The principal challenge of this century, in my view, will be adapting to a life without abundant, cheap fossil fuels. It has been the lifeblood of our society, and turns out to have some really fantastic qualities. The jury is still out as to whether we will develop suitable, and affordable replacements.
But additional challenges loom in parallel. Water is very likely to be one of them, which is especially pertinent in my region. For true believers in the universality of substitution, let me suggest two things. First, come to terms with the finite compactness of the periodic table. Second, try substituting delicious H2O with H2O2. It has an extra oxygen atom, and we all know that oxygen is a vital requisite for life, so our new product will be super-easy to market. Never-mind the hydrogen peroxide taste, and the death that will surely visit anyone foolish enough to adopt this substitution. Sometimes we’re just stuck without substitutes.
via The energy-water nexus Part I — Cleantech News and Analysis.
t’s often forgotten when talking about energy production that environmental impacts stretch far beyond air pollution and emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Less discussed, particularly in the context of electricity generation, is the dependence and impact on fresh water resources that are vital to other industries and ecosystems. If more frequent and intense droughts are to become the new normal in this era of human-induced climate change, it’s an issue that shouldn’t be overlooked by policy makers.
Don Roberts, who leads the renewable energy and clean technology investment team at CIBC, once put it this way: “If energy is scarce, water is scarcer.”
Synapse Energy Economics, a research consultancy based on Cambridge, Mass., put out a report this week drawing attention to the thirst profile and water impacts of various forms of electricity generation — namely those based on coal, natural gas, nuclear, biomass, solar and wind.
via Clean Break » Blog Archive » When talking power production, we can’t ignore the water factor.
The newest estimates of U.S. technical potential for renewable energy generation and capacity were reported recently by scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the U.S. Department of Energy research facility.
For the six technologies evaluated, total technical annual generation potential was estimated at 481,800 terawatt-hours and total technical cumulative capacity potential at 212,224 gigawatts. In 2010, aggregate generation sales for all 50 states, according to the report, amounted to roughly 3,754 terawatt-hours.
via How Much Renewable Potential Does the US Have? : Greentech Media.
*** Editors Note: One of the most thoughtful and profound articles written recently – particularly coming from an Aramco executive***
Leonardo Maugeri’s recent paper Oil: The Next Revolution on the presumed future abundance of oil supplies rejects the pessimistic outlook of limited increases in oil capacity over the next decade. It suggests global oil capacity will exceed 110 million barrels per day by the end of the decade, putting an immediate end to concerns regarding constrained long-term oil supplies. This conclusion is based on an assessment of new projects with a reported capacity of 49 million b/d before a downward adjustment to 29 million b/d to allow for completion risks and reserves depletion. Maugeri holds two PhDs, one in Political Science and one in Economics, and has extensive executive experience with ENI in strategies and developments and in petrochemicals.
In putting forth this optimistic thesis, Maugeri apparently sets aside a variety of technical realities, including the difference between natural gas liquids (NGLs) and conventional oil, reserves depletion versus capacity declines, and proven reserves as opposed to speculative resources.
via The Oil Drum | Don’t Count on Revolution in Oil Supply.
Australian mining giant BHP has lost a quarter of its former market capitalization since its acquisition of US shale acreage from Petrohawk and Chesapeake last year. The company is keen to point out that worldwide economic conditions have impacted the price and volume of the commodities that BHP extracts and sells on a global basis. BHP’s US shale gas assets are part of its declining performance. Having paid a whopping $19bn for the shale plays in 2011, BHP now faces serious write downs. Ruud Weijermars and Matthew Hulbert ask the serious question whether the lost value simply is a result of changed market conditions – or was the acreage already worth much less at the actual time of its purchase by BHP?
BHP management concedes it is currently assessing the near-term gas price effect on the value of its gas properties acquired last year from Chesapeake (CHK) and Petrohawk (HK). To many industry analysts this is no surprise; the economic fundamentals of US shale gas production and reserves were already questioned long before the BHP sales went through. Petrohawk had never managed to earn any operational profit from its shale gas assets over its 15 years of operations. HK sold gas below the full-cycle production cost and its accumulated losses amounted to some $1 billion when the company was bailed out by BHP last year.
via The Oil Drum | Shale Gas Assets – Overpriced Or a Liquid Turn for Mining Giant BHP?.
In this post, I give an overview of developments in China to create a coal to chemicals industry, primarily using methanol as an intermediary feedstock. In doing this research, to my surprise, I found that the Chinese chemical economy is advancing rapidly in its use of coal as a chemical feedstock, as opposed to crude oil in other countries. In many cases, coal already represents 20% or more of chemical feedstocks, and in special cases such as PVC, the country already sources virtually all of its input from coal. Since China produces 20% of the world’s PVC, such transitions have a substantial impact on the global energy system.
The primary raw chemical input produced from coal is methanol, which is produced through coal gasification and subsequently, methanol synthesis and refining (see picture below for overview of process steps).
via The Oil Drum | China’s Coal to Chemical Future.
A series of spikes in global food prices resulted in riots in 2008 and contributed to violent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. The culprit is a matter of considerable and frequently heated debate, but the most commonly cited candidates include market speculators, global warming and aggressive government renewable fuel mandates.
If you believe the folks at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Mass., the global food supply system is stumbling into a drought-induced supply shortage that could galvanize a global food crisis far more severe than those implicated in the widespread uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
In an updated version of a paper first published in September, Marco Lagi, Yavni Bar-Yam and Yaneer Bar-Yam considered the possible consequences of the prolonged drought in the mid-western United States, the worst in half a century, on global food prices. The analysis, which relied on a quantitative model of historical food prices, concluded that the drought could amplify the impact of market speculation and corn-to-ethanol conversion policies on the impending global food crisis by an order of magnitude.
via The Coming Food Crisis: Blame Ethanol? – Forbes.
Most Oil Drum readers will be familiar with the Land Institute’s work and hopes for a perennial agriculture based on future domestication of wild perennial prairie grasses. The Land Institute is a non-profit, and one of its major products is publications.
Badgersett Research Corporation (BRC) has been working over the same time period, but with a very different goal; a perennial agriculture; but based on woody plants rather than grasses. Very few are aware of this work; partly because we are a C corporation, i.e. for-profit, and publicity priorities are quite different. Why did we choose the business pathway instead of the non-profit? If our work is to have impact on the real world- it must make economic sense; and demonstrate that.
To start with the bottom line; after 30 some years of work, in 2010 the official position of The Land Institute remains that “we estimate that commercially viable perennial grain crops could be available within 20 years.” No farmers are growing any, anywhere. In the same time frame, over 500 growers across North America have made experimental plantings of Badgersett neohybrid hazelnuts, with approximately 100 of them now actually planting for crop production; last year saw the first actual machine harvest, and five universities have launched their own independent hybrid hazelnut research programs (U MN, U WI, UNL, Rutgers, OR State); all following our lead.
The reason this should be of interest to the energy community is that woody plants produce biomass, as well as seed (oil and protein). It has always been an intrinsic part of our design that various wood (and oil) components of the system would be produced as an energy crop. We are now struggling to keep up with the biomass production on our primary farms in Minnesota and Illinois. For those with concerns beyond the energy arena, we wish to point out that the woody food crops we are developing are specifically designed to be both resilient and versatile, aspects so far not included in the various proposed “dedicated” biomass energy crops.
via The Oil Drum | Woody Agriculture – On the Road to a New Paradigm.
Daily natural gas spot prices between Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) Zone 4 Marcellus and Henry Hub have diverged recently largely due to rising Marcellus production, which has outpaced the growth of available take—away pipeline capacity in northern Pennsylvania. As a result, the spot price of natural gas at the TGP Zone 4 Marcellus trading point has fallen—at times considerably—below the spot price at Henry Hub in Louisiana, and is currently the least expensive wholesale natural gas in North America.
To address this rapid growth in natural gas production, several Northeast interstate pipeline projects were completed in 2011, adding nearly 1.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of capacity in Pennsylvania. Many additional pipeline projects have been proposed or are in various stages of completion in the Northeast to reduce transportation constraints caused by growing Marcellus natural gas production. EIA’s website has information on the status of some of these pipeline projects.
Dry natural gas production in Pennsylvania, a key part of the Marcellus supply basin, continues to grow and according to Bentek Energy is now approaching 6 Bcf/d. Estimated June 2012 Marcellus dry natural gas production (5.7 Bcf/d) has nearly doubled since June 2011 (2.9 Bcf/d) and represents about 9% of overall U.S. dry natural gas production. Further, Bentek Energy estimates that there are over 1,000 natural gas wells that have been drilled in northern Pennsylvania but which are not yet producing natural gas because there is not enough interstate and gathering pipeline infrastructure to accommodate the new production.
via Spot natural gas prices at Marcellus trading point reflect pipeline constraints – Today in Energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).