20 November 2012

Peak Oil, Meet 3 Trillion Barrels Oil Equivalent: Bringing the Heat

The following article is adapted from 2 earlier Al Fin Energy postings.

More Oil Than OPEC

There's no question, says Rusco, that the oil is there, all 3 trillion barrels of it...

...Both the GAO and private industry estimate the amount of oil recoverable to be 3 trillion barrels.

"In the past 100 years — in all of human history -- we have consumed 1 trillion barrels of oil. There are several times that much here," said Roger Day, vice president for operations for American Shale Oil (AMSO). _ABCnews

Will Advanced Kerogen Production Put a Ceiling on Global Oil Prices?

Enefit, an oil producer headquartered in Estonia, has been producing oil from oil shale in Europe for more than 30 years, according to the CEO of its Utah subsidiary, Enefit American Oil. Rikki Hrenko says Enefit brings the shale to the surface, then heats it in retorts.

"It's more labor intensive to have to mine the shale," Hrenko said. "But the economics are still quite feasible." She puts the break-even price at about $65 a barrel. The cost of producing in Utah, she thinks, will be only slightly higher than in Estonia. _ABCNews
But in reality, in situ production would be cheaper in the Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming than mining in Estonia -- if producers used a cheap enough source of abundant, high quality heat. In fact, being able to produce a resource of 3 trillion boe, at a price of between $60 and $70 a barrel, might seem to place a price ceiling on global oil.

The only problem is that it will probably take 20 years before the technology for cheap, abundant, high temperature process heat are ready to meet the government regulations and prevailing prices for oil.

Yes, it will probably take 20 years before modular high temperature gas cooled nuclear reactors are approved and licensed by the US NRC, and produced in high enough numbers to be placed at Green River well heads.

But even when the technology, the cheap heat, the environmental approvals, and the market prices all come together -- there is still the problem of getting the oil to global markets. The big price gap between WTI and Brent points out the problem nicely. Adding refined oil shale kerogens to the North American mix would not help the problem of lack of access to ports.

Getting the product to market is a serious problem, in a political environment where the US Democratic Party has stonewalled the export of abundant shale gas, and obstructed LNG terminal construction in US ports. Current agendas of energy starvation cause the cost of doing all business -- including energy business -- to shoot up accordingly.

Overall, US demand for oil has been on a downward slope, while US shale oil production has grown exponentially. US oil & gas production combined with energy imports from Canada and Mexico, leave little need for imports from the middle east.

So US demand for oil shale kerogens at this time is minimal. The US economy overall is "hunkered down" and shell shocked -- uncertain about the prospects of 4 more years under the Obama administration.

But, there is still the possibility that the US might eventually clean up its economic act and stop accumulating Obama-debt and stop devaluing the Obama-dollar. If that happens, the US will need a lot more energy.

If the US should ever need to produce its 3 trillion barrels of oil equivalent from Green River Shale kerogens, will the cheap, abundant, high temperature heat be ready?

A group of far-sighted companies, including AREVA, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, Entergy, Graftech International Ltd., Mersen, Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada, SGL Group, Technology Insights, Toyo Tanso Co. Ltd., and Westinghouse are pursuing the development of a true next-generation nuclear technology referred to as the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR) for the past few years. Without too much technical detail, HTGRs are helium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors with robust ceramic-coated fuel that operate at temperatures at or above 750 Degrees Celsius (1400 Fahrenheit) where conventional light water reactors operate at temperatures less than half that. In short:

The design is intrinsically safe. It requires neither active or passive systems nor operator interventions to remain safe, thereby allowing co-location near major industrial facilities.
High temperature output that allow direct substitution for fossil fuel use in industrial process heat applications.
Much higher efficiency leading to lower energy cost, making it competitive with natural gas in many places of the world today without any price for carbon. _NGNPAlliance_via_NBF
The importance of cheap, plentiful, high quality industrial process heat cannot be overstated . . .

Here is a short link list of some things that you can do with cheap, virtually unlimited high quality process heat:

  1. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in oil sands (PDF)
  2. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in coal to liquids and gas to liquids (PDF)
  3. Unlock the trillions of barrels oil equivalent in oil shale kerogens 
  4. Provide abundant industrial process heat for production of fertilisers, refining fuels, making plastics, etc 
  5. Split CO2 into CO to use as a hydrogen carrier 
  6. Overturn conventional fears of EROEI and Peak Oil 
Those things, and many more -- including biomass to liquids and gas hydrates to liquids -- will be accomplished by next generation gas-cooled high temperature nuclear reactors.
NGNPAlliance Home Page

4 Page PDF HTGR Description w/ Images

The image above matches different industrial processes with the level of heat required. Since HTGRs can provide abundant heat up to 850 C or 900 C, all of the lucrative processes listed in the image suddenly come within economical reach -- once HTGRs are perfected, licensed, and mass produced in factory-built modular units.

The image above provides thumbnail images of different processes that will become more profitable with the abundant availability of high temperature, high quality process heat.

Why do we at Al Fin Energy continue to emphasise the importance of HTGRs? Because if the US government had devoted half as much attention to developing and perfecting the mass production of safe, relatively inexpensive, and reliable HTGR modules -- instead of wasting hundreds of $billions on intermittent unreliable forms of energy -- the "energy crisis" would have been solved by now.

The fact that this has not been done, reveals for a certainty that government is not serious about providing inexpensive, clean, abundant energy for industry and society at large. Government energy policy is instead based upon more corrupt and ideological motivations, which delay the era of energy abundance unnecessarily.

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Blogger Tim said...

What are the advantages of HTGR over thorium molten salt reactors?

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Too early to say.

It's my understanding that the design engineering for the HTGRs is further along than the designs for high temperature MSRs.

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012  
Blogger Peter Wilson said...

I recall reading about these, or something very similar, in a book by Freeman Dyson, called Infinite in All Directions, over 25 years ago. Dyson claimed they were inherently thousands of times safer than conventional reactors, but that only one prototype had been built, which developed an unexpected vibration, so was only able to run at partial load.

Which implies the technology has been around a while, albeit starved of funding. Is this correct?

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012  
Blogger Peter Wilson said...

Further to my above comment, a little wiki research gives this:

The HTGR design was first proposed by the staff of the Power Pile Division of the Clinton Laboratories (known now as Oak Ridge National Laboratory) in 1947.[1] ... The Peach Bottom reactor in the United States was the first HTGR to produce electricity, and did so very successfully, with operation from 1966 through 1974 as a technology demonstrator. Fort St. Vrain Generating Station was one example of this design that operated as an HTGR from 1979 to 1989; though the reactor was beset by some problems which led to its decommissioning due to economic factors, it served as proof of the HTGR concept in the United States (though no new commercial HTGRs have been developed there since)

So yes, they have been around for a while. There are currently experimental units in Japan and China. If the economic imperative is as strong as you imply, its hard to see why further development should take 20 years.

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012  
Blogger gestalt_n_pepper said...

The problem, of course, is that all of this nuclear equipment. Indeed, all equipment needed to extract all this low net energy oil, is utterly and totally dependent on cheap, high net-energy oil. Without that, the costs of location, extraction, refining and distribution are very likely to be prohibitive.

Even if they weren't. 3 trillion barrels of oil might take us through 2130, at which point we're back where we started, hoping for a miracle. We might get one. Or not.

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Peter: Further development of HTGRs may proceed at a much faster rate outside of the United States. South Africa failed with its pebble bed approach, but China has not given up on HTGRs. Russia may also get on board the HTGR train, once Putin understands that the Arctic is not going to magically thaw and expose its energy riches to Soviet era infrastructure.

G-n-P: Well, that is certainly a popular point of view at certain doomer websites. But rather than painting one's self into a corner, a more productive approach is to assume that the limited viewpoints are wrong, then let your innovative mind proceed to demonstrate why those limited views were wrong. It takes more mental energy to innovate than to sit and pronounce doom, certainly, but the long term prospects are better.

Wednesday, 21 November, 2012  
Blogger James Allen said...

Hi Al, published on OilVoice: http://www.oilvoice.com/n/Peak_Oil_meet_3_trillion_barrels_oil_equivalent_Bringing_the_heat/d00bf7db618e.aspx

Nice article!

Thursday, 22 November, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks, James.

The main economic argument against oil shale kerogen development has been the cost and the low EROEI -- energy return on energy investment.

The idea that 3 trillion barrels of oil equivalent from kerogens might become economically viable using low cost nuclear generated heat, is still news to most people steeped in the popular thought mode of energy scarcity.

Even more unheard of, is the possibility of producing another 3 trillion barrels of oil equivalent from bitumens in Canada, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Add another trillion boe from gas to liquids, and another several trillion boe from gas hydrates to liquids -- and before you know it, there is suddenly a lot of potential liquid fuel floating in the air.

For the next two decades, the planet will do alright with conventional oil & gas, tight oil & gas, coal, and old-style nuclear power.

But unless our corrupt and kleptocratic governments suddenly develop a sense of responsibility toward the future, in 20 years industrial economies in the west will be starving for reliable energy.

Green intermittent unreliables such as big wind and big solar are ruinously expensive epic failures. The philosophy of carbon hysteria which underlies the drive toward the green intermittent unreliables is a massive fraud.

Until people begin to hear the truth from governments, media, academia, and a sadly decadent popular culture, the future will continue to hang by a thin thread.

Thursday, 22 November, 2012  
Blogger M. Simon said...

Polywell Fusion. If it works.

Sunday, 25 November, 2012  

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