TDP: The Next Big Thing

If you are a layperson, it may not be clear to you just how much of the current infatuation with cellulosic ethanol is hype, and how much is based on realistic assessments. So, I thought I would take you down memory lane and revisit another technology that was going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The Hype: TDP Will Save the World

In May of 2003, Discover Magazine published Anything Into Oil. It was a look at a technology called thermal depolymerization (TDP), which could take any organic material and turn it into oil. This was a high profile write-up with a lot of hype, and the technology of Brian Appel and his company Changing World Technologies (CWT) was really going to change the world.

I remember the first time I read the article, and I thought to myself "Wow, this is really something special." However, the hype of the technology didn't quite match up with reality. Let's take a look back at that original article, and see if we can draw some parallels with some of our current biofuels delusions.

The article starts off:

"This is a solution to three of the biggest problems facing mankind," says Brian Appel, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, the company that built this pilot plant and has just completed its first industrial-size installation in Missouri. "This process can deal with the world's waste. It can supplement our dwindling supplies of oil. And it can slow down global warming."

Pardon me, says a reporter, shivering in the frigid dawn, but that sounds too good to be true. "Everybody says that," says Appel. He is a tall, affable entrepreneur who has assembled a team of scientists, former government leaders, and deep-pocketed investors to develop and sell what he calls the thermal depolymerization process, or TDP.

So far, so good. An entrepeneur (like Vinod Khosla), former government leaders (like Tom Daschle), and lots of deep-pocketed investors. The article opens with a little bit of hype, and follows with another liberal dose:

"The potential is unbelievable," says Michael Roberts, a senior chemical engineer for the Gas Technology Institute, an energy research group. "You're not only cleaning up waste; you're talking about distributed generation of oil all over the world."

"This is not an incremental change. This is a big, new step," agrees Alf Andreassen, a venture capitalist with the Paladin Capital Group and a former Bell Laboratories director.

Yeah, but it's got to be expensive, right? Not so:

Private investors, who have chipped in $40 million to develop the process, aren't the only ones who are impressed. The federal government has granted more than $12 million to push the work along.

"We will be able to make oil for $8 to $12 a barrel," says Paul Baskis, the inventor of the process. "We are going to be able to switch to a carbohydrate economy."

The article goes on to explain that the technology originated back in the 1980's:

Usually, the Btu content in the resulting oil or gas barely exceeds the amount needed to make the stuff. That's the challenge that Baskis, a microbiologist and inventor who lives in Rantoul, Illinois, confronted in the late 1980s. He says he "had a flash" of insight about how to improve the basic ideas behind another inventor's waste-reforming process.

"The prototype I saw produced a heavy, burned oil," recalls Baskis. "I drew up an improvement and filed the first patents." He spent the early 1990s wooing investors and, in 1996, met Appel, a former commodities trader. "I saw what this could be and took over the patents," says Appel, who formed a partnership with the Gas Technology Institute and had a demonstration plant up and running by 1999.

And they were on the verge of printing money, planning to make oil for $15 a barrel (I thought it was $8-$12?):

And it will be profitable, promises Appel. "We've done so much testing in Philadelphia, we already know the costs," he says. "This is our first-out plant, and we estimate we'll make oil at $15 a barrel. In three to five years, we'll drop that to $10, the same as a medium-size oil exploration and production company. And it will get cheaper from there."

The Hype Begins to Unravel

Well, it's been 3 to 5 years, and things have not worked out as planned. Costs were much, much higher than forecast. Unforeseen complications appeared. Small technical problems turned out to be big technical problems after the process was scaled up.

Let's look at some of the issues. A Newsday article in 2004, while also full of hype, foretold of some potential problems:

Turning Garbage into Oil—and Cash

Appel and his financial backers have bet more than $66 million that the modern-day alchemy practiced by Changing World Technologies Inc. will revolutionize the way the world deals with its waste, reduce dependence on foreign oil, fight the spread of mad cow disease and even ease global warming.

Not bad for a 25-person company that Appel, who has no scientific training, runs from the top floor of a Hempstead Avenue china shop owned by his wife, Doreen.

No scientific training? Hmm. Where else have I seen amateurs jumping into an alternative fuel technology with both feet? Oh, yeah. Here and here. (I don't mean to sound elitist, because amateurs have made valuable contributions in many fields. However, they are more likely to make mistakes/miscalculations than a professional).

The article continues with one more bit of hype that eventually turned out to be unfounded. More on this later:

Incredibly, the only "waste" that's left behind is distilled water. There are no smokestacks bellowing chemical-laden smoke, and no pipes discharging fetid wastewater.

The article continues by indicating that despite the hype, there really isn't that much that is known about the process:

Although Discover, Money and Scientific American magazines have all written wildly enthusiastic stories about the company recently -- Money called it "The Next Big Thing" -- competitors and independent researchers point out that Changing World Technologies has released very little information about the details of its patented process.

So the skeptics (AKA, naysayers) weigh in:

"You have to remember that people have been pressure-cooking different types of biomass for a long time now, and we really haven't seen these kinds of breakthroughs," said Ralph Overend, a leading authority in the bio-energy field and a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

"People always stay skeptical until they can see the real data," added Overend, editor of the academic journal Biomass & Bioenergy.

Appel said the company's focus has been on building the Missouri plant, not on publishing scientific papers that he worries could tip off potential competitors.

And then there were those nagging cost issues:

Skeptics also wonder about the project's profitability, and whether it can truly compete with traditional oil drillers and refiners.

Appel acknowledges that producing a barrel of oil through thermal conversion costs about 50 percent more than doing it by conventional refining.

Only 50% more?

And then he makes the mistake that so many others repeatedly make:

If the price of oil keeps rising, he said, so will profits.

This is the same mistake that proponents of tar sands, GTL, oil shale, cellulosic ethanol, and many others have run into. They believe that oil prices will rise, and yet their costs will magically remain where they were. In fact, what happens is that as oil prices rise, all the costs associated with these various projects rise. That’s why oil shale has been imminent for 100 years. That’s why ExxonMobil is scrapping GTL plans. And that’s why tar sands costs have skyrocketed. A poster has referred to this trend as The Law of Receding Horizons.

The Bloom Comes off the Rose

So, where does the technology stand today? How far off were those $8 or $15/bbl costs estimates? After all they had run the pilot plants. They had "done so much testing in Philadelphia", they "already know the costs." Turns out they didn't:

Reports from 2005 summarized some economic setbacks which the Carthage plant encountered since its planning stages. It was thought that concern over mad cow disease would prevent the use of turkey waste and other animal products as cattle feed, and thus this waste would be free. As it turns out, turkey waste may still be used as feed in the United States, so that the facility must purchase that feed stock at a cost of $30 to $40 per ton, adding $15 to $20 per barrel to the cost of the oil. Final cost, as of January 2005, was $80/barrel ($1.90/gal).

$80 a barrel! That is an order of magnitude higher than their early estimates. (Incidentally, if their process really worked as they claimed, they could just feed it corn and turn it into oil at a very high EROEI). Not only that, they obviously made more errors in their estimates than just presuming the feedstock would be free. Subtract that $20/bbl and you are still at $60 a barrel - 300% over their highest prior estimate of $15/bbl. Cellulosic ethanol hypesters, take note.

And there was more bad news:

Turkey-oil plant closed due to foul odors

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - A foul-smelling plant that turns turkey byproducts into fuel oil was ordered closed by the governor Wednesday until the company finds a way to clear the air.

Renewable Environmental Solutions Inc. in the southwest Missouri community of Carthage had agreed in May to improve its odor-control systems after state and city officials sued, alleging the smell posed a public nuisance.

The company also was cited six times by state environmental officials this year, Gov. Matt Blunt said, but the smell continued.

Well, at least there were "no smokestacks bellowing chemical-laden smoke."

The Lesson Here

CWT still exists as a company today. Like cellulosic ethanol, TDP is a technology that actually works. But the technology was hyped beyond reason. People did not apply enough skepticism before embracing the promise of the technology. It was really going to be "the next big thing."

But costs and complications were grossly underestimated. They fell victim to The Law of Receding Horizons. They learned that the public doesn't like smelly plants in their community. Discover ran an updated article in 2006 in which Appel admitted "We have made mistakes. We were too aggressive in our earlier projections." The hype just ultimately did not match the reality. And while TDP may make some small contribution to our energy needs, it isn't going to make any measurable dent in our fossil fuel usage.

But at least we have cellulosic ethanol, which I have heard really is "the next big thing."

Hi Robert,

Nice review...but given the track history, I would suppose it(TDP) is not dead until it is buried.

If the investors were PEAK OIL aware, one should ask, where does all this garbage come from....hmmm...

Either way, best of luck to them.

I would suppose it(TDP) is not dead until it is buried.

And you'd be correct. Last I heard, the company was pulling up stakes and moving to Europe, because of the more generous subsidies offered there.

Nice...but is there more garbage :P

There is — and it'll be "Peak Garbage" in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

ah yes. the economics of subsidies are much easier to exploit than those of reality.

"The economics of subsidies are much easier to exploit than those of reality."

Heh - can I use that as a quote?

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created."
Albert Einstein

This is great, thanks. With time, it becomes possible to take a look back at what was said, hyped etc from (a whole!) 4 years ago and see how it panned out. More retrospective like this is useful for gaining perspective.

Businessmen know that having engineers write the press release is a sure-fire way to not get investors.

I remember when Discover published their first article about this. Many readers couldn't believe it, and wrote angry letters accusing Discover of falling for a perpetual motion scam.

I knew it wasn't a scam, but those objections pointed to what I saw as the real reason this technology (now called thermal conversion - "thermal depolymerization" was deemed too hard to say) was never going to replace imported oil. The feedstock, even if it was free monetarily, would not be free energy-wise. There's not enough turkey waste out there to replace oil, and it would be really silly to farm turkeys just to feed the thermal conversion plant. Assuming we could farm enough of them, which we can't.

I think this technology may prove to be a useful way of getting rid of waste - sewage, old tires, mad cow infected carcasses, etc. - but as a replacement for oil, it was never going to fly.

Basically, it's a form of recycling. Recycling is good, but it doesn't actually produce any new energy.

Ok Robt, so what about butanol? People seem pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about that too.

Actually, don't bother... picking off biofuel contenders one by one is a waste of time, as long as people are willing to believe in the next candidate's snake oil.

It's a bit like the thousand variations on perpetual motion. You stop wanting to believe in the next scheme only when you understand that producing liquid fuels for internal combustion engines is fundamentally a dead-end idea.

This is the crunch issue for the paradigm shift we need.

Transportation of the masses in motorized individual transport units is the dead end.

No! No! I want my electric car, dammit! before I'm too poor to afford it.

But I realize may end up with a pony trap when I get too old to ride my bike...

No! No! I want my electric car, dammit! before I'm too poor to afford it.

If I do an analysis of the numbers from Khebab for the price of Oil below, my fuel costs won't be higher than my maintenance costs for my 4 cylinder Camry until about 2012.

I may well be a wide eyed optimist but I think it's likely the costs of electric cars will decrease substantially by then.

Toilforoil, could drop me a line at Stoneleigh2006(at)msn(dot)com, please?

Snake oil! THAT'S IT!!! No one has thought of burning that yet, have they?

Butanol is really good stuff its the best energy provider next to gasoline in some ways better than diesel butanol producing bugs would be cool. Note the higher alcohols like butanol are not that soluble in water.


9.1 mL/100 mL H2O at 25 °C so about 10% by volume.

So if you can get bugs that can tolerate greater than 10% you feed them and the butanol floats to the top and you get it with a low water content.

Removing the distillation step is a big deal also if you had fuel cells that used butanol you prob don't need to do any more processing.

Higher alcohols such as pentol have even lower solubility
I'd not be surprised if pentanol would work with both diesel and spark based engines

Good stuff IMHO

Butanol, and n- alcohols up to about n-heptanol, are potential ICE fuels, and will no doubt one day be items in the "fuel boutique" for those times when nothing but an ICE will do (you just have to fire up that old Duesenberg, or need portable energy for your trek up K2). They are nearly drop-in replacements for gasoline and perhaps diesel fuel. Bacteria that make butanol have been known for nearly a century.

However, along with ethanol, they are destined to occupy a small niche in the overall energy budget. The first thing everyone is going to do (dragged kicking and screaming and shooting their neighbors) is conserve. It will become rare for solitary individuals to cruise around in two-ton steel vehicles just for idle amusement. Eventually, even in USistan, transportation will be electrified. There just isn't any other way, really.

The reason is this: there aren't enough atoms of fixed carbon in the biosphere to replace fossil fixed carbon at the rate we are currently burning them. By a factor of several hundred, near as I can gather from articles occasionally linked from TOD.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

They work just fine in a fuel cell too. I don't disagree that they will be used only where needed but they are a lot better fuels for a host of reasons than ethanol. Unless/until we get batteries with a energy density similar to gasoline organic fuels coupled with a fuel cell will have uses. And they won't be cheap probably 8-10 a gallon and probably with a nice tax on top. And the supply will probably be limited.

Their is nothing wrong with organic fuels used as needed.

"The reason is this: there aren't enough atoms of fixed carbon in the biosphere to replace fossil fixed carbon at the rate we are currently burning them. By a factor of several hundred, near as I can gather from articles occasionally linked from TOD."

I would really like to see this calculation. It would be an interesting exercise to see what kind of turnover is nessisary in biomass growth to sustain current consumption.

So would I - that's the about as baseline as it gets. We'll find out real fast whether we have a physics problem or an engineering problem.

I was thinking of a remark posted some time in the last six or eight months stating that we are blowing through 400 years' worth of fossil hydrocarbon every year. Perhaps that source was talking about the natural sequestration rate in peat bogs and such.

I may have overstated the ratio, as the Wikipedia says the biosphere has "about 1900 gigatonnes of carbon". So if we throw every last polar bear, housecat, and blade of grass into the TDP retort, we may juuust be able to make our 85mbpd of artificial fuel for awhile... :)

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Fixing carbon from CO2 in the atmosphere is certainly possible using solar energy. The problem is not carbon, the problem is converting sunlight to energy in an efficient manner. No one doubts that there is enough energy hitting the earth.
I doubt that the economy can survive waiting until 2030 or 2040 for a new fleet of electric cars, so we need to solve the biofuel problem somehow to power our soon-to-be-downsized-increasingly-vanpooled fleet.

The problem is not carbon, the problem is converting sunlight to energy in an efficient manner.

No, the problem is doing it (conversion to useful energy) in a cost effective manner. Efficiency per se would only otherwise be important if sunlight (and land to collect it on) were scarce. As it stands, efficiency is important only to the extent it affects the capital cost of the system per unit of capacity.

there aren't enough atoms of fixed carbon in the biosphere to replace fossil fixed carbon at the rate we are currently burning them.

Maybe, but it doesn't answer the right question.

We don't inherently need to replace fossel fixed carbon at the rate we are consuming now. We just need enough energy to provide the humans on this planet with a viable lifestyle and economic system.

It seems that from a theoretical perspective we do have enough. Engineer Poet posted a piece a while ago showing how biomass could provide much of our energy needs. Solar could supplement it ( Finally, there is no real need for humans to use as much energy as we do. We are only so wasteful because energy is cheap. Once it is no longer cheap, we will use less to produce the same results.

I'm not saying it is easy or that it will happen, but it doesn't seem like there is any theoretical barrier to adjustment to declining fossil fuel supply.

We don't inherently need to replace fossel fixed carbon at the rate we are consuming now. We just need enough energy to provide the humans on this planet with a viable lifestyle and economic system.


I just sort of latched onto this subject, because for me it's like the ethanol hype only more so. There seems to be a 'techno-fix' mentality about these proposals with an implicit assumption that they will scale up to tens of millions of barrels / day.

In the end, I think recycling and reuse will prevail. It's a lot cheaper to simply separate the glass, plastic, steel, dog poop, carrion, spent batteries, etc (or to keep them separate) than to somehow try to cook them down into primordial soup and re-refine them. It's a symptom of our open-cycle culture, I think, to just throw everything together like that...

It seems that from a theoretical perspective we do have enough. Engineer Poet posted a piece a while ago showing how biomass could provide much of our energy needs. Solar could supplement it (

Well I suppose, until the number of carbon atoms in the form of humans equals 1900 gigatonnes or so :^)

Finally, there is no real need for humans to use as much energy as we do. We are only so wasteful because energy is cheap. Once it is no longer cheap, we will use less to produce the same results.

Unfortunately as explained by Matt Savinar, Jay Hanson, and others: it isn't anything like human nature to even try to conserve. I think the re-education process is going to be extremely painful at best.

And then you have the likelihood of catabolic collapse: the good news is, almost everybody survives; the bad news is the same thing, as we now have six billion mouths to feed on a dwindling resource base. Last time humans lived in comfortable harmony with nature, there were not nearly this many of us.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Hasn't the price of corn doubled over the last year? And where will it go from here? Oh, but wait, the price of oil is going up. So I guess it is smooth sailing form here. Where do we go to get our honest brokers? Certainly not the government which is in bed with the corn ethanol producers. But wait, we are just in a transition stage to cellulosic ethanol. And the beauty of that is that there is always hope for better and magical technology.

I still can't help but think that there was a very good reason that we went from wood to coal to oil. Even Newt Gingrich acknowledges that we built the richest nation on earth in large part because we had cheap and plentiful oil. Clearly, we should be skeptical of any scheme that purports to change that basic equation.

But the optimists say we can continue to grow as fast as ever even as we transition to renewable, sustainable, and clean alternatives. I think we should and must make that transition but I think the promise of continued growth is just another politician's lie or self delusion.

To be fair, though, what choice do the politicians have? To tell the truth to the American people who live a lie is to guarantee that we will never begin to make the necessary transition.

At least those of us who remain skeptical will not be shocked, horrified, and angry once the curtain hiding the wizard is removed.

When the Carthage, Missouri plant was being built and the TDP process was being hyped (seems like they had at least one ChemE from MIT that weighed in on this somewhat positively, but his words were chosen extremely carefully), people were coming to me and asking what I thought because part of my current job includes the agriculture and forest products sector and energy/environment issues.

I told this that "this doesn't smell right." Three semesters of ChemE thermo, 2 semesters of PChem (granted many years ago) just made things "not look right."

Given North Carolina's large hog and turkey populations, this seemed like a "miracle" for those searching for an answer or for the next policy moves. At the height of looking for favorable reviews (at least from someone), the plant in Carthage shutdown and the website for CWT would not take you anywhere beyond a home page. No links were active.

I pointed this out and many of the issues that you have raised as to why it was probably "more sizzle than bacon" and the technical flaws (many associated with basic chemistry and thermodynamics). Time has rendered (pun intended) my initial impressions and the lessons learned in getting that degree correct.


So, what you are saying is that these schemes don't really make sense even as recycling plants? That's too bad -- but maybe fossil fuels are still too cheap.

Or the subsidy structure is screwed up -- it is cheap to raise turkeys, process them and cart their meat around. But it is expensive to get rid of the waste products.

This would seem to be the result of "externalizing" costs, not the result of a rational marketplace.

I think we need to be careful about what we consider "recycling." Remelting aluminum cans or iron/steel for new products is recycling. Recovering the cellulose fiber from paper for "new" paper products is recycling. Spinning plastic fiber for insulating clothing from used soft drink bottles is recycling.

But turkeys for oil isn't recycling in my book. In fact, as the plant in Carthage, MO has shown, most of the turkey waste is not really suitable for "easy conversion." The blend of organic compounds that make up any "oil" just are not present in most waste.

This is a matter of chemistry. Trying to tease out the chemistry and the amount of energy required to convert turkey waste (or any waste) to the proper range and combination of hydrocarbons to make "oil," or other similar products, can be very and problematic. No matter how much we wish a process to work, we are always confronted by the laws of thermodynamics...regardless of the price of fossil fuels.

For turkeys and some other wastes it would be far easier to "burn them" through some gasification (biological or thermal) process and to use that energy for some other purpose.

I also had it fail a sniff test for me when I first read about it. The thing that bothered me the most was the fast and loose use of numbers. I clearly remember a quote of 560% efficiency from one of the reporters writing about the process. When I dug deeper I found that the reporter misunderstood the CWT person who told him the process was 85% efficient. Or maybe the CWT spokesperson spun the 85% efficiency to sound like 6-7:1 EROEI rather than the <1:1 it actually was. In anycase, after noticing such utter disregard for fundamentally important issues I stopped reading about TDP. It seems a viable way of cleaning up/converting waste, but only if we are willing to pay for it...


When it comes right down to it we are all laypersons, on God's green earth. If you want to see what this layperson, and I am just that, thought of ethanol when GWB started promoting it, see my take at the time.

While I have great respect for TOD and the people who contribute to it (including yourself, though I have some disagreement with some of your conclusions) I had never heard of TOD at the time George started romping and stomping about ethanol. I think I had a pretty good handle on the value of ethanol at that time, as a layperson.

Now having got that off my chest I will read your article. I expect it to be insightful.

Excellent post, Robert. You've summed up the TDP issue clearly and logically.

Do we need more research here? Yeah, we do. But are we ready to replace petroleum with this stuff? No way on this green earth.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Thanks for the keypost, Robert. Nice one.

This reminds me of so many science fair projects in the '60s. A florence flask full of burned black gunk, and out of the condenser tube come a few drops of oil. Filter it a little bit, and it closely resembles the example amber vial of WTI or 10W30 or whatever.

The key to managing the smell is to start with something that's mostly carbohydrate, like banana peels. If you put turkey guts in that thing, it's gonna stink because of the nitrogen and protein. You also want to avoid sulfur-rich garbage ...

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Discover mag prints a lot of questionable science. I gave up on them many years ago.

Tarsand costs may have gone up but the companies and projects are still profitable and are projects still continuing. Billions in investment and profits unables development of cost reducing processes.
Major producing or planned developments in the Athabasca Oil Sands include the following projects:

Suncor Energy Inc. reported March 2007 oil sands facility during averaged approximately 258,000 barrels per day

Syncrude 356,000 bpd Mar 2007 avg

Shell Canada currently operated its Muskeg River mine producing 155,000 bpd and the Scotford Upgrader at Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. Shell intends to open its new Jackpine mine and expand total production to 500,000 bpd over the next few years.

Nexen's in-situ Long Lake SAGD project is on schedule to produce 70,000 bpd by late 2007, with plans to expand it to 240,000 bpd over the next 10 years.

CNRL's $8 billion Horizon in-situ project is planned to produce 110,000 bpd on startup in 2008 and grow to 300,000 bpd by 2010.

Total S.A.'s subsidiary Deer Creek Energy is operating a SAGD project on its Joslyn lease, producing 10,000 bpd. It intends on constructing its mine by 2010 to expand its production by 100,000 bpd.

Imperial Oil's $5 to $8 billion Kearl Oil Sands Project is projected to start construction in 2008 and produce 100,000 bpd by 2010. Imperial also operates a 160,000 bpd in-situ operation in the Cold Lake oil sands region.

Synenco Energy and SinoCanada Petroleum Corp., a subsidiary of Sinopec, China's largest oil refiner, have agreed to create the $3.5 billion Northern Lights mine, projected to produce 100,000 bpd by 2009.

Canadian oil output should climb to about 2.89 million barrels a day, 9.1 percent more than the 2.61 million barrel a day average in 2006. (the increase in production would be from the oilsands) so about 1.4 million bpd at the end of 2007.

Alberta production

Progress report

advancednano, Thanks for the great links! Costs are the real answer to the cornucopians, who insist that Tar is oil even though it doesn't flow without extremely expensive hydrogenation and leaves behind huge pit mines, massive waste sand and an ocean of polluted water.

Tar sands is quite real, and it will be done on scale.

3m b/d is certainly likely. 5 is possible.

It won't, most likely, be 10 m b/d. At least not in the next 25 years. There just isn't the infrastructure and the water, barring some pretty amazing things in the oil price.

Hi Valuethinker,

Do you any references/links for these numbers? 5 mmbpd is not a number I have heard in discussion, yet.

This report from 2006 has an all projects case of 4.4 million bpd by 2015.

So projecting forward it seems possible that more than 5 million bpd could be developed by 2030.

These graphs are truely wonderful! I really like seeing actual values put out.

Of interest to TOD'ers:
-Energy input to convert the sands to oil is about 1/10th (1 unit in, 10 converted; that is not the overall EROEI).
---Currently the energy is supplied by Nat Gas
---Facilities are currently being built to use converted oil for this task! (surprise!) It needs to be converted into a gas (not entirely sure on this, someone back me up here or refute me)
----This requires cracking to get a synthetic gas, requiring more energy(supplied from the converted oil sands?!)
---at this stage the extraction is self sustaining, meaning the energy derived from the output is redirected to the input to extract more in greater quantities(no other energy sources are required besides the oil sands themselves).

It looks like the government is producing GROSS numbers rather than net. My rough and tumble estimate is for (at most) half of the gross number being produced actually ending up as oil usable for futher processing.


Except that if you look at the actual production figures for Alberta from EUB in the link given by advanced nano for 2006 you see that production did not increase in 2006 as this graph projects. It averaged 1.09mbpd over the year and was 1.03mbpd in December.

The graph has some thick lines so it is tough to tell where exactly the early forecast years are hitting. It would probably be better to get actual numbers and operating projects with exact dates for production. Where did you find the exact bpd figures in which of my links ? My links go to a lot of numbers.

I spoke to someone at the EUB and it seems that their numbers are just for the mining projects and do not include the SAGD. Steam Assisted Gravity drainage of which there are at least 80,000 bpd. The thermal processes for getting oil out of the oilsands were 252000 bpd in 2004.

the numbers that I got in an email exchange from the EUB are

Oil Sands Mining Production Data

Average Bitumen Produced in 2006: 760,481 bbl/day

Average Synthetic Crude Oil Produced in 2006: 657,428 bbl/day

So 1.4 milion bbl/day not including the SAGD numbers.

Average Bitumen Produced in 2007 (based on months of January and February): 793,910 bbl/day

Average Synthetic Crude Oil Produced in 2007 (based on months of January and February): 695,731 bbl/day

So almost 1.5 million bbl/day not including the SAGD numbers

BTW: Appendix 4 of the link in the above comment
has a long list of projects with dates and bpd for each project. Project names and companies.

$125bn of announced projects to 2012.

The Report notes that actual projects are expected to be $95bn over that time period.

It's a lot of whonga, even so.

Thank you! Great resource!

You saved me a lot of digging.

I think 3m b/d by 2015 would be an almost impossible stretch. I doubt the resources of capital, labour, materials, roads, water etc. exist to achieve that. Although they are talking about flying in labour forces from emerging markets.

But by 2020s, yes. And if oil stays at or above $50/bl, almost certain to happen.

Which would imply 5m b/d by 2050 is also very likely and might even be exceeded. The constraints will be largely environmental.

Here is a quote from 2005 of a 6 million bpd target for alberta oilsands in 2030.

Alberta may increase output from the oil sands to 6 million barrels a day in 2030 from about 1 million barrels a day at present, said Claude Drzymala, a senior energy adviser at the Canadian Department of Industry.

The FP article linked above suggests that more production growth will come from the east coast than from the oil sands. Khebab had a great post with oil sands forecasts last year but I can't find it. It would be handy to be able to search this forum by author.

FWIW, my take on expanded production from the oil sands in 2007 is about 167,000 bbl/d only, as follows:

Great Divide 1 (Connacher) 10,000
Jackfish 1 (Devon) 35,000
Orion 1 (BP) 10,000
Foster Creek expansion (Encana) 60,000
Tucker (Husky) 30,000
Seal (BP) 18,000
Peace River (Penn West) 4,000

These numbers are a couple of months old. The source is the statistics section of the Oil Sands Review and the various company websites.

Yes, the tarsands are producing full throttle.

Am I the only one worried about NG in this context?

The tar sands are a good example of how the market takes care of things. The flaw is that the market doesn’t consider the lost utility of the input resources when producing an output.

I like logical moral arguments for this type of topic. Here’s the reasoning I use to describe issues related to tar sand production. The question is loaded but gives people pause.

Production of oil equivalents from tar sands utilizes large amounts of clean water and natural gas.

This production represents an indirect conversion of clean water and natural gas to oil.

Since it is profitable the market has no qualms about utilizing other natural resources to create a pseudo-natural resource. In fact the market should demand it if it’s profitable.

But it is an appalling waste of depletable natural resources It’s basically a trade of clean water, fit for human consumption or agriculture, and home heating/electric generation capacity for transport fuel. Consider the unique resources involved and their independent benefits. We are wasting the benefits of clean water and natural gas for the benefits of oil. What value is oil if there’s not enough water or natural gas?

It is sad tragedy that Canada would make such a trade, at some point the water and natural gas will be sorely missed.

As a Canadian, we're only starting to get a good picture of exactly how screwed up the entire tar sands system has become. Talks of nuclear power to produce the steam, an area the size of an average european country basically being proposed as a giant strip mine, the loss of huge amounts of clean's appalling. The thing is, it may have been in the minds of energy producers for a while, but the tar sands are so far away from the rest of the population, it really didn't register until lately how out of control large the area has gotten. There are labour shortages, high paying jobs that would be minimum wage elsewhere, and of course no affordable living anywhere. Capitalism run too far, too fast, for real systems to adjust.

Alberta is the most "american" province, but even there, the pressure is starting to build to slow the hell down. Quite frankly, the tar sand isn't going anywhere, and waiting a few years until the environmental impact can be lessened is the very least we should demand. If it ever comes to light in the public consciousness that a large section of Canada is being destroyed so americans can have oil, expect some ugliness.

"If it ever comes to light in the public consciousness that a large section of Canada is being destroyed so americans can have oil, expect some ugliness."

This is one of the critical problems with society these days. The "news" covers crap like models overdosing and sports commentators as if they make any difference. Society is programmed to accept this filter as the source of things that they care about. A good friend of mine runs a radio show and he's had to devote multiple days to calls about the Imus situation even though he considers it irrelevant to the world around us.

This is a complete failure of the modern press. I'm convinced the free market is the problem, because it forces companies to focus solely on maximizing profit. The tar sands will continue as long as they are profitable, as will very bad journalism. It's no wonder so many people get their "news" from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Anna Nicole Smith is profitable news while the planet is stripped bare of the resources our society is based on. The bearer of honest bad news isn't going to profit, they would be inherently admitting that the system itself is flawed. Things will have to break badly before that occurs.

How many Canadians know that per person, Canadians produce more greenhouse gases than Americans?

My own view, colour me cynical, is that Canadians aren't prepared to give up any part of their lifestyle, merely because it might cause a bit of global warming.

After all, global warming (at least within our lifetimes) is *good* for Canada. You can't find a nation, other than Russia, that does better under global warming.

Maybe this is of a lifetime of watching Toronto sprawl every further northwards, lapping on the shores of Lake Simcoe. people commute to GTA from Collingwood, for g'sakes.

I think the tar sands will get built, if the demand is there.

Alberta has the lowest taxes in Canada, and the most affluent population. That is because of its rich inheritance of coal, oil, gas and other natural resources.

"I think the tar sands will get built, if the demand is there."

Demand is a given. It will get built if it's profitable.

This means that the price of water or natural gas will eventually be the limiting factor (I'm assuming oil prices will stay high and only go higher over time).

So the efficient consumption of two critical natural resources for the creation of a pseudo-natural resource will continue until one of the inputs enters a depletion phase.

At least that's how I think it will play out.

The environmental destruction will be immense, but that's pretty much the case with anything humans have touched.

I think this is a glaring example of the free market failing to understand the implications of itself.

Strange how Canada's national paper the Globe & Mail today had a colum Peak oil doom sayers fall silent as reserves grow ever larger, yet on the direct opposite page another story ran Wildcat growth in oil patch begins to trouble Albertans

Yet in the same days section we have shell settling claims with its reserves accounting scandal

talk about a contraversial newpaper story!

Yeah, it is for reasons like this that I am always a sceptic when something new comes along. If it had been as great as was initially suggested, they ought to have been able to build plants all over the place. Instead they struggled along with this one.

The same goes for various "advances" in other alternative energy fields, or next-gen vehicle business.

I usually look to see who has made the advance. What kind of reputation do they have? What other products do they have (are they even in the Alt-E business in the first place, or are their other products something completely unrelated?

If it involves building something, do they have full prototypes, or is this just something that looks good on paper? Do they have sufficient financing to take it to the next level? Are there 3rd parties who have looked at it and find that the reality matches the claims? Do they have customers lined up?

To be fair, sometimes radical ideas take a while to catch a hold, especially when the ideas are expensive. And also to be fair, the venture capitol people can be real vultures at times - they expect you to give up the vast majority of your idea in order to give you financing, and lots of people just say nuts to that and work on their ideas at a much slower pace rather than hand over control over the whole thing.

This isn't to say that I think there will be *no* technology that changes things for the better - there will undoubtably be something or another, but we don't really know what it might be, and what the potential impacts are.

One problem they experienced was incompetent contractors during construction particularly the welders. There were so many bad welds that construction had to start over which threw all economic projections out the window. Next they ran into a rendering company that was willing to pay Butterball for the turkey waste which CWT was getting for free. This made the feedstock unaffordable. At the other end of the process no refiner would buy their product. So these amatuers got hit three ways from hell so they packed up and left town.
One part of the process which the Discover articles never mentioned was the use of sulphuric acid in the first stage of the process. Who knows what else was left out of the articles about the process.
For this process to move forward then the first thing that needs to happen is a committment from a purchaser for the product. Next is a good engineer to closely supervise construction of new facilities and to establish a standardized design for mass production of the equipment at lower costs. Finally is to select a feedstock with little alternative use like sewage. TDP is a scientifically sound process and is a case study in all the pitfalls of taking an idea from the lab to the marketplace.

I gather that all of these things were true, and I think it is fair to describe them as amateurish errors.

I really don't know why they picked the turkey waste as a starting point. Used tires or municipal waste would have been a much better starting point from this standpoint.

I think using municipal waste would be a much more difficult technical problem. Yeah, the article said "anything into oil," but what kind of oil is the question.

They found that to get usable high-quality oil out of it, they had to stick to a certain recipe. For example, they ended up having to add pig fat to the turkey waste.

they ended up having to add pig fat ...

Interesting. I wonder what their yield was, relative to making biodiesel out of the pig fat?

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

"Used tires or municipal waste would have been a much better starting point from this standpoint."

As I understand it as long as they are run correctly limestone kilns (used to make cement found in mortar and concrete) work well with scrap tires as some portion of the fuel.

I have not seen any comparative numbers but it would not surprise me if this was a use for this waste stream that gave a higher energy return than TDP...

But it could well be argued that an even better use for scrap tires is to build Earthships:

I know one route to TDP thats not often used and I suspect might be behind the hype here. Its to mix in metal oxides/clorides sulfur and amines with carbohydrates and cook the mess. The calcium oxide/sulfur/ammonia gives you a lot of reaction routes with N2 and sulfates as by products. Basically the trick is to mix traditional black powder with organic material and the result is a type of oil with a very high sulfur content. At the end of the day your using hydrogen sulfide as a reducing agent.

You need a hydrogen source to regenerate the sulfur and ammonia so ...

And the smell is incredible. Stink does not describe it.
Early on I got interested in sulfur/amine chemistry because it seemed to be a area which was wide open. I soon learned why. I managed to successfully create synthetic cat urine that was ten times as potent as the natural variety.

So, this "lay person" wants to know .... What do I do ?

Do I buy some farmland ?

Do I buy a diesel car/truck ?

Do I move to town and ride a bike?

Do I build a self sufficient bunker ?

I am getting very depressed and confused .....

The first thing you need to do is to Jump Off the Fence. Depending on which side you come down on, the rest of your decisions just became lots easier.

I won't pretend to argue one way or another for you. You have to make that decision. Lots of other people here will no doubt argue one way or the other, but it's your life. Do with it what you believe is right, not what others here at TOD think is right.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

GreyZone, from your blog:
Technological society saved my life, cured my cancer, and has allowed me many more years than I would have otherwise had.

I have to wonder, was it technological society that gave you the cancer in this first place? There are many recognized cancer-causing chemicals being excreted on a regular basis from said society. Who's to say you would have gotten cancer in the first place had no technological society existed in the first place?

I say this as the son of a man who succumbed to bladder cancer, most likely caused by the dry-cleaning fluid perchloroethylene. Several years of painful and expensive treatments did little to save him, so I'm not as enamored of technological society as you are.

My specific cancer, a mediastinal germ cell tumor, is connected to heavy smoking by women during pregnancy. My mother was a heavy smoker and smoked during pregnancy. Back in those days there was not much warning to avoid it. As such, my personal cancer was probably not a direct by-product of industrial society but rather a by-product of agrarian society.

I don't know if a non-industrial society would have spared me this issue or not. What I know is what I know, and warts and all, I like most of our current society. I am, however, not blind to its many faults. Could we do better? Certainly. Could we do worse? Absolutely. Look at Eastern Europe after the iron curtain fell and see how bad it can get.

Personally, I do not believe that we need to return to pure hunter-gatherer status to be happy and fulfilled. Further, I believe those that do believe this are fooling themselves very badly about what life in the primitive state is really like. Unfortunately, I fear that we may be headed back to the primitive state, willingly or not, unless we collectively wake up.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

I think that the successful marketing of tobacco consumption in the form of cigarettes is rather specifically a phenomenon of industrial society, particularly the consumption of cigarettes by women.

Tobacco in pipes and cigars was a manly activity of the 19th century... and probably resulted in lower total dosing levels than cigarettes. Women tended to be excluded from it.

Cigarettes were marketed to urban populations through the movies (industrial society phenom)... and functioned as a way of coping with stress... enabling women to be thinner in a context of oil age food abundance (industrial society again).... and as a way for men to remain calm during the stresses of war time and battle (industrial society again).

For all of these reasons, I call cigarettes a very modern and industrial vice. Non-industrial society may have made tobacco available to you, but it did not do it in the highly addictive and cheap form of cigarettes.

May you stay healthy...

I agree with oregon7 on all his points, Grey. Especially the last one.

As far as h-g societies go, the few remaining modern ones seem to be happy enough, rough life or not. It's not the worst way to live; ask the people who work 70 hours a week in Chinese sweat shops making cheap toys for us Americans.

GreyZone - in that article you mention many single points of failure in the global economy, but the link is broken. Do you have another link to that. (I'm interested in the intrinsic instability in globalised economics from a complexity theory perspective).


The blog entry is from 2005. Sadly it seems totally revamped their existing web site and lost some content (or failed to index it).

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Surely someone is going to comment on the irony of a broken link to an article about single points of failure... surely... someone...?

Well said, GreyZone.

Oh, you actually have a blog...thanks. Will read at earliest opportunity.

Hi jmygann,

As far as I know, no one on this site has admitted to being prescient. That said, I would like to humbly offer a few suggestions.

I don't think you can go wrong with West Texas's ELP: Economize, Localize, Produce.

With some of the proceeds from the Economize, it is my personal belief that 10% precious metals in physical possession and maybe 25% in North American oil and natural gas equities will probably prove profitable.

Regarding farmland, maybe the implosion of the real estate bubble will drag farmland down with it, maybe not.

Matt Savinar hosts fora on all these topics and more; his site is linked in "Peak Oil Primers" on the right hand side of the page.

Finally, remember that THIS IS THE "GOOD OLD DAYS"! We are living during the pinnacle of human material prosperity; enjoy your life!

Hi jmygann,

I'm a bit late on this but I didn't know you at all till your post here today. I understand you farm organic olives on some acreage? Sounds like what most of the jokers on tis site would love to be doing if they knew how.

Greyzones advice is good. My only suggestion is to keep posting and pass on your personal knowledge, there is so much to understand about farming that is going to be needed.

I would like to add that I think that peak oil arguments are interesting but that the big thing about TOD is that it allows the possibility of reestablishing human relationships that have some meaning.

My only suggestion is to keep posting and pass on your personal knowledge.

Make the maximum personal savings in energy in your own life.

Insulate your home. Consider moving to a smaller community with a record of political stability (in the US I would say New England predominates in these-- check out this week's Doonesbury strips, set in rural Vermont). But if you still need to work in a big city, Connecticut works as well.

(the most energy efficient Americans, ironically, probably live on the island of Manhattan. But that is dependent on the infrastructure of the rest of the country. And in an economic slump, things could get messy).

Oregon might be another such place. Parts of the Midwest, however the agricultural base is monocultural.

Ideally what you want to be able to do is ride your bike to local stores and shopping. You'll still need a car (this is America) but you won't use it as much. And in a smaller community there may be more locally produced food.

You'll need medical care, so you are not going to be leaving the cash society any time soon. A full bank account, low consumer debts is probably your first port of call in terms of protecting yourself.

VW will be bringing in highly efficient diesels in 2008 to the US market. Other manufacturers will follow suit.

For my money, the optimal car for most Americans is still a Honda Civic, or a Toyota Corolla. Both are economical, and have excellent reliability records, and are common enough that parts are available. Sadly they are slow to roll out diesel technology.

The way you drive can save you 20% on the fuel bill.

Insulate your home. Far and away the cheapest technological fix. Passive solar constructs are the second cheapest eg thermal windows. A really efficient airtight wood stove (and/or wood furnace) is probably the third. Planting some trees round the house so you don't use the air conditioning as much (and making your roof lighter coloured) is probably the fourth.

(traditionally in America, people had attic fans. It's actually a nice way to spend the summer, but houses aren't designed for them any more)

A small woodlot that you have access to could be a good investment. Also owning stocks in a few oil sands rich companies (take a look at the Canadian oil sands income trusts and also Canadian Natural Resources, Nexen etc.).

The optimal home heating/ cooling system is a ground source heat pump-- now called a geoexchange heat pump. But 1). you need electricity to run them 2). they cost a lot to install (you need to dig a borehole or trench).

I'd do all these things before I start putting up solar panels or a windmill-- the price of these can only fall in the future.

It's always worth checking the 'Energy Star' ratings put out by the DOE before buying any appliance, furnace etc. There are huge savings to be had from buying the most efficient brands.

I managed to successfully create synthetic cat urine that was ten times as potent as the natural variety.

Hehe. Now I understand why you don't want to play with ammonia!

What did the synthetic cat smell like?


It smelled exactly like cat urine but would attach to anything .
Metals glass cloth skin etc.

I made it vi break down of the solvent DMF and something else it was gunk I never isolated it.

Actually I was working with tertramethly ammonium borate which turned out to form stable esters in water really cool stuff and original work. I was trying to extend the reaction to borate sulfur esters. To my knowledge no one has done a B-O-S bond.
Stuff like this.
Except I was looking for something stable.

I actually made a functional anti-cancer drug based on the tetra methyl borate ester of riboflavin that acted as a anticancer agent. It was pretty cool since it worked as a anti-vitamin and was non toxic except for slowing metabolic pathways. The fact that the tertramethylamine borate ester stayed basically covalently bound is obvious because tertramethylamine is the most potent neurotoxin thats not a venom it works by blocking the sodium ion channel.

The Powers that Be at the University of Arkansas locked all the work up under patent then failed to peruse the work.
I got pissed and switched to theoretical chemistry. Its pretty tough doing something that cool in your 20's and see it get messed up.

Interestingly enough, I would advise all academic scientists to write clauses in their contracts which stipulate that if the university is unable/unwilling to utilize the patent, it reverts to the researcher, or a trust of his/her choosing.

Remember people, you can change the wording of contracts, the other party doesn't have to sign, but neither do you! Stick to your guns!

Futhermore, don't give up hope, if the compound is indeed novel and anti-cancer, your career will be longer than 20 years anyways, start up your own company and save some lives!

This was 15 years ago. I tried to start a company but the drug business is not a place for startups with good ideas. The only reason I was able to even test it was by using cultures and avian models. You have no idea how much animal testing costs.
It was cool in culture you have these cell cultures lines which are basically cancer cells and the cells would just set there not dividing but not dying either. Anti-Vitamins are cool they just lower the metabolic rate. The one I used was a riboflavin tetramethylamine borate ester. Synthesis is trivial just combine the amine boric acid and riboflavin in methanol ethanol or acetone or dmf reflux for a few hours and then dry.

Very little work has been done in tetralkylamine borate ester chemistry no one even knew the compounds where water stable.
Its a whole branch of chemistry thats been barely touched.
Boron chemistry is done in fits and starts and it always seems to produce cool compounds or reactions. The biggest problem I had with the situation is this area is known to not be well explored and yet as yielded cool results but no one gave a damn.

Whats interesting is a big part in causing the work being dropped was because the worlds highest temperature superconductor was discovered at my school at the same time and the researcher left for Colorado and it turned out the patents were basically junk so the whole department was gutted. So my work was basically killed by friendly fire :(

And worse they never got a product out of the superconductors and I had a lot better shot at a real world application. Even funnier I almost took a job doing the superconductor work while waiting on my boron patent since we where out of money :)

No wonder I'm a bitter old man :)

Not in the your class but irksome, I applied for a patent on a motorcycle windscreen that works like hot damn. I received a reply from some patent viewer about a windscreen that worked completely differently if it worked at all. Being hot headed and in my early twenties as well, I wrote back that the difference was between an airfoil and a flat plank. I then left for long stay in Mexico figuring that was that as far as patents go. When I got back there was a letter that stated unless I continued to proceed with my application it would be dropped by a certain date...a date which had passed.

Two years ago after not riding for 18 years while my son grew up I bought a Triumph and so at least have the satisfaction of using it myself. If you ride I could send you plans and instructions about doing a mold. I read this in your post Anti-Vitamins are cool they just lower the metabolic rate. would they stop my receding hairline could we do a trade? ;-) Gee I hate smiley faces but there isn't much else is there?

I also see that Robert has left in a bit of a snit. Good for him, but better if he returns.

I know this is off the wall -- I only had one undergrad course in chemistry 35 years ago so I'm real dumb. Ask me about economics and I'll be able to BS for a long time and maybe even sound like I might know something :-) I came across Boron as a fuel close to 10 years ago. Serious problems in practicality but to date no one I've asked has demolished the chemistry. Possibly, and hopefully, you can.

Those are boron hydrides B-H bonds. I'm actually a bit surprised no one has taken a hard look at them as a hydrogen store.



Yep they are being looked at.

Also boron-nitride makes a bucky ball.

Its useful in batteries.

People to look at boron routinely its known to offer surprises its just boron chemistry has not had the systematic research that carbon and silicon have enjoyed.
Which is to bad my experience what it has a lot to offer.

Perhaps due to the fact that so many boranes are pyrophoric in addition to being nasty toxic gases. The semiconductor industry uses 'em in small quantities sometimes.

But, sure, B≡N is isoelectronic with C≡C. At least in crystals and sheets and long chains and such...

I have recently seen a mention of NaAlH4 as a hydrogen source as well. If you can find some way to regenerate it without having oxygen attack and turn it into plain old soda and bauxite, it can be a hydrogen storage compound.

Note that these compounds are not primary sources of hydrogen, and you still have to make it by some means. TAANSTAFL

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Here's a note from the end of the above article at Robert's blog:

This essay will also appear at The Oil Drum within the next couple of days. That does not, however, mean that I am “back” at TOD. I will not be defending the essay there, as I currently don’t have the time nor the inclination to argue with 20 people. I have an agreement with the staff there that they can use any of my essays from here any time they want, and they wanted to post this one. It will probably be summer, when we have some real news out of Saudi Arabia, before I start posting again at TOD.

For my part in the vitriol that resulted in Robert's leaving, I'm truly sorry. I'd estimate that most of us miss his input in this extremely important debate.


Extreeeeeemely so. Robert is one of the most level
headed posters here. I have way too little knowledge
to respond to many other posts but his "brake on
reality" was always very welcome.

The ethanol industry is currently nothing more than "farming the government" for the 50 plus cents per gallon subsidy, how long is this subsidy slated to last and would there be any ethanol produced without it?

There's a US government mandate for ethanol mixtures in gasoline. I don't know what the requirement is this year, but it will grow to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

Thus, there's no valid reason to have subsidies anymore. If they would remove the corn subsidies, they wouldn't be stuck depending on the folly of a single crop as feedstock for their ethanol program.

actually there is a valid reason to have the subsidy.

When the government sbusidizes 50 cents/gallon to the ethanol producers they only need to charge gas stations magianlly more than the price gas stations pay for regular gas.

If the government didn't provide that 50cent/gallon subsidy, the ethanol producer would have to charge 50cents + the marginal premium to gas stations. In a 10% ethanol blend that would amount to an extra 5 cents per gallon at the pump, in addition to any taxes on that 5 cents per gallon.

The government subsidy internalizes all of that so that it just shows up as a small fraction of your income taxes along with all of the other silly pork they throw into the federal budget.

That 50 cents/gallon probably makes quite a big difference as far as public opinion goes, when it is internalized and nobody "sees" it, vs. when it is externalized and it does show up in the cost at the pump.

all true but it's the worst possible reason to have a subsidy. People should be well aware of what the cost is for ethanol in gasoline instead of hiding it. too bad we don't put a military cost tax on crude as well.

HAHA - income taxes paying for government programs - if only taxes covered gov spending!

Saturday is a National event Step it up - promoting the reduction of CO2 by 80% to save the world from global warming.
A noble and naive goal I'm rather impressed by, however insufficient and blind to the fact that our energy is going to get dirtier before it gets cleaner, even if we can cut our gross energy consumption itself.

I WISH we'd just remove the subsidy and add a $0.50/gal gasoline tax to balance the table. (I mean as a start!)

The same reason we can't tax gasoline to make it WORTH what it's worth is why we'll not solve GW or alernative energy.

I've yet to find a single other idea I can believe in besides that energy MUST cost MUCH more before people will conserve and support alternatives.

That's what I can sell - If you want to save the world, expect nearly everything to cost 3 times what you pay today.

I've always thought the simplest and fairest way to tax gasoline was to insist the gasoline tax receipts cover the costs of building and maintaining 100% of automobile infrastructure: our roads, bridges and freeways. I've heard that this would add about .50 to 1.00 per gallon to cover direct costs and maybe a little more if you include indirect costs (mowing along the freeway, lighting, highway patrol, etc).

...and a whole lot more if you include the health costs of pollution and collisions. There are an order of magnitude more deaths in the United States from car collisions than occured in the World Trade Centre attack. Every year.

Time to put the shareholders of the Big Three in Guantantamo, no?

Or to quote Pogo:

'we have met the enemy, and he is us'

how ironic it was about Earth Day. We've come full circle.

You'd have to put the *drivers* of the products of all the car companies that sell in America, into Guantanamo.

It would get a mite crowded. Shades of John Brunner's 'Stand on Zanzibar'.

Anyways Toyota is the world's largest car producer these days, and a nice Lexus puts out 220 gm CO2/km. So throw Toyota in prison.

Good work. Does anyone have any details re: energetics of TDP, preferences in feedstocks, waste products, etc?

As far as cellulosic ethanol being the Next Big Thing: I think it clearly is the Next Big Thing. It's been the NBT for years, it has a long and bright future as the NBT. (Unless it gets deposed by hydrogen, or perhaps the Zero Point Field)

Zero Point Field

"grabs gun"

A technical question for those of you who might know:

Is the Pareto principle possibly applicable for things like this? What I mean is, could one get 80% of the potential energy output with 20% of the energy inputs required to yield 100% of the potential energy output? Do projects like this sometimes fail because people are trying to get too much yield out of them?

I think the Pareto principle only applies to human behaviour patterns. It is a sociological theory and probably does not translate into thermodynamics, or any other natural law dealing with inorganic or non-brain organic substances.

The "Pareto principle" (the 80/20 rule) is a cliché used to convey the rule of thumb that many statistical distributions are not homogeneous. It's simply a lot easier to tell the mathematically-allergic/functional-illiterate/layman without their eyes glazing over when you give them proper statistics, or try to spell homogeneous. There are no literal applications.

It doesn't even have the credibility of being created by an economist - it's created by a famous management consultant trying to channel a dead Italian economist.

Hi Robert,

Having had my fit of apoplexy at your expense, I am sorry to say, I then settled down to read and found it a fine article.

We are living in a world where the simplest solutions make the most energy sense if we are going to feed ourselves. Not perpetual motion machines like ethanol where we rob Peter to pay Paul and shortchange Paul to look like we are winning.

Any good work you do there I welcome and should not be petty about minor details of style.

While I was reading Robert's article one word was popping up in my head: Alchemy. We are awash with a new army of black gold alchemists. As Kunstler writes people think you can get something for nothing. Perhaps the dense, powerful and easy to get energy in oil brainwashed people to believe in magic. Alchemy is for people who think they're more intelligent than someone who believes in magic by mixing bad science and pseudo-science with magic. So we have a religious movement now of techno-geek alchemists who believe they will conger up things like TDP, ethanol, and hydrogen cars.

Precisely. I quoted Marge Simpson last week and I'll do it once again:

"We can do anything now that scientists have invented magic."

It may sound facetious, but the way a lot of people seem to think about energy issues amounts to just that.

So we have a religious movement now of techno-geek alchemists...

"Alchemy" sums it up perfectly, but the oil replacement is a financial movement like the original gold alchemists, not a religeous one.

Actually... William Catton nailed the belief in supreme technological virtuosity in his book "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change"... 25 years ago.

He called it a "cargo cult".

Even before that, and probably the originator of the term, was Richard Feynman -- one of the best physics teachers (and first rate researcher) ever:

In 1974 (!) he called what was going on in science "cargo cult science" -- and it has only gotten worse since then.

The classic period of "Cargo Cult" activity has its origins in WWII. There were "cargo cults" before this but WWII had a massive impact. US forces arrived in New Guinea and routinely flew in supplies via aircraft. The local natives received some of these supplies in trade with the American GIs. When the GIs left, the local natives began constructing meticulously detailed straw aircraft in an attempt to get the "gods" to grant them these goodies again. Needless to say, it did not work.

In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood, and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. The cultists thought that the foreigners had some special connection to their own ancestors, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.

In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size mockups of airplanes out of straw, and created new military style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes. Ultimately, though these practices did not bring about the return of the god-like airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war, they did have the effect of eradicating the religious practices that had existed prior to the war.

Basically a "cargo cult" is any group of primitives invoking something that they do not really understand in order to achieve a benefit whose origins they also do not understand. Feynman is credited with making the term widespread but it surely existed prior to his mentioning it.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

—Richard Feynman
1965 Nobel Prize winning physicist
“It is not possible to understand the magnetic effects of materials in any honest way from the point of view of classical physics.”

A view made in the recognition that there is no unification theory of the four forces of physics. Even if a unification were to occur today, that still leaves a host of questionably surmountable issues.

Where IS that 'Theory of Everything' ?

I think Feynman's comment was more a recognition that both ferro- and ferrimagnetism arise from an alignment of electron spins, which only align because there are so few possible states in which they can park. It's quantum, not the GUT, that's the rub here.

Knowing where I am in the learning curve, odds are you're right.

My speculation was based on a broader perspective which I would suggest is consistent with the view that Feynman expressed in the phrase cargo cult science. I agree, from my limited perspective, with Feynman's lament of the lack of integrity in theory-making, at least in the discipline of physics.

Where IS that 'Theory of Everything' ?

It is religious in the sense that it is group of people who hold beliefs in common that are based on faith--and many of them are in your town with no financial investment in this alchemy. Even Vinod Kholsa would say he is not in it just for the money but to save the world.

To all posterss to this site: STOP using the word religion. None of the following are religious in nature: GW, PO, Technology, Science, Sports Fanaticism [er.. maybe not the last]. It confuses the issue and allow religious nuts and various other troublemakers to denigrate the arguments.

A religion is an organized [by priests] set of fantasies purporting to offer some good to its believers and aimed toward social control [my deffinition]. Its doctrines are not testable in or againsr the real world, whereas all of the above [perhaps excluding Sports Fanaticism] can and will be tested for reality.

James Gervais

Why should I use your definition? Why shouldn't I use the general definition of religion?

Definition #6 seems to fit just fine here. It's not my problem if you have issues with the English language.

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

I would think that paradoxically non-organized religion is the problem. Hear me out – any organized system of religion would have to have a definable set of doctrines that would have defenders ie scholars who react to the current developments in science. One can read the material and then form there own opinion about the merits of Stem Cell research vs Roman Catholic doctrine.

It’s the vague new-age-ish sort of “feelings” based poetics that need a quick dunk in cold water.

That "Somethingism" stems from a dissatisfaction with all existing value systems. There are just too many law-based frameworks around: why do you think there is such animosity between the religions of the book and science? Buddhism and Hinduism, among others, seem to be far less conflicting with science. Their nature is fluid rather than rigid and therefore they can more easily coexist with science.

Yup, we're all just a bunch of crazy, wacky magicians who wear tall pointy hats and work in a castle tower.

Got any eye of newt?

A much more efficient way to use turkey or other animal fats as feedstock for biodiesel is trans esterification.
But it remains recycling.

Most of the "next big things" smell about the same way. It'd be really nice if one of them worked well enough to make a difference, but just looking at the probable depetion rate of oil likely available on the open market in upcoming years, there are problems of scale, and problems of time-lag, and the problem of receding horizons (I like that phrase) since oil getting more expensive makes everything ELSE more expensive. Including the costs of new projects. People are so used to the ubiquity of cheap oil that they take its effects as a tacit assumption even when planning projects to replace oil! Y'gotta love the way humans think.

Of all the "biomass" type notions, the one which seems at least in concept interesting to me - and I have NOT researched it - is algae which can convert a substantial fraction of photosynthesized energy into lipids. If they really can do this, then at least in concept it could be a reasonable link between solar energy and liquid fuels. The devil's in the details, of course. But algae and other single-celled critters are the closest thing we're likely to have to nano-robots, and they have already solved the problems of rapid reproduction and turning sunlight into other stuff. Are there any strings about this on TOD which have touched on this?

By way of disclosure, I'll be amazed if humans figure a way to avoid wholesale collapse of 'civilization'; but it's interesting to think of ways this could at least be ameliorated.

And hey, while I'm mentioning this, has anyone heard anything new about Bussard's IEC fusion? That's another thing which is intriguing - since the energy IS 'in there' - but which likely will encounter some fatal flaw.

all best from a novice reader... the people posting to this site are pretty awesome...

I'm not big on algae. They've been working on that one since the '70s oil crisis, with little success.

Basically, algae farming has all the same problems as any other monoculture. You need a lot of water and fertilizer. Weeds are a problem; the kind of algae that makes good bio-diesel grows well enough in the lab, but outdoors, is outcompeted by less desirable types of algae. It takes a lot of energy to harvest and dry enough algae to make significant amounts of diesel.

The original plan was to grow algae in manmade ponds out in the desert. Plenty of sun, and the land is not currently being used for food farming...but how do you get all the water you'll need out there? Some plans call for using sewage as fertilizer, but will you transport it from where it's generated to where it's used?

IMO, algae farming depends on cheap oil as much as regular farming does.

Thanks for that - I've been wondering about algae bio-diesel lately. One thing about your comment - that it's dependent on cheap oil - it would be interesting to calculate the EROI of algae assuming algae-based biofuel is used to power the transport of the sewage and the water, and the building of the ponds. Same with ethanol, of course, but I think we know basically what the answer is there (ie, too low).

The weeds comment is new to me though, and thanks for that info.

In general terms
1) the happy microbes problem
2) the water separation problem
applies to alcohol fermentation as well as algae. I include cellulosic and butanol. That's why I think some form of thermochemical processing of biomass has to succeed in the next few years, but it will need carbon caps or fuel tax breaks to be viable. TDP just took the wrong path.

Like TDP, other thermal processing methods "work", they are just too expensive.

IMHO the fundamental problem with any large scale biomass scheme is that photosynthesis is a very inefficient process, IIRC something like 0.1%. And even with the highest yielding methods, only about 50 % of the biomass can be turned into liquid fuel, and then we burn it in an ICE with an efficieny of 10-20%? There simply isn't enough arable land in the world to sustain our current oil consumption with biomass.

OTOH, wind, solar and nuclear are not limited by arable land. CSP for example could supply all the energy needs of the world by converting only a small percentage of deserts into industrial use. That's why IMHO transportation electrification (primarily rail) is so important.

It appears that Greenfuel's algae process is being tested on coal-plant flue gas; the claimed productivity is "... as much as 8,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre" per year.

That is a ceiling, but a high one.  A "one-liter house" with alage on the roof may be able to produce roughly 8 times its heating fuel needs.

The limiting factor in this case is carbon dioxide; without a source, you'd have to depend on the atmosphere (which usually means lower productivity).  I can't find anything on the productivity expected by Aquaflow, so I have no idea how much carbon uptake could be expected from an open-air growth system.  Still, it's absolutely fascinating!

Perhaps someone has or will come up with a general theory of biofuel. I would like to see it because maybe it could save us a lot of trouble, needless expense, and blind allies.

In the mean time, each bioprocess goes back to the dependency on the idea that we can harvest current streaming solar energy to produce carbohyrdates of some kind that can in turn be converted back into some kind of fuel which, somehow, can compete with or be a replacement for fossil energy which has the advantage of being solar energy that has been stored up over millions of years.

For the life of me, I've tried, but this just doesn't make sense to me. And then, when we mask these inherent problems with subsidies and mandates of all kinds before really understanding what we are doing to our world, this scares me. And most things don't scare me. Even peak oil doesn't scare me because peak oil just happens. We are making this biofuel thing happen and a lot of people and other beings are going to suffer as a result.

My sense is that looking at the big picture will give us a clue to how futile this biofuel exercise may be. Further, the other difficulty is that our planet has become so crowded and our demands are so great that we will inevitably impinge upon existing food stocks, prairies, wilderness areas, rain forest, etc. We have already cleared the vast majority of land and converted it into agricultural land, highways, or subdivisions.

I think the story will end badly; in fact it may be already ending badly before it really gets off the ground. When I see ethanol's pathetic contribution and then I see corn prices doubling, this can't be good.

This is worse than alchemy. At least the alchemicals were just trying to turn base metals into gold, a fruitless but largely harmless exercise. This ethanol exercise will not be harmless and could be deadly.

For the life of me, I've tried, but this just doesn't make sense to me.

Biofuels will compete when fossil fuels are taxed/capped for their CO2 emissions, or their EROEI changes enough.

The appeal of TDP is it uses "waste" and so is "free" energy, but in practice if you want to extract the most energy you would burn it directly rather than chemically convert it first. The premium value of liquid fuel might justify the extra effort, except that it is more energy-efficient to grow crops that provide liquid fuel with minimal post-harvest processing, such as rapeseed for SVO. Waste should be minimised.

Perhaps someone has or will come up with a general theory of biofuel

It is a matter of taking stock of our resources and allocating them to fulfill our needs in the most efficient and least damaging way possible. For example crops are needed for subsistence while sustainable energy can be generated from PV, CSP, wind and waves. So land should only be used for biofuels after our land-requiring needs are fulfilled (crops, grazing, forest, habitation, agri-products, etc). Then biofuel crops should be chosen to maximise sustainable net energy per hectare per year. There are trade-offs of course - do you want more meat or biodiesel? In theory it's a simple optimization problem the market could solve. In practice we have unequal purchasing powers, subsidies, lobbies, trade agreements, multinationals and externalities. The market will need some help in finding a reasonable solution.

What's puzzling to me is that people always talk about changing biomass into diesel or some such. Why bother-just burn it. Change the whole corn plant or whatever into kilowatt-hours of electricity at high efficiency. Then use those kw-hrs in some sensible way that reduces fossil fuel usage.

Thermal machines that can use heat from biomass are pretty good these days, and getting better all the time. Even the very small ones I work on. Would you believe 30% overall efficiency fuel to electricity from a 1kW weed burner? No, not if you are a sensible person. But you will when you can buy it.

Agree and disagree. I can cook up a large casserole burning just a few wood chips on a fan driven wood stove. It helps that I can get tons of free firewood. On the other hand I need refined liquid fuel to drive some distance to the store to get the gravy powder. For inner suburb dwellers it's the reverse...walk to the store and drive to get 'free' firewood. So long as we need current generation cars we'll need a lot of refined liquid fuels.

Right. So here's the plan (a repeat of a repeat). Use the biomass for space heating. Cogenerate electricity in that space heater. Take whatever you had been using for space heat (gas, electric, etc) and drive your car with it. So in effect you are driving that bad, bad IC engine vehicle with solid biomass.

OR. make a new engine ( I will be happy to do it for you for a few Begabucks) that runs on wood pellets, and cut out the middle man (solids to liquids) altogether. World-saving for fun and profit.

Better yet. Quit all that damfool driving around, sit on the screen porch inventing tall tales for the grandkids while everybody grinds the oatmeal for tomorrow's breakfast.

Well said Toby.

Your post, however, falls on deaf ears as far as tstreet is concerned for where some of us seek to solve the problem at hand, others choose to wring their hands and cry.

I think you need to reread Toby's post. It was hardly an unqualified endorsement of biofuels as far as the current non-optimum way they are being implemented. Under the current approach, we are rapidly supplanting our food crops so that we can have fuel. As Toby says, the current system of subsidies will make it very difficult to reach an optimum allocation of the existing resources between food and fuel.

The objective should be to free up liquid fuel from oil. This can be done in a lot of different ways, including restructuring our agricultural system, driving more efficient auto,driving less, conserving more in general, and maybe even using biomass in a different way that convesion into liquids.

Spare me the "deaf ears" insult. While you are at it, why don't you list each and everyone on this site who disagrees with you on ethanol and tell them they have "deaf ears".

You are trying to solve the problem in the way that most appeals to you. This may not be the best use of overall economic and environmental resources.

Thank you, RR,
for this "accountability moment." People here have already covered the salient points about scaleup, EROI, etc., but let me add a few caveats.
There is no reason in principle why a catalyst couldn't be invented to convert cellulose into starch with very little energy input, giving us a nearly free feedstock for TDP. Of course Ma Nature has tried and failed to find such a recipe for the past billion years or so, save for the special environments in ruminant and termite guts. Maybe that's why the Plant Kingdom exists, CTTOI: because of the resilience of cellulose.
The sulfuric acid used for treatment isn't free but it's not expensive, either. More H2SO4 is manufactured in the US than any other chemical except NH3, and besides, we need to do something with all that sulfur we'll be pulling from Saudi Sour.
But the irretractable tar made by TDP (or destructive distillation, if you like) can be far worse than the waste-stream starting materials, in terms of carcinogenicity and environmental persistence. And the thought of scaling to 1MMBPD output is grim, to say the least. At least the one resource our civilization has above all others is lots of human beings, each of whom creates plenty of waste, every day. And think of all the energy locked up in each body: Soylent Sour, anybody?
The 19th-century Antarctic whalers would render their carcasses in huge iron pots before bringing the concentrated whale oil home to Europe and the US. To fuel the cooking fires, they used - penguins. {shudder}

Everyone is being far too modest and unimaginative --

Human beings have transformed themselves into gods, so let's just go one better on Mother Nature.

Dig a big hole, drop all the turkey and pork and sheep and chicken carcasses in. Add waste human bodies -- plenty of them around, these days. Sweep the streets for the homeless, for starters. Throw in sewage for good measure.

Then drop in a small hydrogen bomb. BOOM. Then the heat and pressure will cook everything into petroleum, and it can just be pumped out. I can smell my IPO even now.

I can't see much wrong with the scheme, and I have had a few science courses, so I'm not just a rank amateur layperson. I'm a Scientist.

NeverLNG, didn't you know? It's the scientists who go in first, followed by us pretentious rank amateur laypersons?

Following on that theme: Just got back from the public library where I found a book. If anyone remembers them they are like links but not for the faint of heart, so courage mes amies:

Home Butchering and Meat Preservation, by that dark-comedy team of Dardick and Dardick. ill.

Inscription on title page: To the animals...I dedicate this book.

what is a "public library?"

Well NeverLNG, since you ask and since it seems pretty quiet down here at the bottom for the moment, why is a raven like a writing desk?

Do you too get that 'Alice' feeling at times about this place?

This article appeared in the Bangkok post a few days ago

Project to make oil from waste plastic

The project plan is to use plastic waste in a TDP plant.

Santivipha said a systematic waste-recycling process could help the Kingdom save as much as 7 per cent of its oil import costs, or about Bt87 billion a year. The pilot recycling project is expected to cost Bt65 million and will produce fuel oil for about Bt11.50 a litre [~56USD a barrel], or a wholesale price of Bt15.50 a litre. At these rates, the project will break even within five years.

"If successful, it could replace about 7 per cent of Thailand's fuel imports, saving the equivalent of Bt87 billion a year".

In light of RR's article, that is a big 'if'.

It's good to see you, Robert.

Great post and perspective RR.

This is a prime example of why looking at net energy or life cycle analysis gives better long term cost/benefit than the market. A wide boundary LCA analysis of this product at the start would have shown that many of the inputs, reliant on energy prices, would have increased as the output price increased.

Based on $32 ish cost for tar sands - they will always be marginal even if costs rise in concert. And dont count on shale oil at all.

Law of Receding Horizons - I had missed that comment before...

What is the flow rate of a TDP plant? 10,000 barrels per day?

I think that most questions regarding TDP can be answered with: "It depends on the input." A few years ago I read a critique of the concept, and the author compared it with "boiling a chicken and scooping off the fat that floats to the top of the kettle". Can't find the link anymore, though. Turning municipal waste into oil, fertilizer and clean water is indeed like turning lead into gold: it's possible, but you need a particle accelerator.


Welcome back!

Robert...glad you're back. Good job.

Well, nothing to do but repost an essay by a fellow TOD poster:

This is one of those proposals that come on the web, are hot for awhile, and then gets backburied in all the rubbish. Hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, often easier just to bury the wheat with the chaff.
O.K., folks, have it at it...again.

By the way, good to read you again here Robert, have you heard any new news on how the Dupont/BP bio butanol thing is coming along? (side note: By the way, I was surprised by the news that ExxonMobil had thrown the GTL plant over, I somehow missed that story when it broke. GTL was billed by many as having the most promise of many alternatives. It is interesting that one of the reason given was "domestic need" for the gas that was to be used....are we seeing WT's "Export Land Model" at work in gas even sooner than in crude oil? hmmm....bodes poorly for the LNG business.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

RR, great follow up to the discovery article which I have read and was hopeful for its success. I'm always surprised at how full of BS men can be, kinda sad really.

Peak Soil: Why cellulosic ethanol, biofuels are unsustainable and a threat to America

Written by Alice Friedemann
Released April 10, 2007

My Driver returned from Seattle late last week.
Diesel $3.10
Reg. $3.25
Premium $3.45

now where did I hear that?

Halo everyone.

You have to believe in a higher power guiding things more than coincidence in this life. Your article's timing Rob in the Oildrum appears just as I have finished attending the 2007 Research Colloquim: BIOFUELS, Challenges and Opportunities presented by Colorado state University.

I'm brain dead with all the "opportunities" of tomorrow.
Celluosic ethanol was one of those hour+ presentations.

I do give the college an A+ in their presentations though.
They remained honest and factual about the challenges.

To quote directly from the abstract on the presentation "Cell Walls to Ethanol", it stated.

"To create an economically viable cellulosic biofuel industry, it is necessary to understand many fundamentals
aspects of cell wall biology including identification of all genes and enzymes involved in cell wall biosynthesis and redesigning these enzymes and biochenical pathways to generate energy crops with desired cell wall composition."

The rest of the day went on with synthetic gene circuits, discovery and testing of desirable traits, harnessing genetic variations (plant breeding), improving yields,enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation for lignocellulose Bioconversions to biofuels etc.

In a nutshell, these were very intelligent people in there fields of study. But to apply there research to global warming and renewable energy, it is all to complex, too many challenges, toooo much time to do anything and too many unkNowns. I compare it to the promises of the Hydrogen economy.

I would like to converse with anyone interested in further discussion. Please make contact at


That we may get in to some depth on a possible we can do today solution.

Very well done, Robert! I had been meaning to tackle this myself, but you did the job well.

The problem of "receding horizons" has been coming up a lot lately. I wrote about it in The Cavalry Stays Home with respect to some large oil and gas projects, and that article already seems to need a follow-up. It's amazing to me that so many people working on these large capital projects still don't seem to understand that oil at $x isn't necessarily going to make their projects economical.

Chris Nelder
Energy consultant, writer, blogger