Oil and the Energy Quality Dilemma
By EV World
Oil is king when it comes to energy density per volume of fluid. Nothing, absolutely nothing even comes close, certainly not natural gas, ethanol or hydrogen, especially hydrogen. And that’s the problem.
In this 25-minute talk at the 2006 Sustainable Energy Forum on Peak Oil and the Environment in Washington, D.C. this past May 7-9, Boston University professor Cutler Cleveland walked the audience through the problem of finding equally energy-dense substitutes for petroleum, and the bottom line is, nothing really comes even close. 10;00
Even more troubling is the declining value of EROEI, or “Energy Return On Energy Invested”, which means that we are having to “invest” increasing amounts of energy to find, extract and deliver energy. Cleveland noted, for example, that at one time it took the equivalent of just one barrel of oil to recover 100 barrels or a ratio of 1:100. Now that number is down to somewhere between 1:20 and 1:10.
When it comes to ethanol from corn, the actual EROEI, whether positive or negative -- depending on your input assumptions -- is simply lost in the margin of error, Cleveland contends and isn’t even close to oil’s return on energy invested.
Both hydrogen and electricity are high quality fuels whose value for doing specialized work -- try running your laptop or microwave on gasoline -- makes the relative premium we pay for converting fossil fuels, nuclear fission or erecting wind turbines to convert another form of energy into electricity worth the cost, even though we let power producers off the hook for ALL the costs of power, passing it on instead to future generations in the form of greenhouse gases, acid rain, mercury poisoning and radioactive waste.
Cleveland’s point is that the we have steadily relied on increasingly higher quality forms of energy, but ones that are not easily replaceable once depleted; all the while adding population and building out vast infrastructures that will become increasingly difficult to maintain.
To listen to his presentation, use either of the two MP3 players found in the right-hand column or download the file to your computer hard drive for later playback on your favorite MP3 device. EV World thanks the organizer of the Sustainable Energy Forum for granting us permission to record this historic event.