Peak Oil and Global Warming

I Just had a interestingly cynical thought about why we might not hear more about peak oil in the USA.

One of the most destructive Big Industries is Big Politics. I’ve talked about how the USA carefully keeps people divided on hot button topics while making very little progress on them so it can continue to donation farm the suckers. (Lately this has been combined with the right out and out selling total falsehoods to their constituents, who are apparently not bright enough to figure out they’re being lied to or even remember that the past has changed over and over and over so that whatever’s Pravda now can be Pravda. )

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been deeply puzzled by is why people don’t talk about peak oil more, because while we might be arguing over the science of global warming it’s just about impossible to argue about the fact that Earth’s oil wells are going dry at a prodigious rate and that subject matter experts estimate 35 years of economically recoverable oil remain.

I think the reason global warming is pushed is because Peak Oil is something that there’d be bipartisan agreement about. Like infrastructure renewal, we carefully have to keep peak oil off the table to discuss because we’d all agree something needs done – and even worse, the things that we’d all agree need done are for the most part the same thing those global warming nuts want anyway! It’d be a very bad day for Big Politics.

(One consistent distraction from all this is the bullshit hydrogen economy. A few reminders, just to get them out of the way

1) There are very few metals that can catalyze hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity i.e. make a fuel cell for hydrocarbons. They’re all *very* rare and very expensive. There’s no way we have enough of them to put a FCV vehicle in every driveway in america
2) Hydrogen has a much lower energy density than any other hydrocarbon. This is a problem for several reasons. The first is that if we wanted to burn it in a conventional engine that engine would need enormous displacement per horsepower output. This makes using conventional engines to use hydrogen impractical
3) ALso because of the lower energy density, combined with the fact that it is a cryogenic gas (cannot be liquefied at room temperature, requires significant refrigeration to maintain in a liquid state), hydrogen is very difficult to store. Absent some sort of catalytic storage system (and it is possible such a thing could be found, ammonia seems tempting) storing hydrogen requires storing it at hundreds of atmospheres in order to get usable energy densities. Such a container is fantastically dangerous if it is ruptured because everyone near it will freeze to death – and that’s before we talk about fires etc.
4) Because hydrogen has to be compressed to hundreds of atmospheres, there’s some significant challenges in making it energy efficient because of the Boyle’s Law impact of compressing a gas to hundreds of atmospheres. Various challenges ensue to try to recapture all the waste heat of the multistage compressors required.
5) Hydrogen is very slippery. IT’s a tiny molecule that likes to leak – in fact many of the Los Angeles based hydrogen fueling stations have burned to the ground because of such leaks. It’s not the easiest material to work with.
6) It is not practical to have a fuel cell battery big enough to provide for the peak power (100kW) required during acceleration of a modern car. Therefore a FCV by definition is also a BEV, with all the complications that implies plus the complications of moving energy between the fuel cell and the battery pack. Even if it were possible to make fuel cells big enough, fuel cells must go offline from time to time to purge the water they are generating from their membranes.
7) Oh, yes, as well as being stupidly expensive (and if you thought having your catalytic converter stolen was bad, wait till you get your fuel cell stolen) fuel cells also *wear out* much faster than batteries do. Expect to change your fuel cell every 100k miles, as opposed to 200k for battery packs. (oh, yes, and expect to change your battery pack too, see above about how a FCV is a BEV)

Fuel cell vehicles may well be the answer for very large things, like trains, boats, and possibly tractor-trailers. But they are not a good candidate for everyday drivers and therefore using “let’s wait for the hydrogen economy” as a excuse for not settling the issues surrounding peak oil now is bullshit. Naturally the republicans love it.)

Anyway, all that said, Global warming *will be inconvenient*. It’ll cause crop failures, bad weather, heatstroke, etc. Peak Oil *will kill us*. Our entire food network runs on oil. It takes us more than a calorie of petrochemicals to *make* a calorie of food (counting fertilizers) and that’s before we even start to talk about moving it around. And it will kill us *soon*. If you are my age and have children, *they will starve to death* unless we change our ways.

What are the solutions? Well, for crops, Monsanto could stop being assholes and start working on crops that need less fertilizer and do less damage to the soil. For cars, battery electric vehicles – there’s plenty of lithium in seawater and for many of us nickel metal hydride would be adequate to our needs. For trains, overhead or rail fed power – although that’s less of a desperate need because trains are very efficient. For airplanes, BEVs for small ones and biofuels for big ones. Many different solutions exist – but we should begin transition *now*. We don’t want to wait until we have 5 years of oil left – among other things, humans are such idiots that we will spend the last of the oil fighting wars over the last of the oil. Also, almost all of this stuff is going to have bugs. None of it is going to work right immediately. We need to kaizen the designs (iteratively and slowly improve them)

For energy – the obvious big winners here are wind, solar, and nuclear. Not just because they’re carbon neutral, but because they’re the cheapest per kwh options in terms of deaths per kwh. Nuclear probably will also become the cheapest in terms of dollars per kwh as we design better plants. We’re already well on our way to replacing our peaker plants with wind and solar. Now we just need to slay the baseline load dragon – and if you all *really* hate nuclear even after you understand it, I guess we can talk about pumped storage, mechanical storage, and battery storage. We will come up with something.. if we try.

One thing we do need to figure out what to do about is republicans out-and-out lying about technologies to try and block them. I’m sure you’ve all heard the *absurd* claim that a wind plant or a solar array takes more power to make than it generates. We really do, as a side note, need to figure out how we can possibly survive as a country *at all* with one side willing to *lie repeatedly* about *everything* in order to try and make a few billionaires richer.

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