Peak oil notes - Dec 11 - by Tom Whipple,
A recently discovered form of carbon graphite – the material in pencil lead – has turned out to have a completely unexpected property which could revolutionise the development of green energy and electric cars.
Researchers have discovered that graphene allows positively charged hydrogen atoms or protons to pass through it despite being completely impermeable to all other gases, including hydrogen itself.
The implications of the discovery are immense as it could dramatically increase the efficiency of fuel cells, which generate electricity directly from hydrogen, the scientists said.
The breakthrough raises the prospect of extracting hydrogen fuel from air and burning it as a carbon-free source of energy in a fuel cell to produce electricity and water with no damaging waste products.
“In the atmosphere there is a certain amount of hydrogen and this hydrogen will end up on the other side [of graphene] in a reservoir. Then you can use this hydrogen-collected reservoir to burn it in the same fuel cell and make electricity,” said Professor Sir Andrei Geim of Manchester Univeristy.
Ever since its discovery 10 years ago, graphene has astonished scientists. It is the thinnest known material, a million times thinner than human hair, yet more than 200 times stronger than steel, as well as being the world’s best conductor of electricity.
Until now, being permeable to protons was not considered a practical possibility, but an international team of scientists led by Sir Andre, who shares the 2010 Nobel Prize for his work on graphene, has shown that the one-atom thick crystal acts like a chemical filter. It allows the free passage of protons but forms an impenetrable barrier to other atoms and molecules.
“There have been three or four scientific papers before about the theoretical predictions for how easy or how hard it would be for a proton to go through graphene and these calculations give numbers that take billions and billions of years for a proton to go through this same membrane,” Sir Andrei said.
“It’s just so dense an electronic field it just doesn’t let anything through. But it’s a question of numbers, no more than that. This makes a difference between billions of years and a reasonable time for permeation. There is no magic,” he said.
The study, published in the journal Nature, shows that graphene and a similar single-atom material called boron nitride allowed the build-up of protons on one side of a membrane, yet prevented anything else from crossing over into a collecting chamber.
In their scientific paper, the researchers speculate that there could be many applications in the field of hydrogen fuel cells and in technology for collecting hydrogen gas from the atmosphere, which would open up a new source of clean energy.
“It’s really the very first paper on the subject so what we’re doing is really to introduce the material for other experts to think about it,” Sir Andrei said.
“It was difficult not to speculate. If you can pump protons from a hydrogen-containing gas into a chamber that doesn’t contain anything, you start thinking how you can exploit this?” he said.
“One of the possibilities we can imagine, however futuristic, which has to be emphasised because everything has been shown on a small scale, is applying a small electric current across the membrane and pushing hydrogen though the graphene or boron nitrite membrane,” he explained.
“Essentially you pump your fuel from the atmosphere and get electricity out of this fuel, in principle. Before this paper, this wouldn’t even be speculation; it would be science fiction. At least our paper provides a guidance and proof that this kind of device is possible and doesn’t contradict to any known laws of nature,” Sir Andre added.
Graphene is tough, about 200 times stronger than steel, yet incredibly light. It is considered the first two-dimensional material because it forms sheets of crystal that are just one atom thick.
It is also an excellent conductor of electricity, so is useful for anything involving electronics, such as bendable mobile phones and cameras, and wearable electrical devices attached to clothing.
Medical applications include its possible use as a material for delivering drugs to damaged sites within the body, which could open new avenues for treating patients with brain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or cancer.
Graphene is also being developed as a new material for membranes involved in separating liquids. It could be used to purify water in the developing world or to create more efficient desalination plants.
Scientists also believe that graphene’s high strength and low weight can be harnessed in the making of new composite materials and polymers for the transport industry, making travel safer and more fuel efficient.
Now, it seems, graphene might also be used to generate new forms of generating clean electricity using hydrogen fuel cells, and even as a technology for harvesting hydrogen fuel from air. More
Energy sector must tackle longer-term pressure points before they reach breaking point
Events of the last year have increased many of the long-term uncertainties facing the global energy sector, says the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2014 (WEO-2014). It warns against the risk that current events distract decision makers from recognising and tackling the longer-term signs of stress that are emerging in the energy system.
In the central scenario of WEO-2014, world primary energy demand is 37% higher in 2040, putting more pressure on the global energy system. But this pressure would be even greater if not for efficiency measures that play a vital role in holding back global demand growth. The scenario shows that world demand for two out of the three fossil fuels – coal and oil – essentially reaches a plateau by 2040, although, for both fuels, this global outcome is a result of very different trends across countries. At the same time, renewable energy technologies gain ground rapidly, helped by falling costs and subsidies (estimated at $120 billion in 2013). By 2040, world energy supply is divided into four almost equal parts: low-carbon sources (nuclear and renewables), oil, natural gas and coal.
In an in-depth focus on nuclear power, WEO-2014 sees installed capacity grow by 60% to 2040 in the central scenario, with the increase concentrated heavily in just four countries (China, India, Korea and Russia). Despite this, the share of nuclear power in the global power mix remains well below its historic peak. Nuclear power plays an important strategic role in enhancing energy security for some countries. It also avoids almost four years’ worth of global energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2040. However, nuclear power faces major challenges in competitive markets where there are significant market and regulatory risks, and public acceptance remains a critical issue worldwide. Many countries must also make important decisions regarding the almost 200 nuclear reactors due to be retired by 2040, and how to manage the growing volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities.
“As our global energy system grows and transforms, signs of stress continue to emerge,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. “But renewables are expected to go from strength to strength, and it is incredible that we can now see a point where they become the world’s number one source of electricity generation.”
The report sees a positive outlook for renewables, as they are expected to account for nearly half of the global increase in power generation to 2040, and overtake coal as the leading source of electricity. Wind power accounts for the largest share of growth in renewables-based generation, followed by hydropower and solar technologies. However, as the share of wind and solar PV in the world’s power mix quadruples, their integration becomes more challenging both from a technical and market perspective.
World oil supply rises to 104 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2040, but hinges critically on investments in the Middle East. As tight oil output in the United States levels off, and non-OPEC supply falls back in the 2020s, the Middle East becomes the major source of supply growth. Growth in world oil demand slows to a near halt by 2040: demand in many of today’s largest consumers either already being in long-term decline by 2040 (the United States, European Union and Japan) or having essentially reached a plateau (China, Russia and Brazil). China overtakes the United States as the largest oil consumer around 2030 but, as its demand growth slows, India emerges as a key driver of growth, as do sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“A well-supplied oil market in the short-term should not disguise the challenges that lie ahead, as the world is set to rely more heavily on a relatively small number of producing countries,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. “The apparent breathing space provided by rising output in the Americas over the next decade provides little reassurance, given the long lead times of new upstream projects.”
Demand for gas is more than 50% higher in 2040, and it is the only fossil fuel still growing significantly at that time. The United States remains the largest global gas producer, although production levels off in the late-2030s as shale gas output starts to recede. East Africa emerges alongside Qatar, Australia, North America and others as an important source of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is an increasingly important tool for gas security. A key uncertainty for gas outside of North America is whether it can be made available at prices that are low enough to be attractive for consumers and yet high enough to incentivise large investments in supply.
While coal is abundant and its supply relatively secure, its future use is constrained by measures to improve efficiency, tackle local pollution and reduce CO2 emissions. Coal demand is 15% higher in 2040 but growth slows to a near halt in the 2020s. Regional trends vary, with demand reaching a peak in China, dropping by one-third in the United States, but continuing to grow in India.
The global energy system continues to face a major energy poverty crisis. In sub-Saharan Africa (the regional focus of WEO-2014), two out of every three people do not have access to electricity, and this is acting as a severe constraint on economic and social development. Meanwhile, costly fossil-fuel consumption subsidies (estimated at $550 billion in 2013) are often intended to help increase energy access, but fail to help those that need it most and discourage investment in efficiency and renewables.
A critical “sign of stress” is the failure to transform the energy system quickly enough to stem the rise in energy-related CO2 emissions (which grow by one-fifth to 2040) and put the world on a path consistent with a long-term global temperature increase of 2°C. In the central scenario, the entire carbon budget allowed under a 2°C climate trajectory is consumed by 2040, highlighting the need for a comprehensive and ambitious agreement at the COP21 meeting in Paris in 2015.
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About the IEA
The International Energy Agency is an autonomous organisation that works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries and beyond. Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA’s initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply. While this remains a key aspect of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded. It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative research, statistics, analysis and recommendations.
As we previewed on Friday, when we reported that "Russia Nears Completion Of Second "Holy Grail" Gas Deal With China", moments ago during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum taking place this weekend in Beijing, Russia and China signed 17 documents Sunday, greenlighting a second "mega" Russian natural gas to China via the so-called "western" or "Altay" route, which as previously reported, would supply 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year to China.
|Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping|
Among the documents signed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping were the memorandum on the delivery of Russian natural gas to China via the western route, the framework agreement on gas supplies between Russia's Gazprom and China's CNPC and the memorandum of understanding between the Russian energy giant and the Chinese state-owned oil and gas corporation.
"We have reached an understanding in principle concerning the opening of the western route," Putin said. "We have already agreed on many technical and commercial aspects of this project, laying a good basis for reaching final arrangements."
RIA adds, citing Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, that the documents signed by Russia and China on Sunday define the western route as a priority project for the gas cooperation between the two countries.
"First of all these documents stipulate that the "western route" is becoming a priority project for our gas cooperation," Miller said, adding that the documents provide for the export of 30 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to China annually for a 30-year period.
Miller noted that with the increase of deliveries via the western route, the total volume of Russian gas deliveries to China may exceed the current levels of export to Europe in the medium-term perspective. In other words, China has now eclipsed Europe as Russia's biggest, and most strategic natural gas client. More:
Miller, who heads Russia's state-run energy giant, told reporters that "taking into account the increase in deliveries via 'western route,' the volume of supplied [natural gas] to China could exceed European exports in the mid-term perspective."
This came after Russian and Chinese energy executives signed on Sunday a package of 17 documents, including a framework deal between Gazprom and China's energy giant CNPC to deliver gas to China via the western route pipeline.
Miller said Gazprom and CNPC were in talks on a memorandum of understanding that would see Russia bring gas to China through the western route pipeline, as well as a framework agreement between the two state-owned companies to carry out the deliveries.
The western route will connect fields in western Siberia with northwest China through the Altai Republic. Second and third sections may be added to the pipeline at a later date, bringing its capacity up to 100 billion cubic meters a year.
The facts and figures of the Altay deal are broken down in the following map courtesy of RT
Also of note, among the business issues discussed by Putin and Xi at their fifth meeting this year was the possibility of payment in Chinese yuan, including for defense deals military, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by RIA Novosti. More from RIA:
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping have discussed the possibility of using the yuan in mutual transactions in different fields of cooperation, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday.
"Much attention has been paid to the topic of mutual payments in diverse fields ... in yuans which will help to strengthen the yuan as the region's reserve currency," Peskov said commenting on the meeting held between Putin and Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.
On October 13, Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev announced that Russia was considering Chinese market to partially substitute access to the financial resources of the European Union and the United States.
The European Union and the United States have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia over its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, a claim Moscow has repeatedly denied. The restrictions prohibit major Russian companies from seeking financing on western capital markets.
Meanwhile, as China and Russia keep forging ahead in a world in which the two becomes tied ever closer in a symtiotic, dollar-free relationship, this is how the US is faring at the same meeting: "China, U.S. Parry Over Preferred Trade Pacts at APEC: Little Progress Made on Separate Trade Deals at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum."
The U.S. blocked China’s initiatives because it worried that launching FTAAP talks would impede progress on a separate trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The ministers’ statement said that any FTAAP deal would build on "ongoing regional undertakings"—a reference to TPP and other regional trade deals.
"The Chinese got all they could expect—a reaffirmation that we all share in the vision of having a regional integrated model" for trade, said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Myron Brilliant.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that negotiating the TPP "is a battle that we absolutely must win." Ministers from the 12 TPP nations met Saturday afternoon to try to narrow differences, including disputes between the U.S. and Japan over agriculture and auto trade. On Monday, the leaders of the TPP nations are again scheduled to discuss the trade deal, although no breakthrough is expected.
The U.S. is trying to tie an ITA deal to progress on other trade deals with China, as a way to increase its leverage with Beijing. "How the ITA negotiations proceed is an important and useful data point" on China’s ability to negotiate an investment treaty with the U.S., Mr. Froman said.
Trade analysts say the U.S. also hopes to use China’s desire to have the Beijing conference produce concrete results as leverage. This is the first major international summit held in China since Xi Jinping took over as Communist Party chief in 2012, and the government wants to use the session to affirm China’s greater role in the world.
Good luck trying to "increase US leverage with Beijing" using a trade conference being held in Beijing as the venue.
In other words instead of actual trade agreements, the US merely jawboned and "shared visions."
Then again, as noted here since 2010, in a world in which one can merely "print one's way to prosperity", what is the need for actual trade? Surely, which China and Russia are expanding their commercial ties at the expense of Europe, the US can continue to pretend it is the world's only superpower and has no need for either Russia or China. After all, Mr. Chairmanwoman can always go back to work and print some more of that "world reserve currency." More
The main finding of this paper is that there is limited scope for significantly reducing overall European dependence on Russian gas before the mid-2020s.
However, countries in the Baltic region and south-eastern Europe which are highly dependent on Russian gas, and hence extremely vulnerable to interruptions, could substantially reduce and even eliminate imports of Russian gas by the early 2020s, by a combination of LNG supplies and pipeline gas from Azerbaijan. Similar measures could reduce (but not eliminate) the dependence of central Europe and Turkey on Russian gas. In the majority of countries, there is limited scope to reduce gas with oil products, and to the extent that it is replaced by coal in power generation carbon emissions will increase significantly.
Up to the mid-2020s, European companies are contractually obliged to import at least 115 bcm/year of Russian gas (approximately 75 per cent of the 2013 import level), a figure which reduces to around 65 bcm by 2030. Even if long-term contracts disappear, our modelling shows a requirement of at least 100 bcm/year of Russian gas up to 2030, and in some scenarios up to twice that volume. The main additional source of non-Russian gas for Europe up to 2030 will be LNG; pipeline gas imports from domestic and other imported sources are not envisaged to increase substantially and may decline. Russian gas deliveries to Europe will be highly competitive with all other pipeline gas and LNG (including US LNG) supplies throughout the period to 2030, and Gazprom's market power to impact European hub prices may be considerable.
Countries with strong geopolitical fears related to Russian gas dependence will need to either terminate, or not renew on expiry, their long-term contracts with Gazprom. This will result in substantial additional infrastructure costs for LNG import terminals and pipeline connections, or investments in alternative energy sources, energy conservation, and efficiency measures.
Whatever the political relationship between Russia, the European Union, and individual European countries, a continued natural gas relationship will be necessary and needs to be carefully managed. The most immediate problems are: a resolution of the Ukrainian transit situation, and a successful conclusion of the EU's regulatory treatment of the South Stream pipeline. Once the immediate crisis has passed, both sides need to discuss the future role of gas in EU energy balances, together with its potential contribution to the EU's ambitious carbon reduction targets. Download PDF
A secretive group of the world’s most powerful oil ministers will soon gather in Vienna to take arguably one of the most important decisions that could affect the still fragile world economy: whether to cut production of crude to defend prices at $100 per barrel, or keep open the spigots as winter looms among the biggest energy-consuming nations?
A sudden slump in the price of crude has exposed deep divisions within the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) ahead of its final scheduled meeting of the year next month to decide on how much oil to pump.
Some members, led by Iran, have called for immediate action to stem the drop in oil prices, while the Arab sheikhdoms of the Gulf have so far argued that it could be another three months before it becomes clear whether the group should cut production for the first time since December 2008.
Whatever they decide, oil remains the lifeblood of the global economic system due to its direct impact on inflation and input prices. Brent crude – a global benchmark of oil drawn from 15 fields in the North Sea, dipped last week to multi-year lows below $92 per barrel as a perfect storm of a strong US dollar, oversupply in the system and declining demand shattered confidence in the market. Brent has tumbled 20pc in the last three months after touching $115 per barrel in June.
In the US – the world’s biggest consumer – crude for November delivery at one point last week dropped below the psychologically important $90 pricing level, raising fears that a prolonged slump could put many of America’s shale drillers out of business. Shale oil, which can cost up to $80 per barrel to produce, has spurred an energy revolution in the US, which has started to threaten the dominance of producers in the Middle East.
However, at current price levels many of these new so called “tight oil” wells are approaching the point when they will soon become unprofitable.
Like the situation in the US, falling oil prices are also a double-edged sword for Britain’s economy and investors. Although George Osborne, the Chancellor, is less reliant on tax revenues from the North Sea than some of his predecessors, prices are approaching the point when many of the developments planned offshore west of Shetland by international oil companies could be placed on ice.
A sharp drop-off in domestic oil production and associated tax receipts from the North Sea would give Mr Osborne an unwelcome hole to fill in the government’s public finances heading into next year’s general election. However, falling oil prices will help to keep inflation low.
For Britain’s motorists the current declines have been good news that has trickled through to the price of petrol on forecourts. A litre of unleaded petrol in the UK has fallen a few pence over the past month to an average of around 127.21p on average, a figure last seen in 2011, just before Mr Osborne raised the value added tax on fuel to 20pc, from 17.5pc.
All eyes are now firmly focused on the next move by Opec, which controls 60pc of the world’s oil reserves and about a third of daily physical supply. The group has been branded an unaccountable “cartel” by free-market critics in North America who claim its system of limiting production by setting an output ceiling and quotas is tantamount to price rigging.
Although this is an accusation that the group’s secretariat which is based in Vienna strongly denies, its mostly unelected group of policymaking oil ministers undeniably pull the strings of the global energy industry in the same way that central bankers can control currencies.
Opec states have largely managed to maintain cohesion over the last decade as prices over $100 per barrel have enriched their economies and encouraged adherence to quotas. This consensus is now starting to break down, creating more uncertainty in the market and a potentially destabilising situation for the global economy.
Next month’s meeting promises to be the most tense held since the onset of the Arab Spring in 2010, with the Shi’ite Muslim faction of Iran and Iraq already appearing to line up against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has placed his cards on the table early by calling for Opec to urgently cut output to stem the sharp recent decline in prices, which threatens the Islamic Republic’s fragile economy after years of restrictive sanctions.
According to research from Deutsche Bank, Iran has the highest fiscal break-even price for its budget at over $130 per barrel of Brent, compared with the UAE at around $70 per barrel and Saudi Arabia at about $90. More
Solar energy could be the top source of electricity by 2050, aided by plummeting costs of the equipment to generate it, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the West’s energy watchdog, said on Monday.
IEA Reports said solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) - from “concentrating” solar power plants - could provide a further 11%.
“The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels constitute the fastest-growing renewable energy technology in the world since 2000, although solar is still less than 1% of energy capacity worldwide.
The IEA said PV expansion would be led by China, followed by the United States, while STE could also grow in the United States along with Africa, India and the Middle East. More