Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Peak Oil Crisis: A Report to Remember

Last week the International Energy Agency released its annual report (600 pages) on just where energy production and consumption in the world is going over the next 25 years.

Four or five years back, producing the annual World Energy Outlook was a rather straightforward task. All the IEA had to do was to take the world's current rate of economic growth, calculate how much oil, coal and natural gas it would take to support that growth and publish the results. There was never much consideration of whether resources would start to run out or become too expensive to exploit, or what, if anything, the massive amount of carbon dioxide that was being dumped into the atmosphere was doing to the climate.

In the last few years the IEA's annual report has come to recognize that the next 25 years are unlikely to be anything like the last 25 and the report has become much more nuanced. Gone are the extreme predictions that the world will be consuming 50 percent more oil 25 years from now. In their place are forecasts that global oil production will depend heavily on what alternative policy paths are taken by major governments and how much ($38 trillion is necessary) will be spent to find and exploit fossil fuel resources in the coming years.

As global energy policies and the realities and costs of production are very much in flux these days the EIA has decided to look at the future from three differing perspectives and forecast how the future might evolve if one of these three paths is followed. The first of course, is business as usual with no major changes to the energy policies of the major countries. The second is termed "new policies" which looks at what might happen if the major energy consumers do what they say they will do with regards to carbon emissions. The third, the "450 Scenario," examines what might happen if the world takes seriously the warning that we must keep atmospheric carbon below 450 parts per million which is believed will keep global warming down to a 2oC increase in average global temperature. More

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Peak Oil Crisis: Transitioning to Cold Fusion

Events move quickly these days. Two weeks ago we were watching Bologna, Italy where an entrepreneur and a retired physics professor claimed to have discovered the Holy Grail of energy - cold fusion or as it is now known: Low Energy Nuclear Reactions. At the time, there was (and still is) widespread concern that the various demonstrations of an energy-producing devices were a scam as the developers, for commercial reasons, refused to give outsiders access to their inner workings.

If you are coming late to this story, the Italians' "energy catalyzer" is a table-top-sized device containing powdered nickel known as the "reactor." When hydrogen is introduced into the container and heat is applied, the device gets hotter and hotter so that the output of heat exceeds the input by so much that no known chemical reaction can be responsible for generating the heart. This leads to the conclusion that the hydrogen is fusing with the nickel producing energy similar to that coming from the sun or from the detonation of a hydrogen bomb.
Now so much energy coming from such a small and inexpensive device, in violation of what are thought to be the principles of physics, seems too good to be true. As this phenomenon had not been independently repeated and verified by other laboratories, many pronounced it a fraud, a few the greatest breakthrough of the age, and the rest of us remained agnostic while awaiting further developments.
They were not long in coming. Last week it was learned that George Miley, a Professor Emeritus of nuclear engineering at the University of Illinois who has been conducting experiments similar to those in Italy for many years, has been observing anomalous amounts of heat emanating from test equipment similar to that being used in Bologna. Miley has been experimenting with palladium-zirconium alloys, but says his experiments are producing so much heat that could only be coming from fusion of atomic nuclei. Unlike the Italian experiments which are aimed at developing a proprietary commercial product, the Illinois experiments are being conducting under the auspices of a state university with details of the experiments being made known as soon as possible. At a university the aim of scientific research is to win a Nobel Prize, or at least academic prestige, not to make money. More

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Civilian nuclear power is viable long-term solution

Abu Dhabi: The civil nuclear energy programme now being developed in the UAE is an effective solution to the country's energy needs, Dr Hans Blix, Director General Emeritus of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in the capital yesterday.
"The UAE has taken a lead role in adopting an advanced programme of civil nuclear power. Nuclear weapons proliferation does not automatically follow from civil nuclear programmes," Blix told delegates at an energy conference organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR).
"Around the world, nuclear energy is increasingly seen as a long-term solution to the energy dilemmas of the future. While the recent nuclear accident at Fukushima caused concern, we can describe this incident as a bump in the road," said Blix.
He said in response to the Fukushima incident in Japan, European countries have subjected their nuclear plants to "stress tests" and found that safety standards are adequate.
However, Blix said there are sharp divisions over the viability of civil nuclear power in the future.
"Ultimately, the long-term case for nuclear energy is subject to economic and environmental considerations.
"For instance, nuclear power is becoming less important to the overall energy needs of the US due to the important breakthroughs in the exploitation of shale gas," he added.
Blix said the safe use of nuclear energy is a compelling option for meeting future energy needs. More