poto wrote:There are vast fields of oil shale and sands that have barely been touched.
Oil sands and shale
Unlike conventional sources of oil, oil derived from these oil sands is extremely financially and energetically intensive to extract. Whereas conventional oil has enjoyed a rate of "energy return on energy invested" (EROEI) of about 30 to 1, the oil sands rate of return hovers around 1.5 to 1. This means that we would have to expend 20 times as much energy to generate the same amount of oil from the oil sands as we do from conventional sources of oil.
Where to find such a huge amount of capital is largely a moot point because even optimistic reports anticipate a peak production of 4 million barrels per day of oil coming from the oil sands around 2020. Source Even if the optimists are correct, a peak of 4 mbd in the context of global demand that is already 85 mbd and growing at a rate of 2-to-5 mbd per year is not going to do much to offest the coming decline.
The huge reserves of oil shale in the American west suffer from similar problems. While Shell Oil has an experimental oil shale program, even Steve Mut - the CEO of their Unconventional Resources Unit - has sounded less than optimistic when questioned about the ability of oil shale to soften the coming crash. According to journalist Stuart Staniford's coverage of a recent conference on Peak Oil:
In response to questions, Steve guesstimated that oil shale production would still be pretty negligible by 2015, but might, if things go really well, get to 5 mbpd by 2030.
Disinterested observers are even less optimistic about oil shale. Geologist Dr. Walter Youngquist points out:
The average citizen . . . is led to believe that the United States really has no oil supply problem when oil shales hold "recoverable oil" equal to "more than 64 percent of the world's total proven crude oil reserves." Presumably the United States could tap into this great oil reserve at any time. This is not true at all. All attempts to get this "oil" out of shale have failed economically. Furthermore, the "oil" (and, it is not oil as is crude oil, but this is not stated) may be recoverable but the net energy recovered may not equal the energy used to recover it. If oil is "recovered" but at a net energy loss, the operation is a failure.
Further problems with oil shale have been documented by economist Professor James Hamilton who writes:
"A recent Rand study concluded it will be at least 12 years before oil shale reaches the production growth phase. And that is a technological assessment, not a reference to the environmental review process. If it takes 15 years to get an oil refinery built and approved, despite well known technology and well understood environmental issues, viewing oil shale as something that could make major contributions to world energy supplies in the immediate future seems highly unrealistic."
poto wrote:After that runs out a transition to bio-fuels and other power sources will be in order.
Ethanol, methanol etc. are great, but only in small doses. Like all other biofuels it is grown with massive fossil fuel inputs (pesticides and fertilizers) and suffer from horribly low, sometimes negative, EROEIs. The production of ethanol, for instance, requires six units of energy to produce just one. Source That means it consumes more energy than it produces and thus will only serve to compound our energy deficit.
Some folks are doing research into alternatives to soybeans such as biodiesel producing pools of algae. As with every other project that promises to "replace all petroleum fuels," this project has yet to produce a single drop of commercially available fuel. This hasn't prevented many of its most vocal proponents from insisting that algae grown biodiesel will solve our energy problems. The same is true for other, equally ambitious plans such as using recycled farm waste, switchgrass, etc. These projects all look great on paper or in the laboratory. Some of them may even end up providing a small amount of commercially available energy at some undetermined point in the future. However, in the context of our colossal demand for petroleum and the small amount of time we have remaining before the peak, these projects can't be expected to be more than a "drop in the bucket."
poto wrote:Have I mentioned that it's possible to convert coal to a liquid fuel too? Yeah, we have hundreds of years worth of coal too.
The coal supply is not as great as many assume. According to a July 2004 article published by the American Institute of Physics:
If demand remains frozen at the current rate of consumption, the
coal reserve will indeed last roughly 250 years. That prediction
assumes equal use of all grades of coal, from anthracite to lignite.
Population growth alone reduces the calculated lifetime to some
100−120 years. Any new uses of coal would further reduce the
supply. . . The use of coal for conversion to other fuels would
quickly reduce the lifetime of the US coal base to less than a
human lifespan. Source
Even a 50-75 year supply of coal is not as much as it sounds because coal production, like oil production, will peak long before the total supply is exhausted. Were we to liquefy a large portion of our coal endowment in order to produce synthetic oil, coal production would likely peak within 2 decades, if not much sooner.