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Energy, Entropy and Technology

April 7, 2007

Since the dawn of the Industrial Civilization the growth of the economical system has become independent on the access to fossil fuels. From the first water mill to todays nuclear power plants human activity has been irreversible tied to the use of natural resources and fossil fuels. Based on current economical growth the expected growth in energy consumption is between 150-250 % to 2050. What implications will the future global energy situation have on the world system?

Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner. – Joseph A. Tainter, 1988

The Current and Future Global Energy Situation
British Petroleum (BP) has published the ”BP Statistical Review of World Energy” since 1951. The latest report describes the distribution and consumption of natural resources. In 2002 the world energy consumption was distributed like this: 36% oil, 23% coal, 20% gas, 11% biomass, 7% nuclear, 2% hydrogen og 1% sun/wind/geothermal.

Looking at the geographical distribution of these natural resources we find that the Middle East is the most oil rich region with 650 billion barrels. The rest of the world starts at 96 billion barrels located in Latin and South America and ends with 19 billion barrels in Europe. Known gas reserves is equal in the former Soviet Union and and the Middle East at 55 trillion cubic meter. Known coal reserves is predominantly located in Asia (290 billion tons), with North America and the former Soviet Union as a close second and third. The Middle East has insignificant amounts of coal.

Looking at the geographic distribution of the consumption of these scarce natural resources we find that the U.S. consumed 40% of the total oil production in 1998. From 1999 to 2000 the import of oil and petrouleum increased with 65%. Comparing consumption with oil production in the U.S., standing at 18% of the world total, we understand why 1/3 of the U.S. trade deficit is caused by imported oil.

China being the worlds most populous country with the fastest growing economy, expecting a 7% GNP growth compared to meager 2% in the west. China is the second largest total energy consumer, being numer three in oil specifically. China use predominantly coal for power generation. The pollution in some Chinese provinces is of such magnitudes that they enter the atmospheric system and travel across the Pacific Ocean to cause environmental harm in the U.S.

Petroleum and reservoar engineers has feared a world peak of oil in the early 21th Century since the 50’s. Reservoar engineers use the term ”Estimated Ultimately Recoverable” (”EUR”) to indicate the absolute amount of oil in each well. A ”peak” is the point where the ”EUR” reach the total production volume, subsequently leading to future decline in production. A ”peak” is also the point where the number of new discoveries of reservoars decline compard to expected production growth. The total consumption of petroleum is more than 65 millions pr. day. Based on historic energy consumption, future trajectories point to 100 million barrels pr. day in 2015. New resorvoars is detected at a slower rate than the expected growth in consumption. This has caused a decline in the expected lifetime of known reserves and is now expected to be 40 years.

The most powerful nation in the world, the U.S., is dependent on imported oil from the Middle East. China, the fastes growing nation in the world depend on the most polluting fossile fuel, coal. To add extra suspense to this situation, the world will probably reach peak production of both oil and gas within the next 10 to 20 years. U.S. oil production peaked in the early 70’s as predicted by M. King Hubbert (famous for his Hubbert’s Peak), European oil production will peak soon or has already peaked. The western world is slowing entering a period of dramatic decline in production and further depence on the Middle East.

The Ruling Economic Paradigm

What happens when growth approaches fixed limits and is forced to give way to some form of equilibrium? Are there choices before us that lead to alternative world futures? … Exponential growth does not continue forever. Growth of population and industrialization will stop. If man does not take conscious action to limit population and capital investment, the forces inherent in the natural and social system will rise high enough to limit growth. The question is only a matter of when and how growth will cease, not whether it will cease. (Forrester, 1971)

The ruling paradigm in economical theory is based on continous economic growth (lowered from 4% to aprox. 2% in the west) Economic growth implies growth in energy consumption. The existing economic paradigm reflects a fundamental dysfunctional worldview. The current economic growth and continued depletion of natural resources will eventually lead to a global economic collaps.This economic world view is exposed in the controversial book ”Limits to Growth”, the ”The Olduvai Theory” by Richard Duncan, Jay Forrester’s system dynamics theory of ”overshoot and collapse” and many other books and articles dealing with the collaps of the Industrial Civilization caused by energy depletion.

Established economic theory is the product of a fraudelent world order that will keep their fangs tightly locked on the last natural resources left. Our socio-political economic system is based on a fundamental lie about the nature of energy and economic growth. The lie purports that economic growth is isolated from natural resources. This paradigm is incompatible with the entropic nature of our planets resources and the fact that we live in a closed energy system.

The globalist and industrialists rulers of this paradigm don’t want you to understand this. Their corporate whores, the oil-soaked spy-riddled monopoly press, the international banking system, the military-industrial-political complex all has their vested interests and stakes in this end-game. The violent conflicts that arise from energy depletion is rearing it’s ugly head in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and many other parts of the world. The last drop of oil will cost billions of human lives.

Nanotechnology to the Rescue
CMP/Cientifica, a European nanotechnology research company, released their report ”Nanocatalysis and Fossil Fuels” in July 2002. The report gives a detailed perspective on the current energy situation, many of which I have mentioned here. The reports main focus is on catalytic technologies used in the energy sector.

The area of the fossil fuel industry in which catalyst use is most widesprad and established is in refining, where crude oil is converted into various fuels, such as diesel, gasoline, aviation fuel etc. Nanocatalysis is about increasing the surface area of the catalyst and controlling the orientation of the atoms in the exposed surface area to improving the effectiveness of the catalyst.

Progress within nanotechnology is increasingly leading to industrial usage. Recently the Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a high-performance catalyst that decomposes methane directly into solid carbon and hydrogen with high effeciency and purity. The catalyst is made from a mesh of thin carbon fibers studded with nanoparticles of a nickel compound. When the methane gas flows through the mesh at a temprature of around 500 C, the carbon and hydrogen atoms that make up the methane molecules seperate. This technology could lead to applications wihtin fuel cell technology because of the high purity of the hydrogen.

One of the most interesting aspects of nanocatalysis is a more effective way of converting coal into gas and liquid. Nanocatalysis use heat to separate coal into individual molecules so that molecules of sulfur, nitrogen, ash, and other impurities can be removed efficiently and inexpensively. The purified coal molecules is enriched with hydrogen and produce liquid fuel. The prospect of turning China’s large coal resources into a transport friendly source of energy made the U.S. Dept. of Energy interested. In cooperation with Hydrocarbon Technologies they collaborate with Shenhua Group, China’s largest producer of coal, to build a nanocatalysis plant in China. Some say effective nanocatalysis on China’s coal reserves is enough to feed the entire U.S. energy need for another 800 years. Instead of being tied to the oil of the Middle East, maybe the U.S. will fuel it’s economy on converted Chinese coal thus undermining the power of OPEC?

The geopolitical ramifications of today’s energy politics is obvious. The leverage of cheap energy from catalysed Chinese coal on the Middle East will be of interest. The effect of new technology on energy consumption and production will be drastic. In the meantime the powerlords of oil companies and their political allies will continue to kill and destroy anything that get’s in their way.

The End of the End Game

Given the current shape of the human population graph, those indicators also spell out a much larger and, from our point of view, more ominous message: the human plague cycle is right on track for a demographically normal climax and collapse. Not only have our genes managed to conceal from us that we are entirely typical mammals and therefore vulnerable to all of evolution’s customary checks and balances, but also they have contrived to lock us so securely into the plague cycle that they seem almost to have been crafted for that purpose. Gaia is running like a Swiss watch. (Morrison, 1999)

Population growth and increased energy usage pr. capita will continue despite the warnings that the capacity of this planet is exceeded by far. To sketch scenarios based on the uncertainty of these paramteres show us some interesting snap shots of the future. The timeframe of these driving forces are short- to mid-term, a drastic change in the global economy is inevitable in our generation. To hold that day back you should remember to turn off your lights.

Ole Peter Galaasen (30) is a freelance researcher and writer covering science and technology, geopolitics and international affairs. If you like this work consider using my research services for market analysis, competitive intelligence or other information gathering needs.
References
If we really have the Oil, Bloomberg, PDF.
Coal is this sorcerer’s stone, Red Herring 
Nanotechnology may help city keep `energy capital’ title, Houston Business Chronicle
Long Term Energy Scenarios, the approach of the World Energy Council
Plausible scenarios for future global oil production, World Resource Institute
Statistics:
http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/energy/stats_ctry/Stat1.html
http://www.bp.com/centres/energy2002/
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