America’s Energy Future

America’s energy future shouldn’t be a politically-partisan issue. Perhaps Americans of all political orientations can find common ground on what America’s energy future should be.

Let’s begin by dealing with a harsh reality:
Non-renewable fuels are just that – non-renewable.

That is because Mankind is using those fuels faster than Mother Nature can create them.

Sure, we don’t know just when the Earth’s supply of non-renewable fuels will be depleted. It could be 100 years from now, or it could be 300 years from now.

Still, that depletion will happen. For example, on 02/17/17, the Houston Chronicle reported, “U.S. shale oil production, which reshaped the global energy equation, will begin to wane in less than a decade as reserves are drawn down and well output decreases, the Energy Department reported.”

So, it makes sense to prepare for the inevitable loss of crude oil as a source of fuel.

Granted, plenty of Americans aren’t concerned about that inevitable loss because they don’t expect to be alive when it happens. Some people simply couldn’t care less about the fate of future generations.

Those of us who do care seek to plan ahead for America’s future energy needs. The question is, “Where do we start?”

I suggest that we start with the need to continuously move heavy freight. That is what locomotives and semi tractors are used for.

Currently, diesel engines are primarily fueled by petroleum-based diesel fuel. However, diesel engines can also run on biodiesel. Here is an explanation of biodiesel from the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

“Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be used instead of the diesel fuel made from petroleum. Biodiesel can be made from vegetable oils and animal fats.

In 2015, soybean oil was the source of about 67% of the total feedstock (raw material) used to produce biodiesel in the United States. Canola oil and corn oil provided about 25% of the total feedstock, and animal fats provided about 9% of the total feedstock. Rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, and palm oil are other major sources of the biodiesel that is consumed in other countries.

Biodiesel is most often blended with petroleum diesel in ratios of 2% (B2), 5% (B5), or 20% (B20). Biodiesel can also be used as pure biodiesel (B100). Biodiesel fuels can be used in regular diesel engines without making any changes to the engines. Biodiesel can also be stored and transported using diesel fuel tanks and equipment.”

Biodiesel may seem promising, but there is a catch. Its ingredients have to be grown. Agricultural land that is used to produce fuel is agricultural land that isn’t used to produce food. If food production is reduced in order to produce biodiesel, then Americans might face higher food costs. That is something that plenty of Americans are opposed to.

Physicist Dr. Jo Hermans writes, “This [biofuel] does not seem to be a viable option. First, the efficiency of photosynthesis is only around 0.5% in moderate climates, up to 3% in the most favorable conditions. Second, there is the competition with food supply, at least for the ‘first generation’ biofuels. Third, the CO2 emission is even higher for 1st generation biodiesel than it is for fossil fuels, and hardly lower for bioethanol.”

If not biodiesel to fuel locomotives and semi tractors, then how about hydrogen?

From Fox News, December 02, 2016:

“It was in June that American electric vehicle startup Nikola turned up out of the blue and announced plans to unveil an electric semi-trailer truck by the end of the year. On Thursday, the company stayed true to its word and presented the One electric semi-trailer Class 8 truck. The Nikola One is an extended-range electric truck, with the company choosing to go with a hydrogen fuel cell as the range-extender…

… The fuel cell is targeted at customers in North America while a natural gas turbine will be available in markets where hydrogen fueling stations are lacking. But hydrogen fueling stations are pretty much non-existent here, too. Nikola’s plan is to build its own network of 364 fueling stations starting in 2018. These will serve hydrogen sourced from Nikola’s own solar farms, which will generate the fuel via electrolysis of water.”

Here is an explanation of hydrogen and fuel-cells from the U.S. Department of Energy:

“Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. It is a major component of water, oil, natural gas, and all living matter. Despite its simplicity and abundance, hydrogen rarely occurs naturally as a gas on Earth. It is almost always combined with other elements. It can be generated from oil, natural gas, biomass or by splitting water using renewable solar or electrical energy.

Once hydrogen is produced as molecular hydrogen, the energy present within the molecule can be released, by reacting with oxygen to produce water. This can be achieved by either traditional internal combustion engines, or by devices called fuel cells. In a fuel cell, hydrogen energy is converted directly into electricity with high efficiency and low power losses.”

If the kind of semi-tractor devised by Nikola proves to be sufficient for delivering heavy freight across country, then the use of hydrogen as a fuel is also promising.

Dr. Hermans believes that hydrogen could be used to fuel something else: aircraft. He writes, “One must conclude that using liquid hydrogen as a potential energy carrier for air transport deserves serious consideration.”

In his study The challenge of energy-efficient transportation, Dr. Hermans concludes, “Achieving sustainable transportation systems in the post-fossil-fuel era is indeed a great challenge, in view of the unique convenience of oil-based liquid fuels. For road transport, batteries assisted by supercapacitors can provide a good alternative. Hydrogen, probably in compressed form, may also be an option, especially in combination with fuel cells. For aviation, liquid hydrogen may provide an excellent option for a number of reasons.”

Due to the great challenge that Dr. Hermans mentions, America can’t wait until the eventual depletion of non-renewable fuels. Americans have to plan ahead.

Yes, America is experiencing an oil glut right now, a glut so big that, as CNBC reports, America recently exported a record amount of crude oil, “topping a million barrels a day“.

Yet, a feast today doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be a famine sometime in the future. For example, in the Tanakh book of Genesis, Joseph tells Pharaoh, “Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land.”

Today’s generations of Americans might not see an oil famine, but future generations will.

It is only a matter of if today’s Americans will help future Americans be ready for that famine.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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  • Vagabond661

    The problem with fuel cells is it requires both an oxygen supply and a hydrogen supply to work. Would you put two explosive tanks in your car?

    Plus I have been seeing chicken little stories about running out of oil since the 70’s.

    • Malthusians hardest hit…

    • Red Five

      You don’t actually need to carry the oxygen. You can source that from the air.

      • Vagabond661

        The fuel cell i was involved in the 90’s needed compressed gas on either side of a series of graphite blocks. Not sure how air, which is a mixture of oxygen and other gases, could work.

        • Red Five

          James May showed off the Honda FCX Clarity in SoCal a few years ago, filming for Top Gear. He stopped by Jay Leno and they talked for a few minutes. He also showed the refueling process, which did not seem to include a refill of any O2 tanks. In fact, he said it took just as long to fill the H2 tank in the Clarity as it did to fill a gasoline tank. This would seem to indicate the fuel cell reacted H2 with oxygen directly from air.

          • Vagabond661

            Still the problem of a compressed tank of hydrogen in your car and how will you refuel?

            Not too mention the methods right now of getting hydrogen is either methane gas conversion which creates the dreaded carbon dioxide as a by-product or by electrolysis which requires a great deal of energy and uses water to produce. Heck, we are flushing with a gallon of water now because they say there is not enough around. I’m even asked to turn off the facet while brushing my teeth to conserve. Can you imagine how much water woud be needed to power all the cars?

            Not too mention what would we use for jet fuel? And NASCAR races sure we would be boring…..until they wrecked that is.

      • pennywit

        Cn’t you make it work with the power of love?

        • They’d prefer you to just learn to be happy while huddled in an un-heatred and un-lighted cave…

    • Retired military

      You mean right before the ice age was supposed to hit.

    • WHO’S THE BUSTER
      • Where are the stations where one may tank up on hydrogen?

        • WHO’S THE BUSTER

          In the region where the cars are being sold.

          https://ssl.toyota.com/mirai/stations.html

          • WHO’S THE BUSTER

            A shame that American companies were on the cutting edge of this technology years ago, but are now woefully behind the curve.

          • Walter_Cronanty

            What curve? $58,000+ for a two-ton, four passenger car that has the performance of a Prius, has 20 “filling stations” for the entire state of California and costs 4 times as much as a Toyota Camry hybrid to run?

          • jim_m

            Yes, they are letting the Japanese get way ahead of them on virtue signaling

      • jim_m

        Or for the same price of that POS I could buy an E class Mercedes or a BMW 5 Series, and I would be able to refuel those ANYWHERE. They would last longer, have better resale value and provide far more utility while I owned them, with the exception that I wouldn’t be able to virtue signal.

        But virtue signalling is really what these cars are about. They are the fascist left version of the super car. Own one so you can prove that you are better than your neighbors. These are the kind of people that want one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMTkedIUX8U

      • Vagabond661

        ” The current price at the pump for hydrogen gas is between $13-$16/kilogram (kg) – 1 kg of hydrogen contains roughly the same energy density as 1 gallon of gasoline.”

        Sweeeeeeeet.

        • WHO’S THE BUSTER

          Economy of scale

      • Vagabond661
  • Retired military

    David
    If your buddies would stop stopping the production of nuclear power plants than the day that oil runs out will be pushed much farther out.

    The libs don’t want new nuclear power plants to come online but we have nuclear power plants that are 50 years old providing electricity.

    • stan25

      David’s buddies want to see the existing ones shut down and dismantled entirely.

  • David,

    Please state for the record the decade of the 20th or 21st Centuries in which the Proven Reserves of Oil and Natural Gas have decreased.

    Absent such a decrease would you not agree that the foreseeable future for Oil and Natural Gas is not one of decreasing supplies.

    • Vagabond661

      The Alt Reality of David Robertson continues.

    • Retired military

      Here are some links to help you David.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2015/06/25/how-much-oil-does-the-world-have-left/#1e1ec08a5b1f

      See chart below.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/25d966c16b672618d705c2409990d1256cf7ba0c8759eeafc046944daf523bdd.jpg

      http://www.business-standard.com/article/punditry/how-long-will-fossil-fuels-last-115092201397_1.html

      New reserves continue to be added to the pool, and the R/P ratios have actually increased over the past few decades along with rising production. For instance, in 1980, the R/P ratio suggested only 32 years of oil production from existing reserves. With technological advances, reserves that were previously deemed unviable to tap have kept coming on board. Various studies show that the total remaining recoverable oil resources would last 190 years, natural gas 230 years, and coal, a whopping 2900 years.

      In all likelihood, demand for fossil fuels will ultimately peak and then begin to fall – the big question is when. Just as the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones, the Fossil Fuel Age will not end because we will run out of fossil fuels. Reserves will likely stay in the ground, far after societies have moved on from them.
      I have an idea. Maybe start using more nuclear power plants.

      • Red Five

        On top of all that, there have been some indications that oil fields which were previously considered to be tapped out actually still have significant production capacity in them. Whether it is due to new techniques that have discovered additional oil which was unknown at previous times, or actual production of new oil into an empty well (i.e. generating oil via geological processes is still very much underway), I don’t know, and may in fact vary from field to field.

        • fustian24

          It is clear that a lot of the oil we’ve been producing comes from identified source rocks. No mystery at all. Geochemistry takes the sport right out of this.

          But.

          There are theories that there is another mechanism in place in which significant amounts of oil are produced much deeper. It would explain why various reservoirs that should have drained by now have not.

          The Russians have taken a couple of shots at drilling VERY deep wells in places where the crust is less thick in the attempt to find out.

          This is still pretty out there, but worth watching in off chance something comes of it.

  • yetanotherjohn

    The amount of recoverable oil has always exceeded the estimates of the experts in the previous decades and the amount of “renewable energy” projected has always exceeded the present day reality.

    The US has a wonderful energy program called capitalism. When alternatives to oil are needed, capitalism will develop them. The biggest hindrance to capitalism working is government intervention (e.g. fracking bans).

  • Retired military

    All David would have had to do is ask any republican and they would have told him that oil will never run out. It will last forever.

  • Retired military

    Technology has been doubling just about every 5 years. I predict that during my lifetime (I am 56 now) that oil will no longer be the main source of energy in the world. It is either that or we will blow ourselves up before then. If you are going to write about something, David, then try blaming the republicans for that.

  • stan25

    Does the Hindenburg ring a bell? A hydrogen explosion is what caused that to burn like a blowtorch. We all don’t want to see burning car and truck parts all over the road, along with charred bodies in them.

    • Ah, not so much.

      The Mythbusters demonstrated rather convincingly that most of the fire captured on film (and the ignition point) were the doping compound used on the skin of the derigible, the formula for which very closely resembels modern solid rocket fuel.

      • jim_m

        True. If you want a hydrogen explosion you should look to the Challenger disaster. Much more spectacular, and far more deadly.

    • fustian24

      Hydrogen is a much safer fuel than gasoline.

      What a lot of people don’t know is that a number of people walked away from the Hindenburg crash. From wikipedia: “Of the 36 passengers and 61 crewmen, 13 passengers and 22 aircrewmen died.”

      This doesn’t mean that hydrogen will be replacing oil any time soon. There are significant issues with hydrogen making it unlikely we’ll be swapping out our gas engines yet.

  • jim_m

    David. Why is it that you declare the imminent end to available crude oil, yet you are somehow unable to put an estimate as to when this will happen?

    Please provide us with your estimate of the date when oil will no longer be available.

    If you bother to look that up you will find estimates start in the hundreds of years just for the US oil supply. This is not a crisis and never has been. The only people who believe that it is are the weak minded and those seeking to manipulate them.

  • Ah yes…

  • Walter_Cronanty

    What a nothing burger of a post.

    David joins Woodrow Wilson’s 1922 presidential commission [“already the output of gas has begun to wane. Production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate”] and President Jimmy Carter in 1977 [“we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade”] in claiming “future generations” are facing an “oil famine” – AND – this generation must “help future Americans be ready for that famine.”

    Why must this generation help? Well, obviously because of the “…harsh reality:
    Non-renewable fuels are just that – non-renewable [and] … because Mankind is using those fuels faster than Mother Nature can create them.”

    Naturally, this post is a little thin on the particulars what “this generation” must do to prepare for the upcoming famine. Perhaps this lack of particulars is based on the fact stated in the fourth paragraph: “…we don’t know just when the Earth’s supply of non-renewable fuels will be depleted. It could be 100 years from now, or it could be 300 years from now.”

    Don’t get me wrong – posts about interesting breakthroughs in alternative or renewable energy are fine. But the hype of Chicken Little claims – without a mention of costs, practicability, time of development, etc. – grows tiresome.

    • Retired military

      “ut the hype of Chicken Little claims – without a mention of costs, practicability, time of development, etc. – grows tiresome”
      As do most of the rest of David’s posts

  • jim_m

    Let’s think this through for a moment…

    Hydrogen is plentiful but is only found in combination with other elements. The easiest route to obtaining hydrogen is from electrolysis of water.

    Problem with that is that it requires energy to do that. Where are you getting that energy? Not from your sacred fuel cells. That would be effectively a perpetual motion machine. You aren’t going to use fossil fuels for that because you have just said that they won’t exist. You aren’t going to use solar or wind power because they can’t even provide the energy needs we have today so those resources are already spoken for. And finally, we know that you aren’t going accept nuclear power, and the left will absolutely prevent anything of that sort happening.

    The campaign against fossil fuels is an assault against modernity. It is a rejection of civilization and a demand to return billions of people to medieval poverty and starvation. That is the fact of the matter.

    • Indeed. Hydrogen is best viewed as a means of energry transfer vice a source of energy.

  • Here is a product suggestion.

    Gas Turbines are quite fuel efficient, but lack torque and thus have poor acceleration.

    Couple a Gas Turbine with an Electric. The Batteries and motors handle acceleration and breaking, while the gas turbine generates steady state electricity for charging and range.

  • WHO’S THE BUSTER

    I will never forgive GM for making a substantial marketing error.

    I go to the Auto show several years ago and see the concept car with Volt technology. It is a cutting edge design that really turns heads. Which is appropriate as the technology in the Volt was a great leap forward.

    Two years later the Volt comes out and they “Malibued” it. People that would buy this car still want to drive a head turner that also shows off their embrace of a new technology (see the Tesla). They do not want people to think they are driving a cheap run-of-the-mill compact. Not only that, but most people were unaware that you could jump into a Volt and drive it across the country without a really long extension cord. Heck, people are still unaware and the market has become far more competitive.

    It does not cost more to make a car look good. Look at the Ford Fusion; they stole the front of the Aston Martin and sold a million of them. Heck, the Chrysler 300 has been on the market for years with little change simply because it had a unique look, not because it was a good car (horrific transmission).

    It was not really a marketing decision that derailed the Volt, but it rivals the Infiniti launch in the bad decision category for a new product.

  • fustian24

    Up until now, everyone that has insisted that oil is running out soon has been proven wrong. That doesn’t mean that we won’t run out some day, but it does mean that you always need to take these claims with a rather large grain of salt.

    It’s also important to know that we still have large supplies of untapped hydrocarbons in this country and we are not anywhere close to running out.

    One of the things to understand is the term “proven reserves”. It sounds like that’s how much oil we have remaining, but it’s not. Not even close.

    That term has a specific legal meaning in the US. There are three components to a barrel of oil to make it a “proven reserve”:

    1. We have to REALLY believe it’s there. Generally this requires one or more wells drilled into the reservoir, although the requirement may be less in well-understood areas known to be prolific.
    2. There can be no economic reason the barrel could not be produced immediately.
    3. There can be no political reason why the barrel could not be produced.

    The term “proven reserve” is meant for investors. It is much better for the market to value companies on “proven reserves” rather than more speculative numbers. It is NOT meant to address national energy planning.

    Realize that there are a lot of potential reservoirs out there that have no wells in them. This means that we have a lot of oil that cannot be considered “proven”.

    The second item is tricky. If you consider various oil shale areas, there may be a price limit at which you can make money, and this changes over time. A year or two ago, you couldn’t make enough money to make it worth your while to drill a shale well unless the oil price was above $60 a barrel. Now, that price is believed to have dropped to $40 or less. Be aware that already drilled wells require very little cash to maintain. They just keep pumping out cash. In fact, our shale reserves go up every time the price goes up. When the price goes down, the already drilled wells keep pumping. Low prices just stop new drilling.

    And even better, when the oil price goes up, our “proven reserves” go up with it since reservoirs of all kinds that were not economic before, now are.

    American and European oil companies (that trade on US exchanges) got into all kinds of problems in OPEC nations like Nigeria. Even if they drilled and found new reservoirs, they could not count them as “proved reserves” because of OPEC quotas. But the OPEC governments insisted they be claimed since their OPEC quota depended on a different standard for “proved reserves” that was not the same as the American one.

    The third item includes places like ANWR. We have lots of federal lands with enormous volumes of untapped oil and gas available if we ever decide to pursue it.

    People telling you we’re running out of oil because of the amount of “proved reserves” we have are simply lying to you.

    My understanding is that we still have generations of oil and gas left.

    Even more interesting is that we are approaching complete energy independence. If we don’t need Middle Eastern oil anymore, why do we still need to be involved?

    Here’s an interesting book that claims the US will be withdrawing as the world’s policeman because we’re just not getting anything for it anymore:

    https://www.amazon.com/Absent-Superpower-Revolution-Without-America/dp/099850520X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488821118&sr=8-1&keywords=zeihan+absent+superpower