Wednesday, April 7, 2010

KJELL ALEKLETT on Peak Oil

7Even if Conservatives and Libertarians were right about AGW, in many respects the same problem would still be with us in the form of peak oil. The Quixotic right wing crusade against climate science is futile and self defeating.

PROFESSOR KJELL ALEKLETT, UNIVERSITY OF UPPSALA

15 comments:

Laura Louzader said...

Peak oil will cure climate "weirding". The production of all fossil fuels, including coal and gas, will peak within twenty to thirty years, maybe sooner.

They will peak much sooner than originally projected because developing societies are ramping up consumption steeply. China in particular is steeply increasing consumption of coal, at a rate sufficient to turn a "200 year" supply into a 30 year supply. Meanwhile, the United States is increasing gas consumption at a rapid rate, and gas production will not only peak much earlier than projected because of increased consumption but will decline much faster than oil.

Uranium won't be far behind. The thorium fuel cycle offers our only chance of being able to power our civilization beyond the next few decades.

Antice said...

Well. in some ways i see peak oil as a good thing. it may actually be the one thing that prevents us from releasing so much CO2 as to cause not only major but overly serious changes to climate. at the least it will prevent the worst case scenarios.
OTOH... Even if we compensate by going with thorium as primary energy source we have only postponed the inevitable. so will thorium actually buy enough time to get fusion and then maybe even later on space based solar viable?

And just how much time can we actually expect to buy with thorium? taking into account that the population on this planet is growing.

DocForesight said...

@Laura - Have you ever heard of the Club of Rome? Name your favorite charity and I will donate $10,000 in your name (indexed to inflation, no less) if your prediction of peak oil in 2030 or 2040 is verifiably true. That means, the proven reserves of oil in 2030 or 2040 are less than they were the previous year.

What is your wager?

From what I have learned, thanks to Charles and Kirk, Thorium certainly holds great promise to provide the nuclear power plants' generation of electricity, process heat and desal capacity needed to bring millions, even billions, of people out of their energy poverty and economic misery.

Anonymous said...

One thing that Kjell did not mention is the reduction of coal quality as it is depleted. Coal users always burn the highest quality coal first, and then move on to a lower quality coal as the price of the good stuff raises. This means that coal reserves do not deplete as a linear function. Depletion accelerates over time. If the coal BTU content stays the same, the volume of coal that must be mined goes up just to keep constant the power derived from that poorer quality coal.

Because of this, I see the coal reserves from China and India being depleted much sooner than Sjell predicts. As a result at the end of the day, it is up to the potential future big coal exporters, USA and Russia to keep the lid on CO2 from coal burning. Will The US sell out or will we go nuclear?



Axil

Yogi said...

The important thing to remember about reserve/production ratios is that the term “proven reserves” is actually a very conservative estimate of how much of a mineral resource is ultimately recoverable, and this goes for coal as much as for most minerals.

In order for a mineral deposit to be classified as a proven reserve there must be detailed geological evidence on its extent and it must be economically extractable under current business and regulatory conditions.

Improvements in geological knowledge and extraction technologies usually have a way of increasing reserve estimates over time, as has recently occurred with the development of shale gas production.

The declining energy content of average U.S. coal production can be attributed to a shift away from underground mining of high sulfur eastern bituminous coal and towards less labor intensive surface mining of low sulfur western sub-bituminous coal, especially in the Powder River basin. Economic and regulatory factors are the reason for this, not resource depletion.

http://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/b1450b/b1450.htm

http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_reserves

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2785


Anthropogenic global warming is a much more serious cause for concern than fossil fuel depletion in my humble opinion.

DocForesight said...

@Antice -- Please review calculations by Kirk Sorensen or Barry Brook (www.bravenewclimate.com) as to the thousands of years (or more) of energy available in the easily extractable and known amounts of Thorium.

Why do you reflexively descend to the worst-case scenario of imminent catastrophe in your post?

Antice said...

@ DocForesight -- There is nothing reflexive about considering the end of thorium as part of the LFTR package. Experience with oil is teaching us the hard way that any resource that has to be mined or extracted from the ground is finite.
I'm fully aware of just how common a mineral Thorium is.
I after all live in a nation with 130 000 metric tonnes of proven thorium reserves.
What i am missing from the thorium side of the debate is a proper study of how long this store of high grade mine-able thorium reserve will last.
Both outer bound cases of usage should be considered. how long does it last if the rest of the world went up to US levels of energy consumption. with everything moved to thorium/hydro power generation. (thorium should never replace existing hydro). The world is hungry for energy. and one should not underestimate the effect of making cheap energy has on the world economy re growth.
the lower bound is ofc to just replace fossil fuels at near or modest energy growth adjusted for population growth and a modest energy use by the developing world.

Questions to answer is how long does the high grade stuff last us. what is the next grade and how much does it cost to exploit that? Do we eventually have to mine the moon?
Neither of the sites you offer have any proper studies of this on them as far as i have seen. basically because thorium is ubiquitous enough that even thinking of it as a finite resource is hard. we the proponents of thorium should not fall into the same trap oil has and think of it as infinite.

I've been around a lot. and if you think of me as looking at the downsides of things then you are right. But i am a far cry from fatalist. I just prefer to head of trouble beforehand instead of stumbling later on.

Charles Barton said...

Antice, you appear to not understand what has been repeatedly discussed in Nuclear Green. The energy content of thorium is such that at average crustal concentrations, thorium is recoverable with a favorable EROEI. This was discussed in scientific literature during the 1950's and Alvin Weinberg, in a paper published in Science, coined the memorable phrase "burn the rocks" to describe the potential recovery of thorium from ordinary crustal rocks at ordinary crustal concentration. As far as I know, no one has even attempted a serious critique of Weinberg's argument.

There has never been a systematic exploration for thorium anywhere in the world. To discuss textbook thorium reserves is more than a little absurd. When Rice University Geologists explored the huge Conway Granite monolif, they found estimates that it contained tens of millions of tons of recoverable thorium. In 1968, the AEC reported to President Johnson that it estimated the American Thorium reserve to be three billion tons. 1200 tons of thorium in LFTRs would supply the United States with all of its energy requirements for a year at current levels of energy consumption.

Yogi said...

”Questions to answer is how long does the high grade stuff last us. what is the next grade and how much does it cost to exploit that? Do we eventually have to mine the moon?
Neither of the sites you offer have any proper studies of this on them as far as i have seen. basically because thorium is ubiquitous enough that even thinking of it as a finite resource is hard. we the proponents of thorium should not fall into the same trap oil has and think of it as infinite.”


The identified high grade ($130/kg or less) uranium resources only good for a few decades of production at current rates, but re-processing and breeder reactors could extend this to several thousand years.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf75.html

High grade thorium resources ($80/kg or less) are similar in size.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html#References


If you are interested in the size of lower grade uranium and thorium resources I would like to humbly recommend that you read M. K. Hubbert’s 1956 paper on Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels:

www.hubbertpeak.com/Hubbert/1956/1956.pdf

I should warn you that this is a rather large PDF file, but it is well worth the effort to download and read it.

Pay special attention to Table 6 near the end of the paper. This compares the energy densities of some low grade uranium and thorium sources with coal and oil when the uranium or thorium is used in breeder reactors like the LFTR or IFR. Note that an average ton of granite contains the energy equivalent of 50 tons of coal by this estimate.

I also recommend doing a web search for “World uranium resources by Deffeyes and Macgregor 1980”. I think you will discover that it will be a very long time before we have to start mining granite on earth, let alone the moon, to obtain uranium and thorium for nuclear fuel even at much higher levels of demand than we have today.

Soylent said...

"And just how much time can we actually expect to buy with thorium?"

Somewhere between a million and a billion years.

soylent said...

"What i am missing from the thorium side of the debate is a proper study of how long this store of high grade mine-able thorium reserve will last."

Average crust is minable.

Assume 10 kW of primary energy consumption per capita(approximately the current US average, quite a bit higher than EU average).

Assume a 100 year average lifespan, which is approximately the limit without radical life extension.

How much average crust do you have to mine to sustain one such person for an entire lifetime?

First, how much energy is that? 100 years is 3.2e9 seconds; 3.2e9 * 10kW = 32 TJ.

Average crust has a mass of 2.7 tonnes/m^3 = 2.7e6 g/m^3.

There is ~10 ppm Th and ~3 ppm U in average crust.

The molar mass is somewhere between 232 g/mole and 238 g/mole, lets pick 238(from U-238) to not be greedy, it doesn't really affect the result much.

There are 6.022e23 atoms per mole, avogadros number.

Each fission produces ~190 MeV of useful energy(and ~10 MeV of unusable energy in the form of longer-lived fission products that decay outside the reactor and weakly interacting anti-neutrinos which just fly off in all directions into interstellar space).

An electron volt is 1.902e-19 J.

Putting it all toghether:
(2.7e6 g/m^3 * 13 ppm)/(238 g/mole) = 0.15 mole/m^3

6.022e23 atoms/mole * 190 MeV/atom * 1.902e-19 J/eV = 22 TJ/mole

(32 TJ/lifetime)/(0.15 mole/m^3*22 TJ/mole) = 10 m^3/lifetime.

If you only manage to extract half(which I believe to be a very pessimistic assumption for the state of technology tens of thousands of years into the future), you'd need 20 m^3 to sustain a person for a lifetime.

32 TJ is an awful lot of energy. It is enough to melt 20 000 tonnes of granite into magma. You could be extremely inefficient in converting that 32 TJ into useful work and still only need a miniscule fraction to crush 20 m^3 of granite, extract U, Th and other useful elements and then dispose of the crushed granite by melting it back into a solid rock and filling the dig-site back in in a way that is visually appealing or sintering the crushed granite into some kind of building material(people seem to like granite counter tops and cobblestones).

DocForesight said...

@Charles, Yogi and Soylent -- Thank you for doing the heavy lifting in response to Antice. I am reminded why I am not an engineer - that math thing.

Antice said...

quote Soylent: you'd need 20 m^3 to sustain a person for a lifetime.
end quote

Now that is a nice simple visualization to use in the day to day smalltalk debates about energy.
that is about the volume of a small swimming pool.
Hope you do not mind that i use it.

There is a certain danger of becoming elitist when talking about energy and the background knowledge needed to understand the issues, however i feel that this is a trap. nothing will alienate the average voter more than the feeling of being talked down to. If concepts like LFTR and IFR and other fast breeder technologies are to garner enough support to become reality it is going to need support from the average joe voter as well as the "experts". Never forget that the average joe has the experts outnumbered by a thousand to one at least. if not more.
The anti nuclear side of the debate is quick to exploit the lack of knowledge in the masses. but teaching engineering is not the solution. it's better to "dumb down" the message to the point where the average joe can understand it.

And thanks for the links. I will read them as time permits. hopefully some more useful items or factoids can be found for use in the big energy debate.
People are becoming interested in energy. especially after a winter like the one we had with electricity prices going trough the roof.

Nathan2go said...

On the topic of dealing with peak oil, it's worth restating that we know how to make cars and trucks that run on natural gas. We also know how to turn natural gas into a liquid fuel for airplanes.

It's a crime against humanity (i.e. it will exacerbate the oild wars) that mainstream environmental groups are encouraging us to waste this valuable transportation fuel making electricity, when we have other sustainable ways to make electricity.

Charles Barton said...

Nathan, My father, many years before he he became concerned about AGW in the 1970's, told me that the real waste was to use natural gas as a fuel. He thought that Natural gas was more valuable as a raw material for the chemical industry.

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