Thursday, May 03, 2012

Natural Gas Gives Humans Time to Move to Nuclear

The explosion in the available natural gas resource -- from the shale gas bonanza to the coming gas hydrates boom -- 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 it is not just shale gas that will drive this multi-decadal boom in the importance of natural gas. Brian Westenhaus expands on recent coverage of the impending rise of gas hydrates. Gas hydrates represent more hydrocarban than all the other hydrocarbon resources combined. A recent US DOE announcement revealed that US and Japanese researchers had succeeded in finding a safe and viable means of tapping into the vast global gas hydrate deposits.

As gas supplies expand, the global trade of LNG will continue to rise. But even more important than the rise of the LNG trade, improved methods of utilising gas in producing electricity, liquid fuels, high value chemicals, polymers, lubricants, and more, point to at least a few decades of relative abundance of energy and materials that the doomers said could never be.

And even more importantly, the coming multi-decadal respite from the long-predicted energy scarcity will allow humans time enough to develop safer, cheaper, more reliable, and more efficient scalable nuclear power plants. Fission will become a better method of producing power and process heat. Next will come fusion. After that, we are likely to discover that we do not understand physics or the universe nearly as well as we had thought.

By then, we should be ready to begin to learn.

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Now if we could only figure out a way to stop the fracking fluid to pollute the ground water. As per this article.

4:33 PM  

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