More on Refining: Distillation Curves

Last week, I pointed out that the crude oil that comes out of the ground is not made up of a single hydrocarbon, but rather is a mix of different hydrocarbons that have to be separated. And oils from different parts of the world are formed as different combinations of these, and even those from the same country have different properties.

Today I would like to go a little further and talk about distillation curves. And then, because the world supply is changing to heavier crudes, I will go on to explain a little bit about what is involved in cracking a crude. It is a little more immediately relevant than some posts given that researchers at Purdue have just come out with a suggestion for an improved refining sequence that they claim could improve efficiency by between 6% and 48% depending on how the process sequences in the refinery are re-ordered. And the crude doesn’t have to come out of the ground. NIST have even tested some made from pig manure, with video.

Example of two distillation curves from different types of oil

For those new to the site, this is where, on weekends, I post a small technical talk explaining some of the aspects of the fossil fuel business, so as to help understanding of some of the topics on the site. It is a very simple explanation, because of space. Those who wish to ask or expound a bit more are invited to do so through the comments.

When you first get a sample of a new oil, you will gradually heat it to known temperature levels, generally following a standard method or something more advanced. As the sample is heated, the lighter fractions boil off first, and by plotting the volumes emitted within known temperature ranges, a basic sense of the make-up of that particular oil can be achieved.

Example of two distillation curves from different types of oil

For example, if one looks at the blue line in the above graph, this shows a typical light oil composition. It might well yield, on passing through the first distillation column of a refinery, the sort of separation that I showed in the plot last time.

Distillation products from light oils (Source EIA)

However, as is slowly becoming apparent, we are seeing less of these light oils on the market, and increasingly the world is having to accept a greater proportion of heavier crudes. To understand the difference that this makes, consider the red line in the above graph.

You can see that there is no fraction boiled off until the temperature has passed 250 deg. This means that, in its untreated state, there is no natural gasoline in the oil. Likely it was too close to the surface and those fractions evaporated away over the millennia (as is the case with the heavy oils in Alberta for example, though this example is from somewhere else). So how do we change this mix into something more useful?

The answer, not only for this crude, but also for the heavier fractions of the light crude, since in both cases we would like to end up with about 45% gasoline, requires that we crack (or split) the higher carbon molecules into lighter or lower carbon ones. For example say we have a molecule of Cetane (16 carbon and 34 hydrogen atoms or C16H34). If we heat this to a high enough temperature, then we can break it down into some Octane (C8H18), some Hexane (C6H12) and some Ethylene (C2H4). But, obviously, what we would like to do is to control what it is that we break these heavier molecules into, and how much of each we produce.

And so we get into the world of Cracking Oil. After the crude oil has been separated into the different fractions, the gas-oil fraction is then fed to a second heating process, where the fluid is brought back up to a high temperature (perhaps around 735 deg C 1400 deg F) and mixed with a finely powdered catalyst (hence the "cat"). Steam is also added to help with the movement of the mix, and the combined mix is fed up a pipe (called a riser) into a tank. As it flows up and into the tank, the gas-oil breaks down into the lower carbon molecules. This happens very quickly, so that by the time the mix is in the tank, the heavy molecules have broken down, and so can be drawn off.

However the catalyst has first to be removed, which happens by passing the flow through cyclones that spin the flow and separate the heavy catalyst, which is collected and fed down a pipe back to be reclaimed and re-used. It needs to be processed since, in part, the process is not perfect and carbon will be deposited on the particles of catalyst, blocking its action. (The carbon can be burned off - providing some of the heat for the process.) The catalyst can then be re-used. One operation might use the catalyst at a flow rate of some 55 tons/minute.

The hydrocarbons that flow out of the cracking process are then separated into different fractions. Depending on the season, more gasoline or distillate might be desired, but the process might yield about 8% coke, 55% gasoline, and 12% light gas oil with about 10% of the flow being a sufficiently heavy product that it is sent back to be run through the process again. Light gas oil becomes diesel and furnace fuel oil. The lighter gas products are usually sent to alkylation, or reforming, where the lighter molecules can be combined to give products that can be blended into a gasoline or another desired product.

Different crudes have different mixes of hydrocarbons, and will need different sizes of processing sections that convert these different fractions to usable and desirable products. Refineries usually have been built to handle only a given range of crudes, and thus have to be considerably modified if that mix should change.

Sometimes the crude can be even heavier. The sands in Alberta contain an oil which is more conventionally called a bitumen, since it has less volatile material than the heavy oil example I used. That oil must therefore go through an additional step to produce the lighter synthetic oil that can then be distilled and cracked more conventionally. Some of the new processes involved in mining and processing the ore are described in a pdf file by Herron. It also includes the distillation curves for the original crude and that obtained when the THAI process is used.

Distillation curves from the Athabasca Oil Sands (after Herron)

There are also contaminants such as sulfur that can be found in the oil. If the content is higher than 2.5%, then the oil is called "sour". This sulfur must be removed. While at one time sulphur was used as fuel in the refinery, that has been stopped, and now the sulfur is recovered. Recovering contaminants requires a treatment circuit that must be installed if the mix to the refinery changes.

This is part of an ongoing weekend series on technical aspects of oil and natural gas production, among other things. As ever, if my explanation is not clear, or if there is disagreement, then please feel free to post, and I will try and respond.

Heading Out,

Nice post. Do you have data showing what is the average boiling point distribution of the combined oil-derived liquids flowing out of the world's oil and gas wells? If so, it would be a useful post. If not, what evidence do you use to conclude that the world's crude slate is getting heavier?

Next comment. More than one process is used to crack oil. The simplest process is thermal cracking which is still in use today. Thermal cracking involves heating heavy oil up so hot that it breaks into smaller molecules without the use of a catalyst. It is well described by the words "destructive distillation". Destructive distillation of the fraction of crude oil that can't be distilled at practical conditions is known in the industry as "coking". There are both fixed-bed and fluid-bed versions of coking.

The process you described is called fluid bed catalytic cracking (FCC for short). Catalytic cracking was originally carried out as a moving bed process. I believe that a few of these unit remain in operation today.

The third major cracking process is known as hydrocracking. Hydrocracking is carried out in fixed beds and ebulating beds, with and without cracking catalysts. Catalysts to remove nitrogen and sulfur are used in all hydrocracking processes. Hydrocracking is implemented when refiners want to upgrade the heavy fraction of crude oil into diesel fuel and/or lubricants, and is more popular in Asia where product demand is higher for lubes and diesel fuel and lower for gasoline.

Most of the oil drum posters continue to underestimate the influence they have had and to overestimate the risks in front of us. The recent announcements on renewables from Europe are revolutionary, and Stuart's most recent post supports the belief that there is plenty of oil left to manage a transition to an even more energy intensive society using getting more than half of it's energy from renewables. Fossil fuel consumption (coal plus oil plus natural gas) below 100 million bbls per day is beyond the forseable future (more than 100 years away using any reasonable projections).

On the galactic, geological time scale we have only a short time left to figure out how we're going to get off this planet which will sustain life for only a short period of time. Getting off the planet will probably require a more energy intensive society than the one we have today. Kudos to the oil drum contributions (like Jerome a Paris) working to inspire the next generation.

I would be interested if you could expand a little and comment about the EROEI of the 100m bbls + you foresee being available to us for the next 100 years.


Sure. 100 MBDOE for another 100 years at >3 BOE produced per BOE consumed in production. I wouldn't be surprised to see the return on energy invest average >8.

There isn't anything radical about my claim. Look at Stuart's projections. Do you believe that Iraqi oil is stuck in the ground forever? Iraq alone, this one tiny place producing only oil - not coal or natural gas - has 100 billion? bbls of proven reserves. Iraq alone can produce 3 million bbls/day of high return on energy invested conventional crude oil for 100 years. Why do you find it difficult to believe that when you sum together the proven reserves of all the coal, oil, and natural gas producers in the world the net result won't be >100 MBDOE?

The return on energy invested in fossil fuels has reached the point where renewable energy has become worth subsidizing. When the return on energy invested in fossil fuel production drops just a little more, renewables will compete without subsidy. At that time, common sense suggests that the majority of nations unendowed with large fossil fuel resources will choose to produce renewable energy within their own borders over importing equally expensive fossil fuel energy.

A rational reply to my reasoning is that stable production of fossil fuels at today's rates of ballpark 250 MBDOE is not sustainable for 100 years and therefore if the rate didn't drop off slowly it would drop off a cliff well shy of 100 years from now. I'm just not worried about that. I forsee a gradual drop off in production - not a cliff - and so does the consensus of oil drum analysts.

I forsee a gradual drop off in production - not a cliff - and so does the consensus of oil drum analysts.

No. The consensus of TOD analysts is that oil production will dramatically contract in the next 20 years. I've actually taken your position on available oil resources but don't believe that TPTB will support oil sands/oil shale expansion to meet oil needs.

The production of tar/superheavy oil is less than 10% of current world oil production and shale oil production is about zero.
These represent 2/3rds of the 3000 Gb of recoverable oil resources.
The small investments by a bankrupt world in these unconventional oil resources isn't going to make any difference.
People will walk away from oil as a fuel when the inevitable fuel crunch occurs.

The most logical step is the conversion of plentiful fossil fuels to hydrogen for fuel cell cars, buses, trucks while burying CO2.

Hydrogen is a 'carrier' which can be made from both renewables and fossil fuels and doesn't produce GHG. Fuel cells have been limited by the amount of platinum in the world--100,000 tons per usgs.

New PEM technology(MIT) uses a vanadium/molybdenum catalyst with .2 g/KW of platimun for PEM.

So a kg of platinum($75000) could produce 5 MW.
The 100 KW Honda FCX 2009 would therefore require 20 grams of platinum. 100 million cars would require 2000 tons of platinum.

A GM-Volt GASOLINE-electric car would require 14.6 kg of lithium carbonate. 100 million cars would require 1.46 million tons of lithium carbonate. The world lithium carbonate resource is 160 million tons.

If all world proven hydrocarbons (10 trillion boe?) were converted into hydrogen by water-shifting/reformating at 50% efficiency
that would represent 5 trillion boe of H2 and something like 4000 Gt of CO2 to be buried.
North America alone has between 1000 and 3700 Gt of sequestration capacity in saline aquifers(not to mention oil/gas wells, coal seams).

Thanks for the reply. Let me ask a follow-up (I am really interested in how far you guys go in your modeling).

The energy cost for a barrel of oil obviously includes the operating energy cost of lifting and pumping it to its destination. Which of the following costs are also included when you are looking at >3 BOE?

1. The capital energy cost of the field (i.e. how much energy was consumed in exploring, drilling, etc)
2. The capital energy cost in the infrastucture (pipeline steel, machinery, maintenance vehicles, etc)
3. The operating energy cost in maintenance of infrastructure
4. In the case of Iraq (which you cite as an example), one could make a case that the energy expended militarily should be included. A specific oil company (say Exxon e.g.) would not have had access to the oil without that energy expenditure, and so it was a direct cost (for that specific company) to bring the oil to market. Even though the energy cost was socialized, it should be included on a pro-rata basis in my opinion. Another company (e.g Lukoil) might have had access to the oil without the military effort, and therefore their BOE would have been better.
5. A pro-rata cost for the energy expended in ongoing research and development.
6. The energy cost of feeding and housing the employees.

I guess it boils down to where you draw the boundary. For a specific oil company, a BOE >3 is one thing. To claim a BOE >3 on the same oil, when viewed from a societal input point of view, is obviously another.

Any comment?


All costs in your list are included except for 4. Dealing with number 4 is way above my pay grade :).

When the return on energy invested, and the directly correlated return on money invested, drops low enough, alternative energy will become preferred for new energy projects. In my opinion, low EROI oil production is not worth the level of conflict seen in today's Middle East. The number four problem is unlikely to lock reserves in the ground in the long term. It is a problem that solves itself naturally.

I don't want to be misleading. Every major oil company has proprietary methods for evaluating the profitability of upstream and downstream projects. If I knew more about my own company's procedures, I would recuse myself from this dialogue. It is common knowledge that all oil companies are concerned about energy efficiency. I think it is irrational to acknowledge that the oil and gas industry is concerned about energy efficiency and to simultaneously accuse it of being ignorant of the implications of energy efficiency for project profitability.

Again, according to theory published here at the oil drum, return on energy invested and return on money invested are correlated. If you concede the industry is doing OK maintaining profitability (and it is a fact that the industry is making sufficient profits to be constantly accused of gouging the public) then I think you should concede that by whatever methods - dollar accounting or joule accounting - the planners are doing OK.

But isn't oil supply/cost very likely to be a major strain on major importers, especially the United States. The exposure of the US oil industry to the downside risks of very high oil prices is substantially different than it is to the average US citizen. Therefore in evaluating the risks of a course of action, I would expect that biases would creep in (after all an oil price spike would be a windfall for your industry).

Even if we have the theoretical capability of maintaining a reasonable level of supply for say fifty years, is it not likely that the productive investments on the scale needed are not likely to be made on time? I also see a problem with expertise in the form of employees. The notorious boom bust cycle in the oil industry has driven a lot of prospective talent away (they tend to treat talent as expendable during the bust phase). So just when you probably need a huge runup in highly talented engineers, that talent has decided they just don't want to pursue a career in such an unstable industry.

Tha danger from your message, is that sufficient investment in conservation will not be made -because the people are hearing that there is no problem, then if your optimistic projections don't pan out, the world economy will be in for a really rough patch. Policy needs to be driven by the needs of the overall world economic system, and not by the needs of one small component of the economy. Especially one which might benefit from a supply/demand crunch.

"NIST have even tested some [crude] made from pig manure, with video. "

We're gonna need a lot of pigs.

Why not install a toilet seat in the driver's position?

The more you eat, the longer you can go!

Why not install a toilet seat in the driver's position?

Why not? Because the driver should concentrate on driving! Isn't that obvious?!

If the BARMOBILE is installed in a car, the toilet can be mounted in the place of the passenger seat. In a non-car BARMOBILE situation, the toilet can be placed directly on the ground. It is important to follow the instructions on how to use the toilet. For hygienic and practical reasons, it is intended for urinating only. The toilet is connected to the water and urine containers. After urinating, one pushes the handle next to the toilet seat to the left, and the toilet will be filled with water from the water container. After pushing the handle to the right, the toilet can be emptied using the hand pump. Leaving the handle in the left position may cause the toilet to overflow.


One more question - is the goal to "get off the planet" a corporate vision or a private intent?

Perhaps a "Blade Runner" pipe dream for the wealthy?

Most of the oil drum posters continue to underestimate the influence they have had and to overestimate the risks in front of us.

As for the risk, while I know that it is technically possible to produce a lot more heavy and extra heavy oils and renewables, my concerns are 1)cost and 2) timing.

Costs are going to be hard to bear for Western economies struggling with global wage competition and ageing populations.

Major technological change will take decades if not a half century or more for a transition. Whole support industries will be needed to enable these technologies, for instance, storage for wind electricity; steel pipe for horizontal wells (more molybdenum too); new pipelines, etc.

Much of the driving force for growth (lower inputs per output) from the use of energy and the increase in efficiency of energy conversion has been exhausted. Developed countries' economic growth decelerated in the 1970's and will probably soon go negative with rising real costs for energy and other natural resources. However, the fundamental economic structure is based on growth. Constant negative growth will cause an economic collapse.


Your concerns are rational and well articulated. They have been read and understood by corporate america. Large sums of money have been, and continue to be, spent gathering the information required to more accurately define the problems. The data and analysis that you provide for free is helpful and constructive. Keep up the good work.

Look - most rational players are worried about sustaining the American way of life while bringing large numbers of inhabitants of the rest of the world up to a similar standard. It's very difficult to see more than a few years ahead. I represent a consensus - perhaps an unspoken consensus - that doesn't see any insurmountable problems for the next few years. So - I'm knowledgably optimistic for the next few years and optimistic about the more distant future. I'm working to stave off the threats to the more distant future, and hope to live out my life to see my optimism justified. Will I be surprised if I live to experience the decline of my society - hell no! I'll say it again, I'll only be surprised if that decline starts today and starts today because of scarcity of commodity resources (there are lots of other people hanging out at other websites legitimately concerned about society collapsing from a variety of other causes).

Look - most rational players are worried about sustaining the American way of life while bringing large numbers of inhabitants of the rest of the world up to a similar standard. It's very difficult to see more than a few years ahead. I represent a consensus - perhaps an unspoken consensus - that doesn't see any insurmountable problems for the next few years.

regardless of the availablity of oil, and many of the resources that the U.S. comsumes (at obscene levels compared to the rest of the world), I see that Americans have reached another peak, that being the ability to compete for these resources. In the same way that we, in the U.S. have historically been able to outcompete developing nations for these resources, I see the tide is turning, and not in our favor.

We should be well beyond the data gathering stage, but we still have unreliable data (OPEC’s upward revisions of reserves, EIA reporting altered conclusions).

Despite doing lots of reading and research I have yet to see any:

Timelines and schedules (MS Project/Gantt Charts) of the combined technologies implementations, including oil sands, heavy oil, extra heavy oil, gas and coal to liquids, wind projects, geothermal, etc.
Logistic curves of implementing the above technologies

Required labor, materials and capital

Economic analysis: How much does the dollar have to fall to bring back manufacturing jobs and reduce the trade deficit to zero?

Market analysis: What will the price of oil be and how will this affect the transportation sector? Will people switch to mass transit if the price of gasoline goes to $20/gallon if the dollar crashes to less than ten cents?

How many jobs will be lost by the continued collapse in automobile manufacturing, maintenance, spare parts, tires, etc?

Will it be cheaper to declare the automobile age over and switch to electric street railways? (My back of the envelope says: Almost certainly, just based on the cost of replacing and maintaining autos, not to mention the trillions needed to develop alternate fuels. But I would like to see people closer to the data who can come up with the costs, plus or minus 35% estimate, and timelines).

"We should be well beyond the data gathering stage, but we still have unreliable data" which IMO makes more optimistic outlooks "faith based". How many times have I seen the optimists say "and we hope we're right...."?

read and understood by corporate america

You speak for corporate America?
Isn't that a bit presumptuous?

oh well, it's neat to imagine having The Man and Big Brother reading TOD

They do read TOD and even hacked into my web based email yesterday and changed the name tag on my account to 'False'
My posting as 'Slightly' has made them go ape.
This is my fourth account since yesterday.

I'll say it again, I'll only be surprised if that decline starts today and starts today because of scarcity of commodity resources

Oil shocks of the 1970's and 2007 are both associated with significant and lasting demand destruction and economic decline. The high cost of alternate energies will only bring more of the same. A currency collapse with a consequent oil price spike would probably mark the beginning of the end of petroleum powered automobiles and the beginning of a long period of economic decline during the transition to the new transportation mode. Turning over the fleet will take over a decade from the time enough factories are built to produce whatever the next mode will be (plug in electrics?, streetcars?, new electrical generating capacity, etc.).

The graph showing the price of the marginal barrel of oil transitioning to offshore and in ever deeper water is exponential, and there is no reason to believe that extra heavy oil and enhanced recovery won't be way up the curve. Rising real energy costs are counter to the trend of the entire period since the industrial revolution when real prices of practically everything declined-until lately.

Will I be surprised if I live to experience the decline of my society - hell no!

I hope not, OilCo. There is strong evidence that decline is well underway. Declining real incomes, declining: infrastructure, education, healthcare, tax revenues, banks, manufacturing, environment, GDP, exports, JOBS, etc. all lead me to believe we are we are on the backside of almost every curve. Beware the view from up on high.


About the only reason I can see that Stuarts post was submitted is his credentials from past posts.

The post itself was complete garbage basically simply spewing the collection of propaganda made recently.

I wondered why it was posted now I see.

Given that I had previously predicted that we will now see massive inflation in Reserve claims and other hyperbole and out right lies at this stage of oil depletion I can't help but give myself a huge pat on the pack having nailed it perfectly. I suspect that the reserve inflation will soon lead to OPEC countries tacking on a few 100 GB of oil.

The next step in the propaganda campaign is going to be interesting.

On one hand you have the oil companies claiming massive reserves enough oil for 100 years or more.
Next they will claim that some high base price is needed to extract these reserves as they are now more expensive to produce. For some reason 70-80 has been chosen as the magic price point for now at least.

However none of this is real so we are going to see much higher prices. These will of course be blamed on the recent price collapse and cancellation of projects.

This is critical as the whole snow job depends on convincing people that they are going through another spike just like last time.

On top of this you will have some propaganda pieces on oil companies becoming a bit more methodical to keep from crashing the oil price just like last time..

Sustainable development will be a big buzzword for oil leaning heavily on the renewable buzz and chatter. Stability sustainabily assurance big brother is looking out for you.

The overall propaganda campaign is designed to try and emulate nationalism with the oil producers working hard for the poor consumer strapped by rising prices. They need to conserve some ala war bonds and scrap metal campaigns to support the heroic efforts of the oil companies to defeat the scourge of slow investment.

And of course across the board rising oil prices will be tightly linked to economic rebound and growth growth growth.

I have no doubt that overall it will be successful politically however it does not make oil appear out of the ground. Despite the public face under the covers in the real world governments will be desperate to get oil to avert economic collapse. This desperation will eventually simply not matter and we will see economies begin to collapse.

On top of this a variety of financial games will be used to play on this collapse. In general as countries like Argentina collapse it will cause a flight to safety bolstering the stronger economies and causing demand destruction in the regions that have fallen into chaos. Donner Party politics.

No real telling what happens after this point one has to assume that we will see war perhaps with Iran and in general the rising chaos above ground and real warfare will hide the fact that the fantastic promises made about oil are not being kept. Indeed at this stage the propaganda will turn into explaining that as soon as peace has returned then the oil will flow.

Problem is of course it never will.

What I find surprising is this plan is structured on the assumption of at least five or more years with things fairly close to BAU. Its fairly obvious that this is not going to happen so I have to think that the aim is to simply make sure that the great return of life as it was is safely far enough in the future to ensure that other events will intervene to kick the can down the road.

Whats really interesting is that given the system is already collapsing outside of making sure propaganda paints a glorious future far enough out nothing else probably needs to be done. Crisis need not be provoked it will come naturally all that needs to be done from now on out is to manage the response to ensure that the entire system does not collapse but also stays dreadfully sick.

Thats not exactly hard to do simply because nothing else can be done as there is no bright future.

My opinion of course is that the system will simply unravel and it won't be long before the current round of propaganda becomes irrelevant as resource wars really do become overriding and whats left in the ground is increasingly irrelevant.

However its fascinating watching the posturing taking place on the eve of WWIII.

Not surprising probably the best way to describe this prelude to war was described by Caligula.

Oderunt dum Metuant

The boiling hatred simply does not overcome the fear. And this is at all levels of society not just the poor. Everyone recognizes that there will be no winner to WWIII just survivors. Not enough to tell the truth but the overriding fear of whats to come works to create this current period of quasi stability and warped parody of normality.

Everyone knows its the quite period before the storm but they also are unwilling to do much to initiate the storm. Thus although people have not yet reached the stage they are willing to tell the truth we have at last reached the point that not one of the major powers is jousting and pushing to start the coming war.

Perhaps not a fantastic achievement given what we are facing but at least its a small step forward.
Eventually of course as the war progress the pack of lies will become clear and I hope that it creates disgust to the point we can take another small step forward and deal with our habit of lying in the collective as indirections break the chain of responsibility and checks and balances.

Regardless there probably is not a lot of time left to develop ever more crazy propaganda about how much oil is left I'll watch with interest to see how far it can go before reality makes the game unimportant.

I suspect we have less than a year so its going to be a race against time I question if the propaganda campaign can ever be fully developed lots of lies to tell and not a lot of time to spin the web of escalating lies to create the best whoppers although 11mbd from Iraq is one hell of a good start I'll have to admit.

Thanks for the helpful information - trying to some keep these relatively short and simple meant that I only focussed on one of the processes. In regard to the question on the heaviness of the overall global supply, I can't immediately point to a reference for this, it is just, however, something that I have learned in reading all the information that flows through these pages over the years.

I would have to disagree with a number of these comments.

By far Fluid Catalytic Cracking remains the primary means of upgrading the bottom of the barrel and are primarily fed with vacuum gas oil (VGO). Only in the US where diesel demand is currently lower than Europe or Asia is a combinatiion of gas oil and VGO used. FCC's are increasingly becoming the upgrading unit of choice, even thoughhydrocrackers potentially offer btter product yields. FCC's are known as a carbon rejection process and the cracking process yields a large volume of olefines due to the hydrogen deficiency. In the heavier fractions aromatics and ployaromatics predominate which is not good for jet kerosine or diesel production. An 8% coke yield is very high and is atypical as it would give rise to excessive coke burn. More normal coke yields are 5-6% when operating on VGO. The latest advances involve mild hydrocracking of the VGO prior to catalytic cracking which saturates the aromatic fractions in the VGO makeing them more susceptible for cracking (increase UOP K factor). Ideally FCC's are best fed with paraffinic materials with a high UOP K factor.

Certain atmospheric and vacuum residues can be successfully cracked in and FCC but normally this increases the coke make and require catalyst coolers to dissipate the extra heat from the coke burn.

True hydrocracking involves cracking in the presence of excess hydrogen and yields essentially paraffinic products. These are excellent products for jet and diesel production, not quite so good for gasoline. The lighter the product mix distribution then the higher the hydrogen consumption, which make the process expensive. Hydrocrackers would normally consist of two reactor vessels. The first vesselacts as a sulphur and nitrogen removal step. Hydrogen sulphide and ammonia both inhibit cracking. The second reactor does the cracking.

Coking is a specialist upgrading route and is not widely practised. This is a true thermal process and is the ultimate carbon rejection process. The bottom product is condensed carbon or coke.

A Few Refinery Stats
2009 – About 655 refineries world wide
85.6 mbd Atmospheric Distillation Capacity
28.5 mbd Vacuum Distillation Capacity
44.4 mbd Hydrotreating Capacity
14.4 mbd FCCU Capacity
11.5 mbd Catalytic Reforming Capacity
5.1 mbd Hydrocracking Capacity
4.4 mbd Coking Capacity
2.0 mbd Alkylation Capacity

This data is from the Oil and Gas Journal Refinery Survey Dec 2008. As can be seen FCC's ar the major cracking process with Hydrocracking coming second.

If someone would tell me how to post some ppt.slides or .pdf slides into the comments I can give a flowsheet on an FCC and some other data on crude types, yields and other data. I use Firefox and a Mac computer with MS Offfice for Mac.

I meant to add one further clarification on Fluid Catalytic Cracking. In this process the catalyst is heated to roughly 1400 F as stated. The catalyst at 1400 F contacts heavy oil feedstock at roughly 300 F to produce a mixture at roughly 975 F (550 C). The actual cracking of the oil takes place mostly near 975 F.

oilcompanycorporateresearch, Thanks for the tone of your posts. While I agree that the problems we face are not potentially insurmountable, I have seen nothing in history, or even the recent past which would indicate that humans can eliminate past practices and do what is necessary to resolve the problems they face. We as a society do not plan well.
Using larger amounts of coal, natural gas, or renewables for transportation fuels, which we all seem to agree is the most pressing problem, requires an enormous amount of new infrastructure, much of which needs to be constructed using existing supplies of liquid fuels. That infrastructure also needs political will, and financial capital, both of which are presently severely lacking.
I recently constructed a small, 125 KW hydroelectric facility, The particulars of the situation meant that it only required local (county) permits. That ended up being 24 months, with no change, whatsoever, in the original submittal. As you might expect, this delay was financially disruptive, especially since we expected to use this power to run other businesses.
The recent economic crisis, delayed or stopped the development of numerous traditional and renewable projects, putting us further in the hole for whatever transition is required. At least 95% of the public still do not truly believe we have a pending crisis. I know, because like many on this site, I have attempted to inform them for the last 15 years. It is not enough to have resources in the ground, or to have potential resources in various renewable ideas, proven or not. Lack of financial capital seems to be the most pressing impediment to getting it any of those in play and as long as our international financiers decide that ponzis are the way to go, I will not be optimistic. Bill

What do you mean "We as a society do not plan well." Perhaps the problem is that you do not agree with the goals that were planned for, and achieved.

Occam's Razor applies.

In this case, it runs "never ascribe to malign intent that which can be explained by incompetence." Or: there are many more fools in positions of power than there are conspiracies.

I am also involved in trying to get a hydro project started in the UK.
Your time scale of 2 years is about the same as ours.
Recently I was told the sites on the Thames suitable will not be developed because the Environment Agency owns them and uses them for water management.
This they claim makes the schemes too expensive, rather neat as they also don't have the funding.
They have only come up with this justification due to recent a directive from central government telling them all suitable hydro sites must be developed
How expensive is a EROI of 300:1.
This news can only be brought to you as I know about the directive and this unofficial decision by back channels.
Nothing is in the public domain.

Thanks for the post. Would it be correct to interpret the decline in LPG supplied in the USA (see graph below) as a result of decreased light oil supply?

50% of the propane (an LPG) comes from natural gas processing, however, I have read that shale gas has less propane (in tech speak, less wet gas or conversely more dry gas) in most regions. Propane makes up 2% of the USA energy supply, looking quickly at the EIA data, I think LPGs supply around 4%. For the short-term, I would think wood/pellet stoves and energy efficiency are the only option for those in the rural areas if the decline of propane intensifies unless demand for heating oil falls. I don't see expansion of natural gas pipelines into these areas any time soon but that is a complete guess.

The typical propane house is one where natural gas lines are not available and electricity is more expensive. This is our situation. The propane is used for cooking, hot water and heating where heating is the major use. Efficient pellet stoves are relatively new on the market and typically do not answer the cooking and hot water requirements. So elimination of propane would require other energy source for cooking and hot water. Further, to replace the propane heating furnace with a pellet stove is not a minor overhaul though of course it can be done. Supplementing with passive solar, hot water preheating can cut the propane use considerably. Of course insulation and better windows will help but changing energy source for an existing home is not so simple.

Yesterday I built a different design solar cooker and today Gaia gave me a reality check with zero-zero fog and it is 10 in the morning. Maybe this afternoon I can test it. Hope to make a stew for supper.

Actually, pellet boilers with heat exchangers for DHW are quite common. Most manufacturers have kits to retrofit forced air furnaces with pellet heated hot water. One example:

The Maxim can provide heat for all your domestic hot water by adding a water-to-water heat exchanger. You can turn off your hot water heater......

As for cooking, propane is efficient enough that a small amount will last a long time. Our goal is to have cooking as our only use of propane. I know families that use less than 20 gal/year where an efficient gas range is their only load.

Can you post a picture/design for your solar cooker? I'm thinking of building one using a bunch of 12 x 12 mirror tiles I picked up at salvage, although the glass may get too hot and break.

RenoFreePress has built a mirror cooker with 12" tiles. Check out

This was his first one. The mirror cooker is essentially the same but uses mirrors. The mirror cooker got water up to boiling in a little while. The clue is the quart jar inside the gallon jar so the heat does not escape. The one I just designed is similar but uses a 30"X 24" parabolic back and should be a little hotter. After I test it, if it is better than the mirrors, I will put pictures and story up on the transitionreno site.

Cool! Thanks for the link.

I'm playing with building a solar concentrator out of an old sat. dish. Tracking electronics can be found here:

I use these to build PV trackers using sat. dish mounts.

Ghung, have you ever seen this?

I want one, just to play with! My goal is just to make hot water at this point.

That's pretty easy. Question though is how hot? If you're just interested in hot showers and dishwashing no problem. If you are talking steam for power generation, that's a whole nuther ball of melted wax ;-)

Of course, another, common propane replacement strategy is to go pellets for space heat , and then electric for DHW and cooking. Propane for hot water is often about as expensive as electric, if not more. You can now get electric heat pump DHW, and the new electric induction cooktops, while expensive, offer better response than gas - many professional chefs put these in their homes. Glass top stays cool to the touch while the pan heats up - boils water in 2/3 the time of gas

Of course, for a new house, if you eliminate the propane at the outset, you save a lot of $ from not having any gas lines at all.

On Australian TV last night there was a claim that a kind of black sludge would be suitable for conventional oil refining techniques. The sludge is made by cooking biowaste in water at the supercritical phase at high temperature and pressure.

Obvious questions are the net energy and whether the sludge is really amenable to cracking and distillation. If true it shows we will always be able to get liquid fuels from non-fossil sources. Whether the price is affordable is another matter.

This process is thermal depolymerization. It has been commercialized but was not very profitable.

We simply do not have enough bio-resource raw materials to make any dent in displacing fossil fuels. Wood has been the only successful bio fuel. Wood fired steam locomotives and heated homes; however, this was at a time when the US population was about 40 million. Also, it was said that a slave in America had more wood than a nobleman in Europe. (I hope someone can tell me the origion of that quote since since I lost track of the source).

Wood is still a major fuel in many parts of the world.

Surely we can get above-ground carbon equivalent in mass terms to 85 mbpd of oil. The source could be garbage, roadside weeds, straw and stalks from crops, pond slime or sawdust. The question is that of net energy if oil derived liquid fuels (petrol, diesel, LPG) have EROEI > 20. The carbon sources mentioned require major harvesting effort unlike most oil and may not be the 10+ carbon alkanes that seem best suited to oil refining.

I wonder if hydrogenation could be combined with the thermal depolymerisation step to create more useful refining feedstock. An alternative approach is to forget liquid fuels and stick to simple low loss methane gas. I note Volvo trucks are being tested with a liquid + gas injected fuel approach.

Is it possible to turn all sewage treatment plants into biomass refineries? That would "kill two birds with one stone".

Yes, biomethane. Fumes off of a septic tank.

The real value of sewage is the nutrients.

This is an area ripe for innovation. We need to figure out a dry process to handle human and animal waste. Something as simple as adding burned lime to absorb all the water and sterilize it with the alkalinity, then use as fertilizer and liming material. Alternately we need to inject it below the soil with a positive displacement pump, or some other disposal means.

The problem of using human waste as fertilizer is that close in agricultural sites are too limited and it gets overapplied, saturating the soil with sodium and potassium so that crops will ot grow.

50% of all biomass is currently harvested. (I believe this is from V. Smil's Energy at the Crossroads).

More biofuels = less food and forest products.

Besides, the world has no where near the growing capacity to replace oil, even using 100% of biomass. When I worked in the paper industry I ran calculations using the yield of wood and the number of acres of forests and is showed totally inadequate forest area in the US. Besides that, we were having a difficult time just growing enough wood to supply paper and lumber.

Brazil could grow some more sugar, but at the expense of food.

Do you like sweet potatos? They are tremendously productve. If everybody ate lots and lots of sweet potatos and less beef and pork then we could all drive more.

I think you need to get an idea of proportion. Currently for oil alone, the demand is around 86 million bbls/ day, which is 12 million tonnes per day or 0.5 mllion tonnes per hour. Think about it. The US consumes 25% of that demand.

Just how would you propose to obtain enough biomass. Few proponents of biomass have any ida of the impact on soil fertility and sustainability. Removing the biomass from the soil is simply something that is not sustainable. If you look back several hundred years then most of the soil biomass was affectively recycled in situ. In the last 30 years in particular we have had the green revolution which has had a major impact on soil biomass. The US in particular with its monoculture farming has seen a dramatic loss of topsoil to such an extent that inplaces the loss has been 10 inches9 25ccm). Move to biomass fuels and this process will be accelerated.

The world and particuarly the Americans has to accept that the world is finite and that the carrying capacity of the enviroment has been exceeded. Before the mass rush to biofuels I would recoomend that the thermodynamics of each process are thoroughly examined and the size of the task properly understood.

Take corn ethanol. A typical SUV filling up with 25 US gallons of ethanol would effectively consume around 250kg (550 lbs) of corn, enough to feed 1 person in food caories for one year ( yield 2.7 gallons per bushel 25kg), and if you ran on ethanol expect a massive rise in fuel consumption. Corn ethanol is a non starter.

Biomass conversion? To what. You could go down the cellulosic ethanol route and I wish you luck. Show me one plant that is actually succesfully operating on a commercial basis. With luck a yield of 0.23 ltrs of ethanol might be achievable from 1 kg of dry straw. The SUV would require around 400kg of dry straw for each fill.Coverting the 8 million bbls ( about 1 million tonnes per day) of gasoline to ethanol on a 1:1 basis would on the the above yield require a little over 2 billion tonnes of dry straw. For woody biomass a little more. For wet bimass much more. Now think about harvesting and storage. Harvesting straw is a seasonal event. Grasses and straw need to be dried thoroughly before baling and then there is the risk of spontaneous combustion. They cannot be stored outside as they will spoil. The same for paper and processed wood chip. Can you imagine the size of the storage with materials iwht an average bulk desnisty f less than 1kg/ ltr. My bet is that Sheel will sell their stake in Iogen in the near future. They have just sold out their stake in Choren the BTL business in Germany.

Moving onto BTL. Once again this has been proposed and does actually work but is unlikley to be commerical. The products are excellent quality but this process is no more than another variation on Fischer Tropsch which has huge energy requiremtns in itself. Turning natural gas into liquids produces more emissions than burning petroleum fuels and is in my opinion a waste of a resource. The Pearl project in Qatar has cost a staggering $18 billion to build and will produce 140000 bbls day of paraffinic liquids. A modern 400000 bbls complex petroleum refinery could have been built for half that amount. Per tonne year of cpacity FT is a very expensive process. Gasifying biomass is even more expensive and plant costs are estimated at 60% above GTL. Thermal efficiency for biomass is of the order of 56% for liquid products if the biomass is dry. see This looks impressive until you do the maths in terms of mass in to mass out.
48 mt of dry woody biomass ( heating value 18 MJ/Kg) yields about 85 bbls (about 10.5 mt) of liquid products. Thus to replace the US gasoline demand alone would need an input of dry woody biomass of around 4.8 million tonnes per day or 1.7 billion tonnes per year. Where would that volume of material come from, and how would it be moved and with what.

Last but no least is algae. Again the hype is not matched by tangible result. Boeing claims that 100-200 kltr of algae oilis achievable per hectare, and then the detail becomes fuzzy. Applying the thermodynamic principles and the potnetial hydrocarbate production in the US south west is at best about 330 mt per acre. The problem is that this is the theoretical limit based on 15% conversion of sunlight to carbohydrate ( theoretical maximum 27%) based on an insolation of 100 watts per square metre. Coverting the carbohydrate to lipids, proteins and plant carbohydrate takes energy. A realistic algae oil under these conditions in a well controlled open raceway pond would be at best about 40000 ltr. Go to for information on an lagae plant in Israel which is connected to a power plant. This is a working plant and they are no fools. Needless to say they do not make biofuels, although they have made trial quantities. The facility is not cheap but it is far cheaper than the photobioreactor (PBR) route which is often quoted. A PBR is probably and order of magnitude more expensive and yields will be little btter than an open raceway. Once the algae oil has been produced it needs to be refimed into usuable fuels. The best option is hydrotreating to yield parafinnic products not esterification to FAME.

I think Robert Rapier was correct in his analysis. The are many pretenders but the contenders are likely to be niche applcations. Biogas, small MSW and waste oils at zero cost are the only likley viable processes in the long term.

A typical SUV filling up with 25 US gallons of ethanol would effectively consume around 250kg (550 lbs) of corn, enough to feed 1 person in food caories for one year

That is in truth the basic problem with biofuels - they use up valuable plant material that could otherwise be used for food or shelter.

In the pre-fossil fuel era (before coal was discovered to be a viable fuel), the people of Europe largely deforested the continent by burning wood for fuel. Britain, for instance, at one time was a heavily forested island full of lions, wolves, and other dangerous animals. Today it is basically one big garden where bunny rabbits can roam around and munch carrots in complete safety, other than from the occasional fox.

The population now is much higher than it was when they deforested the place, so basic the economy on biofuels is just not a viable alternative, unless you propose killing off 99% of the population (which some people around here would like to do.)

Hi Paul,

I read everything I could find on thermal deploymerization.

It seems that it might have been a commercial success except for the fact that input organic materials that were cheap at the time the process was worked out increased in price quite a bit not much later.

Even such disguisting stuff as the leftovers from a turkey processing plant are quite valuable these days as ingredients in pet food, livestock feed, and fertilizers.

I don't know where the qoute about firewood supplies came from originally but most of the slaves in the US were in the heavily wooded and well watered south where an abandoned field will revert to good sized trees in twenty years or less.

I'm not expert in this aspect but I doubt if any healthy slave on a typical southern farm or plantation was short of wood unless deprived of the time and tools needed to gather it, so long as he or she was located away from town.I'm guessing but the wood in most cases would need to transported only a short distance-almost certainly less than a mile, probably less than a quarter of a mile.

Things were very different close to large towns and cities-wood was scarce and expensive because it got used up and it cost a lot to haul it with wagons and horses or mules.

New England was not slave country but wood got to be very expensive there due to the large cities using up the nearby supplies. Even farmers who lived a good ways out of town were known to economize to the max in order to have more wood to sell.Additionally farmers within easy marketing distance of a city had a powerful incentive to crop or graze as much land as they possibly could, the milk or produce being more profitable than a wood lot and most landholdings small.

The quote can probably be accepted as true since the majority of slaves were farm laborers and southern towns were small for the most part.Even a slave in a small town could probably have gathered firewood within a reasonable distance..given the time of course.

Country living has it's advantages.

After reading The Escape From Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100, and seeing the amount of food available in the US and Europe at the time of slavery, it my be possible that American slaves were better fed than the average European. I have little knowledge of the life of slaves other than reading The Life and Work of John McDonogh, who was the world's largest private land owner at the time of his death in 1850 and left his fortune to schools in New Orleans and Baltimore. (I grew up on his former plantation in what was known as McDonoghville, LA, now Algiers/Gretna). McDonogh's slaves grew their own food on the rich Mississippi River land and raised their own chickens and hogs. Landless Europeans at the time were half starved and lived like Engels description of Manchester in 1844, which was totally inhumane and a low point of human existance. Even French farming peasants were unable to grow enough food to have energy to do more than a couple hours of work each day.

This is not to say the slaves had it easy or in any way defending slavery, which is immoral. I am just giving an example of population and resources, hoping the past will never be repeated.

I've read hippie humanaure literature since the 1970's and the Whole Earth Catalog. It is now time to redesign these systems to be more high tech and do as odor free and out of sight treatmeant as is now done with the flush toilet and municipal waste treatment.

Home aeration systems have been available for years and are used in areas with no public sewers and unsuitable soil for septic systems. They are somewhat costly and require electricity ($30-40/month), but produce safe, odor free effluent that is used for lawn sprinkling.

I think a chemical system (potassium hydroxide or calcium oxide) would be cheaper to operate, but these chemicals require careful handling as they will dissolve skin unless washed off thoroughly. However, they can be used to neutralize soil acitity and KOH supplies potassium. Fresh wood ashes (calcium oxide and potassium carbonate) may also work and would be safer. Mix the solid waste in with the wood ashes and keep sealed until all the moistrue is absorbed. Maybe someone can experiment with a mixer to speed up processing. The dry dust would probably be sterile and odor free and could be tilled in the field. Good research project for a graduate student.

Urine is sterile, if fresh. Dilute 10 to 1 with water and safely use on crops. Supplies NP and K.

Just thinking practically separating the two wastes and composting seems the best method.
No energy input required.
Any chemical system is going to be unsustainable.
The rate of collapse / decline will likely determine methodology.

There is no doubt in my mind that the average slave in the US was better fed , and warmer, than many, many millions of contempary Europeans.

I absolutely condemn slavery but paradoxically sometimes slavery may result in a higher value being placed on a human life than otherwise.So long as food and fuel are reasonably inexpensive in relation to a slave's labor, his owner has a very powerful incentive to take good care of him -at least so long as he is not too old to work.

I am fairly well informed about food production in the South during the slave era. The climate was favorable, land and water was plentiful,taxes were miniscule, and there was no great market for the potentially huge crops, excepting tobacco and cotton.Consequently food was cheap -especially if produced locally for local consumption.

Slave labor could be put to good use for many other purposes than producing just food-slaves made bricks, built roads, dug canals, logged, sawed lumber, served as servants, built thier owners houses sometimes-so it wasn't strictly necessary to make money by selling food crops or meat, etc.

The most important issue in respect to wood most of the time was getting rid of it-huge amounts were routinely burnt where it was felled in ordered to clear the land.This practice of burning up timber to get rid of it continues to this day on construction sites all over the south, although wood will probably soon be valuable enough to finally put a stop to this practice.

I n an overpopulated Europe, short of land, with the soil eroded and worn out,and a large class of skilled workers and business people able to buy up most of the scarce and expensive food,those out of work or without highly marketable skills often lived on the raw edge of starvation due to lack of money..Nobody in Europe had any strong incentive to look after a starving peasant or unemployed laborer.

You are in my estimation correct in holding that abundant resources here, as opposed to scarce resources in Europe, permitted this peculiar state of affairs to come to pass.

It is not generally well known , but as you pointed out it was very common for slaves to be given the use of certain amount of land and livestock to be worked and managed for thier own support-this was actually the cheaper and more efficient way to manage a slave operated farm or plantation.

There is even a considerable body of evidence that can be construed as proving that the share cropping system , which came to dominate later, was even more profitable for landowners-but this could not come to pass until there was a large number of landless and otherwise unemployed workers around willing to accept the harsh usual terms, which mostly left the share cropper living little better than a slave-and furthermore if a sharecropper made no crop due to any of the many things that can and do go wrong, his landlord was under no obligation to feed his family for him , as in the case of a slave.

Some economic analyses indicate that in Europe, it was cheaper to hire a free man than to feed, shelter, and clothe a slave. If you hired a free man (or woman), he would look after his own food, shelter, and clothing at lower cost than a slave owner could do. Wages were just above the starvation level, and sometimes lower. And slaves cost money to buy, whereas free men would just show up looking for work whenever you needed them. And when you didn't need them they would just go away and stop costing you money, whereas slaves would keep on eating at their owner's expense.

Slavery disappeared in England during the Middle Ages because it was uneconomic. There was no point in owning a slave when you could hire someone for less money. The English slave owners who had to let their slaves go when they got back to England (because there was no law in England allowing them to stop a slave from escaping) didn't really complain because they could hire them back at a daily wage lower than it cost to keep them.

Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, pointed out that it was also uneconomic in the Northern United States, despite the fact that wages were far higher. The higher productivity of free men more than offset the fact that they had to be paid money. The compensating factors were that they would look after their own costs, and would show up every morning for work without needing armed guards. And when they worked, they worked hard, whereas slaves could be counted on to do as little as possible. Slaves became experts at looking busy while doing almost nothing, while free men were always working in hopes of getting a raise.

The Southern States were anomalous in that it was somewhat cheaper to own slaves than employ free men, given their resistance to working in the heat and humidity. However, the real reason for the persistence of slavery is that the land owners just didn't like to work hard in the heat. Northern land owners were considerably more motivated to work, and ultimately made more money on less land. The plantation system was a very inefficient use of land, and slavery was a very inefficient use of labor, and in the end the Northerners did much better, much to the annoyance of the Southerners.

The Industrial Revolution drove the final nails into the coffin of the slave industry. Machines were far, far cheaper than slaves and would 24/7 with only fuel and a bit of oil - and would never try to escape. Unfortunately, it took a major war to convince the Southern States of this. Once you get used to not working, I guess it's hard to change.

Within a few years of the end of slavery, Southern farm production was up to pre-Civil-War levels, with no slaves and a lot fewer men working in the fields. It was just free market economics in action.

Hi Rocky,

Well said!

I would add one more thing key fact -slave owners were a distinct and small minority of the general population of free people -meaning whites mostly of course.

Everybody else worked like hell unless they were rich.And very few were.

I have often wondered how long it would have taken slavery to die of it's own wieght an inefficiency in the South-possibly anoher fifty years might have been enough.

The plantation economy of the south was a contrast in extremes of wealth. The Industrial Revolution created a great demand for cotton, especially after the invention of the cotton gin in the 1790's. Before the Civil War the plantation owners were some of the wealthiest men in the world and the region around New Orleans up to St. Francisville along the Mississippi and its tributaries held most of the millionaires in the US. The surviving plantations attest to this. The ultra wealthy grew sugar. These planters were only millionaires, not billionaires. They typically had a few thousand acres of land and a few hundred slaves. The big planters may have made $100,000 or more in good years, which is maybe $2.5 million today. Bad years brought losses. Billionaires did not come into being until giant corporations like Standard Oil and Ford Motor Co.

Most everyone else in the South was poor. There was little industry and it was mostly things like sawmills, railroads and cotton gins.

I have a hard time understanding why ordinary southerners would fight a war to protect the interest of the wealthy.

Despite having more industry I doubt that the North was wealthy. The mill workers had to compete with the laborers in places like Manchester, who worked only for an inadequate amount of food and a dirt floored lean to the size of one small room, which they shared with half dozen or more other people. Of course there were no plumbing facilities of any type. But the US mill workers had adequate food and shelter.

Despite having more industry I doubt that the North was wealthy. The mill workers had to compete with the laborers in places like Manchester, who worked only for an inadequate amount of food and a dirt floored lean to the size of one small room, which they shared with half dozen or more other people.

The North was one of the wealthiest places in the world at the time. The standards of the time were not high, but most people had a roof over their head, enough clothes to wear, and more than enough food to eat. In Europe, most people did not have that. Basic survival was their main goal.

The big advantage of North America was that, if someone did not want to work for low wages, they could just move West and homestead some land of their own. They had to clear it, plant it, and build some kind of shack to live in, and they had to work unbelievably hard to do that. But at the end of it they owned their own land, and all the benefits of their labor was their own. That was not an option for the vast majority of people in Europe.


You are correct in that the North and the US in general were considered wealthy, at least relative to the rest of the world. There are numerous references to the high wages in the US and also of labor shortages at times and in various places.

Slavery disappeared in England during the Middle Ages because it was uneconomic.


Slavery was simply considered inhuman (though legal) in Christian countries for Christians at least, and the Catholic Church fought it in Europe and in the Americas, except for blacks.
Classical civilization believed
that slaves were naturally inferior and deserved their fate--an attitude not share by Christians who could see the humanity even in slaves(Galatians 3:28).

Under feudalism in England, slaves occupied the lowest social caste(10% of the population).

The last white slaves in Christian Europe were in Russia around 1700.

Outside of Europe slavery persisted until Britain
forceably stopped the world trade in slaves.

Our civilized sensibility bristles at the thought of slavery.

The suggestion that slavery is wrong because it is uneconomic is frankly appalling.
The Nazis enslaved at least 20 million people to
support their economy during WW2, so the economics worked for them. In many developing countries child slaves economically work in sweatshops and coal mines.

Only an economist like Adam Smith would need an economic argument to do the right thing.

Of course, Smith was proven wrong as slavery in the US flourished after the invention of the cotton gin(Technology will save us!).

I think to some extent people confuse physical slavery i.e ownership with actual slavery.
Its only one form I'd say the key however is if someone is working for food and shelter and have no substantial savings greater than their debt than they are a slave.

Now how many slaves are their in the world ?

With this definition we can see that the means to enslave people are rarely outright physical bondage but mental. Indeed many slaves lived and existence where they could fairly easily escape but mental bonds held them not all but more than enough to suggest that physical holding was the only bond. Certainly others escaped at the first chance they got. And of course in the US with freedom possible by walking one could argue that escaping was rational. If the entire US had allowed slavery or sent escaped slaves back then I'd suspect the escape levels would have been lower. I'd have to imagine they were on the islands where the prospects for and escaped slave where bleak.

Certainly our masters have gotten far better at hiding the chains they use to bind us.
But that does not make these chains any less real indeed mental enslavement is probably
the worst form of slavery possible in the long run.

My opinion is that slavery is the natural result of allowing concentration of wealth to go unchecked.
Without the concept of a person being to rich we will never stop slavery.
At some point in the future your ability to concentrate wealth might be stopped at say 1 million dollars for example i.e enough to live in comfort and thats it.
Draconian perhaps but consider our history and whats happened I'd argue its worth a try its the only route I can see that will ever stop the endless cycle of slavery.

If you follow it through and control your population and don't inflate your money supply then eventually of course there is 1 million dollars granted at birth and you never work for money.
Things become unimportant and irrelevant. I'm simplifying the idea a lot but the basics are
everyone eventually is actually entitled to a comfortable life because previous generations earned it.
It was not borrowed but saved for perhaps over centuries if thats what it took. If we reached that point what could we do having given up on the need to fight for goods and services ?

Heck its certainly worth a try for a few hundred years after a few thousand of failing.

the key however is if someone is working for food and shelter and have no substantial savings greater than their debt than they are a slave.

To understand history is to understand that until roughly the period of electrification, anywhere from a significant minority to the majority of people on earth fit that description. This is what the early economists mean when they are talking about the lowest wages necessary to support a laborer. Today we cannot relate to those conditions; however, there is good documentation such as the Irish potato famine and some of Engels first hand descriptions.

Here is a related study (scrool down to date):

In 1662, John Graunt, in Observations upon the Bills of Mortality, using London population data, noted that life expectancy is 27 years, with nearly two/thirds dying before 16 years.

You misunderstand the fundamental nature of slavery.
A slave is a human being reduced to the level of a horse, chicken, dog or pig.
Poverty is not slavery.
A slave has no legal rights.

A slave has no legal rights.

That was not universally true. In the United States, a slave had no legal rights. In Britain, slaves had certain common-law rights and if their master violated them, they could sue. Eventually the courts ruled that one of their rights was just to walk away from their owner and not come back, and of course this put an end to slavery even before it was officially abolished.

Slaves in France had similar rights. Thomas Jefferson is known (from DNA evidence) to have fathered several children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. He took Sally with him to France, but when he returned he had a problem in that under French law he couldn't force Sally to leave. So it is believed that he offered several incentives to her to go back to the US with him, particularly that he would free all her children when they reached 21, which he did.

In many countries, there was a time limit on slavery. After a certain period of time (typically seven years), the master had to set his slaves free and buy new slaves.

Of course, these rules took a lot of the fun out of being a slave owner, so slavery was a lot less popular in these countries even when it was legal.

I'd say the key however is if someone is working for food and shelter and have no substantial savings greater than their debt than they are a slave.

That's really the definition of being in the lower class. If you have substantial savings over and above your basic needs, then you are middle class. At this point in time, most of the world's population qualifies as being middle class according to this definition, which is an historically unique situation.

Historically, most of the world's population was just working for food and shelter and had nothing left over after the basic essentials of life were paid for. If they had less than that, the surplus population just died off.

For most of history, slaves were a luxury for the upper classes to enjoy. Many people sold themselves or their children into slavery because it was the best deal they could get. The alternative was to starve to death.

I'm not saying that slavery is not immoral. I'm saying it became uneconomic.

If slavery was still economic we would probably still have slavery, regardless of whether it is immoral or not.

Only an economist like Adam Smith would need an economic argument to do the right thing.

Of course, Smith was proven wrong as slavery in the US flourished after the invention of the cotton gin(Technology will save us!).

Actually, Smith was right. Slavery was uneconomic, even in the South. The people there just didn't believe it.

Slavery only continued in the Southern States because the people there thought they could get some advantage from it, whereas the Northerners thought the best thing to do was abolish slavery and get on with the Industrial Revolution. The North was right, the South was wrong, and the South suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths and generations of poverty and strife from their miscalculation.

Slavery only continued in the Southern States because the people there thought they could get some advantage from it, whereas the Northerners thought the best thing to do was abolish slavery and get on with the Industrial Revolution.


Slavery could be abolished more easily in the North because there were far fewer slaves in those states, and they were not a vital part of Northern economies. There were plenty of free white men to do the sort of labor slaves performed. In fact, the main demand for abolition of slavery came not from those who found it morally wrong but from white working-class men who did not want slaves as rivals for their jobs.

This proves that under a free market slaves were more economical than free labor.

Free white labor didn't want to compete with slaves and passed laws to keep slaves out of their states--in violation of 'free market' principles. Northern manufacturers imported white workers from Europe and the population exploded.

Similarly the South banned the importation of slaves because it would cause the marketprice of their human property to fall under competition.

Incidently, there is an dubious implication in your statement that black slaves couldn't handle
the Industrial Revolution.

As the preceding discussion makes clear, slavery in the antebellum South was overwhelmingly a rural phenomenon. This was, in part, because most slave owners believed that slavery would not work well in an urban industrialized environment. Slaves were thought to be too stupid to understand machinery and too careless to be trusted with complex tools.
In fact, however, slaves were used successfully in factories such as the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. They also labored in the salt mines and turpentine plants of North Carolina, the coal mines of western Virginia, and the sugar mills of Louisiana. Moreover, when, during the Civil War, Southerners confronted a manpower shortage and the need for rapid industrialization, they quickly overcame their prejudices against using slaves in factories.

There is so much here...

First of all, the idea that TOD has had an impact is wonderful to believe. I am still waiting to see the concrete evidence, and will be very pleased when I do.

I have a few questions, though. First of all, we imagine that the Iraqi contribution will be apace with their predictions. We have all commented on the likelihood of that happening, and IMO the main fly in that particular ointment would be the presence of terrorists in the Middle East... beginning with the conflicting Shiia/Sunnis in Iraq, compounded by the strange mix of Baathist and Kurdish extremists. Oil appears to be very vulnerable to low cost destruction by IEDs. The US will be pretty much gone next year, and the field will be open to the various Muslim extremists who want nothing more than to destroy Western economies. Attacks on the pipelines, on the wellheads and offshore platforms, and on shipping seem sadly predictable. Perhaps the corporations know what will prevent these events. I cannot see how the could be avoided.

Next, we are depending on accurate forecasts of improvements to come, as well as honest reporting of reserves.

Finally, even if all of these pies in the sky appear in the great bye and bye, that will mean we continue to exploit fossil fuels for all we are worth. Particularly if we want to get off of the planet...

Getting off the planet will probably require a more energy intensive society than the one we have today.

So, we are looking at a race, necessitated by the race itself. To date the human race has not responded very well to the knowledge that we are fouling our nest. My prediction: If iraq is able to put off the downturn in oil production for 10 years, we will piddle around and piss away the opportunity we are given, just as we have done for the past 26 years since Reagan was elected, by insisting on BAU while the emerging countries throw tantrums about not getting their bite out of the apple. Net result: AGW about double what has been predicted, a faster trip down the backside of Hubbert's curve, population rises to 8 Billion before the die off begins, and worse trouble that we have. And that is if the 'good news' is true!

Please talk me down!

Strange species, homo sapiens. Do you suppose they'll be missed?