Peak Oil and the Environment Day 2 Part 1

Julian Darley seems to think that the world may be reaching Peak natural Gas. This has considerable impact on likely future supplies of LNG to the US, and to everywhere else for that matter. It was the first statement he made in chairing the last panel of the "Peak Oil and the Environment" Forum in D.C. this afternoon, but it was also the last statement I heard at the meeting. I had to leave for my flight, and with the program running just enough late I missed both it and the last presentation (and me with only 17 pages of notes from today).
So how was the last day? It began with the Hon. Mona Sahlin, Swedish Minister for Sustainable Development and a member of a Government with the intent to "increase social happiness" as a goal rather than "filling the gap" between projected available oil and gas and supplies. And so Sweden will move towards independence from imported fuel, with a Commission that is developing a plan to achieve this. The plan is helped by the extensive use of district heating where houses are heated collectively from central boilers (as happens on the odd campus in the United States). By using biomass to provide that heat (61% of the need) they can go a fair way toward their target. In order to change fuels since, as they say "they love the car, but hate the gasoline," they are adjusting taxes and provide incentives such as free parking to drivers of hybrids and biofueled cars. They are also investing heavily in research into getting gas from biomass and across the board R & D to develop alternate technologies and resources. (It is paying off, since this technology is now the 8th largest export commodity).

Nate Hagens then took over the chair for the morning session. He is influenced by the work of Joseph Tainter. I should have mentioned Dr Tainter, who gave the last talk, after dinner, last night, but having compromised my anonymity by taking too many notes as it was, and having by then met Ken, I am left only with the memory of an intriguing speech that made an analogy with the fall of the Roman Empire and other regimes in history.

The theme of the morning was nominally the potential supply that we should look for, as oil falls away. (And, as a note to Jerome and others I will try and report what was said, rather than my opinions, though those may follow in a subsequent post). The first talk was by Cutler Cleveland who pointed out that the hydrogen supply will cost more, and do less than it is currently touted to perform. He also noted that the process to license new nuclear power plants has begun. His main theme was to provide EROI (Energy Return On Investment] data for the major fuel sources and was the first to "rubbish" ethanol. (He was kinder to oil shale). He made a point of noting that he only accepted information from peer reviewed publications - information from the rest is "junk." (Pause for a round of "Any old iron? Any old iron? from your "rag and bone" correspondent, repair the glass and move on). He has set up a web site for his work, and to get additional information on justifiable values for energy balances and costs.

He was followed by Daniel Lashof. Since Governor Schweitzer had mentioned that his dog was 6% more popular in his state than he, the Governor was, Dan brought a toy dog to the podium to palliate the masses. He divided the possible answers to our supply problem into green (good), which included ethanol, and brown (bad) fuels, which latter included oil shale and tar sands. During his presentation I began to feel that the polar bears drowning may be the ecological "one-sheet" for this year. Tar sands are "a real and present danger to the environment." He cast doubt on EROI calculations by pointing out that no-one seems concerned that it takes 3 units of coal to make one unit of electricity. He also suggested that, with some skilled knowledge, the ethanol supply could be produced from a much smaller acreage than is commonly supposed.

It was obviously bed time, since Charles Hall the next to the podium, was so anxious to find his bed-time toy (a rabbit) that he was reduced to pulling it out of a hat at the end of his talk. He suggested that all our concerns and information was based on the work of Jean Laherrere and suggested that, to be considered, any new alternative must be able of being scaled up to generate 5 Quads (or exajoules). His team, he had about 5(?) students with him, are working with J.S.Harold and are trying to get a handle on EROI issues and (if I read the curve correctly) he was projecting that based on EROI issues, that this will kill most further conventional oil development by somewhere between 2015, and 2025.

He was followed by David Pimentel who bluntly stated that we have too many people for our resources. We are adding quarter of a million folk a day, and 3.7 billion of the population are malnourished. In the U.S. we eat 2,200 lb/person/year and we should eat only a third of that. 99% of our food comes from the land, and <0.1% of the sun's energy is captured by crops (against 20% by PV). And while he wished that biofuels and ethanol would save us, the EROI, and soil losses, prove that this is not going to happen. We get, 100 gallons of ethanol/acre of corn and this contains around 19,400 kcal/gal against an input of 25,000 kcal/gal. He pointed out that those who criticize his numbers do not include farm machines; processing machines; hybrid corn; irrigation; environmental impacts; by product credit; and similar items. He drew attention to the latest DoE information that we produce 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol a year, which is less than 1% of the fuel used by our vehicles (I am typing with a rapped knuckle for a minute). We need 1,700 gal of water/gal of ethanol and corn causes more soil erosion than any other crop.

David Blittersdorf gave a talk on the wind power business which he started after figuring out the coming of Peak oil, in 1997. He mentioned that Israel mandates solar hot water, and that most of the technology that was lost when solar firms went bankrupt in the 1980's is coming back. He pointed out that if it wasn't for the wind-powered water pumps the early steam trains would have never made it across the United States, since they watered every few miles. He went through the current sizes of machines, manufacturers, and pointed out that the latest machines have a span the size of a 747 wing and EROI is moving from 15-40 toward the 80 - 100:1 of the most modern systems. Germany leads with 18,428 MW installed, Spain is next (10,027) and we are third at 9,149 MW, the world total was 59,000 MW in 2005. Small domestic wind systems are still more expensive than cars, but the price is dropping. He also described the building that they created that includes a ground source heat pump (GSHP) solar, wind and wood chip heat. He recommended (to audience applause) that we move to electric mass transit.

The nuclear part of the morning was provided by Claudio Filipone who explained how nuclear reactors worked, the problems that he saw at Yucca Mountain (disclaimer - I have done some work on that problem) and pointed out that even if that site worked, then we would still need 9 of them to deal with the problem. The current system is grid-locked and nothing is moving forward. Further the current system is oriented against innovation, and locked in to earlier designs, not accepting recent developments. One of these is The Clean And Environmentally Safe Advanced Reactor (CAESAR) The reactor principle, if I understand it, is that the reactor first creates the plutonium as it works, and then burns it as it continues to work, so that it does not need refueling. I felt that it is very worthwhile to chase down and read some of his papers (and wished he'd spent more time on that part of the presentation).

My notes on the discussion are embarrassingly brief Dr Lashof said that our objective should be to stop global warming, and that CTL should be taken off the table.

Dr Hall noted that most solutions scare him, and the only thing worse than running out of oil, is not running out of oil. We need to look at demand side control, and how this affects where we live.

Dr Pimentel noted that switchgrass does not fix nitrogen in the soil, and while soybeans do, they give a lower yield of fuel. We must reduce fuel consumption (the target should be by 50%). We cannot continue to use coal, and must find a low carbon alternative, such as solar or a similar technology. We can replace coal use in the US with Natural Gas, but this is not going to work in India and China.

Unless we create a carbon tax coal will continue to be a major part of the program. We teach a million students a year, we teach conventional economics as though it were real. We need to see the end of "Faith Based Economics".

We need political leadership - Germany showed that this would work with their commitment to wind power, and its success.

Silver bullets only kill vampires, we need the right tools for the job. Further we need to look at integrated solutions rather than trying to solve the issue with only one of the available answers.

The market will drive the answer and we need to engage those that have money.

We need to consider soil erosion more critically and salinization, we use 80% of the water in Nebraska for irrigating corn. It takes 500 years to make 1 mm of topsoil, and you need 6 inches to grow crops.

Dr Hall commented that he was currently being funded at $6 million to study frogs in Puerto Rico, but had had nothing to study energy - checked with rest of panel they hadn't either. The money that is being provided is going to engineers (ed. Note a disclosure - I am an engineer). We need to put money into the policy realm so as to drive funding to engineers into the areas where they will develop what we want. But bear in mind that the problem is long-term and we think short-term.

It was then time for lunch, and since this is getting long, I will also break here, and resume on the morrow.

Thank you Heading Out for your travels and this recap. This type of post, the other contributors, and the subsequent comments are what make this site worth coming to day-in and day-out.
Does anyone else WANT a price shock to wake people up or is it just me?  Just checking.
Why does anyone listen to Pimental?? His numbers are always skewed so that he can prove his point. Two examples of bad numbers, although I am sure we could come up with many more

1) We are adding 205,000 people a day not 250,000 as you mention he states.
74.6 million per year/365
Also this number is declining every year.

2)  3.7 billion people are malnourished ! where the heck does he get that number?!
Most estimates show the count of malnourished as being around 800 million.
For instance the new Millenium Goals Report from the UN  says: -
"There were 815 million hungry people in the developing
world in 2002"

Since many of these 815 million live in South Asia and since that area has boomed since 2002. I am betting that this number has dropped substantially.

His comment about people eating too much in US is correct, although I am sure his numbers are wrong.  Eating too much is huge problem worldwide. I personally think obesity is already be a bigger problem versus malnourishment.

Hello HO,

Thxs for the info!  Israel mandating solar hotwater heaters is just common sense, the US should be mandating the same as this is proven low tech that works.  

Pimental is correct in saying there are too many people-- the world will not make any progress in Peaceful Powerdown until education creates a new voluntary social global norm of one child/family with no early sex selection.  Otherwise, the sad event of Zimbabwe's sewers being clogged with dead newborns will spread around the globe.

IMHO, I feel the issue of water availability and general starvation due to crop failures induced by global warming will quickly halt the strip-mining of the topsoil to burn in automobile engines. It will be all hands in the fields just to keep from starving and humanure processing will be a huge industry where water is costly.  I think most people are vastly underestimating how quickly we will need to postPeak shift millions to manual farm labor and/or city gardening.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Absolutely dead on re. global warming/climate change, and the subsequent water poblems screwing up our insane plans to grow biofuels. Stupidity reigns from here on out.
Hello Reed,

Here is a link to about record highs and a New Death Valley that they attribute to Global Warming.  They need a hurricane to bring moisture, but they also don't need a hurricane as this is where the Houston refineries are located! rticle=3

The national drought maps show this area to be even dryer than Arizona's deserts-- now that is hard to imagine!

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Thanks for the link, Totenella. Incredible! Things should be getting very interesting soon in the Gulf. Well, actually, everywhere.
Jeez, please forgive the misspelling of your handle, Totoneila. Getting late.
Hello Reed,

No Problemo on the misspelling.  Here is another very sad sign of extreme deforestation in Africa.  There must be a terrible shortage of sturdy mature trees across Africa,
and specifically in Zimbabwe:

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

totoneila, you certainly cover a lot of territory on the net. Some sick fucks out there.
Hello Reed,

Yeah, sad as this article is, this businessman is just a small scale version of the trillion dollar global arms industry.  Bullets, bombs, landmines, or even bayonets or machetes: man has a tremendous capacity to be very cruel to his neighbor.  I wish I knew a lot more about genetics--why didn't we evolve a DNA-impulse for suicide to outweigh our genetic propensity to lethally attack our fellow man?

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Truthfully, I have a problem with the guys prosecuting him. He's selling pieces of wood, bolted together. And hanging is probably the least horrible way of dying over there. How about the Brit authorities take a close look at the companies and dictators they're doing business with first? No, they have to pick on a little guy to keep the public's attention away from their own much greater sins. If the Brit authorities wanted to actually do something, they'd try to stop the strife over there, but they don't want to alienate their best customers/clients/dirty work go-fers do they?
Hello Fleam,

Good points!  Hanging is a low cost, low profit, but an intensely low tech one-sided affair.  Much more profitable for the global arms industry to sell weaponry, to both sides in an African conflict, in exchange for their natural resources.  Then, just like Gillette Corp, there is much more money to be made selling replacement blades [bullets] than the initial razor [gun].  Isn't economics great!  =(

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

But of course!

It's just the hypocrisy that gets to me, don't actually do anything about the evil, find some little guy who appears to be doing evil and squash him like a bug.

I myself have a natural distaste for the idea of making and selling gibbets, but there's quite a body of evidence (haha) that people who make such stuff are more interested in being humane, and have more empathy for the one to be hanged than those who gave the order for them to be.

Hello Fleam,

I don't know if you watched the video interview of the farmer in my original link.  The included video link was a little erratic when I played it on my computer, but I believe the farmer mentioned how a well-designed gallows has a certain springiness to its operation.  I assume he means an optimal humane design incorporates this springiness to cleanly snap the spine vs just hanging there and slowly strangling to death.

Az has a good example of using sub-optimal hanging equipment:
In a letter to a historian (Douglas D. Martin) a former reporter for the Phoenix Gazette, Jack Lefler, wrote the following about the 13 July 1936, execution:

The hanging of Earl Gardner was a very dramatic story and an exciting one to cover. . . . He was a juvenile delinquent and mean as hell, especially when loaded with tulapai. Marshal McKinney deputized everybody in sight, including reporters. We strutted the streets of Globe carrying rifles and stacking them in the corner of a bar when we went in for a drink. The gallows was an abandoned rock crusher in a canyon below Coolidge Dam. Earl was brought from the jail at Globe during the night and spent his last hours sitting in a car with the Rev. Uplegger. . . . I tried to interview them but they wouldn't talk. Reporters, officers and other witnesses lounged around campfires in the sandy bed of a wash through the night. There was quite a bit of boozing and horsing around. Earl went to the gallows without apparent concern and died a ghastly death. I was crouched in a corner of the crusher on a pile of gravel and damn near went through the trap after him. Earl's shoulder struck the side of the trap and broke his fall. He hung at the end of the rope gasping for 25 minutes until Maricopa County Sheriff Lon Jordan, a giant of a man, stepped down through the trap and put his weight on Earl's shoulder to tighten the noose and shut off his breathing.

The execution of Gardner by hanging was so ghastly that Congress passed a law stipulating that from henceforth all federal executions had to take place according to the manner "prescribed by the laws of the State within which the sentence is imposed." As the law in Arizona required that executions should be done by lethal gas (law passed in 1933), no more hangings were to be permitted in Arizona, not even on federally-supervised Indian reservations. Thus the Pinal Mountain region witnessed the last legal hanging ever permitted in Arizona.
I believe some other state abolished hanging when a particularly obese subject's head was gruesomely separated from the body below.  Obviously, the Hangman, being a professional, was upset at this event, but it was the crowd going wild that precipitated the change to other forms of execution.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?


Love your posts.  There's no way for a species to evolve a tendency for suicide.  Any individual with such an inclination will tend not to pass it on to his/her offspring.  On the other hand, an inclination to attack our fellows increases the chances for success of our genes in the pool.  It ain't pretty, it just is.  Daniel Quinn takes an interesting look at this, especially in "The Story of B"

There are many species like the Black Widow spider in which the sex act is effectively an act of suicide.
Good point.  Mantids and salmon would fit that also.  But these few species have evolved this not really as a self-limiting suicidal tendency, but rather as a self-perpetuating 'provide nutrients for the success of the next generation' tendency.  In the case of salmon, the nutrients they cycle from ocean to headwater are actually significant for the ecosystem as a whole.  Just one more way we've damaged the system without realizing the impact 'till after the fact.
Hello Clifman,

Wish it wasn't so.  Geneticists talk about 'survival of the fittest' but we long ago moved away from this natural paradigm of competing, like the other animals, by pure tooth and claw.

Instead, by using extrasomatic means; weapons that extend our reach beyond mere 'tooth and claw'; we fight in a manner that does not optimize natural fitness to our ecosystem's demands.  An atomic weapon is indiscriminate in determining physical fitness right on down to a knife or machete [Hutu-Tutsi conflict, for example]-- our bodies & mind have no genetic defense to extrasomatic attack.  It simply boils down to those that can last wield a weapon.  Even if the entire global landmass is converted to sand dunes, the last human to wield a rock in his fist, for crushing a skull, will become King.

Kenyans, and other professional marathoners, that regularly win these long distance events, are my model of what I believe Nature would want to survive in a purely physical competition.  I believe our ancient ancestors were very good at team-chasing a prey animal until it collapsed from exhaustion or was hopelessly cornered.  Our ability to sweat off excess heat and bipedalism vs four-legged animals and their panting give us a decided advantage over distance.  Hunting tactics and adopting weaponry and traps vastly increased the effectiveness of this rundown strategy for protein, especially if they could injure the animal first.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans SmaRter than Yeast?

Drought maps are based on departure from historical norms not on total precipitation. If rain in Michigan was only 20 inches this year and in Arizona was only 10 the map would show severe drought in Michigan but normal for Arizona even though Michigan had twice as much rain as Arizona.
Thanks for the reporting from me as well.  Very informative.

Just a suggestion, but I just bought one of those digital recorders for 60 bucks.  I think Olympus makes the best ones for the price.  They are great little tools.  You can record a whole days worth of talk and then play it back on your computer, or set up mp3 files online.
I find it much easier when I go to talks and presentations, as I don't have to worry about taking any notes.

BTW, Thanks for the overviews!

Hi HO, thanks for the report.

I just see disaster if we can't get the population growth under control. Maybe we can jerry-rig some kind of fuels together to replace oil, but all the resources and beauty of the planet are just going to be burned up and destroyed if we do.

My wife and I have a small organic farm, no children, many close friends and a rich environment in a peaceful valley.

The seven-billion-people half-starved rat race is not the way we want to go. It will be a living hell. We need to de-populate and de-complexify.

"The seven-billion-people half-starved rat race is not the way we want to go"

Works for me.


PS  But I was on the Farmrs Mkt circit when I had a wife, and I'm waiting for my contractor to install PV.

Pimentel has written that the optimal world population is 2 billion people. From the conlusion of the paper:

With a democratically determined population control policy that respects basic individual rights, with sound resource use policies, plus the support of science and technology to enhance energy supplies and protect the integrity of the environment, an optimum population of 2 billion for the Earth  can be achieved.  With a concerted effort, fundamental obligations to ensure the well-being of future generations can be attained within the 21st century.  Individuals will then be free from poverty and starvation and live in an environment capable of sustaining human life with dignity.  We must avoid letting humans numbers continue to increase to the limit of the Earth's natural resources and forcing natural forces to control our numbers by disease, malnutrition, and violent conflicts over resources.

I agree that population must be controlled. To bring everybody up to a reasonable standard of living today, the environment would take one hell of a hit considering the relationship between Human Development Index and CO2 emissions:

This planet can easily support 2 billion or 8 billion.
It depends entirely on the lifestyle.

We can have 2 billion kings or 8 billion peasants.

There is no innate need for a smaller population, if people just agree live more modestly.
Not without cheap fossil fuels, we can't.

Before fossil fuels, the world population reamained below a billion. Even though people were living very modestly indeed.

Nice! This graph says it all.

The thing to keep in mind though is that in the early 1800s, people were using whale oil for illumination.  I suppose one could call it a renewable resource, but it was being extracted at rates that far exceeded the rates at which the whales would reproduce.

In fact at the point when coal oil (or Kerosene) was discovered, and the kerosene lamp was developed, the whale population had already decreased significantly.  I guess at the time you would say that this was the human race's first brush with peak oil, but at that point in our history humans hadn't become as dependent on liquid energy as we have since become.

Coal was also in use at that period, of course.  More for heating, and not for illumination.

well, there was more than energy in that era.  energy and technology fed off each other.  a certian amount of that growth is funded by medicine, which might continue to see good growth even with a lower energy intensity.

there are definitely some chickens coming home to roost, as certain fossil fuels deplete, but we have learned how to make MW windmills, and etc.

Two issues.  

Is there a correlation that you can prove between fossil fuels and the exponential population growth shown in graph?

Have fossil fuels always been cheap?

Population explosion has been caused by a huge decline in death rate.

A small portion of this decline might be attributable to fossil fuels... but it would be very small.

BTW, absolute population increase per year has peaked - 1989 - and will turn negative sometime around 2050.

So sanitation, nutrition and medicine cost nothing?
Or using fossil fuels doesn't make you richer?
They cost very little.

The big jump in population occurred between 1954-1974... since then fertility rates have dropped substantially.  The areas that experienced the most population increase in this time period, Asia, Africa and Latin America were using very little in the way of fossil fuels during this time period.

Countries that have high rates of fossil fuel usage - Russia, Ukraine, Canada, US, Europe, Japan all have low birth rates and in many cases DECLINING populations. So, maybe we should be saying that increased fossil fuel usage causes population's to decline!

I know, a stupid argument... but no more stupid than saying that fossil fuels have caused the population explosion.

The Richard Heinberg argument would be that fossil fuels has allowed the production of huge amounts of agricultural food, as well as irrigation systems and motorized transport that have allowed the population to expand exponentially.

See how much food you can raise manually without a tractor ...


So, I guess that means that India,China,Bangladesh, Indonesia etc.. used lots of fossil fuels in their tractors to harvest their rice during the 50s,60s and 70s... their big population growth decades. Is that what you and Richard Heinberg are saying?

It seems like such countries had some fairly drastic famines back in those days. Remember, the "Green Revolution" saved the world from Paul Erlich's Population Bomb.

I know my farm wouldn't produce very much food if it weren't for trucks, tractors and implements.

If I didn't have these, I turn the farm into a 120-acre nature preserve, sell most of the cattle, raise a few chickens and turn an acre or two into a garden for my family's needs.

There is no way I'm going to take in former suburbanites and try to teach them how to hoe turnips or potatoes or whatever. That's what the Halliburton civilian inmate camps will be for, I suppose.

Yes, lets kill off all the useless eaters. Let us de-populate those riff raff and retards. Let us kill off those brownies. In case you didn't notice I'm being sarcastic. De-population means one thing: genocide. Whatever happened to the "we make enough food to feed the whole world".I would not be surprised if those who think themselves above the common riff raff are planning these so called de-populations. Hey, how about a bird flu or a 4th world war?After all the oil thats left can't maintain our controls we'll just bring the numbers down to a more manageable one.Very nice.

You are exactly right.  What was it the Nazi's liked to call it (I can't spell in German) Lieberstraum or "breathing space" for the people of the's scary the way people say these things without thought....
You want to reduce population the humane way....make them rich.

Look at the birth rate in the U.S., and in even the poorer nations of Europe, or in Japan....they are dropping like a bird with the flu!

The lowest birthrates in Europe was recently given as those in the Catholic countries, Spain, Portugal, Italy (!!)....despite the common mythology, women who gain economic freedom do not want to raise a half dozen crumb crunchers...most find one or two MORE than enough, and many want NONE!  Get the world's peoples up to Western income and freedom levels and the birthrate would be lucky to maintain "replacement levels".  Does that sound too "Western" too "Elitist"?  Well, compare it to the horrible, horrendous option of "depopulation" by don't sound nearly so bad to work for wealth for fellow humans does it?

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Lebensraum, "living space", not to be confused with liebestraum, "dream of love".

Thanks....darn, I shot right up the middle and would have been wrong on the spelling on either one!  :-)
I would think that the global population will level out in a few years then drop. Fuel from farmland is going to be a major industry in the third world. The absolute number of acres of farmland devoted to food production has peaked and will decline each year. Without a global supply of food, I would think it would be impossible for the population to keep increasing. I think people are underestimating how many acres (globally) will be devoted to fuel production.  
Do you really think Pimenthal was advocating forced depopulation?  I thought he was suggesting "democratic", voluntary reductions.  Also, since we in the West use 25% of the world's resources with 5% of the world's population, I don't see how raising the living standards of another 4 billion people would help the resource situation even if our population stabilized as a result.  I think your wealth per capita=lower birth rates is a simplistic explanation for a process that involves many factors.  It's a correlation, not a cause.  For example, if the religious right in this country were to manage to gain complete control of the government, I think you'd see the birthrate in the US skyrocket!  They'd do away with birth control, abortion rights, women working outside the home, etc.

Rather than try to raise the living standards of the world's poor to ours, I think we should lower ours and spread the wealth so that everyone has what they need for a decent life, not the obscene disparity now extant.  Then we can work on voluntarily and democratically stabilizing and gradually decreasing the population.

Since the odds of either your or my scenario happening are slim/none, I suspect that Nature will have to take care of it for us.  :(

You've lost me..can you explain why saying you can only have 0, 1 or 2 children is a "horrible, horrendous option"?? The gene pool has already worsened due to allowing people choice through contraception. Now we have more:

a] baby farmers

b] Women who say 'gee honey, I don't know what happened..I thought it was a Tuesday..I'm sure I took them last week? Never mind - a family will be fun..'

c] Men with 'mug' tattooed on their forehead who take the above

The only way TO preserve true genetic diversity IS to make compulsory universal rules.

Actually, there is a non-violent depopulation movement...
Depopulation does not have to be violent or even forceful. In theory, even extinction can be voluntary.

Interesting update, with almost too much to ponder, I looked for the one sentence that jumped out at me, and this one, oddly enough, was it:

"The market will drive the answer and we need to engage those that have money."

First, I loudly applaud your faith in the market, which seems sorely lacking by many folks on TOD, with constant talk of how some semi-deity from government will save us....personal opinion here...not bloody likely...

But the last part of the sentence was even more interesting..."we need to engage those that have money."

Well, let's see...we have Matthew Simmons as the single biggest believer, getting close to the status of one of the "Founding Fathers" of the Peak Oil movement (completing the trinity of the late M. King Hubbert and Colin Campbell, along with the first disciple Deffeyes), but wait?  Isn't Matthew Simmons also a billionaire investment banker?
Would it not be interesting to see his portfolio of "postpeak" investments...perhaps he is heavily invested in rail...light rail...hybrid buses...advanced plug hybrid autos...wind turbines...photovoltaic....advanced drawn equipment?

And then of course there is Richard Rainwater, he of the recent glowing articles ("The Rainwater Prophecy"), a man who is said to have converted millions into billions for his wealthy Texas client....what does his "post doom" investment portfolio contain....any of the above?

Let us not forget T. Boone Pickens, who is so sure that crude oil is peaked that he recommends going nuclear for electric power so that we can free up natural gas for transportation  (something he said he was "15 years early" on and that should have already been well underway), is he putting any money into the expansion of natural gas autos, CNG combined with plug hybrid, advanced batteries to make the above possible?

And what of the environmentally concerned billionaires like Ted Turner?

Maybe they need ideas, so let's be of service!  It's time to help our "peak aware" and "environmentally aware"  billionaires!!  Post some thoughts on directions as to where you think of a few billion would do some good in mitagating the "peak" crisis.  Some may be small, some may be large, just as long as they lead to (a)reduction in fossil fuel use or better and more efficient use of fossil fuels (b) are environmentally cleaner than current practice (since no one here can decide whether global warming or peak will wipe us off the face of the Earth first!), and of course, any push on true renewables would win extra points!

Since I started this game I will go first:

(1)  Inter suburb and suburb to city center light rail and hybrid bus system COMBINED with debit card rented electric station cars, system to be managed by GPS.
(2) Advanced lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries to power the coming generation of plug hybrid electric cars.  The batteries are very good, but just need to be able to stand deep charge and discharge.
(3) A complete plug hybrid vehicle, combining good aerodynamics, propane or natural gas microturbine to charge the batteries and provide augmention of power, with above advanced batterie...goal:  midsize sedan getting over 150 miles per gallon on the fossil fuel onboard (propane or CNG bottle), this reducing fossil fuel demand by a factor of 5 to 8 compared to current midsized sedans.
(4)Hydraulic hybrid arrangement, as already pioneered for truck, bus, and delivery van, thus improving the fuel efficiency of stop/start vehicles by a factor of 30% to 50%
(5) Exploration of magnetic levitation train routes for when air travel becomes no longer possible, with a goal of at least 200 to 300 mile per hour travel between America's 50 largest cities, to retain some continuity of national culture.
(6) Advancement of broadband network so that telecommuting and information/educational/cultural/entertainment can be shared without the need of shipping records, discs, movies, and even books and magazines.
School time away from home could be reduced to 3 days or so a week, and the rest done electronically to save fuel, for example, and the resources used to press millions of CD's and DVD's could instead be stored on one or two home hard drives, downloaded from the broadband internet.
(7) Ground coupled heat pumps to reduce heating and cooling energy needs in large office parks, retail malls, WalMarts, etc., using the heat that is only some 3 feet below ground to save billions of cubic feet of natural gas.  Many homes already use it, so why not more?

O.K., had enough?  Ready to say uncle?  Let's have your ideas to add to the above, I know there are hundreds, I have seen them right here on TOD and all over the internet....let's give T. Boone, Matt, Richard and Ted a reason to turn loose of some of those billions!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as  ThatsItImout

Hello Roger,

I think the biggest bang for the buck to achieve a Peaceful Powerdown has to address the root cause of all the other problems, or WE ARE JUST WASTING OUR TIME until all hell breaks loose.  A massively funded global educational program to make every couple voluntarily want one child or no children.  But any sonogram operator will be strictly prohibited from telling the parents the sex of the child so that the world is not flooded with angry males.  Then a big gift of a real asset [not stupid cash] for the parents to willingly get sterilized.

If this cannot be achieved upfront-- then the resource wars and genocide will continue by man, and Nature will take care of the rest by her usual methods.  Do 0r Die--It is really that simple to change course if we want.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

As they say, Bob, Nature swings last, and she swings from the hip.
I nearly fell from my chair with this comment on CNN today
Putin..zeroed in instead on Russia's catastrophic demographic situation, saying the population of the country was falling by 700,000 people every year...To loud applause from officials, he said a special program would be set up in the 2007 state budget that would make 1,500 rubles ($55.39) monthly payouts to families for their first baby and double that sum for a second child.
Which seems to indicate that reduction in population is not an idea supported at the top.

That is an amazing figure.  My guess is that the seeds for this were sewn many years ago - what we are seeing is a demographic bubble dying off which causes the population decrease.
The birth and fertility rates in Russia are no lower than in much of Europe. What is extraordinary in Russia and the other European parts of the former USSR is the very high death rate and low life expectancy, particularly among males.
Many coutries in Europe are thinking the same type of programs, as they are depopulating. You need a certain population for a healthy economy, but the alternative -opening up migration (importing people)- is not politically viable at the moment. Although it's being done all the same through a tollerated "black-market", e.g. Spain, Italy and the U.S. (that I know of) turn somewhat of a blind eye towards illegal immigrants (I was one such for a year in Rome).
Of course he could have supported increased immigration but maybe the Russian people, like others, aren't ready for that.  
I agree with Thatsitimout.  The best chance for successfully applying a solution to some of these problems is going to come from the people in power who recognize the problem.  I have a few ideas of my own to add.  Since the biggest problem created by oil depletion is the loss of liquid fuels, it seems like we desperately need an alternative energy that could potentially fuel cars.  Unfortunately, fission is not an option, and solar or wind power are too expensive, too complex, and insufficiently energy dense to be used on cars.  Also, battery technology and fuel cells are insufficiently advanced to allow for long-distance travel.  The alternatives currently being suggested, namely biofuels and ethanol have serious drawbacks that have been described on this site.  Both have a low, perhaps even negative EROEI ratio, and both would require the use of valuable farmland for fuel.  

Given the lack of viable options, it seems sensible to consider all alternatives however unlikely they may be.  In particular, I believe the phenomenon known as cold fusion deserves a second look.  

I realize that many of you are probably highly skeptical of this technology.  Until quite recently, I was also very skeptical of the claims made by cold fusion scientists.  However, skepticism is hardly a reason to dismiss any possible new science, since many of the greatest scientific discoveries were madedespite the beliefs of skeptics.  Certainly, relativity and quantum mechanics belong to this category.  More importantly, however, the potential benefits of cold fusion are so enormous that I believe at least
some money should be devoted to examining this science.  The fuel for cold fusion is deuterium gas or heavy water, which can be found in ordinary sea water.  Although the cold fusion reaction requires an expensive palladium catalyst, the fuel itself is incredibly energy dense.  According to some estimates (made by respected hot fusion scientists), fusion power could provide enough electricity to power Manhattan for 10 cents a month.  In the same vein, there is enough deuterium in a cubic kilometer of sea water to
provide an amount of energy equivalent to all the fossil fuels that will ever be discovered.  This is a tremendous amount of energy, and because ofthe potential of this technology, should it be real, I believe that it
deserves at least a modicum of funding.

But is cold fusion real?  In 1989, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann claimed to have produced excess energy from an electrolytic cell containing heavy water and palladium metal.  The implications were enormous, and many
researchers instantly attempted to replicate the experiment.  However, they immediately began to encounter difficulties.  Fleischmann described the experiment as easy to perform, but he was an accomplished electrochemist (indeed on of the five best electrochemists in the world) and he had spent
five years researching cold fusion before his momentous announcement.  Thus it is unsurprising that other, less experienced researchers should encounter difficulties.

Shortly after the announcement, a number of important labs produced negative results and published their work.  Furthermore, hot fusion scientists claimed that cold fusion was impossible for theoretical reasons. Tremendous energy is required in hot fusion experiments to overcome the
coulomb barrier between deuterons.  Furthermore, in hot fusion, enormous amounts of radiation, including neutrons and gamma rays, are produced.  If a similar process were responsible for cold fusion, Pons and Fleischmann
should have been instantly killed.

The combination of a few negative results from major labs, including MIT and CalTech, and the overwhelmingly negative reaction by hot fusion theorists was enough to convince many science reporters that the experiment was a
mistake.  Both Science and Nature magazine published negative articles about cold fusion, and to this day they refuse to accept research articles on this subject.  This has given many scientists the mistaken impression that research on cold fusion has ceased.

Yet, despite these negative results, I believe that there is reason to think that cold fusion may be real.  First of all, the experiments conducted at MIT and CalTech were very hasty, conducted in a matter of months.  Very accurate nuclear measurements were made, but the calorimetry was not
particularly careful.  Furthermore, new research on cold fusion has suggested that the metallurgy of the palladium has a great deal of influence on the reaction.  Certain samples of palladium are very effective, whereas others are not.  This is similar to the experience of early researchers studying transistors.  If the palladium samples MIT and
CalTech used were doped with the wrong materials, no excess heat would ever have been measured.

The theorists who objected to cold fusion claimed that the new phenomena did not correspond to established theory.  Yet this can hardly be a reason for rejecting the cold fusion experiments.  Pons and Fleishmann claimed to have
observed an entirely new form of nuclear reaction, one that occurred within a solid state.  There experimental techniques may have been wrong, but it does not make sense to argue that they cannot have observed the effects
that  they measured simply because these observations violated theory.  As always, theory must explain experiments, not dictate to them.

Furthermore, at the same time that MIT and CalTech were measuring negative effects, many labs around the country were measuring positive ones.  These include Texas A and M, Mike McKubre at Stanford Research International,
Robert Huggins at Stanford University, as well as researchers in Italy, India, and Japan.  Certainly, in 1990, the situation may reasonably have been considered unclear, since both negative and postive results had been
observed.  But I believe that the department of energies negative decision on cold fusion in 1990 (led by Robert Park, who vehemently opposed cold fusion research) was highly premature.

However, if the status of cold fusion was uncertain in 1990, I believe that it is now well-established.  Thousands of papers have been published on the subject.  They are posted at  Hundreds of researchers have consistently observed strange effects, including the
production of heat, the production of helium-3, helium-4, tritium, and even transmutations.  A number of researchers have even begun to achieve results that are reproducible nearly 100% of the time.

Although some cold fusion researchers may be crackpots, most of them are intelligent, careful, methodical scientists who are well-established in their fields.  These include George Miley at the University of Illinois, Michael McKubre at SRI, Yoshiaki Arata in Japan, and many others.  Perhaps
even more surprising, two nobel prize winners, Julian Schwinger and Brian Josephson were initially skeptical of the research, but eventually became converts, and were extraordinarily supportive of the research.  Yet neither
of these men were able to publish articles in major scientific journals, despite their impressive credentials.  Even Arthur C. Clark, one of the most highly respected scientific writers and science fiction authors has
had difficulty publishing positive articles about cold fusion in science magazines.

I do not expect you to take the words I have written above on faith.  If you are interested in the research I have described, as I hope you will be, you can find more information at the following sites:,, and even  Any number of cold fusion researchers would be happy to discuss the subject with you, including Mike McKubre, Robbert Huggins, Peter Hagelstein, and George Miley.  There is also an excellent book on the subject by Stephen B. Krivit called The Rebirth of Cold Fusion.

Unfortunately, it has been extraordinarily difficult for new research on cold fusion to be circulated to mainstream scientists.  For whatever reasons, Nature, Science, Scientific American, and Discover magazines have
refused to publish new research on the subject.  Most scientific journals also refuse to publish cold fusion articles, sometimes without even submitting articles to the peer-review process.  The US Patent Office refuses to accept patents related to cold fusion, and the DOE refuses to
provide funds for cold fusion research.  Given the new evidence that has come to light in recent years, I believe that it is imperative that mainstream scientists learn about this new research, but I don't know how this can be accomplished, given the negative climate in the scientific

I would deeply appreciate it if some of you folks at TOD would be willing to investigate this energy source for yourselves.  It may be that this can never be developed into a viable energy technology, indeed, successful employment of the technology would probably be a bit like winning the lottery.  However, short of discover a few more fields the size of Ghawar or Cantarell, I believe this is the only source of energy that has the potential to completely solve our energy problem, if it is real.  It certainly deserves far more careful attention than it has received.  

Sorry about the length of that last post.  Didn't realize how long it was.  Also I messed up on a few links.  Check out the following:
and the wikipedia section of cold fusion for lots more info. is also a good link.

First rule of writing:  Never apologize for length.

As James Joyce once said...."I ask nothing from my audience except that they devote their entire life to the study of my work."  :-)

(Speaking of fusion, does anyone realize that the entire budget for the big "hot fusion" reactor ITER in France would only be equal to about 4 months of war expense on our little venture in Iraq?  Or to about half the net worth of Bill Gates?  If that thing is supposed to really work, why not pour it on Manhatten Project style and FINISH IT, and find out once and for all.

Roger Conner   known to you as ThatsItImout

Thanks for the vote of confidence!  Unfortunately, I have grave doubts about the viability of "hot" fusion, and of ITER in particular.  The technology is horrendously expensive, and many of the problems associated with fission technology would persist with fusion.  Hot fusion would still produce immense amounts of radioactivity.  The radioactive particles would be shorter lived, but there presence will make construction of a nuclear fusion reactor extraordinarily expensive.  Furthermore, hot fusion scientist have yet to demonstrate net energy production from any hot fusion device.  Indeed, it is the most expensive form of electrical power production ever developed.  It is unclear that hot fusion power will ever be economically viable (at least in its present form).  In contrast, "cold" fusion is cheap, portable, and comparatively simple.  It produces no radioactivity, and numerous scientists have shown the cold fusion reaction to be sustainable and to produce excess energy.  Unfortunately, cold fusion experiments are notoriously difficult to perform, and require complex verification techniques.  Most of the experiments are very difficult to reproduce, and although they release a great deal of energy, the amount of excess power produce is very small, a few fraction of a watts.  It is only the long-lasting nature of the reaction that allows for the production of lots of excess energy.  All of these problems could probably be solved with additional funding.  If a small fraction of the hot fusion budget could be diverted to cold fusion, I believe great strides could be made.
Good work, Roger!  I wish TOD had a side bar of bucket loads of good ideas for money guys to fund.  I would add zero energy houses and lots of other of my own pet ideas that are quite possible.  I do like contests -  a big payoff for some very generally defined worthy goal, like for example solar electricity for 8 c/kw-hr, or whatever, then let all the fanatics go to it.
Biggest prize of all goes for reducing the population without causing harm or misery- how about supersex dolls for everybody so they wouldn't be interested in sex with just plain real people?  (I didn't really mean it,juist joking. No no!no! don't shoot!)
In addition to those good ideas we also need a world culture which uses and understands "smart metering." That is the ability to know at any moment what our level consumption is. Like those cars that tell you at that moment what your fuel economy is we also need smart metering in all our vehicles and homes.

This really should have happened years ago. In fact in Georgia our power boxes have disks that whirl around. The rotational speed of the whirly-gig indicates the level of power use. That's sad. We need better, more instructive devices in our homes and vehicles. They should not be hidden outside under the bushes near the curb.

A lot of money could be made and saved in this area alone.

Product idea:  A transponder or receiver to extract data from your own automated utility meters.  If the electric company can read your meter wirelessly, why shouldn't you?   It could be standalone, or have some sort of PC interface (bluetooth?). This device would collect energy data for a household instead of for a specific appliance (like the Kill-a-Watt.)
i've seen reports of these.  a band clamps  around the glass cover on a traditional electric meter, and a photodetector points in at the existing spinning disk.  it reports wirelessly to a wall unit inside the house.

wherever i saw them reported on the web, i think i remember that they were being installed by regional electric companies, to see how they changed customer behavior ... and yes, they did reduce usage.

You can get them here in New Zealand. they are called Cent-a-meters.

The website is here.

You clamp an induction sensor on the live phase  in your meter box and it transmits wirelessly to the digital display. They are great things.

Very high strength (metal matrix composite?) very high speed (underground for safety) flywheels could store wind turbine or solar electric power with less environmental cost and more durably than batteries.
I was reading on another site, a discussion of how many kWh in electricity is used in the average household, in Europe and in the US.

US'ians were talking about using 1000, 1500, and more, kWh a month in the winter. Europeans were talking about using 250 or so, maybe 500 tops - for a house.

I went and had a look at my electric bill - 444kWh on this last one and the cold weather's been pretty much over. I live in a tiny hole of a studio apartment, no TV, flatscreen on the computer, haven't run my space heater for a month and a half, the fridge is huge but I can't change that, I run compact fluorescent lights and in general, always thought I was pretty thrifty.

Yet, ppl in Europe are using less electricity, far less, to run a whole HOUSE on per month. And it's not liters and gallons, the watt and the hour are universal.

I'm just amazed.

Most likely it is your fridge that is the gas guzzler.  Fridges are one of the biggest users of electricity behind HVAC and hot water in homes.  Perhaps you can buy/borrow one of those little kill-a-watt electricity meters to verify that your fridge is the culprit.
I think you may be right. The fridge is comical, it's the size you'd have for a houseful of people. But I'm sure apt managers have found that too-small fridges scared off prospective tenants...... I could wiggle it out of its corner and clean the coils, and see what that does too. And get a thermometer to leave inside and see what temp it's actually at, and make sure it's not too cold.
A useful tip for reducing the energy used by a fridge or freezer is to fill it up!  If you don't need to use all the space for food just fill it up with plastic bottle full of water.
When you open an empty fridge lot's of cold air rushes out to be replaced by warm air that then needs to be chilled once the door closes again.  bottles of cold water stay where they are when the door is opened and remain cold and then don't need to be re cooled when the door is closed.  Also, make sure the heat exchange pipes at the back are clean and there is room for air to circulate behind the fridge.
i have a lot of room in my freezer, so i keep a bunch of glasses in there.  makes my 7-up extra chilly, and probably provides some of that kind of energy ballast.
I'd blame the fridge too, but...

I have a 2100 sf multi-story home with 3BA, 4BR. I have a large but not monstrous fridge, and an upright freezer. I also use nothing but CF bulbs. My hot water and heat are NG. And my average monthly kWh last year was 452. So it sounds to me like something's wrong at your apartment... are you paying your neighbor's bill too?

I also have a 600sf rental property, single-story, detached. 2BR, 1BA, gas heat and hot water, and the average electricty usage in the unit has consistently been about 240kWhs/mo for years.

Get that kW meter pronto.

I have a 2100 sf townhome - 3 level.  I have a largish fridge, but the house was built in 2000, so the appliances are all relatively new.

I have some CF bulbs - in places where I frequently use the lights.  It made a noticable difference when I put those in.  I have a number of fixtures that I rarely turn on that I haven't gotten around to doing anything with.  Furnace and hot water are both gas...

My most recent electric bill was about 295 KWh.  I have used the kW meter on many things in the house to try and get a feel for what is using the juice.  While I haven't gotten around to measuring it yet, the fridge is the #1 candidate.  The clothes dryer is probably the #2, but that doesn't get used as much.  Given that that dryer is 220V, the kW meter I have cannot be used on that.  The dryer does have a moisture sensor so that it turns off the heat when the load is done.

Dryer is typically 5,000 watts.  That's right, 5 kW.  So it uses a kWh in just 12 minutes.  Even without a kW meter, one can get a pretty good handle on usage of appliances by knowing the load in amps and the time "ON".  Volts x amps = Watts, Watts x hours = watthours.  Amp rating is usually stamped on the appliance nameplate.  US voltage is 110-120.  (Except, as you note, 220 volt ranges, dryers, shop tools, etc...) This isn't perfect, as amp rating will vary some in actual use, but it can get you into the ballpark as to what the significant gobblers are.  An 8 amp gizmo will draw about a kW (8*120=960watts).  If used for 2 hours/day, thats about 2kWh.  Folks should look at some nameplates and do some math.  You may find some surprises.  In our household, we've also put our computer, TV & stereo on strips, so they can be turned off for real when not in use.  Otherwise, they're in a sort of stand-by mode, drawing juice all the time.  Doing just that took our household base from 7-8 kWh/day down to 5-6 kWh/day.  Finally, a qualifier.  My figures on the dryer are based on my experience doing efficiency work for a rural electric co-op in the early 90's.  Fridge technology has changed mucho since then (2 kWh/day or less vs 4-8 kWh/day on some old models) and dryer efficiency may also have improved.  Though I doubt by much, since it's still basically resistance heat.

Yes, but the heating elements for the dryer aren't on 100%.  Generally there is a thermostat in there to regulate the temperature at some level you have set, and when the moisture sensor says the clothes are sufficiently dry it will turn the heating element completely off.

What would probably work best for the dryer is to simply read your outdoor meter, do a load of laundry, and then read the meter again.  Especially if your meter could read in 10ths of a kWH.

I did have the kill-a-watt hooked up to the washer when I ran a load of wash.  I don't recall what the usage was - I have it written down at home somewhere.  It didn't strike me as a huge amount.  The hot water used by a load of wash is another matter though..

I used to have a computer that I left on all the time, but I just turned it off.  I use a laptop these days for most things - by design it tends to use less juice.

Apparently a big-screen TV can chew up 250 watts or so.  It surprised me when I heard this.  Running it in the summertime can cause you to use more AC (assuming you use AC).

First of all, in Europe, we hardly use air-conditioning.

Then, electric appliances now have to have a EU-label that shows how much energy they use. A is the best, G the worst.

They look like this:

They even help people who know little about kwh and such.

My own consumption is about 1200 kwh/year, my appartment is 52m², and I heat my hot water with electricity.


Hello Siggi,

I am glad that the current climate in Europe makes A/C mostly unnecessary, but if global warming projections come true-- you could see millions of Europeans adopt A/C to prevent the heatstroke deaths that occurred a few years ago.  I would suggest that Europe should adopt using swamp coolers for as long as possible until the humidity levels force them to then switch-on the A/C.  I use swamp cooling with interior upducts to cool the rafter space exclusively in Phx.  I have read some articles where some wealthy Phoenicians have even air-conditioned their car garages so the car's interior is always at a comfortable temperature when they wish to drive somewhere.  Mind-boggling to me!

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humas Smarter than Yeast?

Actually, speculation is that global warming may shut off the Gulf Stream , which would make Europe - at least the northern half - much colder rather than much warmer.
My average over 12 months is 140 KWh per month (1700 KWh per year) for a three bedroom mid terrace house in the UK. I found the freezer is the biggest user of electricity. I try not to use it by having fresh food and using the shops as my "freezer"/long term storage unit. Not quite so good if there is a big problem like bird flu epidemic though.
Re: Daniel Lashof cast doubt on EROI calculations.

I have been thinking about the EROI arguments made by Robert Rapier and many others here against ethanol for a couple of years.  Setting aside that EROI seems to be applied to ethanol mainly and not to other forms of energy like electricity as Mr. Lashof points out, I believe I've finally figured out the fundamental fallacy in the EROI analysis: EROI assumes that all energy forms have equal utility or work value. With metals it would be like saying that a pound of gold equals a pound of steel equals a pound of lead.  After all they are all metals, and it would be foolish to use up say 10 pounds of steel and 20 pounds of lead to produce 1 pound of gold if such a thing could be done.  The metal return on investment would be less than one and negative for sure.    

In the EROI case 1 unit of ethanol equals 1 unit of corn equals 1 unit of natural gas energy.  All forms of energy are given equal value based on the amount of energy they contain.  This is clearly contrary to fact.  Liquid forms of energy used in transport have have higher value because of the previous investment in liquid fuel powered vehicles and the technical difficultly and expense of changing this situation.  This is where classical economics, dispite it's many faults in not being scientific and unable to deal with a depleting resouce, comes in to play.  There is no way to measure the relative value of forms of energy in the true cost model used in EROI.  Thus erroneous conclusions about appropriate actions are reached.

Popular Mechanics conducted a very interesting test of alternative fuels, and produced a chart recording how much of each type of fuel is required to cross the US - methanol, ethanol, biodiesel, hybrid electric etc. Also included in the chart is how much "input" is required to create the necessary amount of each fuel type. Anyone care to weigh in on how accurate their estimates are?

Two things stand out. For the ethanol portion, they didn't include the natural gas inputs. Those are much greater than the liquid fuel inputs. Note how much cheaper it is for the natural gas option by itself. That's why I say it makes much more sense to use natural gas to directly fuel vehicles than to convert it into ethanol to fuel vehicles.

Second, note that the biodiesel cost is about half the ethanol cost, even though the price per gallon is higher. That's why I have argued strongly that this focus on ethanol has missed the point; we would have been far better off to promote biodiesel instead of ethanol.

Thanks for that link, by the way. Just more ammunition for my crusade.


You're missing the point with ethanol.  At least for corn based, Pimmental's arguments are that the amount of "useful" fuel, i.e., diesel and natural gas, that go into making the ethanol are roughly the same as the amount of ethanol that comes out.  It's no different than if I were to go down to the gas station, fill up a 5 gallon can of gasoline, walk behind a curtain to collect my $0.50/gallon subsidy, and then emerge with a 5 gallon can of "environmentally friendly transport fuel."

Regarding your conversion above, the true conversion on an energy equivalent basis is more like:  
1 unit ethanol = 4 units corn + 0.4 units natural gas (distillation) +  .15 units natural gas (fertilizer) + .1 unit diesel (tilling, planting, harvesting) + (extra fuel for transport, etc.).  
The problem is that even excluding the corn energy on the right hand side (which can be used for heating for example, displacing natural gas, so it should be counted), the rest of the numbers end up adding up to almost one.  This is the jist of Pimmental's arguments.

I have no problem changing fuels into more useful forms (think batteries), but changing useful fuel into a more-or-less equally useful form just seems silly, and I am 100% convinced that it wouldn't be done if the federal subsidy was withdrawn.

Please remember that the ethanol subsidy of 51 cents per gal. is paid in the form of a tax deduction given to the blender of the ethanol with the gasoline.  See IRS FORM 4136 line 12, Alcohol Fuel Mixture Credit. Since it is the oil companies who do most of the blending, it is they who directly benefit.  Witness the large profits of the majors.  True the effect filters down to the ethanol producers.  But not to the corn farmers yet.  I know because I'm one of them.  The price of corn at the local elevator here in nothern Iowa is $1.83/bu..  That bushel of corn can produce 2.8 gals. of ethanol with a current rack price of about $2.50/gal. or about $7.00.  No way is removing the 51 cent subsidy going to stop ethanol under current market conditions.  The ethanol subsidy is often mentioned on TOD posts, but little mention is made of the subsidies given to oil production like the oil depletion allowance which is massive, access to government property for drilling, wars of "liberation" like Iraq and the first Gulf war.  No mention is made that the top decsion makers in power now are former oil executives Bush and Cheny.  Why do you think Texas has so many prominent politicians?  Clue: oil money.  All the ethanol subsidy does is level the playing fild a little, although it may no longer be needed.  Sen. Grassly, who is a corn farmer, will squash any attempt to remove it because he understands big oil's influence.
So, why is corn so much cheaper than it's "ethanol equivalent" price? Also, given the much increased costs of diesel, fertilizers, transport, etc why is the absolute price of corn still so low?


Please remember that the ethanol subsidy of 51 cents per gal. is paid in the form of a tax deduction given to the blender of the ethanol with the gasoline.

What that does it help offset the high price they are paying for the lower BTU fuel. On the spot market right now, ethanol is almost $3/gal and gasoline is about $2/gal. Yet gasoline has almost 50% more BTUs. Oil companies are being forced to purchase this overpriced ethanol, and they are receiving the blenders credit. But you should see that at those prices it is not the oil companies that benefit. It is the ethanol producers, for having a captive market for their overpriced product.  

No way is removing the 51 cent subsidy going to stop ethanol under current market conditions.

If grain ethanol was neither mandated nor subsidized, that market would disappear pretty quickly. Consumers would find themselves suddenly paying the equivalent of $4/gal gasoline, and they would balk. In fact, the Hirsch Report stated that the only reason there is an ethanol market in the U.S. is because of the subsidies and mandates.

The ethanol subsidy is often mentioned on TOD posts, but little mention is made of the subsidies given to oil production like the oil depletion allowance which is massive...

Until they start making ethanol without fossil fuel inputs, this claim rings hollow. Ethanol is enabled by cheap fossil fuel. That's another reason for supporting higher taxes on fossil fuels. These marginal energy return solutions would suddenly find their costs go up dramatically, and those with better energy returns would be more competitive.


Dear Practical,

Excellent point. Here is a quick "proof". Compare natural gas and motor gasoline on a $/BTU basis using NYMEX prices.

June NatGas $6.60/MillionBTU
June Gasoline $16.4/MillionBTU (after you do all the conversions)

Some could say that seasonal demand (heating) makes a difference in NatGas prices..of course it does and that proves your utility pricing point.

The current price premium for the utility of gasoline as liquid fuel vs. natgas is 150% and ethanol calculations should be adjusted accordingly. Furthermore, natural gas should in theory be more expensive as it burns more efficiently and is far cleaner. The difference in price/BTU is obviously accounting for the sunk in cost of vehicles, vessels, aircraft, trains, etc liquid fuel users.

if a country really has enough natural gas, the natural thing seems to be to use it directly in vehicles.  we do that a bit in california with natural gas busses and taxis.

i gather we use it as a limited replacement for diesel to reduce emmisions (esp. downtown), but don't think we have enough to greatly expand use.

(the honda site shows the gx as a 2005 model, so maybe production is ceased)

i think EROEI is important, but the second pass is to look at the kinds of energy invested.  too many alternative fuels burn increasingly scarce natural gas, which makes EROEI kind of a double-whammy.  but if you can burn a low value fuel, that makes a low EROEI look better.

it is sad that low value fuels also tend to produce more co2 per unit energy ... if it's not one thing it's another.

Dear Odograph,

If natgas is getting scarcer, why has its price collapsed so much vs. crude oil?  I don't mean the spot prices that got hammered from the past warm winter - I'm looking at the long out futures: June 2011 is only $6.80. Estimating inflation at just 3%/yr this is like paying $5.85. Why?

Of course it could just be that oil is insanely expensive right now and that natgas is rational...  

If you have any relevant information I would surely appreciate it.


i've heard it both ways.  first (a few years ago) i heard that there was plenty of natural gas for the car fleet.  but then i started hearing about shortages, the need for LNG terminals, and plans to abandon natural gas power plants in favor of coal.

i'd say more voices (in the news, on the web) are telling me it is scarce now ... but i'm not an expert and i have to sort of average their opinion.

Back in 1998 the futures market predicted a crude oil price of $13-14 for 2006.Trying to predict the future by using futures prices is a mistake. They are prices in the same way that Google's share price is a price and they are determined the same way. There is always a difference between value and price (W. Buffett).  
In the EROI case 1 unit of ethanol equals 1 unit of corn equals 1 unit of natural gas energy.

The point you are missing is that natural gas can be used directly as a transportation fuel. Lots of fleets do it. So, EROI analysis is absolutely appropriate here. If you want to use coal to drive the distillation, then your point is validm (and I have made the same point myself). But this exacerbates global warming, and is not a sustainable solution. If you are going to use coal, it would be more efficient to just gasify it and turn it into methanol.


If you're using spent steam from a coal-fired powerplant, things look better (you wind up with an efficiency hit somewhat less than 10%, so the fuel required to add distillation to the tasks performed is under 10%).

I'd like to know what the efficiency and carbon balance looks like if you:

  • Fuel the distillery with bio-gas produced by the manure of the animals consuming the DDG.
  • Cogenerate with that gas.
  • Make up any shortfall by carbonizing corn stover to make combustible gas.
  • Return the charcoal from corn stover as a soil amendment.
If I can get it together and find some good data, I might do that analysis myself.
The point was made by several speakers that too much emphasis is being made on finding ways to preserve the 'car culture'.  Essentially tweak this, tweak that, and we can patch the thing together for another decade or so.

To some extent, Schweitzer's talk was along those lines - suggesting CTL to fill the balance, but he wasn't the only one  speaking along those lines.  I think some actually tried to raise this question with Schweitzer, but I don't think he understood what it was that people were getting at.

People who speak of a need to end the car culture suggest that efforts to prolong it are futile and a waste of energy.  The difficulty however is that even if we do abandon the car culture, it will take many years before the majority of people can live their lives without cars.  In fact, I think the average American would view it as an absurd notion that one would even want to try and restructure society in this manner, so such a restructuring cannot even start until such a time that the unsustainability of the current system is patently obvious to all.

i don't really see the need to defeat car ownership.  it's driving them that is the problem ;-)

i think my happy future vision would be a pleasant walkable neighborhood, in a bikeable region, with no real need to get the car out, for weeks at a time.

basically improve things until cars get dustier and dustier.

A lot of energy goes into the manufacture of cars too, but you are right - if they were all sitting and gathering dust, we wouldn't have a liquid fuels problem.

A gradual evolution like this is one possible path to the future, of course.  You aren't forcing anyone to give up the car - they end up finding that they don't need it quite as much.

I am doing a lot more bike riding myself.  My problem is that I have a wicked hill about 100 meters from my house that I need to climb when coming home.  Oh, well - I really do need to get into better shape.

my hill is when i'm leaving ... which is better i guess.  though i have to take it easy because it's not good to hit the hill hard with cold knees.
Driving them isn't the only problem. Making them and recycling them requires A LOT of energy too.

We have to look at the lifecycle analysis of everything we do, not just EROEI of fuels. How much energy does it take to build the steel that goes into a wind turbine? These issues will becme increasingly important.

i think eric got my meaning about paths to the future.

what are we going to do in the US, knock down every suburb and recreate a nice scandanavian village (with cogeneration, walkable/bikeable streets, cafe's, pubs, and all the good stuff)?

knocking down a nation and rebuilding it costs "A LOT" of energy too.

And there's the reason why I've been pushing for e.g. high efficiency standards in building codes beyond what "the market" calls for.  The market didn't see exploding costs of natural gas, and the cost of retrofitting or abandoning these inefficient buildings is prohibitive compared to what it would have cost to build them right the first time.
make sense.  i don't like to speak for people in cold areas, but down here in so-cal, where air conditioning is the major energy heating/cooling cost, i think a good progressive electric rate would be good enough to drive things.  let people make up their own mind, insulate, or pay big bucks to keep things cool.
Hello Odograph,

Agreed, but community leadership is short-sighted.  If the building codes had long mandated that super-insulation, double pane windows, piggybacked swamp coolers/AC units, solar water heating, horizontal refrigerators, clotheslines instead of dryers, motion sensing outdoor lighting, required optimal landscaping to minimize water use, but provide maximal house shading, prohibition against private pools... on & on: we would have built smaller, but much less operationally costly housing.

They could have easily legislated that growth is only allowed at the ends of mass-transit systems to force a move to walkable and bikeable cities.  But Westexas's Iron Triangle Theory ran roughshod over commonsense long term planning by our elected officials.

So instead, just as Kunstler warns, we have cathedral McMansions ungainly sprawled across the Asphalt Wonderland.  Most Homeowner ASSoc. forbid any external modifications to save energy, turn your front yard into a veggie garden, or even to collect rainwater.  We will really be upset with prior decisions as we go postPeak.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

yeah, we're a little ahead here in california with our efficiency encouragements ... but obviously a lot of us would change the mix if we had a time machine handy.
"a pleasant walkable neighborhood, in a bikeable region, with no real need to get the car out, for weeks at a time"

Substitute "days" for "weeks" and that was my neighborhood in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.

3 of the 5 apartments in the 1890 houses (since "segmented" into 5) that I lived in pre-Katrina did not have cars.

I stumbled into it, but came to recognize the value of New Orleans "Old Urbanism".

I drive a 1982 M-B 240D, and expect it to last me till I can no longer drive (another 30 years ?).  Yes, some energy to build, but that has been and will be amortized over a long period of time.

If a family of two lives in ~800 sq ft, the cost of rebuilding into something more sustainable is "doable" IMHO.  The sunk costs of post WW II housing (most of it) should be treated the way that we treated most of the pre-WW II housing after 1946.

Trash most of it and save a bit of it that still "works".

Clearly there is a range of considerations for liquid fuels. I think most comments so far fall under these headings
1) climate neutrality
this is where CTL and tar sands lose out
2) current fleet compatibility
this is the sunk cost argument for ethanol, and where hydrogen fuel cell cars flunk
3) vulnerability
this covers terrorism, pipeline sabotage, diverted LNG shipments, corrupt government etc
4) long term problems
depletion, soil and water sustainability, low EROEI when subsidies or fossil inputs run out


The sunk cost argument weighs strongly in the favor of the PHEV (we've already got an electrical grid, vehicles can be replaced incrementally), and there isn't any limitation of energy supplies to carbon-containing chemicals either.
A bit off topic, but... The current issue of Harvard Magazine ( has an excellent article on the outlook for C02 concentrations for the rest of the century, plus thoughts on what can (or can't) be done about it. At the end of the article there is a novel, and seemigly sane, idea for sequestering the billions of tons per year of CO2 the authors envision being produced in the not too distant future.
Hello TODers,

Maybe a little apart from present subject, but...


The blogpost

Has a recent posting with a couple of excellent diagrams (in English and click able for improved viewing) illustrating how oil production in Norway now is declining.

One of the diagrams illustrates how fields starting to flow post 2001 partly have offset the declines from the mature base. The mature base, is in the posting described as those fields that were flowing prior to Dec. 31 2001, have experienced accelerating decline rates that presently is documented to total between 12 and 15 % year over year (second diagram). The diagram for the year over year decline rates also includes a 12 MMA smoothed curve.

Norwegian oil (regular) production peaked in 2001 at 3,12 Mb/d.

Preliminary data from NPD (Norwegian Petroleum Directorate) puts production at 2,22 Mb/d for April, lowered mainly due to scheduled maintenance.

Both diagrams are based upon the latest published NPD field-by-field data.

Profiled energy analysts, like Matthew R. Simmons, have for a while predicted this would happen to fields that have applied the latest "state of the art" technologies assist drainage.

As of now it is hard to tell if this accelerating trend of production declines will continue into the future.

It is the prediction of the decline rates that makes it challenging to predict the down slope from the "Peak", which also Hirsch so elegantly has expressed.

This makes one wonder what shape the initial down slope for global oil production will look like; a smooth decline or more like a wave crest?

Regarding natural gas, I have heard Simmons say that as bad a shape as we are in with oil, the U.S. is in an even tougher situation with natural gas.

I don't recall whether I have seen this figure here or not before (Stuart might have mentioned something, but it is hard to search for a picture given that people tend to not hotlink images any more), but Jérôme found this:

I have seen announcements for a good number of coal burning power plants that are being built.  I suspect that the underlying reason for this is that power companies don't want to be caught short if natural gas supplies become tight.

(Note to H.O.: The easy way get the accent characters on his name is to do a cut and paste in your browser).

Re: Julian Darley seems to think that the world may be reaching Peak natural Gas.

As you indicate, quoting Simmons, the US is in bad shape as far as natural gas goes. I fear Julian has mistakenly said "the world" whereas he should have said "North America" which indeed has already peaked. His remark would be met with some surprise in Russia, Iran, Qatar, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia etc. Unfortunately, none of countries is anywhere close to our now beleaguered continent.

"Re: Julian Darley seems to think that the world may be reaching Peak natural Gas."

Hello Dave,

Interestingly enough Samsam Bakhtiari thinks the same thing too;

"According to my model simulations 'Peak Oil' should now be occurring (within the 2006-2007 time frame [1]) and 'Peak Gas' will promptly follow suit in either 2008 or 2009 [2]."


Regarding biofuels and Pimintel, I know that many who are into biofuels absolutely hate Pimintel.  I have seen all sorts of abuse piled on top of him - in fact on Sunday night I posted something on a biodiesel site, and someone there (jokingly) suggested that I assault him.

That being said, it was interesting to hear what he had to say in person.  A good deal of what he had to say I found myself in agreement with.  Most of his talk was about corn ethanol, of course, and there weren't many (if any) supporters of corn ethanol at this conference.  When you start looking at other biofuels with higher EROEI, the thing becomes muddier.

When they get the audio streams up, I want to listen again - I wasn't taking notes during the conference so that I could pay closer attention to what people were saying, but I did this knowing that I could go back and listen again later.

I agree that biofuels certainly deserve a good hard luck.  Just because corn ethanol has a low EROEI ratio, doesn't rule out other fuels like switchgrass, or especially sugarcane.  But at the same time, any kind of farming, unless done very carefully, results in soil depletion.  I fear that in turning to biofuels, we will switch from mining the ground for coal and oil, to mining the soil for valuable minerals, as well as nitrogen.  I don't think its out of the realm of possibility to envision a sort of peak biofuels, where the soil becomes so poor that no more fuel can be harvested.  Furthermore, as others have mentioned, it does not seem wise to turn to agriculture for fuel when more than half the world population is starving.
You know, I really appreciate this reportage, but you really ought to consider purchasing a mini-recorder. You can transcribe at your leisure. Also, what you do is keep a notebook. When a speaker says something particularly interesting or provocative, you note the index number on the tape player and make a small note indicating the basic thrust. For instance, at index 315 a speaker announces that space aliens are bringing fresh oil in space tankers!! Well, note the index. In this case, it will not be 315; it will be 328 because it took time for him or her to speak. Then jot down, "Space ALIENS!!!."

You can then peruse your notes later and find exactly what you wish to rehear and then make written, exact transcriptions as necessary.

Just a thought from a former journalist.

There was someone there doing exactly that.  He had something that from a distance looked like a little iPod or some such.

The audio for the whole thing will be up later anyways, so I put away the pen for the most part and listened to what they had to say.

I read and enjoyed Orlov's articles last year, but this part from his recent presentation seemed new to me:

It's important to understand that the Soviet Union achieved collapse-preparedness inadvertently, ...

Many people expend a lot of energy protesting against their irresponsible, unresponsive government. It seems like a terrible waste of time, considering how ineffectual their protests are. Is it enough of a consolation for them to be able to read about their efforts in the foreign press? I think that they would feel better if they tuned out the politicians, the way the politicians tune them out. It's as easy as turning off the television set. If they try it, they will probably observe that nothing about their lives has changed, nothing at all, except maybe their mood has improved. They might also find that they have more time and energy to devote to more important things.

"Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Excellent notes, Heading Out!  I just gotta correct you on one glaring error and I fear if I don't the very reliability of Oil Drum will be in jeopardy.

Silver bullets kill werewolves, not vampires. :)