scale of the challenge before us becomes a little clearer. Building a hydrogen infrastructure – from power plants and hydrogen generation facilities, through pipelines and distribution systems, to hydrogen filling stations and hundreds of millions of hydrogen-powered cars and trucks – will, among many other things, take a very large amount of oil. Some of the oil will be used directly, by construction equipment, trucks hauling parts to the new plants, and the like; much more will be used indirectly, since nearly every commodity and service for sale in the industrial world today relies on petroleum in one way or another. Until a substantial portion of the hydrogen system is in place, it won’t be possible to use hydrogen to supplement dwindling petroleum production, which is already coming under worldwide strain as demand pushes up against the limits of supply. Instead, the fuel costs of building the hydrogen economy add an additional source of demand, pushing fuel prices higher and making scarce fuel even less available for other uses.
First off, let's take a look at just what is meant by 'peak oil' and what various people think about it:

In a nutshell, not everyone agrees with the peak oil theory and even its proponents and originator point out that the issue of when/if it has or will occur is more complex than has been presented here so far. In particular, the idea that 'peak oil' has already happened is not universally agreed upon. In addition, the article indicates that 'peak oil' can have several impacts, some even seen as positive, and that it need not automatically lead to the collapse of civilization.

In addition, peak oil seems to mean the peak of conventional oil production, not every form of petroleum (oil sands, etc.) on the planet, nor does it seem to take into account natural gas (at least the article here didn't include it - maybe others do).

Beyond that, it would not be necessary to replace every car on the road or all of the infrastructure before hydrogen (or whatever) could be used as motor fuel any more than it is necessary to build an entire alternative energy infrastructure across the entire planet before any part of it can be used. That does not logically follow.

As solar and other systems come online they reduce oil consumption, meaning that oil reserves are extended. As increased efficiency, recycling, and conservation technologies come online (and many of these can potentially come online very quickly since they mainly involve changes in behavior), resources, including oil, are extended. As alternative fuels are developed, including such things as making jet fuel from sea water or bacteria that generate hydrocarbons (fuel) as a waste product or hydrogen fuels, or whatever, existing oil reserves are extended.

In addition, even once peak oil is reached, this does not mean that all oil production comes to a screeching halt and all the pumps run dry overnight. What it does mean is that prices would rise significantly. At which point, various other options suddenly become more economically attractive and competitive with petroleum and it seems likely that increased resources will be spent on them, driving their price down and making them yet more competitive. Also, based on past observed behavior, people begin changing their behavior and conserving more, buying smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles, etc.

A major flaw I'm seeing in your argument here is that you keep treating the issue as a 100% either/or situation. Either we replace 100% of existing energy infrastructure before peak oil is reached or within X number of years after or it is as if absolutely nothing whatsoever had been done at all. This does not logically or accurately reflect the more likely scenario of various efforts gaining greater and greater 'market share' and competitiveness as time goes on and oil supplies drop and prices rise. It also does not consider the possibility of technological advance or innovation in any form, nor changes in people's behaviors (buying habits, energy usage, travel habits). While such things are not guaranteed by any means, neither are they guaranteed to not happen at all. However, even if we ignore new technology beyond what is in the lab and in the field now, we still go back to the issue that alternative systems are often growing at a steady rate, and therefore impacting the overall energy equation, vs not existing at all.

Yes, you've pointed out that many renewable systems are insufficient by themselves to meet global energy needs (although that does not preclude them meeting some percentage of the, I'd point out), referencing the Sustainable Energy without the hot air publication. A further read into that work also shows that he concludes that the US could use solar energy to provide power to all of North America at US levels (I'm sure the Canadians will be thrilled), while a similar system in North Africa could power much of Europe - although the political situation in that case could be...interesting. Of course, other parts of the world would also ideally get power from somewhere, but there are various options, including some the publication doesn't discuss such as ocean thermal.

So basically, the publication you yourself reference says that the situation is potentially solvable, if we as a civilization have the will. That point (whether or not we have the will) can be argued, but gets us into issues of politics and philosophy, neither of which are readily quantifiable.

It should be noted that Europe has much higher gas prices than the US, yet is not exactly a dystopian wasteland just because its people don't drive around as much and use much less energy than the US (at least none of the several Europeans on this forum have complained AFAIK). It should also be noted that the US (and a big chunk of the rest of the world) went through the decade plus of the Great Depression without our civilization collapsing. The people of Britain took being repeatedly bombed by the Nazi war machine without their civilization collapsing. During WWII, gasoline and much else in the US was strictly rationed, people grew 'victory gardens' to stretch food supplies, and generally life was not a cakewalk. But people kept it up for years on end and they got through it. So far I've yet to hear any argument presented here as to why people wouldn't or couldn't take analogous measures in the event of a pending energy crunch that don't more or less sum up to 'people are just no damn good'. Which is certainly one philosophy and a statement of opinion, but isn't equivalent to numbers saying it can't be done at all.

So, basically, while it is certainly possible that the depletion of world petroleum supplies will lead to various negative effects, up to and including the collapse of civilization, that is by no means an assured outcome, either in general, or if some particularly favored course of action is not followed.

Speaking of favored courses of action, at several points in this thread I've had the sense that you have a very definite idea of what your favored response to this potential issue is, whether it be mentioning various 'sustainable tech when the collapse comes' items or forums or saying you want to 'preserve what we have for future generations'. Perhaps I'm just misunderstanding you on these points, in which case my apologies in advance. But otherwise, it would probably save a lot of time and additional trips around the debate bush if you just told us what you viewed as a preferred solution to this potential problem (because it (collapse of civilization) is a potential problem, not a guaranteed one, by any means).

So, in thinking about this thread over the last few days, I was reminded of a book I had purchased a bit ago on my Kindle but hadn't gotten around to reading yet.

Titled: Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think

It talks about a number of the issues facing the world and why there is more hope than one might think. I need to actually just sit down and read it cover to cover, but in the immediate term, I started looking at the chapters on energy and water.

Regarding water - some interesting developments:

The Slingshot - Developed by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway):

From the book:

It's the size of a dorm room refrigerator, with 'a power cord, an intake hose, and an outflow hose'. Stick the intake hose into anything - arsenic-laden water, salt water, the latrine, the holding tanks of a chemical waste treatment plant; really, anything wet - and the outflow is one hundred percent pure pharmaceutical-grade injectable water.

The current version can purify 1,000 liters (250 gallons) of water per day using the same amount of energy it takes to power a hair dryer. The power source is an updated version of a Sterling engine, designed to burn anything. Over a six-month field trial in Bangladesh, the engine ran only on cow dung and provided villagers with enough electricity to charge their cell phones and lights.

It's also designed to run maintenance free for at least five years.

Kamen is apparently partnering with Coca-Cola to distribute the machines across Africa in a pilot program.

But wait, there's more:

A British engineer named Michael Pritchard has invented a filter with pores only 15 nanometers wide. That's sufficient to remove pretty much everything apparently - bacteria, viruses, cysts, parasites, fungi, etc. One filter lasts long enough to produce six thousand liters of water and the system automatically shuts off when the cartridge expires.

The original tech was designed for disaster relief (Pritchard saw the situation after Hurricane Katrina and was inspired to invent this), but the book goes on to talk about a 'jerry can version of the system', that can produce 25,000 L of water - enough for a family of four for 3 years. It costs just half a cent a day to run.

The inventor says that for 8 billion dollars the system could hit the Millennium Goals target of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water. And for 20 billion, everyone on the planet could have access to safe drinking water.

But wait, there's more:

Researchers at IBM and a Tokyo based company called Central Glass have developed a nanofilter capable of removing both salt an arsenic from water.

A company in the UAE has developed a form of hydrophobic sand. A 10cm layer placed beneath desert topsoil decreases water loss by 75 percent.

A Los Angeles based company called NanoH2O has developed a filter for use in reverse osmosis desalination plants that uses 20% less energy while producing 70% more water.

The book goes on to talk about efforts underway to create a 'smart grid for water' in which sensors and computers would be embedded into pipes, sewers, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, harbors and oceans with the goal detect leaks, drive increased efficiency in water usage, reduce food wastage as side effect. etc. Still early days on this, but at least one person involved believes that such a smart grid could save the US somewhere between 30% and 50% of its total water use.

And so on and so forth. The book continues talking about water and water related stuff for a good bit longer - this is just the stuff I got from an initial skim.

Then there's the issue of energy. Again, this is just some highlights from a quick skim. Need to sit down and read the full book:

Engineers at MIT have developed solar concentrators using carbon nanotubes that made PV solar panels 100x more efficient than traditional models.

A company in Maryland has developed a way to turn ordinary windows into PV solar panels using organic solar cells. It can generate energy using both natural and artificial light sources.

A researcher at the U of Michigan has discovered that light, traveling at the right intensity through a non-conductive material such as glass, can create magnetic fields 100 million times stronger than previously believed possible. Apparently, in experiments the fields are strong enough to allow for energy extraction. If it works out, the result could be a way to make PV panels without using semi-conductors, apparently reducing their cost by 'orders of magnitude'.

But wait, there's more:

In the field of bio-fuels, algae are apparently a big deal. The US Dept of Energy says that algae can produce 30x more energy per acre than conventional biofuels.

Pond scum is apparently being tested at several major power plants as a CO2 scrubber. Smokestacks feed their output into ponds and the algae 'eat' the CO2.

Exxon has partnered with Synthetic Genomics to develop an algae that uses CO2, sunlight,and sea water (to avoid taking water away from irrigation). The algae use sunlight to split water into H2 and O2, then combine it with CO2 to create a hydorcarbon fuel called 'bio oil'. Plants naturally use this at night for repair apparently. They researchers have figured out a way to make the algae voluntarily secrete this bio oil for harvesting (so you don't have to harvest and destroy the algae themselves).

They compare the potential output of the algae to that of corn and palm oil. Corn produces 18 gallons per acre per year and palm oil about 625 gallons per acre per year. Using the gengineered algae, their goal is 10,000 gallons per acre per year produced in a 2 square mile facility. Call it 12.8 million gallans per year - enough to power about 26,000 cars. It is calculated that it would require around 18,750 square miles of production facility(ies) to fuel the entire US fleet of cars. Or about .49 percent of the US land area (or about 17% of the state of Nevada).

The same chapter mentions 7 other bio-fuels initiatives studying ways to produce algae based or other biofuels.

The chapter also acknowledges that there are challenges with scaling any of these up to national production levels, but also notes that such scaling has been done with other products such as anti-malaria drugs.

The chapter than goes on to talk about a host of other, non-biofuel things being worked on, including artificial photosynthesis, It then goes on to start talking about the need for better storage and the challenges associated with that, stating that until the storage problem is figured it, it won't matter how cheap renewables get. Liquid Metal Batteries that cost less than a tenth of current lithium ion devices have apparently been developed. It continues from there (4th generation nuclear reactors that both the GW Bush and Obama Administrations support research on and that are also supported by 'greens' such as Stewart Brand, James Lovelock, and Bill McKibben), but I haven't read that far yet. And need to get to bed anyway.

More later as/when more cool stuff shakes out of this.

So, considering the discussion on renewables and looking at the current OA timeline - do we want to update the timeline a bit with additional mentions of renewables or fourth generation fission reactors or the like? Do we want to move the introduction of fusion back a bit? Otherwise look at this issue in more detail?

Or do we prefer to leave this aspect of things vague in line with our general policy re the 21st century?

We could move fusion back ten years or more and maybe make a vague reference to 'troubles' where political conflicts delay the introduction of renewables, but we should keep it relatively vague. The 21st century looks like it is shaping up to become 'interesting times' in some ways, so there may easily be problems that reduce the effectiveness of these potential technologies.
(10-10-2014, 06:41 AM)stevebowers Wrote: We could move fusion back ten years or more and maybe make a vague reference to 'troubles' where political conflicts delay the introduction of renewables, but we should keep it relatively vague. The 21st century looks like it is shaping up to become 'interesting times' in some ways, so there may easily be problems that reduce the effectiveness of these potential technologies.

Probably fine to leave it as is then. On the scale of the OA timeline, 10yrs is tiny.

Interestingly enough, I just saw a news segment talking about the growth of solar and wind power in the US. Both are growing very fast. Apparently, California installed as much solar generating capacity last year as had been installed in the previous several decades. Fun.

On a rather different note:

I've been thinking about this thread off and on and about the publication referenced (Sustainable Energy w/o the Hot Air). Something was sort of bothering me. Specifically, the 'stack' on this page:

talks about air travel as a factor in the energy use of the UK. Which would mean jet fuel. Which raised the question: Where does the UK get its jet fuel? If it produced it all domestically, that would be one thing. But if it imports it all, it's not really logical to count it against the renewables column for Britain since, basically, the energy the jet fuel represents is coming from elsewhere (yes, it has to be produced somewhere, but should count against the energy budget of the places it comes from).

A bit of research turned up that the UK imported 64% of its aviation fuel in 2012. Which would seem to mean that we should reduce the jet flights section of the column by 64%. Which would seem to push the red column down a bit and put the green one on top.

Or am I missing something?

Lockheed skunkworks is claiming they have made a breakthrough in fusion technology and they expect truck mounted reactors to be available in 10 years.

I'm skeptical... But if they succeeded...
(10-16-2014, 10:50 PM)Fsci123 Wrote: I'm skeptical... But if they succeeded...

This announcement is atypical of Skunk Works. Normally they have a working prototype to show off by the time they announce their results.

Frankly, I'm willing to bet they've come down with a common fusion researcher syndrome, Robertbussarditis. This is a condition where your back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate you'll achieve miracles in a short period because your idea is the greatest ever.

So, I'm responding to this like I am to eCat: I'll check back in a year and see how things are going.
Mike Miller, Materials Engineer

"Everbody's always in favor of saving Hitler's brain, but when you put it in the body of a great white shark, oh, suddenly you've gone too far." -- Professor Farnsworth, Futurama
I guess we could add in some of the invented renewable techs mentioned in this thread to the history and work out how they might be used in OA an dupdate the power generationa nd storage pages, but otherwise leave things alone.

Energycache which basically uses gravel in a ropeway is an interesting mechanical battery for storage
Forgive the late post, but I just came across this

On 09-22-2014, 07:56 AM Drashner1 said:

Frankly, this reminds me a lot of the Limits to Growth report that came out decades ago and predicted that society would have fallen into a centuries long dark ago some decades ago. Notably, it didn't.

No, Drashner1. The Limits to Growth predicted a peak and collapse of industrial civilization around 2030 if trends then being followed continued. They have continued, but we haven't reached the drop-off point yet. It did project that, by about now, it would be too late to prevent this collapse, however. I purchased TLTG when it came out in the Seventies, and even had a version of their World Model on my Apple ][+, so I remember this quite well. They may or may not be correct, but we can't tell from the fact that industrial civilization is still tootling along in 2015.

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