free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 28. ISN'T FERTILIZER MADE FROM CRUDE OIL?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

28. ISN'T FERTILIZER MADE FROM CRUDE OIL?

ANSWER: No. Oil is not used in the production of fertilizer. The macronutrients required by plants are N (Nitrogen), K (Potassium) and P (Phosphorus). Oil is hydrocarbon, made from H (Hydrogen) and C (Carbon). There are no plant nutrients in oil.

Nitrogen fertilizer (N) is made from ammonia, which in turn is manufactured from natural gas, not oil. Natural gas is not peaking, but when it does, fertilizer can be produced from coal, as is done in China today:

For economic and environmental reasons, today natural gas is the feedstock of choice. The use of natural gas is accelerating rapidly, because of economic factors but also and increasingly due to environmental pressures, which work against other fossil fuels. Natural gas is expected to account for about one third of global energy use in 2020, compared with only one fifth in the mid-1990s. However, processes for ammonia production can use a wide range of energy sources. Thus, even when oil and gas supplies eventually dwindle, very large reserves of coal are likely to remain. Coal reserves are sufficient for well over 200 years at current production levels, and their location is geographically diverse. 60% of China's nitrogen fertilizer production is currently based on coal. Source*


Even when coal runs out, there will still be plenty of ammonia available because vast quantities of it are produced daily in the form of human and animal urine (which, ideally, we should be using for fertilizer right now).

Finally, potassium (K) comes from potash, and phosphorus (P) comes from phosphate. Both are mined minerals in plentiful supply.

PEAK OIL POSES NO THREAT WHATSOEVER TO THE SUPPLY OF FERTILIZER
------

For more information on peak oil and fertilizer, please see:
314. PEAK OIL AND FERTILIZER: NO PROBLEM and
321. PEAK PHOSPHORUS? HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON

12 Comments:

At Friday, August 19, 2005 at 7:15:00 AM PDT, Blogger James said...

This is an important point to make when people equate Peak Oil = Die-ff. Rising energy prices will make food more expensive, but only slightly, as the hydrocarbon input will keep price increases in penny and nickel jumps, even as oil soars in price. If it ever becomes an issue, certain amounts of oil can be earmarked for agricultural production, to maintain the stability of the food supply. And as JD points out, there are more ways to produce the nitrogen than merely using oil (e.g. NG and coal)

The fertilizer argument is therefore is a non-starter. Transport of foodstuffs is the main PO issue that needs to be addressed in food production, IMO.

 
At Tuesday, September 20, 2005 at 11:07:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original article said Natural gas is not peaking...

Here I would have to disagree. Because of the unique difficulties of transporting natural gas, what essentially matters is whether peaking is occuring within a geographic region that can be served by relatively inexpensive pipeline technology. When Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon-Mobil states unequivocally that North American natural gas is past peak, then natural gas is quite probably peaking for the majority of your American, Canadian, and Hispanic audience. Even if I concede that worldwide natural gas is not past peak, then fertilizer has to be manufactured off-shore and transported to the U.S.... requiring non-renewable energy in the typical case to do so.

http://www.pastpeak.com/archives/2005/06/exxon_natural_g.htm

 
At Tuesday, September 20, 2005 at 1:15:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Kurt in Portland said...

Anonymous commenter #2 back again...

Coal reserves are sufficient for well over 200 years at current production levels...

Two problems with this... first, demand is not static, but rather like everything else in our growth-oriented society it is increasing. One number I heard and find reasonable is 3% per year (see link at end). 3% probably understates demand significantly, since the point of the article is that coal will take on increased demand that formerly was satisfied by natural gas. So, then it is a mathematical problem: if coal lasts 200 years at constant consumption, when does it become depleted when usage goes up 3% per year? In equations one would write

200 X = integral(X times 1.03^^i, over interval 0 to N-1)

where X is current consumption, N is number of years it lasts under growth scenario

I won't bore you with the calculus details, but the answer is 55 years. This is much shorter than 200 years, due to the compounding effect of exponential growth.

Secondly, and more importantly, this statement about how long coal will last has fallen into the classic trap of confusing the end of a resource with the peak of a resource. The real issue with coal, as it is with any other non-renewal resource, is when do we have to start living with less and less each year... I would postulate that if the end of the resource is within sight at 55 years, then the peak is much, much closer than that. And the peak of coal will have the usual effects of making coal increasingly unaffordable for many of its uses, including making fertilizer.

Finally, a bonus debunk point on this article is that energy prices move more or less in tandem, because there is overlap in some of their markets (not all, of course). But when oil prices go up, demand that can shift will try to shift to an alternative, perhaps one like natural gas or coal. This has the effect of driving up prices on these commodities, which in turn makes them less affordable. This hardly supports the thesis that Peak Oil presents no threat whatsoever to the supply of fertilizer. Or perhaps the supply will be there, but at a price that limits its use.

You can listen to or watch Dr. Albert Bartlett of the Univ. of Colorado Boulder discuss the coal question at length here: http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/lectures/461

 
At Wednesday, September 21, 2005 at 12:11:00 AM PDT, Blogger JD said...

Kurt, your arguments are weak:

i) Countries which are past their peak in natural gas production will have difficulty obtaining fertilizer.
This is refuted by countries like Japan, which have no natural gas at all, and yet import all the gas and fertilizer they need. It is also refuted by countries like China, which make fertilizer from coal.
That US natural gas peak is no more threatening than the US oil peak in 1970. Yes, American crude oil production peaked in 1970, but what harm did it do? Are there some oil-based products which America cannot make, or obtain, due to its oil peak?

ii) The U.S. won't be able to import fertilizer because it takes non-renewable energy to do so.
This is just grasping at straws. T-shirts from China require non-renewable energy to ship them to the U.S. That does not mean that
the flow of T-shirts is going to stop. Non-renewable energy is not peaking, or running out.

iii) Assuming rampant demand, coal is going to peak 30 years after natural gas peaks.
That definitely is a serious issue which needs to be discussed. Nevertheless, it's quite far into the future, and we've got a whole series of stalling options available: divert gas from other applications to fertilizer, import gas fertilizer, make fertilizer from coal, use urine as fertilizer, make fertilizer from uranium etc. At best, you have shown we are going to be in trouble 50 years after oil peaks, provided we don't take any proactive measures. That's hardly a "peak oil causes fertilizer shortage" scenario.

 
At Wednesday, September 28, 2005 at 10:20:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, look, you made a blanket statement: natural gas is not peaking. My point is that natural gas HAS peaked on this continent, which is what matters to people on this continent. My implication, which I should have spelled out, is not that fertilizer can't be imported from those parts of the world that have not yet peaked. Rather, it is that the cost is going to go up, AND it is going to require infrastructure (plants, ships, ports, etc), and non-renewable fuel to move the fertilizer. Both the ability to build that infrastructure and the availability of fuel to power it will come under increasing pressure post-oil-peak (again, increasing pressure will probably translate into higher cost). As regards the cost, this is already rising dramatically, as the following newspaper article makes clear; note that the second paragraph refers specifically to the rising cost of fuel charges for delivery.

Don't expect the cost of feeding your lawn to jump substantially— it's farmers who are getting drilled by higher fertilizer costs. A few years ago, a ton of nitrogen-based anhydrous ammonia, a popular farm fertilizer, cost about $150. Now it's more than $400 a ton, according to Harold Hummel, general manager of Farmers Co-op. The high-rising cost of natural gas — a primary ingredient of nitrogen fertilizers — is the primary culprit. Katrina won't help matters. A lot of natural gas is produced in the Gulf Coast.

High fuel prices are exacerbating the problem because of the long distances that must be traveled to deliver fertilizer to far-flung farms. Fuel prices have caused a $40 to $60 increase in the per-ton cost of anhydrous ammonia, Hummel said. The co-op's trucking costs are up $150,000 this year over last.


This was from the Nebraska Journal-Star, see http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2005/09/18/local/doc432ca4b6ba91b793060122.txt

Next you say, Are there some oil-based products which America cannot make, or obtain, due to its oil peak?

Well, no, of course not, because the rest of the world had not yet peaked, and oil is a fungible, relatively easily transportable commodity. Natural gas is more difficult (and more expensive) to transport, due to the need to compress to a liquid and maintain a cryogenic temperature. And again, it won't be that it can't be done, but it will be done at higher cost.

With regard to your example of t-shirts from China, no, they won't stop immediately, but again the price will rise, at least in part due to the transportation cost of fuel.

With regard to coal, again my point is that coal peak will not be far off, and price will rapidly become an issue once coal peaks. If the example of the last 30 years is any indicator of how well our society plans for a hydrocarbon peak, you can bet that no significant preparation for a coal peak will be undertaken until it is upon us.

Look, I'll stop picking at nits here, and go right for the jugular: the assertion of this blog entry is disingenious. Someone reading this blog entry would likely skim over your bold statement about natural gas not peaking, and there being plenty of coal, and conclude that because oil doesn't contain N-P-K that there's no problem with fertilizer as the world enters Peak Oil. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this can be verified in every agricultural area of the U.S. by a simple phone call to a farmer's co-op. Fertilizer prices are rising directly as a result of the dropping supply of natural gas on this continent. Fertilizer delivery charges are rising as a direct consequence of peak oil, or at least near-peak oil. Yes, you can say that FERTILIZER ISN"T MADE FROM CRUDE OIL, but there's a long, long jump between that and FERTILIZER AVAILABILITY AND PRICE ARE NOT A PROBLEM GOING FORWARD INTO THE FUTURE.

Kurt (again)

 
At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 9:36:00 PM PDT, Blogger JD said...

My point is that natural gas HAS peaked on this continent, which is what matters to people on this continent.

I know, kurt. But it's like I said: oil peaked in the U.S. in 1970, and that's not a problem. The U.S. has to get on the stick and start importing LNG. Write your congressman.

Natural gas is more difficult (and more expensive) to transport, due to the need to compress to a liquid and maintain a cryogenic temperature. And again, it won't be that it can't be done, but it will be done at higher cost.

Yes, the cost will increase, but the important question is "how much will it increase?" The answer is: not very much. In fact, importing LNG is the way to bring the cost down.
Running the whole country on LNG will be more expensive than the previous status quo, but it's not going to cause a catastrophe. I live in Japan, and they import all their natural gas as LNG, and nobody bats an eye about it. They have to pay higher prices for it, but that's no big deal because they don't waste it like Americans. Nobody over here heats their whole goddam house with natural gas. They use space heaters to heat the place they are sitting, and they turn the heater off when they sleep or leave the house.

As for the U.S. fertilizer costs: I hate to be blunt but the U.S. made its own bed, and now it has to sleep in it. You fucked up, and wasted it all. I hope it causes a lot of pain and soul-searching, so you'll finally take a closer look at your gluttonous overconsumption.

To the farmers, I would say: quit sitting on your ass and complaining. Improvise. Play jazz. Use nitrogen a little more conservatively so that most of it doesn't get flushed down the Mississippi River and kill everything in it. There's lots of ways to fertilize the land. I recommend organic agriculture and soil building. Why don't they call up a factory pig farm and see if they can't get some piss and shit for their fields. The economic signals are telling the farmers something. They need to heed those signals instead of sitting there like a deer in the headlights wondering what "we" are going to do about it.

 
At Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 10:51:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, at least I can find a lot that I agree with in your last response.

Kurt in Portland

 
At Wednesday, March 8, 2006 at 1:31:00 AM PST, Blogger Epimethee said...

this post is ridiculous.
That's the same as saying peak oil poses no threat to the building industry, housing are made of wood and stone.

Well i'll tell you what in order to make fertiliser or houses, you need energy.
THis energy can come from oil, gaz, coal any fossil energy, from wind, sun, water falls, tides or from animal including human energy.

If there's no efficient way to get tons of renewable energies we'll be back to animal and human and animal energy need food intake.

Basically this will dwarf the energy efficiency of agriculture.

 
At Thursday, May 3, 2007 at 8:30:00 AM PDT, Blogger Scott said...

Let me translate the rantings of the Peakers.

DOOM DOOM DOOM DOOM!!! Give up! Gaia shall Prevail over the BLASPHEMER! She shall shake off the CURSE that is humanity! All hail the comming DOOM! Nothing can SAVE you from the DOOM except FAITH in the MIGHTY Gaia! To follow her ways is the only SALVATION from your DOOM! Surender thine technologies and comforts and join us in commune with Gaia and all her glory!

Religious fanatics are all the same, it doesn't matter if doom rides with four horseman or an empty oil tanker, the only salvation is to join the cult and give over your worldly possessions so the cult leaders can live like kings while you wallow in glorious poverty.

 
At Friday, January 11, 2008 at 10:22:00 PM PST, Blogger Matt Picio said...

Please cite your source for phosphate being a mineral with no shortage of supply. I have heard a number of arguments to the contrary and would like to explore the matter further. Thanks.

 
At Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 2:49:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

Hi matt, I've added some links to the post which you should find helpful.

 
At Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 1:51:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Sean said...

At 9/21/2005 12:11:00 AM, JD said...
Kurt, your arguments are weak:
i) Countries which are past their peak in natural gas production will have difficulty obtaining fertilizer.
This is refuted by countries like Japan, which have no natural gas at all, and yet import all the gas and fertilizer they need. It is also refuted by countries like China, which make fertilizer from coal.


Isn't there a basic requirement of supply from other countries there? What happens when the supplier countries start running low on the resource? Apart from the price going up and up to the importing nations? They aren't going to want to export it anymore either, as they will need it for their own food supply -- somewhat like the export limits Wales now has on mined slate for roofing.

That US natural gas peak is no more threatening than the US oil peak in 1970. Yes, American crude oil production peaked in 1970, but what harm did it do? Are there some oil-based products which America cannot make, or obtain, due to its oil peak?

lololol. How about panic about where the oil is going to come from next? How about invading Iraq and Afganistan to obtain some sort of geopolitical influence in an oil-rich area and obtaining suitable corridors for Western-friendly pipelines -- no, make that Anglosphere-friendly pipelines, under the pretext of a 'terrorist' threat. And what country will be invaded next as the oil continues to run out, and how will you influence oil contracts with countries you can't invade? And all of the EU, Russia, China and India are now competing for those same resources. The answer to these questions are much the same as for i) above. Posters on this site are a little oblivious to world events and political machinations it would seem. While you people are saying it's all steady as she goes, political strategists and oil executives are doing all the panicking and invading for you. Talk about complacent and ostrich-like.

 

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