free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


POD regular Al Fin has a new post at the Al Fin Blog with more details on the race for lunar energy.

Navigating the links, there is a fascinating interview in Space Review with Gerald Kulcinski, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

Professor Dennis Kulcinski

Prof. Kulcinski has a working helium-3 fusion reactor in his lab:
Professor Kulcinski's lab is running the only helium-3 fusion reactor in the world. He has an annual research budget that is barely into six figures and allows him to have five graduate research assistants working on the project. Compared to what has been spent on other fusion projects around the world, the team’s accomplishments are impressive. Helium-3 would not require a tokomak reactor like the multibillion-dollar one being developed for the international ITER project. Instead, his design uses an electrostatic field to contain the plasma instead of an electromagnetic field. His current reactor contains spherical plasma roughly ten centimeters in diameter. It can produce a sustained fusion with 200 million reactions per second producing about a milliwatt of power while consuming about a kilowatt of power to run the reactor. It is nuclear power without highly radioactive nuclear waste.
Here's his vision of the future:
Imagine a world thirty years from now. NASA has led the way to returning humans to the Moon and is in the final steps of preparing for human exploration and settlement of Mars. On Earth our environment is cleaner with reliable fusion reactors steadily replacing coal-fired plants and fission reactors. The fuel for these reactors is being mined from the surface of the Moon relegating the mercury, radium and carbon dioxide-laced exhaust from coal-fired plants to "the ash heap of history". The growth of highly radioactive waste from fission power plants is following coal into history. Dependency on highly volatile regions of our planet for energy supplies is steadily diminishing. Clean power is allowing economic development of the world to continue, lifting a higher and higher percentage of the population out of poverty. Is this a possible future for our country and the planet? Professor Kulcinski and his small team of researchers just might have the answer and NASA might provide access to the key enabling resource.
-- by JD


Peak oilers often dismiss the USGS World Petroleum Assessment 2000 due to the "failure of its discovery forecast". peakearl from the Oil Drum says it well:
My understanding is the USGS report is based on a statistical procedure, not geology. The procedure would predict vast amounts of oil in many regions, and enough years have passed to see if their procedure had any validity. Predicted levels of discovery have not occurred at all, and I think have invalidated the analysis, which wasn't based on any known oil. Deffayes has commented that we are a full Middle East behind their predictions, and it's getting worse with time, as discoveries continue to shrink in number and size, with no sign of the trend reversing.
This "discrediting" of the USGS stems from the following diagram, drawn by Colin Campbell (click to enlarge):

Allegedly, the USGS made the "predictions" indicated by the green, blue and purple lines, and the green and blue lines are totally out of step with actual past discoveries (indicated by the red bars). Therefore, the USGS has been totally discredited, and we don't have to pay attention to the USGS, or the sort of geological information which they analyze. There are a number of serious problems with this story.

1) The "forecasts" drawn by Colin Campbell are nowhere to be found in the USGS 2000 Assessment.

2) The USGS explicitly says that it is not making a forecast:
Note that the geology-based Seventh Approximation does not attempt to predict volumes of conventional resources that will actually be discovered in a given assessment time frame. To do so would require full knowledge of future petroleum economics, exploration technology, and exploration effort at the assessment-unit level. Rather, the Seventh Approximation estimates volumes of conventional resources having the potential to be discovered in the stated time frame.Source
3) Colin Campbell frankly admits that he doesn't understand the methodology of the USGS report:
"Aaron asked:

The methodology for estimating potential discoveries of oil is expressed by the USGS in F5, F50, & F95 probabilities. Given the decline in significant new discoveries of oil in recent history, is averaging F5 & F95 predictions still a valid approach for determining the mean estimate?

Dr. Colin J. Campbell:

I am not expert in Probability Theory. They plot amount up the Y axis and assessed probability along the X axis. The area under the curve is the Mean value. There are also Mode and Median values. The system probably has merit in assessing an individual prospect where there are actual parameters of thickness, porosity etc to compare, but I am sceptical when guessing the number and size of fields to be found, especially in little known areas. A better approach is to extrapolate past discovery trends."Source
4) If wrong forecasts mean we should ignore somebody's data or methods, doesn't that mean we should ignore Colin Campbell, who has a long and embarassing string of past forecasting failures?


The USGS has not been discredited at all. The "failed forecasts of the USGS" are nothing more than a fraudulent straw man cooked up by Colin Campbell because THE USGS NEVER MADE A DISCOVERY FORECAST. Rather, they tried to estimate the amount of oil in the ground, which is subject to being discovered. They tried -- by exhaustively surveying the geological potential of every important sedimentary basin in the world -- to estimate the amount of undiscovered oil in the ground, regardless of political and economic factors.

The bottom line is this: The USGS World Petroleum Assessment 2000 is a gold mine of geological information, and it should be respected for what it is, not dismissed. Let's quit pretending that geological data is irrelevant to determining how much oil is in the ground. Discovery trends are one way of understanding future discovery potential. Looking closely at the geology is another way.
-- by JD


Previously, we've described the efforts of Dr. Anthony N. Stranges -- a historian from Texas A&M. Dr. Stranges is an authority on Nazi coal liquefaction, and manages the Fischer-Tropsch Archive.

The following link is another well-researched resource on Nazi coal liquefaction from a military site. The paper was written in 1981 by Dr. Peter W. Becker of the University of South Carolina, and gives numerous interesting details on how liquid fuels decided the outcome of WWII in Europe. Octane played a surprisingly critical role.

The paper also describes some (apparently aborted) plans by the West Germans to scale up coal liquefaction in the early 1980s.

The Role of Synthetic Fuel in World War II Germany
-- by JD

Thursday, January 26, 2006


In my opinion, the USGS is unfairly and glibly denigrated in peak oil circles. In response to the criticisms of peak oilers, Ronald R. Charpentier of the USGS has written a presentation entitled The Future of Petroleum: Optimism, Pessimism or Something Else defending the USGS methodology.

This bit is particularly interesting:
Perhaps a more fundamental difference among resource assessors, however, is what can be termed the non-trendologists versus the trendologists. “Trendology” is here considered to be the use of fairly simple statistical extrapolation without consideration of many complicating factors. Many prominent pessimists are trendologists, but that approach is by no means confined to pessimists. The use of simple statistical extrapolation methods has the advantages of being easy, fast, and cheap. These extrapolation methods generally have modest data requirements and can be performed quickly by one or a few persons. More detailed geological assessments, on the other hand, have much larger data and effort requirements. The 1995 USGS assessment of U.S. petroleum resources (Gautier and others, 1995) and the 2000 USGS assessment of non-U.S. petroleum resources (U.S. Geological Survey World Energy Assessment Team, 2000) each required about 100 person-years of work over several years to complete. As many of the prominent trendologists are retired from industry or academia or both, these levels of effort are just not available to them.
He refutes the peak oiler dogma that large fields are found and developed first:
The finding of larger fields early in exploration is not necessarily true at scales other than the play level because larger plays are not necessarily developed earlier. The factors that tend to make larger fields within a play be found earlier do not make the larger plays be developed first. On the contrary, plays tend to be developed in order of ease of exploration and development— often those with shallow reservoirs or easily detectable structural traps are developed first. Some large plays may not be developed until technologic improvements can make them viable.
This is also a very important point:
The potential for new plays cannot be evaluated by statistics alone, but requires more detailed geologic evaluation, which requires considerably more effort. New plays, if they exist, may or may not be of large size. This cannot be evaluated from the basin’s exploration history because, as the previous figure shows, the plays were not developed in order of size.
The above highlights a very weak point in the imminent peak argument. Statistics and trends alone cannot tell you how much oil remains to be discovered. The imminent peaker argument always relies on the unproven and shaky assumption that "the world (or region X) has been thoroughly explored and not much oil is likely to be found." This is just hand-waving, with nothing to back it up. It seems clear to me that the question "How much new oil is likely to be discovered in region X?" should be decided by a detailed survey of the geology of region X, not by past trends in discovery which are influenced by economics. And that is exactly what the USGS has tried to do. Consider, for example, this exhaustive survey of the geology of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the surrounding on- and off-shore zones: Total Petroleum Systems of the Paleozoic and Jurassic, Greater Ghawar Uplift and Adjoining Provinces of Central Saudi Arabia and Northern Arabian-Persian Gulf. (I encourage you to thumb through this pdf page by page. You'll find that the USGS knows an astounding amount about the geology and potential of these regions.) Why should we trust Matt Simmons facile comments about Saudi Arabia being all played out, when the USGS has looked at the subsurface geological structures in painstaking detail, and come to a different conclusion? It would be nice if somebody had an answer to that question better than the standard peak oiler response that the USGS is an organization of idiots.
-- by JD


Back in post #191 part one: an economic frontier, we looked at the economic potential for future growth that space offers, as well as a few ideas on how we can (and in many cases already have) immediately begin efforts towards achieving these goals. Many people naturally remain unconvinced on the feasibility of future growth in space, which is a common but uninformed attitude that we at POD hope to change, but hopefully some people can at least begin to see the possibilities. Space is the reason the infinite growth paradigm will not fail humanity any time soon.

However economic growth through a new and potentially vast area of industry is only part of the story. While we need new economic growth into the future, we also need new growth in our resource base. We've previously looked at several possibilities for attaining large amounts of power from space, such as #5 power satellites, #51 space mirrors, and lunar solar power (#33 and #104), but a very important part of industrialising space, and meeting Earths future resource requirements, is also attaining non-energy resources from space; minerals and free metals (and with them, volatiles). In fact it's the key to succeeding at space industrialisation. This isn't because we are about to run out of metals here on Earth, or even because of the considerable dollar value attached to many of these resources, but because attaining mineral resources from space is what will allow further and ever more complex space projects to be achieved. We need resources from space to build the underlying space industrial infrastructure, and we need this infrastructure to make future space developments not only economic, but extremely prosperous. In later parts of this series we will take a closer look at the specific resources available to us near Earth and how we will utilize them, but in this follow up post to #191, I will primarily focus on the importance of establishing the basic space infrastructure, and begin to explain how this can be achieved in the short term, allowing all the marvellous space based energy solutions we've previously discussed to become a reality.

Common perceptions
When mentioning the potential for exploiting resources from space, I've found that many people often have faulty assumptions about how this would be attempted. Here's how many people naturally imagine this process:

"Blast-off a massive rocket to escape Earth's orbit, with about 70% of its weight being rocket fuel, to carry a specially designed and extremely expensive habitat and mineral processing system along with a bunch of very expensively trained astronaut miners, land on an asteroid or the moon, process as much material as the vehicle can carry, and then use the remaining fuel to rocket the payload and equipment and astronauts back to Earth. But I've done the math and have worked out that you will only bring back material totalling a tiny fraction of the original mass of the rocket. That better be some damn valuable material."

This is ridiculous. Consider an analogy of the equivalent happening on a regular old mining project here on Earth:

"We've found a rich deposit of uberrock. Here's how we plan to mine it. We are designing and building a massive truck, bigger then any truck you've ever seen. It's going to have a gigantic bed to hold a specifically designed ore processing system, and up the front a cabin to house all of the miners. Most of the trucks mass is taken up by the fuel tanks, because we've heard there are no gas stations on the way to uberrock valley. So once this super truck is ready, and the men all trained up, we'll send the truck from our home base, several hundred miles to uberrock valley where it will mine the uber rock for six weeks straight. Then we load up the cargo hold with all the uberrock we've processed, and with what fuel remains in the truck we will drive the truck, complete with the ore processing system, the miners and our uberrock cargo, hundreds of miles back home to deliver the uberrock to you. Then we will turn around and go get the next load."

Yes doing things in space is expensive because we need to first escape Earth's gravity well. This is why we first must focus on establishing a basic infrastructure for the purpose of making our activities in space economic, just like any regular Earth-based industrial venture.

Sustainable development
Setting up sustainable processes in space, utilizing resources from space, must not be about single missions or programs. Past space efforts have always been about single missions, which is why people think this way. We send men to the moon on a massive rocket; they land, collect some rock samples, plant a flag, play some golf for the camera, and return to Earth.

So people tend to follow the same logic for collecting resources from space: build and send a massive rocket with mining equipment, collect what you can, bring it all back to Earth. This concept is easily debunked as being a money sink. Just as a standard mining company on Earth mines resources by setting up base on location, building all of the necessary infrastructure to extract, process and transport the product, so too must space mining first establish the necessary facilities to extract, process and transport materials in space. People usually disregard space-based solutions such as lunar power or solar satellite arrays because they visualise massive projects involving sending all the materials in expensive rockets and assembling pre-constructed parts in space; in other words, they imagine single missions/programs. Instead of such inefficient and unsustainable plans we need to first establish simple facilities and processes that will allow greater and more complex missions to be attempted down the track.

The goal is to get to a point where any further space missions, be it building more solar arrays, processing asteroid material, or NASA's traditional dream of sending men to Mars, isn't achieved by some massive and prohibitively expensive program, but rather by utilising pre-established resources in space. So instead of thinking about single missions or programs, we must look towards establishing sustainable long-term infrastructure and a permanent industrial presence in space.

False expectations
At this point people often imagine large Earth-like industrial facilities being set up at enormous costs. Perhaps they think of the artists impressions we've all seen similar to this one:

This is an incorrect expectation of initial space industrialisation, which can be fatal to the space effort. Just consider what our unrealistic expectations of our future in space after the Apollo missions has done: people lost hope in space because we still aren't even close to living in big spinning wheels like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The initial space infrastructure will be nothing so grand as what people often imagine as being necessary. We must build up one step at a time. Did European's colonising new lands start by building massive industrial complexes? For that matter, did they take all of their timber and bricks and mortar with them from Europe? Of course not, yet for some reason this is precisely the equivalent of what many people imagine being necessary to begin industrialising space. Establishing the initial infrastructure must be a relatively low-tech and relatively inefficient process (as far as modern industrial practices go) to be economic and sustainable. So instead of imagining futuristic moon bases like the concept art above, maybe imagining a more low-tech approach along the lines of this NASA concept art

might better place future expectations, and hopefully help people see that this future is probable, and not simply the dream stuff of science and technology geeks.

First steps
Industrialising space and utilizing in-situ resources is a daunting task; we can't just go and build all these facilities tomorrow, it must be done in small steps. The first step certainly isn't to mine space resources to bring back to Earth to be used in ordinary industry and economies (this is a later goal, but not the starting point). The first step is to extract space resources to be used in space in the construction of further facilities, and therefore greatly reducing costs of further space missions. The very fact that a resource is already in space makes it of great value, because it saves the need to launch excessive materials and weight into orbit.

By first stocking a collection of basic supplies in space we automatically save billions of dollars in launch costs. Consider the possibilities if deposits of water, liquid oxygen, silicon, free metals and basic minerals, even simple materials such as ceramics or fibreglass, were attained and processed from near Earth objects and permanently stocked in Earth orbit. These basic essentials for sustaining humans, for spacecraft panelling, for rocket propellant, for general building materials, could be eliminated from launch costs, greatly increasing the feasibility of any future space missions. We currently spend billions of dollars globally each year on launching these basic essential materials into orbit for various missions, so there is most certainly a market for these resources. The first steps to industrialising space is extracting, processing and storing basic materials for use in space, which is the key to making space cheaply accessible for the future.

Just as current civilisation (apparently) is designed to run not just on oil but on cheap oil, future civilisation will be designed to run not just on space resources, but on cheap space resources. Cheap space resources become available as you cut down the considerable launch costs by building the bulk of spacecraft and facilities in space with materials attained from space. Learning how to "live off the land" as it were, by extracting basic materials from near earth objects and using those materials to build more complex facilities and spacecraft, is what will allow humanity to easily provide virtually infinite resources to all people, far into the future.
-- by Omnitir

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Omnitir will be continuing his series on space industrialization in the next article, but first I wanted to post this related news as a warm-up:
Russia to Mine "Ideal Fuel" on the Moon by 2020

Created: 25.01.2006 19:19 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 19:19 MSK, 8 hours 41 minutes ago


Russia is planning to mine a rare fuel on the moon by 2020 with a permanent base and a heavy-cargo transport link, a Russian space official quoted by AFP said on Wednesday.

"We are planning to build a permanent base on the moon by 2015 and by 2020 we can begin the industrial-scale delivery... of the rare isotope Helium-3," Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Energia space corporation, was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying at an academic conference.

The International Space Station (ISS) would play a key role in the project and a regular transport relay to the moon would be established with the help of the planned Clipper spaceship and the Parom, a space capsule intended to tug heavy cargo containers around space, Sevastyanov said.

Helium-3 is a non-radioactive isotope of helium that can be used in nuclear fusion.

Rare on earth but plentiful on the moon, it is seen by some experts as an ideal fuel because it is powerful, non-polluting and generates almost no radioactive by-product.Source
This is a positive sign, which will hopefully lead to increased competition among the great powers (US, EU, Russia, China, Japan) in the race for space dominance. Russia is the clear leader at the moment. They have a long, illustrious history as space pioneers, are the current world leaders in cheap, reliable launch technology, and shouldn't be facing any funding problems for a long time due to the windfalls provided by their vast remaining fossil fuel deposits.
-- by JD

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Among commentators on the peak oil/energy scene, I like Amory Lovins the best. His thinking is the closest to my own.

Amory Lovins: The Genius

First of all, he hasn't got a drop of doom in him. This is Amory from a new article in Discover magazine:
When I give talks about energy, the audience already knows about the problems. That's not what they've come to hear. So I don't talk about problems, only solutions. But after a while, during the question period, someone in the back will get up and give a long riff about all the bad things that are happening—most of which are basically true. There's only one way I've found to deal with that. After this person calms down, I gently ask whether feeling that way makes him more effective.

As René Dubos, the famous biologist, once said, "Despair is a sin."
Secondly, he's of the opinion (like me) that we don't need oil. His most recent book is called Winning the Oil Endgame, and here's the blurb:
Winning the Oil Endgame offers a strategy for ending US oil dependence, and is applicable worldwide. There are many analyses of the oil problem. This synthesis is the first roadmap of the oil solution -- one led by business for profit.
As you can see, Amory thinks we have a bright, capitalist future without oil, and thus qualifies as a genuine peak oil heretic.

Third, he's got this great idea called "End-use/least-cost analysis":
Until then, the energy problem was generally considered to be: Where do we get more energy? People were preoccupied with where we could get more energy of any kind, from any sources, for any price—as if all our needs were the same. I started instead at the other end of the problem: What do we want the energy for?

You don't generally want lumps of coal or barrels of sticky black goo. You want comfort, illumination, mobility, baked bread, and so on. And for each of these end uses we should ask: How much energy, of what quality, at what scale, from what source will do the job in the cheapest way? That's now called the end-use/least-cost approach, and a lot of the work we do at Rocky Mountain Institute involves applying it to a wide range of situations.

End-use/least-cost analysis begins with a simple question: What are you really trying to do? If you go to the hardware store looking for a drill, chances are what you really want is not a drill but a hole. And then there's a reason you want the hole. If you ask enough layers of "Why?"—as Taiichi Ohno, the inventor of the Toyota production system, told us—you typically get to the root of the problem.
This nicely captures what's wrong with most of the peak oil debate. Too many people (like "Dick Cheney" peak oilers) are hung up on our "need" for oil and gas. (HOW WILL WE MEET THE DEMAND??!!!??) We need to stop obsessing about where to get the stuff, and, instead, think through what the hell we're trying to do with it.

Amory's Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), located in frigid Aspen, Colorado, is a model of energy efficiency, which even has banana gardens. So why don't we all live in houses like this? Lovins 4,000 square foot home has a monthly electrical bill of $5 with 20-year-old technology. So why exactly do we "need" nuclear and coal power plants?

Amory definitely cuts to the root of our problems, but it's funny how peak oilers respond to him. They don't talk about him much. Some see him as a another deluded soul, dreaming of an optimistic future which will never come. But some respect him. Which is weird, because he is basically Peak Oil Debunker #1.
-- by JD

Saturday, January 21, 2006


The peak oil "hot topic" these days is a report by Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW) suggesting that Kuwait's oil reserves are half of what is currently claimed. Here's the Reuters report:
Kuwait oil reserves only half official estimate-PIW
Friday 20 January 2006, 1:32pm EST
LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - OPEC producer Kuwait's oil reserves are only half those officially stated, according to internal Kuwaiti records seen by industry newsletter Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW). "PIW learns from sources that Kuwait's actual oil reserves, which are officially stated at around 99 billion barrels, or close to 10 percent of the global total, are a good deal lower, according to internal Kuwaiti records," the weekly PIW reported on Friday. It said that according to data circulated in Kuwait Oil Co (KOC), the upstream arm of state Kuwait Petroleum Corp, Kuwait's remaining proven and non-proven oil reserves are about 48 billion barrels.Source
This news triggered a lot of whoops and teeth-baring in the peak oil monkey cage over the last few days, but that just demonstrates the peak oil community's insecurities and desperate need for immediate validation.

The whole hullaballoo is based on just about the flimsiest evidence imaginable. First of all, the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) flatly denies it:
PIW's Kuwait report 'not accurate'
Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2006
Kuwait City
A senior Kuwaiti oil official has cast doubt on the accuracy of a report by industry newsletter Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW) that the Opec producer's oil reserves are only half those officially stated.

'I have no idea where they got this figure from ... I don't think it's accurate,' Farouk Al Zanki, the chairman of state-run Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) said in Kuwait City.Source
Second of all, the provenance of the information is highly suspect. The peak oilers are operating on a third hand report in Reuters, of a second hand article in PIW (which basically no one has read because it's behind a subscription fire wall), reporting on an internal document from the Kuwait Oil Company which no one has seen, and which was leaked by an unnamed source for unknown reasons. Who leaked it, and why? I think I'll wait for the story behind this document before I stop pressing the snooze button.

Sooo... It looks like we're right back where we started from. The Kuwaitis say they have the reserves, and the peak oilers say they don't, and there's not a shred of bona fide evidence to decide the question. Of course, that's not a problem for the peak oilers because they believe it's all a conspiracy, and that's why they don't need evidence. The lack of evidence is just further proof that a nefarious conspiracy is operating.

Anyway, it's all a tempest in tea cup. Even if the Kuwaiti reserves are halved, who cares? How quickly, and to what extent, will that affect oil production in the next five or ten years? Not much. In fact, the peak oilers have carefully avoided the question of what downgraded Kuwaiti reserves would do to the world supply curve. Their reasoning is on this level: "The Kuwaiti oil reserves got downgraded, so look out! The shit is going to hit the fan soon!" Yes, now they can point to a 3rd hand report which has been denied by official sources, but they still can't point to PEAK OIL, and that's all that really matters.

Even if the Kuwaiti report is true, and all the other OPEC reserves are overstated, and peak oil happened last year, I'm still not particularly concerned about it because: a) I've admitted and accepted the reality of peak oil from the very beginning, and b) We don't really need oil. Today, it's primarily being used to fuel frivolous lifestyle bullshit like single-person commuting in the U.S.

The doomers are going to have to work a lot harder if they want to debunk the debunkers. And as long as civilization and the economy are up and running, the doomers will remain WRONG WRONG WRONG.
-- JD


As reported in #139, Jim Jarrell (a petroleum engineer from the Ross Smith Energy Group) has written a hard-nosed critique of Matt Simmons' persistent fearmongering about an imminent collapse in Saudi Arabian oil production. I know a lot of readers find this site by searching for Jarrell's report, but so far the report has only been available to paying customers of the Ross Smith Energy Group. By a stroke of luck, an abridged version of Jarrell's critique can be accessed on the web. It has some withering criticism of Simmons' gaffes and errors regarding reservoir engineering technology.

I don't know how long the report will stay up, but here it is. Follow the link below, and click on the link for "Sample Issue":

-- by JD


"Petrodollar hegemony" is a perennial source of hype in the peak oil community. Briefly, the idea is that oil purchases in the world today are denominated in dollars, and any move to sell oil in other currencies would cause the collapse of the U.S. economy. This is often cited as the "real" reason why the U.S. invaded Iraq (Saddam Hussein had begun to sell Iraqi oil for euros), and the reason why the U.S. will be forced to attack Iran before they open their oil bourse, which is scheduled to begin selling oil in euros this spring.

Econbrowser is an economics site written by James D. Hamilton (Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego) and Menzie Chinn (Professor of Public Affairs and Economics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). Econbrowser has a number of interesting, contrarian posts on the subject of peak. Prof. Hamilton's most recent post debunks this "petrodollar" hype:
The internet can be a good source of information about issues that aren't adequately covered by the mainstream media. It can also be a font of considerable kookiness...
I'll refer you to the article for details.
-- by JD

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Here's a nice illustration which sums up the various techno-fixes for abrupt global warming:

The idea of providing a sunscreen for the earth by shooting dust into the statosphere was conceived by Freeman Dyson, and promoted by Edward Teller:
Edward Teller Advances Global Warming Cure

Nuclear physicist Edward Teller says that the jury is still out on whether or not greenhouse gases are leading to global warming, but that contemporary technology offers considerably cheaper options for addressing any global warming effects than politicians and environmentalists are considering.

* One approach, first proposed by theorist Freeman Dyson in 1979, would counteract any warming effect of greenhouse gases by diminishing by about 1 percent the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface.

* This could be done by deliberately introducing fine particles -- such as those thrown up naturally from volcanoes -- into the upper atmosphere to scatter sunlight and heat back into space.

* Such a solution might cost as much as $1 billion a year -- or just $100 million if technologically advanced options were employed.

* That would be between 0.1 percent and 1 percent of the $100 billion a year it is estimated would be required to price-ration fossil fuel usage down to 1990 levels in the United States alone.

Teller says that cooling caused by volcanic eruptions shows this technique would work. For exmaple, the erruption of Mexico's El Chichon in the 1980s cooled the Northern Hemisphere by about one-quarter as much as the average prediction for global warming expected by 2100.

According to Teller, the director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Coordination Office has been promoting such geoengineering for three decades, and one National Academy of Sciences report a few years ago commented on "the relatively low costs at which some of the geoengineering options might be implemented."

Teller and his colleagues presented their proposal for geoengineering at the 22nd International Seminar on Planetary Emergencies in August 1997.

Source: Edward Teller (director emeritus, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), "The Planet Needs a Sunscreen," Wall Street Journal, October 17, 1997.Source
-- by JD

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The Pentagon doesn't think Lovelock's global warming die-off scenario (see #215 below) is far-fetched. In fact, they've been planning for it for a while, as reported two years ago by Arianna Huffington:
The weapon in question is a new report on the grave and gathering threat posed by global climate change - and the potentially cataclysmic consequences of the Bush administration's obstinately ignorant approach to global warming.

And the thing that makes the report so frightening - and the prospective bludgeon so crushing - is that it wasn't authored by some crunchy granola think tank or a band of tree-hugging EarthFirsters, but by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That's right, the Pentagon - Rummy's playpen. In fact, the report, which was slipped to the press earlier this month after being kept under wraps by the White House for four months, was commissioned by Andrew Marshall, a legendary DOD figure, nicknamed "Yoda" for his sagacity. As head of the Pentagon's secretive Office of Net Assessment, Marshall has offered national security assessments to every president since Richard Nixon.

And this latest assessment pegs climate change as a far greater danger than even the scourge of international terrorism.

Dryly entitled "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," the report reads like the plot summary of the upcoming Dennis Quaid doomsday flick, "The Day After Tomorrow," in which global warming pushes the planet to the edge of anarchy and annihilation.

But this scenario is not science fiction. According to the Pentagon study, the question is not if abrupt climate change will happen, but when. It could be, according to the report's authors, as soon as the next three years, with the most devastating fallout potentially occurring between 2010 and 2020.

At that point, we could find ourselves in the midst of a new ice age in which mega-droughts devastate the world's food supply, drinkable water becomes a luxury worth going nuclear over, 400 million people are forced to migrate from uninhabitable areas, and riots and wars for survival become commonplace.Source
Here is the pdf of the report: An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security. More background on the report is available here.

Here's an eerie prediction from the report:
In 2007, a particularly severe storm causes the ocean to break through levees in the Netherlands making a few key coastal cities such as The Hague unlivable.
They just got the date and the place mixed up slightly. It actually happened in 2005, in New Orleans. Check the report out. It's a real mind-bender, especially if you've been thinking peak oil is the big threat.

Even before Katrina and Rita, the Bush administration was privately worried about accelerating global warming:
David Keith never expected to get a summons from the White House. But in September 2001, officials with the President’s Climate Change Technology Program invited him and more than two dozen other scientists to participate in a roundtable discussion called “Response Options to Rapid or Severe Climate Change.” While administration officials were insisting in public that there was no firm proof that the planet was warming, they were quietly exploring potential ways to turn down the heat.Source
Scary stuff, indeed, folks. But let's keep one thing solidly in mind: This stuff has nothing whatsoever to do with peak oil. Peak oil is just a distraction compared to drought and other deadly weather phenomena.

In upcoming posts, I will describe some techno-fixes for rapid global warming, should it occur. Lovelock says the earth is a living creature named Gaia. She's sick and breaking out in a fever. We may have to give her an aspirin.
-- by JD

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


James Lovelock, popularizer of the "Gaia Hypothesis", has stepped up to the plate, and challenged the peak oilers for media doom supremacy:
The world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive, according to James Lovelock, the scientist and green guru who conceived the idea of Gaia - the Earth which keeps itself fit for life.

In a profoundly pessimistic new assessment, published in today's Independent, Professor Lovelock suggests that efforts to counter global warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late.

The world and human society face disaster to a worse extent, and on a faster timescale, than almost anybody realises, he believes. He writes: " Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable."


In his book's concluding chapter, he writes: "What should a sensible European government be doing now? I think we have little option but to prepare for the worst, and assume that we have passed the threshold."


He goes on: "We have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act, and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can." He believes that the world's governments should plan to secure energy and food supplies in the global hothouse, and defences against the expected rise in sea levels. The scientist's vision of what human society may ultimately be reduced to through climate change is " a broken rabble led by brutal warlords."Source
Note that Lovelock presents zero scientific evidence to justify his certainty in making this prediction, and chooses to make these statements not in the scientific literature, but in the popular press. I will revisit this issue after the details emerge on his book, but at this point, Lovelock is nothing more than a pseudo-scientist, making hysterical public statements based on no hard evidence whatsoever.
-- by JD

Monday, January 16, 2006


Another common peak oil argument: refining capacity is not increasing because the large producers know that peak oil is imminent, and it does not make sense to expand capacity to refine oil which will not be forthcoming.

This argument breaks down because refining capacity is still increasing. Growth in global refining capacity in 2005 was an extremely healthy 2.8%, as reported by Jim Fraser at the outstanding Energy Blog:
EIA just published its annual World Crude Oil Distillation Capacity tabulation which gives a country by country breakdown of distillation capacity as of January 1, 2006. Distillation capacity jumped up 2.8% in the last year, to 85,127 thousand barrels a day, the highest increase since 1978 and the first time it exceeded 1.0% since 2000. Demand for oil for the first three quarters of 2005 (latest figures available) was up 1.16% over last year, so refinery capacity is up well ahead of demand.
China showed the largest growth, with capacity expanding by about 1.6mbd.
-- by JD

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Wind is booming in Denmark:

According to the Danish Wind Industry Association, 20% of power consumed in Denmark in 2004 came from wind.

So why has Danish conventional thermal generating capacity remained constant (click Table to enlarge)?

And why hasn't there been a corresponding decrease in consumption of power generated by conventional thermal?

It would seem that wind does not reduce usage of conventional fuel, or emissions from conventional thermal plants in Denmark.

Here's some interesting information from the Utilities Journal (via Kirby Mountain):
[The following excerpts are from an article in The Utilities Journal (published by Oxford Economic Research Associates), July 2004, by David J. White, written in response to "The Danish Wind Power Experience," by Steffen Nielsen, in the May issue. The article was provided by Country Guardian.]

"Key facts omitted

"Denmark has installed 3,100 MW of wind turbine capacity to date, which is in theory capable of generating 20% of the country’s electricity demand. Of that capacity, 2,374 MW is located in western Denmark (Jutland and Funen). The statistic is misleading because it implies that 20% of Denmark’s power is supplied continuously from its wind capacity, but the figure appears to be a promotional statistic rather than a factual representation of the supply pattern.

"Jutland has cable connections to Norway, Sweden and Germany with a capacity of 2,750 MW. In other words, it has the means of exporting all of its wind production. The 2003 annual report of Eltra, the western Denmark transmission company, suggests an export figure of 84% of total wind production to these countries in 2003, with figures that ramped up rapidly over previous years as Denmark found that it could not absorb wind output into the domestic system. ...

"Reuters reports for 2003 present annual load factors of just 19% for Denmark and 18.7% for Germany [Reuters Power News, March 24th 2004]. An even more recent article cites the results of a study covering the German wind system for 1998–2003 [Reuters Power News, June 1st 2004]. If the annual average load factor is back-calculated over the five-year period, it is only 14.7%. ...

"Impact on CO2 reduction

"There is no CO2 saving in Danish exchange with Norway and Sweden because wind power only displaces CO2-free generated power. When the power is consumed in Denmark itself, fluctuations in wind output have to be managed by the operation of fossil-fired capacity below optimum efficiency in order to stabilise the grid (ie, spinning reserve). Elsam, the Jutland power generator, stated as recently as May 27th at a meeting of the Danish Wind Energy Association with the Danish government that increasing wind power does not decrease CO2 emissions. Ireland has drawn similar conclusions based on its experience that the rate of change of wind speed can drop faster than the rate at which fossil-fuelled capacity can be started up. Hence spinning reserve is essential, although it leads to a minimal CO2 saving on the system [data available on www.esb.ei]. Innogy made the same observation about the operation of the UK system [observation made in a paper presented by D. Tolley, Innogy, to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, January 2003].

"The result is that, while wind-generated power itself is CO2-free, the saving to the whole power system is not proportional to the amount of fossil-fuelled power that it displaces. The operation of fossil-fired capacity as spinning reserve emits more CO2/kWh than if the use of that plant were optimised, thus offsetting much of the benefit of wind."
-- by JD

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Dan from the blog has a funny report on a talk by David Goodstein at MIT. In case you don't know, David Goodstein is a physics professor, vice provost of Cal Tech, and author of yet another boring, unoriginal, peak oil rehash called Out of Gas.

Anyway, after thrilling the crowd with the usual PO bromides and buzzwords, he dropped this bombshell:

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out."

Wow. And to think that when I first started reading about peak oil about a year and a half ago, civilization as we know it was supposed to be going over the "Olduvai Cliff" sometime in the next year or two. Your only hope was to buy guns, gold, MREs and a place out in the country to play Hee-Haw. Just goes to show how pathetic the "pessimistic" position has become. In light of this new disclosure, our buddy Matt Savinar over at LATOC might want to add a footnote to his intro:
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists*, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil".
*) Yes that's right. The physicist Matt links to is David Goodstein. It might be more informative, Matt, to let your readers know that "soon" in this context means "sometime before 2100".
-- JD

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Roland asks an important question:
I still don't understand why we need nuclear power. Isn't one of the main points of this site that electricity is almost entirely from coal and gas, and oil is used in cars, where it's mostly wasted? Why do we need nuclear at all?
First of all, let me say that I am not a great fan of nuclear myself, but I regard it as a necessary transitional step.

1) Lots of countries don't have any coal, gas or oil -- France is a classic example. So let's suppose that the French finally come to their senses, realize that nuclear is icky, irresponsible and dangerous, and shut down their nuclear grid. What will you replace it with? Renewables (like solar, wind and tidal) alone cannot drive a reliable power grid:
[Variable renewables] are defined as energy that cannot be generated at a constant level. Some examples are tidal, solar and wind power. These are sometimes called intermittent sources, but I prefer the term "variable" over "intermittent", because the latter implies an "all or nothing" energy generation, whereas the output more commonly varies from nothing to full output with every intermediate level possible. It should be noted that it is essential that constant power supplies must be available to cover the maximum demands, so that variable renewables can only serve to allow conventional power stations to be "eased off", thereby reducing fuel consumption. Good weather forecasting is a sine qua non of useful exploitation of variable supplies, so that the constant requirements can be foreseen and the plant brought up to speed accordingly.
It must be noted that there is a limit to the amount of variable energy that a power grid can handle at any one time. Above that limit of 18 - 20 per cent, experience in other countries has shown that the whole grid system may become unstable, leading to black-outs.Source
So where will you get the other 80% of the power supply (i.e. the base power)? Hydro is nice, but except in certain favorable countries, it accounts for a small fraction of the power supply. In France, for instance, hydro accounted for 11.5% of generation in 2002Source. I'm not familiar with the exact topography of France, but on the whole hydro is a mature industry, and I find it very hard to believe that France can increase its hydroelectric generation capacity by 8 times.

2) This is where the "magic" comes in: "But we have energy storage!" Actually we don't, and this is a fantasy, just like abiotic oil. Today, the number one form of energy storage for power generation is pumped storage. If you carpet France with solar collectors and windmills, and store energy with pumped storage, you're talking about France covered with dams again. Maybe you can do that, but I'll believe it when I see the plan for the grid, with the numbers. The same goes for batteries etc.

3) Since renewables aren't going to cut it, should France turn to oil, gas and coal? Well, they could if they had some, but they don't. Of course they can import, but oil isn't the best idea for obvious reasons. They could burn gas or coal, but Europe is pretty tapped out of both, so they're going to have to import, most likely from Russia. Which brings up geopolitical issues like the recent Ukranian crisis. It's hard to maintain an independent foreign policy when some other nation can bring you to your knees by turning a valve.

4) France could turn to their buddies in the U.S. and Australia for coal. But if that's the road we're all going to take, then all of Europe, and Japan, and Mexico and most of Latin America, and every tapped out country in the world will be sucking down those coal deposits. Can the U.S. and Australia mine and transport coal that fast? It's a great selfless gesture, but do they really want to let everybody else raid their coal deposits as fast as possible? It's one thing to fuel the U.S. grid with U.S. coal, but it's quite another to fuel the U.S. grid and half of the rest of the world with U.S. coal. They could probably only keep it up for a few decades.

5) This also ignores the problem of global warming. If France, Japan, the US, the UK and all the other nuclear nations all switch entirely to natural gas and goal, you're talking about a horrendous increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which we should be reducing, not increasing.

6) This is becoming a real-world problem right now in the UK. George Monbiot is one of the few renewable advocates who has actually made the effort and produced some figures. In a recent piece called How Much Energy Do We Have?, he writes: "Are there enough renewables to keep the lights on? The answer will be comforting to no one." Even assuming that a cost-effective energy storage technology with 50% efficiency is developed by 2030, he concludes that renewables could provide 19GW of capacity in the UK. That compares to current installed capacity of 77GW. The UK can't wait for that new miracle storage technology to come on line in 2030. They have very little coal, and their oil and gas is running out. So what are their options for the next 20-30 years? I see three possibilities:
- Become the geopolitical poodle of Russia
- Experience a devastating contraction of their electrical power grid, or
- Continue with, and expand, nuclear.
-- by JD

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


This is some truly mind-bending stuff:
Scientists are thinking of building an extraordinary anti-gravity machine which - if it works - could make "hyperdrive" starships a reality.

The design is based on the ideas of a little-known but brilliant German physicist who modified Albert Einstein's theories of space and time.

Burkhard Heim postulated a multidimensional world in which the forces of gravity and electromagnetism are coupled together.

Last year, a paper drawing on the concept won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Future Flight prize.

It envisaged an engine that could not only defeat gravity but propel a space craft through multidimensional hyperspace at unbelievable speed.

Using the drive, it would take as little as three hours to reach Mars, and just 80 days to journey to a star 11 light-years away.

Testing the idea would require a huge rotating ring, several metres in diameter, placed above a superconducting coil to generate an intense magnetic field.

If the theory works, a large enough current and magnetic field should cause the ring to float free by reducing gravity.

Stretching technology to its limits

Building such a machine would stretch existing materials and technology to its limits. But one space propulsion scientist in the US thinks it might be possible.

Roger Lenard, from Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, runs a powerful X-ray generator known as the Z-machine.

He told New Scientist magazine that it could "probably generate the necessary field intensities and gradients".
The life story of this man, Burkhard Heim, is also amazing, and a tribute to the powers of the human mind and spirit.

Burkhard Heim


The doomerosity scale runs from 0 (peak oil will be a non-event --Marshall Brain) to 8 (back to the stone age --Richard "Olduvai" Duncan). Virtually everyone in the peak oil community falls on that continuum, disagreeing only about the severity of the coming economic slump.

But notice that the doomerosity scale doesn't cover the whole range of possibilities. What if peak oil is very much NOT a non-event, because it causes a boom rather than a bust? Why are we so sure that the economic impact of peak oil will be non-stimulative?

Think about the economics of retrofitting and change-overs. For example, consider the switch from video tape to DVD. People are always saying "It's those damn companies. They change the format so you have to buy the new player." You hear similar complaints about the upcoming switch to digital TV, which will make conventional TV sets obsolete. "It's just a conspiracy by the TV manufacturers to boost sales." In these contexts people see changeovers as a form of growth, at least in terms of corporate sales. You could say the same thing about the conversion of the telecommunications network from copper to fiber optic. That involved a hell of a lot of jobs -- i.e. employment growth.

It seems that peak oil discussions often end up with a pessimist saying: "We're screwed. The only way out would be to retrofit the whole society, build new power plants, replace the vehicle stock, rebuild cities, deploy electric car charging stations, refurbish train lines, install energy saving equipment everywhere etc... And that's impossible." But what if it isn't impossible, and that's exactly what we do? What if peak oil gives a massive boost to the economy, and starts driving up other stocks, just like it is driving up the stock of Boeing? What if that trend becomes so obvious that people start saying: "Wow! Business is going gangbusters with this peak oil thing." Betting on that outcome might be quite lucrative because it's so contrarian, and so few people expect it. Meanwhile, the people invested in oil might be left holding the bag, watching their oil stocks droop as sales of conservation products and alternatives skyrocket. They'd be like a guy who knew whale stocks were peaking, and was positioned to clean up in the futures market when the price of whale oil went through the roof.

Anyway, it's good to think through all the possibilities. Why are we so sure that peak oil will cause a bust rather than a boom?
-- by JD

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Continuing from the previous article (#207)...

Quantoken brought up some issues about U238 and U235, so first let's get clear on that point. These are the facts:
  • Natural uranium (yellow cake) is made up of 99.3% U238, and 0.7% U235, and only the latter is directly fissionable. So quantoken is right that a kilogram of uranium harvested from the sea contains only about 7 grams of U235, which is the actual fuel in a conventional reactor.
  • Reactor fuel is comprised of 3-5% U235.
  • The following illustration shows what 25 tons of reactor fuel (3-5% U235) can do (click to enlarge):

  • "One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil." Source
In it's current state, the JAERI technique can collect 1 ton of natural uranium in 240 days, using an apparatus weighing roughly 1000 tons (i.e. 3000 cages x 350 kg/cage). How many people can that ton provide power for? Well, the per capita power consumption in Japan in 2001 was about 7900kwh, so 1 ton of natural uranium can provide power for about 5,000 people. It's not really clear why an organization of 5,000 people would be incapable of lifting, cleaning and harvesting 10 cages per day weighing roughly 350kg/cage. The operation could probably be done even with human muscular power and a crew of 10 people.

More detail on the economics is provided by a Russian website, which has an English translation of a technical report by the JAERI group. This report gives a detailed cost analysis for a system capable of meeting one-tenth of Japan's electrical power needs, and concludes:
The recovery cost was estimated to be 5-10 times of that from mining uranium. More than 80% of the total cost was occupied by the cost for marine equipment for mooring the adsorbents in seawater, which is owning to a weight of metal cage for adsorbents. Thus, the cost can be reduced to half by the reduction of the equipment weight to 1/4.
So high costs come from an unexpected direction: construction of mooring. The paper describes the issues:
Each of the recovery systems investigated here is based upon using a layered adsorbent in the form of polymeric nonwoven and mooring in seawater after insertion of such adsorbent into a stainless steel cage. As a result, about 80% of cost is for mooring even though costs very according to the mooring method. This is due to construction spending for mooring the large mass of adsorption beds. This adsorbent has a specific gravity equivalent to that of seawater and has no net weight within seawater itself. However, weight of the metal cage occupies the majority of the weight of the adsorption bead of Figure 4, so weight is particularly imparted in seawater only by the metal. For example, in the case of the chain-binding method after pulling up, it is estimated that mooring cost declines to 62% if weight of this adsorption bed can be lowered by 50%, and mooring cost declines to 42% when weight can be lowered to 25%. Therefore uranium recovery cost may possibly be greatly lowered if a light cage material is used in place of the metal mesh of stainless steel. Also since this adsorbent was obtained in a length-wise continuous cloth-like form, if a method of mounting other than the assumed insertion into a cage as shown in Figure 4 is used (e.g., if a method is adopted of supporting the multiple adsorbent sheets streaming in the current), then an entirely different method would be is used for mooring than that utilized here.
Clearly this technology, while totally practical and proven, is at a very early stage of development, and costs could be slashed in a number of obvious ways (i.e. piggybacking the equipment on other moorings like offshore windmills, switching the cages to a plastic with a specific gravity closer to water, or anchoring the sheets with light, high-strength fibers rather than cages and ropes).

Also, even assuming that we use the JAERI system as is, with a worst case uranium price 10 times that of land mining, uranium oxide comprises only a small fraction of the retail price of electricity. It accounts for 32% of the cost of nuclear fuel (Source), and nuclear fuel only comprises 20% of the total cost of nuclear power plant operation (Source). Thus uranium accounts for at most 6% of the final electrical bill. So if your current electric rate in the U.S. is $0.08/kwh, a switch to sea uranium would raise your electric rate to about $0.12/kwh. That's hardly an "end of civilization" price rise, and indeed is still just half the current retail price of electricity in Japan: $0.25/kwh (Source).

The above shows that cost will not be a significant barrier in harvesting uranium from seawater. So how much is out there? A lot:
Thus the amount of uranium in seawater was calculated and the results showed that the Black Current off Japan carries approximately 5.2 million tons a year. This amount is equivalent to the earth's remaining inventory of this ore. At present, Japan consumes about 6,000 tons of uranium per year. So even if only 0.1 percent of what flows along Japan can be recovered, the domestic demand for uranium can be supplied, and that is why I have continued to propose taking advantage of the uranium in seawater as an energy resource. Source
-- by JD

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Lately, we've been hearing a lot of the "peak uranium" soundbite: "if we turn to uranium, it too will peak in 30 years." This isn't true, and to see why, I'm going to walk you through the most elegant and beautiful mining technique ever invented: recovering uranium from seawater.

This feat has actually been accomplished by Takanobu Sugo and his colleagues at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute (JAERI).

Yellow cake harvested from the sea by JAERI

To begin, the group fabricates a material called the "adsorbent" which can selectively soak up uranium. This material begins as a nonwoven fabric made primarily of polyethylene. Molecules called amidoxime groups are attached to this fabric by a process called "graft polymerization" (which apparently involves irradiating the polyethylene with a high energy electron beam). Each pair of attached amidoxime groups can "grab" a single heavy metal ion.

This material has an amazing capacity to soak up uranium (as well as other valuable metals like vanadium, cobalt and titanium). Bench tests show it can hold an amazing 500g of heavy metals per kg of absorbent. It can also be washed with alkali, and reused. Here's an abstract of the JAERI group's most recent experiment (2003):
The total amount of uranium dissolved in seawater at a uniform concentration of 3 mg U/m3 in the world's oceans is 4.5 billion tons. An adsorption method using polymeric adsorbents capable of specifically recovering uranium from seawater is reported to be economically feasible. A uranium-specific nonwoven fabric was used as the adsorbent packed in an adsorption cage 16 m2 in cross-sectional area and 16 cm in height. We submerged three adsorption cages in the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 20 m at 7 km offshore of Japan. The three adsorption cages consisted of stacks of 52 000 sheets of the uranium-specific non-woven fabric with a total mass of 350 kg. The total amount of uranium recovered by the nonwoven fabric was >1 kg in terms of yellow cake during a total submersion time of 240 days in the ocean.Source
This is what one of these adsorption cages looks like:

So if you want to collect tons of yellow cake, instead of just kilograms, you just need to string 300 of the cages together and hang them in the ocean. Sugo illustrates three possibilities (from the top): suspension from a floating platform, dangling under a bridge, or stringing with buoys (like a trot line):

The technique reminds me of Asian seaweed farms:


It's a beautiful low-tech approach... almost agricultural. And it's hard to imagine any cleaner method of "mining". No tailings, no scarring of the landscape. In fact, it would clean the ocean rather than pollute it.

You can even take it a step further. The following shows an idea for synergetic wind farming and aquaculture, but we could just as well imagine hanging adsorbent cages, and hoisting them with wind power (click to enlarge):


*Part 2 of this article is located here: 208. URANIUM FROM SEAWATER (PART 2)
-- by JD

Friday, January 06, 2006


As we have seen, the French are already capable of meeting all their domestic electricity needs with nuclear power. They continue to be a leader in the post-oil transition with yesterday's announcement:
JACQUES CHIRAC, the French President, has stolen a march on Tony Blair's proposed energy review by pledging that no train in his country would be powered by conventional fossil fuels by 2026.Source
Once you've got a 100% nuclear transport backbone, your country is pretty much out of the woods. Movement of people and goods is no longer dependent on oil, and there's really no way for oil price hikes or shortages to cause transportation breakdown. If anything, oil/gas problems will just drive further intensive growth of the fossil-free network.

This is a revealing comment from the article:
Gerard Mestrallet, chairman of Suez, the utilities group, was equally supportive. He said: "For Europe nuclear energy is a response to the gas crisis."
This shows how unimportant fossil fuels really are. When Europe was confronted with the specter of Russia cutting their gas off, it did not lead to attempts to hoard gas or wage resource war on Russia -- as though natural gas were air and Europe would die without it. Because this is a strategic geopolitical issue, and politicians care about such issues, they made their mind up in a weekend, and decided to switch. As they follow through, oil and NG will become increasingly irrelevant.
-- by JD


This question has been nagging me lately. The general vibe from the peak oil community is that peak oil is imminent, and even ordinary people need to take it very seriously, right now. Note that I'm not saying that scientists, engineers, investors, economists and other specialists shouldn't be concerned about it. They are and should be. It's a tough technical problem, and it's interesting in its own right. What I'm asking is: why do lay people need to know about it?

The usual answer is: it's going to shake up your life. It's going to get you whether you pay attention or not. But I look at my own life, and nothing much is really happening. Despite the ongoing energy crisis, and oil rising by as much as 7 times in 7 years, peak oil has had no noticeable impact whatsoever on my life. I wouldn't be any worse off if I didn't know about it. Yes, it's a fun topic, and I like to follow it, but that's just my own personal quirk. On the scale of problems which directly affect my daily life, peak oil ranks near the bottom. I wouldn't even notice it if I wasn't looking for it. Even for heavy energy users in the U.S., the problem has been fairly marginal. All they really need to know, as lay people, is: "Hmm... Fuel's getting more expensive these days, better conserve."

Do they really need to obsessively follow the news in the peak oil community? It's like a hungry mouth that needs to be fed. It's one spooky headline after another: the die-off in Niger, Katrina, bird flu, storage depot explosion in the UK, the Russia gas crisis, the latest UK fuel oil crisis etc. etc. But, oddly enough, all these problems get resolved and forgotten, and then the chase is on for the next one. I was thinking about this "news cycle", and remembering that even Laherrere (a peak oil pessimist from ASPO) forecasts an all liquids peak in the year 2015. That's about 10 years from now, and I imagined all these peak burn-outs turning gray, going from headline to headline for the next 10 years. It's kind of a sad thought.

It's actually even worse than that. In the late 70s and early 80s, world oil production dropped by 15% over 5 years, and nothing particularly doomy happened then either. I was driving at that time, and I never even noticed that an oil crisis was happening. There was a recession, but it's not like you really need to "prepare" or educate yourself for a recession. Generally, everybody goes into a recession unprepared, and still muddles through. I didn't know anything about the 1979 peak, and it didn't do me any harm.

So how much does a person really need to know about peak oil?
-- JD

Thursday, January 05, 2006


The Eliica (Electric Lithium-Ion battery Car) is an 8-wheel 800bhp electric car invented by Hiroshi Shimizu of Keio University in Japan. It has a charge time of 10 hours, a range of more than 300km per charge, and is faster than a Porsche 911 Turbo, doing 0-60mph in four seconds, and 0-100mph in seven seconds. Maximum test speed is 370kph (230mph).


From a test drive report:
At our drive at Keio University near Tokyo, we punched the 'D' button on the dash, pointed the car down the road and flattened the gas pedal. With a faintly audible whirr of eight 100bhp in-wheel motors, the 0-60mph sprint was smooth, effortless, quiet - and surreal. The mind-boggling acceleration was on a par with that of a 500bhp GT racing car. Yet the lack of a transmission meant there were no jerky cog swaps as we were thrust back in our seat by an incredible 0.8Gs.
-- by JD

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I'm getting bored with the trolling in the comments, and will henceforth be nuking non-substantive comments. It is lowering the quality of the site, and scaring off people who have worthwhile ideas and information to contribute. Hope you enjoy the new, calmer tone.



Telework is an obvious technique for eliminating oil consumption due to car and air travel, and the technology is rapidly improving. The latest development is a teleconferencing system called "Halo" developed by Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks and HP:
In an effort to cut down on travel and boost productivity, Mr Katzenberg looked into videoconferencing in 2001 and found it clunky, unreliable and fiddly. So he asked his boffins to devise their own system. They teamed up with HP and the result, launched this week, is called Halo.Source
The system is expensive ($18,000/month for single Halo room), but apparently the quality is outstanding. It's catching on in the corporate world, and already eliminating unnecessary travel:
"It's designed to create 'as though you were there' collaboration," says Mr Katzenberg. Instead of travelling to his office in Britain every three weeks, he now goes every four months. Halo is, in short, the videoconferencing equivalent of flying in the corporate jet.

DreamWorks now has nine Halo rooms, HP has 13, Advanced Micro Devices has two and PepsiCo has five. Procter & Gamble and Novartis have also signed up. HP hopes to sell more than 100 Halo systems next year. Users say that while previous videoconferencing equipment was rarely used, their Halo rooms are in use around the clock. Hector Ruiz, boss of AMD, says Halo has cut travel between his firm's facilities in California and Texas. Steve Reinemund, boss of PepsiCo, says that every chief executive to whom he has shown the system has decided to buy it, too. (Source: same as above)
-- by JD

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Yes folks, peak oil is the greatest threat mankind faces today. We've heard "Peak Oil" so many times that we've practically developed a vomit reflex to the sound. Peakoil blah blah blah... peakoil peakoil peakoil... blah blah...

So it's ironic that the first energy threat of 2006 turns out to be natural gas from Russia -- which is not oil, and not even remotely close to peaking. In fact, the Ukraine/Europe gas situation is explained quite well by the average Joe's theory of peak oil. If you ask Joe what's going on with oil, he'll tell you there's plenty of oil, and it's a bunch of greedy oil companies creating bogus shortages to raid the consumer's wallet. And, oddly enough, that's exactly what's happening with Russian gas: the Russians have plenty of natural gas, but they're creating bogus shortages to raid the consumer's wallet. So, in this case, the average Joe called it a lot better than the average peak oiler.

Of course, the peak oilers will want to claim this one as part of peak oil, but that's because peak oil is about everything. It's about topsoil and water and pollution and fiat money and bird flu and terrorism and nuclear war, and basically any other blood & guts scenario they can feed on.

But honestly, where is the peak oiler who warned Europe about dependence on Russian gas? If you think about it, there really isn't such a person. They might have mentioned it in passing, but it was just a footnote because they keep talking about the threat of OIL which is PEAKING. So I guess this is just another lesson in how hard it is to predict the future. Everybody is looking to the left, while the real problem sneaks up from the right.
-- by JD

Monday, January 02, 2006


F. William Engdahl is another shit-talking bear who has been predicting the demise of the U.S. economy for years. Last year, he published an article called "Is the USA Economic Collapse Due in 2005?" which made the rounds in peak oil doomer circles, and had everybody quaking in their boots and saying "See! See!" It makes for pretty amusing reading now that 2005 is over:
On the surface, world growth appears to be expanding finally, after severe recession and the 60% fall of the US stock market in 2000-2001. The Federal Reserve says it is so confident that growth in the US economy is taking firm hold, that it raised its key interest rate from a record low 1% to 1.25% last month, signaling it would slowly bring rates up to "neutral" levels of 3.5-4.5% over coming months. Around the world, strong growth of exports are being reported from Brazil to Mexico to South Korea. Growth in China is so strong the government is worried it is overheating. In Europe, the UK is expanding at the fastest pace in 15 years. France expects GDP to grow by 2.5%, and even Germany is talking about stronger export growth. The driver is US economic growth.

The problem with this optimistic picture is the fact it is entirely based on the dollar and unprecedented creation of cheap dollar credit by Greenspan and the Bush Administration. Their only short-term goal has been to keep the US economy strong enough to assure re-election for George Bush in November. Washington reports are that Bush made a deal to re-appoint Greenspan on the promise Greenspan would keep the economy growing until the elections. They have done this by a combination of historic low interest rates, rates only seen before in times of war or depression, and by stimulating the economy by record budget deficit spending, issuing government bonds to finance it. The world has been flooded with cheap dollars as a result.

What is clear now is that this unsustainable effort is likely to come to an end sometime in 2005, just after the elections, regardless of who is President. Given the scale of the money-printing by the Fed and the US Treasury since 2001, it is pre-programmed that the "correction" of the latest Greenspan credit binge will impact the entire global financial and economic system. Some economists fear a new Great Depression like the 1930's. The world today depends on cheap US dollar credit. When US interest rates are finally forced higher, dramatic shocks will hit Europe, Asia and the entire global economy, unlike any seen since the 1930's. Debts that now appear manageable will suddenly become un-payable. Defaults and bankruptcies will spread as they did in the wake of the 1931 Creditanstalt collapse.Source
Keep your eyes peeled. Engdahl will soon be publishing a new article called "Is the USA Economic Collapse Due in 2006?" You go girl!
-- by JD


There's a new interview in Barron's with Matt Simmons called "Twilight for Oil" (by Sandra Ward). Unfortunately, I can't link directly to the file because it's behind a subscription wall, but I will paraphrase Simmons' comments from memory. When asked about Jim Jarrell's deconstruction of his book "Twilight in the Desert", Simmons replied that Jarrell's analysis was excellent, but it made one critical error -- namely, Simmons claims he never said that Saudi Arabian production was about to collapse. He merely said that the Saudis would have a hard time boosting production from their current levels.
-- by JD