08 May 2012

Your Regularly Scheduled Peak Oil Doomsday Has Been Postponed Several Decades to Allow Humans to Convert to Advanced Nuclear Power

The following article was adapted from multiple articles previously published at Al Fin Energy and Al Fin Potpourri blogs

Massive Hydrocarbon Resources Beginning to Unfold
Humans have been unexpectedly handed several decades in which to convert their power infrastructure from a dependency on combustion energy to the use of advanced nuclear power. The explosion in the available natural gas resource -- from the shale gas bonanza to the coming gas hydrates boom and beyond -- should reassure us that we have time to move to advanced nuclear fission, and eventually fusion. For the next few decades, it is likely that natural gas -- particularly LNG and GTL -- will assume a rapidly growing role in the global energy trade.
New giant gas fields have been discovered in such previously unpromising places as the Mediterranean off Israel’s shores and deep Atlantic waters offshore near Brazil. There are extensive deposits of gas-bearing shales in Europe (particularly in Poland) and enormous resources in Asia. Recent reductions in the cost of gas liquefaction coupled with increased sizes of LNG tankers (they now rival the size of ships carrying crude oil) made LNG into a trade equivalent of oil: It can now be transported to consumers on any continent, bought without restrictive long-term contracts, and delivered at increasingly affordable prices. The totals speak for themselves: Global LNG trade rose roughly eightfold between 1980 and 2010, and it now accounts for 30 percent of the worldwide natural gas trade.

...Before the end of 2005, the U.S. price of natural gas rose above $15/1,000 cubic feet, nearly 12 times the all-time low reached in 1995. Production was down by about 8 percent compared to 2001, news reports speculated about supply shortages, and gas companies were gearing for expanded imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas. Six years later, by the second week of April 2012, the market price of U.S. natural gas fell to less than $2/1,000 cubic feet (to levels not seen since January 2002), nationwide gas extraction in 2011 was nearly 12 percent above the 2009 level, and record production was expected in 2012, when all storages would be filled to capacity. No wonder that gas companies are now planning to export LNG, and that new drilling projects have been shelved in the anticipation of gas glut.

...Little has to be said about high oil prices (the price spread between liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons has reached an unprecedented level), but the conversion efficiencies achievable by furnaces and turbines burning natural gas are not sufficiently appreciated. New, super-efficient household gas furnaces convert up to 97 percent of the fuel into heat; combined-cycle generation (using the waste heat from a gas turbine to raise steam and generate more electricity in an associated steam turbine) now produces electricity with 60 percent efficiency (and 70 percent will be possible in the future).

This amazingly abrupt change of gas fortunes has been due to the rising production of shale gas. _Vaclav Smil
But an even larger resource of unconventional hydrocarbons has recently presented itself for human use: gas and methane hydrates. Methane hydrates represent the largest resource of hydrocarbons in the planetary crust. Up until now, humans had not devised a good way to tap into this immense energy wealth. But a report from the DOE today may point the way to a new era in abundant energy for human societies:
May 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday announced a breakthrough in research into tapping a possibly vast fuel resource that could eventually bolster already massive U.S. natural gas reserves.

By injecting a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into a methane hydrate formation on Alaska's North Slope, the department was able to produce a steady flow of natural gas in the first field test of this method. The test was done from mid-February to about mid-April this year

"While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The department, which partnered with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp for the test, said it will offer $6.5 million this year for further research on tapping methane hydrates, and will request an additional $5 million for research next year.

Gerald Holder, dean of the engineering program at University of Pittsburgh and who has worked with the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory on the hydrate issue, said before this announcement he had been skeptical about what researchers would be able to accomplish. He said the main problem until now was finding a way to extract natural gas from solid hydrates without adding a whole lot of steps that made the process too expensive, so the success of this new test is significant. "It makes the possibility of recovering methane from hydrates much more likely," Holder said. _Reuters

While it is true that experts are probably understating the actual resource of gas hydrates by a significant factor, the same could be said for estimates of crude oil, coal, natural gas, bitumen, and kerogen resources.

But today's announcement should initiate renewed research in labs around the world, toward devising more efficient and economical ways of extracting gas hydrates from the enormous, "quasi-renewable" resource.

Using unconventional gas and gas hydrates as substitutes for crude oil in the production of fuels, electricity, high value chemicals, lubricants, polymers, and other important materials, will give us extra decades to convert to high energy density, safe, clean, abundant, cheap advanced nuclear power. But that is just the beginning of the energy bonanza coming our way, if we can only eject the energy starvationists who have hijacked our governments and other important institutions.

Advanced high temperature nuclear reactors give human industry the abundant power and high quality process heat to achieve clean economies of production only dreamed of in the past.

It comes down to the high quality, high temperature process heat that gas-cooled reactors provide. Here are some of the things that high quality process heat can do:
  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 
Brian Wang has also taken a look at this topic

One particular gas cooled modular reactor has been selected by the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Industry Alliance as the best design for the category:
The Alliance said that it had selected an unspecified Areva reactor concept, presumably based on the Antares design, "as the optimum design." It said, "The Areva HTGR technology's capability and modular design would support a broad range of market sectors, providing highly-efficient energy to industries such as electrical power generation, petrochemicals, non-conventional oil recovery and synthetic fuel production." Areva, it said, "has the technical and design capabilities to develop a HTGR for the process heat co-generation and generation markets."

It added that "additional investors are being pursued to fully capitalize a venture in order to build an initial fleet of HTGR plants for industry." The Alliance noted, "Deploying next generation nuclear technology is a critical step in solving the long-term needs for secure sources of energy, conserving fossil fuels and slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Clean, safe nuclear energy from HTGR would increase US energy independence and extend the life of domestic oil and natural gas resources." _WorldNuclearNews
More here

Perhaps a stimulus from the private sector will help to spur the revolution that the US federal government under Obama appears to be resisting with all its might. Regardless, it is critical for a wide range of intelligent people within various industries and sectors of the economy to understand the importance of this potential qualitative transition in possibilities for production of future energies and fuels.

Nuclear energy systems that utilise efficient fuel burn and recycling (with combined Gen III and Gen IV + reactor synergies) offer thousands of years of electrical power and optimised fuels production. Only rational nuclear energy possesses the energy density and massive fuel supplies to allow humans to transcend fears of energy scarcity in order to move into a future of relative abundance.

We are developing clean and cheap ways of utilising the truly massive energy resources of this planet. But that is just the beginning. The resources discussed above can take humans ahead centuries or longer. But it is likely that forms of economical fusion power will be developed before the turn of the century. Once fusion is tamed and scaled, we are looking at the opening of the resources of the entire solar system -- out to the Oort cloud.

Your regularly scheduled peak oil / resource scarcity doomsday has been cancelled. Enjoy the unexpected age of abundant energy which will be coming to you instead -- contingent upon your disposing of the energy starvationist parasites of the lefty-Luddite green dieoff.orgy persuasion, who have latched onto your institutions of government, academia, news media, and popular cultures.

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Man your article is getting so much hate on peakoil.com.

Tuesday, 08 May, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

Nonsense! Peak oil is a wonderful apocalyptic religion and circle jerk if you've got nothing important to do.

Wednesday, 09 May, 2012  

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