Re: Ginger discussed on Today Show?

Date: Mon Mar 19 2001 - 12:16:07 PST

Lisa Dusseault wrote:

> At $3000/barrel we could probably construct oil from raw atoms economically.

Why would you want to do that? Hydrocarbons are distinctly suboptimal
as (*clean*) energy carriers. For small scale mobile applications, you'd
use methanol, or lower alcanes (propane, butane) in pressure tanks. Maybe,
but just maybe, buckytube-adsorbed hydrogen in composite tanks. For large
scale mobile (trucks, ships, planes, rockets) and immobile applications,
where weight is not an issue, you'd use hydrogen, cryogenic, pressurized
and out of the pipe.

Ditto for synthetic purposes, right now we could make essentially everything
from synthesis gas (stoichiometric mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen).
You can make synthesis gas from about anything, including coal, biomass and
methane. You can literally make it from calcium carbonate (or air carbon
dioxide) and water, if you have enough energy. (And 1.3 kW/m^2 solar constant
in Earth orbit is an awful lot of energy, considered how many of them
square meters are out there).

> OK, I don't actually know if that's possible, but I do know that there are

Of course it's possible, Nazi Germany did that, and South Africa still does
that (lots of easily accessible coal).

> all kinds of oil reserves, some extremely large, that don't count in the
> numbers of "known oil reserves" because it would cost more than $25/barrel

Right now most of oil comes from known oil fields, by using modern means
of prospection and drilling.

> to extract and purify the oil. E.g. the tar sands in Alberta could go into
> production if oil stayed at or above $29/barrel. And we'd find other

Given that we're maybe a decade away from artificial photosynthesis, I
very much doubt it will ever come to the tar sands.

> sources of energy that are just too expensive today: at $100/barrel,
> biomass-driven cars! Ever bought those gallon jugs of canola at Costco for

A guy at work just converted his car to salad oil. Not biodiesel, normal
salad oil. Due to ridiculously high taxes, it's very economical. The conversion
kit is something like $300, however it's a lot of work (he got it for free,

> a few bucks? Even olive oil costs only $10/gallon. So fuck, we could grow
> oil if we needed to. (Yeah yeah, it's a different kind of oil, but motors
> can run on it nonetheless).

It is much, much better to use an onboard fuel reformer, and convert synthetic
methanol into hydrogen/carbon dioxide, metabolizing it with a polymer proton
membrane fuel cell. Being an electrochemical cell, it's not limited to Carnot
process efficiency, and since it uses ambient air for second electrode, it
can beat even lithium-ion batteries.
> So OPEC has a closely defined ideal price point for oil because it's in
> their long-term interest to make oil just expensive enough to make them
> gazillionaires, but always cheap enough to make it an attractive fuel
> choice. That's what governs the price of oil now, and probably well past
> the time when those huge Brent Sea, Venezuela and Middle-East reserves start
> to gush a little less freely.

Excuse me if that passage put me into a time-warp back to the seventies.
We actually do have onboard fuel reformers and working ~RT fuel cells. We
understand photovoltaics and water electrolysis sufficiently. We know
how to build rectennas and phased-array solar satellites (unfortunately,
our launch costs to LEO are still way too high, and we can't make self-rep
lunar factories cum mass drivers, because we never invested the R&D
necessary to build them). Strangely enough, as it took us three decades
longer than I thought.

So while preaching scarcity in 1970s and early 1980s was fashionable, it
is sloppy science at best. There's an energy glut out there, with a very
small R&D and economy of scale threshold to tap it.

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