Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Moving Away from Petroleum

US gasoline consumption has been down for two years in a row, during a recession. Even when the US economy eventually picks up, the trend toward replacing petroleum consumption with an increasing proportion of biofuels will accelerate.
Even when the economy picks up, three underlying trends mean the U.S. might never use as much gas again:

•New standards for cars and light trucks, including SUVs, will make U.S. vehicles more fuel-efficient.

•The growth in the number of U.S. vehicles, after surging the last 30 years, is likely to plateau. The country now has more than four vehicles for every five people, including children.

•Alternative fuels will grow enough to cover increased fuel needs.

As a result, the federal Energy Information Administration predicts that 2007 was the peak year for U.S. gasoline demand. Even in 2035, the last year of the latest long-term projections, motorists are expected to use less gasoline than they are now. _KCStar_via_DomesticFuel
In reality, it is likely that the US will use significantly less petroleum by the year 2035 than it uses today, for many reasons -- including the impressive growth of biomass and microbial fuels research and development.

Royal Dutch Shell is investing $1.6 billion in a joint venture with Brazilian company Cosan to produce 1. ethanol from sugarcane and 2. cellulosic ethanol from bagasse and other biomass, according to Financial Times.

But at the rate that microbial researchers are developing new fuel-producing microbes, it is unlikely that ethanol will be the biofuel of choice for more than 10 years longer. Butanol and longer chain hydrocarbons are likely to come from microbial energy farms to replace gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, plastics, and high-value chemicals within the next 10 years. It will require roughly another 10 years -- until 2030 -- for these new biofuels to scale up to replace about 30% of petroleum use.

Why not more than 30%? Why not replace all petroleum use? Well, there is something known as a market, where buyers can compete to obtain useful products from sellers who compete against other sellers. Oil producers will still be in a position in the 2030s to bid down the price of petroleum to compete with microbial fuel makers. That may not remain true by 2040 or 2050.

And don't forget that nuclear energy (and perhaps enhanced geothermal) will be providing all the electricity needed, so that coal can be converted to gas or liquids to compete with both petroleum and microbial fuels. Likewise, by then we will have rid ourselves of the idiot faux environmentalists who prevent the clean, efficient use of oil shales. In addition, heavy oils and oil sands will be far more economical to extract and refine.

It will be quite the competitive energy marketplace. We can only hope that the idiots are not allowed to scatter too many unreliable wind turbines across the landscape and seascape before it becomes clear how bad an idea they are -- providing neither baseload nor dispatchable power.

Peak oil will wither on the vine of gangreen brains, and global warming climate catastrophe will have taken its place alongside the other great hoaxes of pseudo-science. Things change, generally in ways most people fail to anticipate.

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