Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sustainable Fossil Fuels?

We introduced Mark Jaccard in the previous posting. The Vancouver-based economist has written a book-length analysis of the global energy dilemma entitled Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy. In the book, Jaccard takes a close look at the range of alternative energy sources for powering the world in the 21st century, and comes to some interesting and perhaps unconventional conclusions. A few paragraphs from Chapter 5 are excerpted below giving some assessments of some world energy resources.
The world coal resource is estimated at over 7 trillion tonnes or 200,000 EJ, of which 80% is hard coal. Over half of this is concentrated in the countries of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia. North America, Western Europe and China also have significant resources.

Coal reserves are substantial compared to our current use rate. If coal consumption continued at its current rate of 100 EJ per year reserves might last 210 years and the estimated resource 2,000 years. These long timeframes would decline of course if the exploitation rate were to increase or if not all of the resource were ever to become technologically or economically accessible. In my current trends scenario (table 2.1 in chapter 2), annual coal production increases six-fold.

...The World Energy Assessment provides an estimate of unconventional oil reserves as 5,000 EJ and the total unconventional resource as 20,000 EJ.* Together, the estimated conventional and unconventional oil resources are 11,000 GJ for reserves within a total resource base of 32,000 EJ. If global oil consumption continued at its current annual rate of 163 GJ, currently estimated reserves would last sixty-seven years and the estimated resource 200 years.

...Combining conventional and unconventional gas yields total gas reserves of 15,000 EJ and a total gas resource of 49,500 EJ. If global natural gas consumption continued at its current annual rate of 95 EJ, reserves would last 160 years and the resource 520. _ SustainableFossilFuels Chap 5

There is a great deal more to the book than a few resource assessments -- which the author handles with considerably more sophistication than the few isolated excerpts above might suggest.
Sustainable Fossil Fuels Chap 5 Jaccard

We are being threatened by doomers of all sorts with a near-term apocalypse via cataclysmic resource scarcity. Their pornographic portrayals of doom adorn most print and electronic media outlets on a regular basis. And yet these modern-day predictions of doom are not really different than the badly failed predictions of doom from the 1960s and 1970s. And those 20th century predictions of doom were little different from similar predictions from the 1800s and 1700s. And so it goes, backward through time. The apocalyptic instincts of humans-with-time-on-their-hands left their mark extending well back into the early historical periods.

Fortunately, thinkers such as Jaccard are willing to publish well-reasoned and documented assessments which contradict the messages of doom that buffet us about on a daily basis.

It is likely that even in a future of abundant fusion energy, home-scale molecular nano-fabs, and inter-stellar colonisation based upon hyper-space drives -- even then there will be doomsayers who will be virtually indistinguishable from the modern prophets of doom.

Those of us with things to accomplish will pay them all the attention they are due, in the course of doing what we must.



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