free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 155. DOOMERS AND THE SECOND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS

Monday, November 07, 2005


There are three things certain in life: Death, taxes and the second law of thermodynamics!

The second law of thermodynamics states that concentrated energy always diffuses and becomes less dense. Since we are unable to move back in time, we cannot return to the prior energy density. That's the reason we cannot build a perpetual motion machine. You always get less dense energy, there is no escape. Total entropy is constantly increasing.

Doomers have likened this to fossil fuels as oil stores in the ground, stating that as we use them up it's impossible to grow our economy because energy is becoming less dense and we are always on a loser. Well, before you start crying into your cornflakes, it is worth pointing out that the universe is a pretty big place and has been about for billions of years, older than the U.S. constitution itself. So what does this mean for mankind? Several sources of convenient cheap stored energy will run out. BUT there's a heck of a lot of energy out there that can be harnessed, more than we will ever need, and we aren't likely to run out any time soon even though on a macro level, across billions of light years energy is getting less dense over billions of years. We aren't that important!

Take our nearest star, the sun. This beauty produces all the energy we could ever need:

-The energy released in a typical solar flare is equal to more than all the energy used in our entire civilisation. Source
- In fact, there's enough power from the sun hitting the Earth every day to supply all the world's needs for energy 10,000 times over. Source

Some of that energy creates the wind:
One study also estimated the amount of global wind power that could be harvested at locations with suitably strong winds. The authors found that the locations with sustainable Class 3 winds could produce approximately 72 terawatts and that capturing even a fraction of that energy could provide the 1.6-1.8 terawatts that made up the world's electricity usage in the year 2000. A terawatt is 1 billion watts, a quantity of energy that would otherwise require more than 500 nuclear reactors or thousands of coal-burning plants. Converting as little as 20 percent of potential wind energy to electricity could satisfy the entirety of the world's energy demands, but the researchers caution that there are considerable practical barriers to reaping the wind's potential energy.Source
Some of that energy leads to evaporation and rains depositing water on high ground that can be used for hydro energy (currently 17% of world electricity -- 99% in Norway, 57% in Canada, 55% in Switzerland, 40% in Sweden, 7% in USA).

This excludes other forms of energy that can be harnessed, such as Biomass, Wave, Geothermal and Nuclear.

Take nuclear power:
At the present rate of use, there are 50 years left of low-cost known uranium reserves - however, given that the cost of fuel is a minor cost factor for fission power, more expensive lower-grade sources of uranium could be used in the future [16] [17]. Also, extraction from seawater [18] or granite is possible. Another alternative would be to use thorium as fission fuel in breeder reactors - thorium is three times more abundant in the Earth crust than uranium [19].
Current light water reactors make relatively inefficient use of nuclear fuel, leading to energy waste. More efficient reactor designs or nuclear reprocessing [20] would reduce the amount of waste material generated and allow better use of the available resources. As opposed to current light water reactors which use Uranium-235 (0.7% of all natural uranium), fast breeder reactors use Uranium-238 (99.3% of all natural uranium). It has been estimated that there is anywhere from 10,000 to five billion years worth of Uranium-238 for use in these power plants [21]. Breeder technology has been used in several reactors [22].
Proposed fusion reactors assume the use of deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, as fuel and in most current designs also lithium. Assuming a fusion energy output equal to the current global output and that this does not increase in the future, then the known current lithium reserves would last 3000 years, lithium from sea water would last 60 million years, and a more complicated fusion process using only deuterium from sea water would have fuel for 150 billion years. [23]Source
Of course figuring out how to harness this energy in a cost effective way is another matter. Nevertheless we are never going to run out of energy to harness during the expected life of this planet, so don't panic yet.
--by Wildwell


At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 12:37:00 AM PST, Anonymous JohnDenversRealityCheck said...

The global economy is a 45 trillion dollar a year economy.

By your logic, nobody should worry about the billions of people living in the third world as there is more than enough money to go around for everybody.

After all, it's just a matter of the third world individual harnessing their part of that 45 trillion dollars, right?

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 5:08:00 AM PST, Anonymous Wildwell said...

I'm just stating facts, the solutions are another matter. To me the Peak Oil problem is about:

1. Harnessing alternative energy sources in a cost effect manner, with scalability.

2. More importantly, the way that energy is used. For example Peak oil is a complete non-problem if it wasn't for the hugely unsustainable road networks and to an extent air, urban planning and certain agricultural systems, which provided cheaper food.

Human population is not dependent on cars for example, which also supports energy inefficient oil dependent long distance truck networks. But the point Doomers always miss is most of the previous system was replaced for convenience reasons but was far more energy efficient, non oil dependent and was profitable – it also supported a broadly similar population.

Cheap food has meant butter and Grain Mountains and a lot of waste.

Therefore Peak oil is neither a technological problem nor even an energy problem, rather a human psychology problem. The point of the post is there isn’t an energy crisis is an issue is getting people to change their ways thus in order to allow sustainability. In other words we can get out of the problem if we ‘think’ and telling everyone that the world will end, even if you do think, is unhelpful and downright dangerous.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 10:02:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Peak oil is a complete non-problem if it wasn't for the hugely unsustainable road networks and to an extent air, urban planning and certain agricultural systems, which provided cheaper food."

In other words, if it wasn't for EVERYTHING around you then PO wouldn't be a problem.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 10:19:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only idiots would argue that our current levels of energy usage will never be able to be exceeded(Yes, I know that some argue this, hence they are idiots). The only question is whether we will be able to get the energy we need from another source in time to prevent civ from collapsing. THAT is questionable....

20 more years and we will easily have nanotech solar films for all our electricity needs and possibly able to support electric cars as well. Whether we will be able to make it that long in a state that induces R&D. That is what scares me. :(

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 10:51:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's a bit iffy. But remember a lot of people will buy more effecient cars, take the bus and so on during the transistion period. I expect in 20 years we'll have the technology for the solar/fusion economy.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 11:12:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure about nanotech solar, but for fusion, we definitely won't have it in 20 years that's for sure. Even ITER says that commercial fusion power is at least another 50 years away... and they have been optimistic.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 11:45:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

The fact is there are plentiful of energy source even just in the solar system but the fact of the matter is they are all irrelevant because they can not be harnessed.

The important concept is EROEI, you've got to get more energy back than the amount of energy invested, for an energy retrival approach to be feasible.

For example there are plenty of methane on the planet Neptine, or plenty of hydrogen on Jupiter. We could just send some spaceship out and get full loads of those fuels back to earth and we have plenty to consume. But the fact of the matter is it cost much more fuel to launch a shaceship, than the fuel you can ship back. So it's unworthy.

It is ridiculous to cite the total solar energy the earth receives, or the total energy in a solar flare eruption. You would have to build solar panels with the total area as big as the earth to harness the amount of energy the earth receives from the earth. At roughly $4 per watts for solar panels, you will be talking about $7x10^17 investment, or $10^8 per person on the earth. And the energy cost of manufacturing that many solar panel would consume roughly a million times of all the fossil fuels we have.

And to capture the whole energy of one solar flare, you would have to build a structure at least big enough to enclose the whole of the sun, and probably costing the energy of a couple trillion times the total energy consumed by the earth civilization so far, assuming it can be done.

A much easier alternative would be just to dig a hole on the ground a few hundred kilometer deep. We would be reach the hot core of the earth and be able to build a huge heat engine supplying enough energy to last a few thousand years. But again such a project would consume a couple million times the world's current energy consumption rate, and at the end of day probably return less energy than you invested.

The oil peak is upon us right now and we really do not have time to talk about science fiction scenaries. Let's talk about reality instead of fiction.


At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 12:51:00 PM PST, Anonymous Wildwell said...

Hi Quantoken,

You missed the point. Doomers state we will run out of energy - we won't.

The fact of the matter is we will probably have to use 50%-75% less because of the problems you state - that I agree. But then things can be made a lot more effecient in many cases, from light bulbs to transportation and from the way people live to food miles.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 1:11:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're not talking about solar panels anymore. Note that the second article gives an estimate of 5 years. Let's add another 5-10 years for mass production( which I think is excessive), and we end up with a date around 2020. If the situation does become worse I would imagine that they would get more funding and research, which at the very least will ensure that the product will hit the roofing market by 2020.

It's an optimistic view, but I think it is just as possible as civilization collapsing entirely. This model factors in public and governmental apathy and considers only the free market and research on a technofix that is already underway. There are a lot of factors here, but if we work with our coal supplies, are forced to conserve a bit, I think we can squeak through.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 1:34:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

20 more years and we will easily have nanotech solar films for all our electricity needs and possibly able to support electric cars as well. Whether we will be able to make it that long in a state that induces R&D. That is what scares me.

If oil peaked tomorrow, the world economy would be seriously screwed and there would be a lot of dismay and hardship. But go extinct after twenty years? Come on.

On the other hand, if oil production doesn't begin a serious decline for another decade or two, as I think is more likely, there will still be shortages but they will be far less severe.

The trick is not to cry wolf and make people even more blasé about oil supplies than they are now, but to still get politicians to start taking the problem seriously and preparing for it.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 4:07:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...


Consider these factors and you will not be so optimistic:

1.There are plenty of individual oil field examples that once the peak is reached, it quickly enters a period of rapid decline where the production decline by 5-7% per year, year by year. Look at North Sea. They are declining at 10% per year.

2.Every country suddenly realized the need to stock up and expand their Strategic Petroleum Reserve. USA just authorized to expand the SPR from 700 million barrel to 1 billion barrel. And China, India etc all are building their SPRs. All these SPRs are yet to be filled up and you bet the national governments are DETERMINED to fill them up at all costs, especially when it becomes clear the oil price could only spiral ever higher.

3.The SPR used up because these two hurricanes will have to be refilled. You bet they will want to refill them ASAP, plus the extra 300 mb the Congress authorized.

4.As it becomes clear the world oil is peaking, or has peaked, there is no reason to believe why Saudis, the Russians, and other oil producing countries would want to pump their oil at full speed. Depleting their own resource and leave nothing to their future generations. There are every reason to believe that at some point they will decide to SLOW DOWN, so as to leave a little more to themselves. Once they decide to do that, you bet you can't get them to produce more even at gun point.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 4:26:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

quantoken, new projects come online as others decline, there are very few mega fields which could cause a 3% or more decline.

I'm not just talking conventional fields, new projects includes every alternative (BD, G2L, Coal Liquefaction), so yes while conventional crude fields - some of them anyway (many fields peak and then come back later on) experience rapid decline, there is continuous growth and loss of capacity.

Once loss exceeds growth it will be by a small but increasing number - it's far more likely a non-geological event will cause a problem as rapid-depletion due to geology would be a slow downward slope, as opposed to a "shock"

Now I know he is hated in doomer circles, but please read the reports by Michael Lynch, so far virtually every prediction he has made is spot on, contrary to ASPO, Cambell, etc.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 6:47:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I'm not getting is that doomers keep claiming things like shale oil, coal and other fossil fuels will never be used cause the EROEI is too low(aka it's too costly). But if the prices for oil hit $100 or $200 a gallon, don't you think that oil companies will go straight for those sources? Typically this would happen while oil peaks so the big oil magnates could economically reinvest in such sources and make profit.

I think we will see the peak then a drop then a plateau as these other sources kick in.

Again a doomer will claim that oil companies will act in their own self interest and not give a damn about replacing sources and just hole up somewhere, but their own self interest is in not seeing society collapse to the point where its oil is not needed. You think most oil magnates want to see their money become worthless or see NY, SF, Tokyo and all the big cities collapse? I highly doubt that they want to go hide in fortresses in the hills until it becomes inevitable. Now doomers on the other hand....

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 11:01:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Anonymous you still do NOT get the idea of EROEI. It's not about the cost in monetary term. It's about the cost of energy itself in retriving and refining the energy source.

It costs the energy of 2 to 3 barrels of oil, or the equivalent in other energy form, to retrieve just one barrel of oil from oil shale. It simply is a losing business regardless of how high the oil price goes. If the oil price goes to $200, you do not make $200 per barrel. It cost you $600 dollar in the first place to buy the 3 barrel of oil which is needed in the production of oil shale. So you have a net loss of $400 per barrel of oil produced. The higher the oil price goes, the more you lose.

Or you do not actually burn oil to extract oil from oil shale. But it makes no difference, you might be burning electricity, thinking maybe you may make a profit due to the lower cost of electricity. But it would have been a much better deal for you to not burn the 3 barrels worth of electricity. Instead use it to charge and power an electric car. So you end of saving 3 barrels of oil, which is a much better deal than use it to produce one barrel of shale oil.

Youc an also see that the expectation that electricity be cheaper than oil will not be fulfilled. The economy plays here. People will just drive more electric cars and less gasoline cars, until the cost difference between the two diminishes. At the end of day, when oil is not cheap, neither will be electricity or any other forms of energy.

The whole point is any energy source that does not provide a EROEI bigger than 1, is unworthy and useless, regarless of the energy price.


At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 11:20:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A recent article in the Post Independent quotes a Shell executive saying that it's in situ oil shale project, which is still brand new technology, produces 3.5 barrels of oil for every 1 barrel equivalent expended in production. (Go to Google News and search for "oil shale" 3.5) That's a positive EROEI on a technology that hasn't even gotten off the ground yet. Oil shale is going to happen. And like the tar sands, it will get more and more efficient as we get better and better at extracting it.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 11:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Depleting their own resource and leave nothing to their future generations. There are every reason to believe that at some point they will decide to SLOW DOWN, so as to leave a little more to themselves."

See if the community college in your town teaches Economics 101.

At Tuesday, November 8, 2005 at 11:32:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, I'm completely aware of what EROEI is. The sites I've been looking say that with current technology they burn the equivalent of approximately 2 barrels of oil to recover every 3 barrels of shale oil, which is a net gain of 1.5, no? Now they're using natural gas, but if the costs of oil rise, an investment in a nuclear reactor may not be unthinkable.

I expect electricity to be cheaper after a majority of it can be generated through solar film, or if not cheaper then more ubiquitous, so that we have more of it available. I think I have given a reasonable timeframe for a free market solution, which I have pointed out is already underway. There is no doubt that further rises in oil prices will send additional money and resources their way, if not massive governmental funding.

Look I'm willing to admit that there will be tough times. Hell I'll even admit that some of the more vulnerable sections of our populace(the ill and the elderly) may suffer heavy losses, but I just don't think all is lost yet. Even if one city remains standing thanks to this technology, it will be more than worth it.

At Wednesday, November 9, 2005 at 5:33:00 AM PST, Blogger head lem said...

I totally agree with you that there is no shortage of "energy" given that we have that big fusion pile in the sky (a.k.a. the Sun) going 24/7.

To me, "Peak Oil" is more about an unsustainable social order. Our society is doing nothing and is incapable of doing something about the approaching loss of the one-time gift that Mother Nature has bestowed upon us, namely easily extractable fluidic hydrocarbons (a.k.a. oil). Our future may indeed be one like Cuba's with everyone riding on bicycles because we are incapable of funding R&D for alternative energy collection.


Post a Comment

<< Home