June 06, 2004

The End of the Oil Age

The idea of the end of the oil age is completely misunderstood by far too many people. Unfortunately that seems to include Greg Burch You don't have to eliminate all use of oil to end the oil age. In fact, oil usage will continue to happen long after the end of the age of oil much as whale oil continued to be used long after the current oil age (petroleum version) started.

Let's say that average petroleum based motor has a lifetime of 20 years (some more, some less). Let's further stipulate that we count an engine that uses twice as much petroleum twice as much as a smaller motor. Taking this weighted measure means that every year, we're replacing 5% of our oil demand (these are not real numbers). When the age of oil ends, most motors won't be replaced any faster than normal. They'll just run out their lives and be replaced by the new technology, let's say electric motors using hydrogen fuel cells for power with an ultimate source of orbital solar power.

The oil wells will still be pumping for motor two decades after the end of the oil age. They'll still be pumping after that because oil will be needed for lubrication, for plastic production, and for non-fuel uses. Since the Middle East is the world's low cost producer, they'll be the last producers forced to cap their wells because of lack of profits. Making the arabs choke on their oil won't be accomplished by ending the oil age.

But ending the oil age is necessary to win the GWOT in a way that is completely different than what Greg Burch talks about on his blog. We need to end the oil age so that we vastly increase our available energy stream to bring the world into the Functioning Core and out of the Non-Integrating Gap. As states enter the Core, they cease to be terrorist producers and start to be terrorist fighters. We can only win when the terrorists no longer have safe haven states which are pretty much to be found in the Gap and not the Core. The demand for additional energy to fulfill this project far exceeds what we can deliver using current methods even if we go all out and remove most political restraints on energy production. We just don't have enough oil, uranium, natural gas, or coal to manage the huge new demands on energy.

This sad fact is a major reason why we need to shift over to a hydrogen economy, not because it's cleaner (though it tends to be), but because it is multi-fuel friendly. In fact, being multi-fuel friendly is largely what makes hydrogen cleaner. It smoothes out renewable, bursty electrical sources into hydrogen producers that can release hydrogen out when it's needed, not when the sun's out or the wind's blowing and it's a lot better than the current battery alternatives.

Any bright new idea for energy has a much lower barrier of entry in a hydrogen economy. So if you have turkey guts, you convert them to hydrogen and plug your (smallish) contribution into a common energy backplane. No more need to tune cars for different fuels. Everything is convertible into hydrogen and everything can run on hydrogen. No more retooling infrastructure to accommodate advances in energy production.

Posted by TMLutas at June 6, 2004 08:50 AM