The future of fuels – Natural Gas

24 01 2010

Shale gas drilling site in Pennsylvania, Source: MIT Tech Review

Natural gas has always been the poor cousin of oil: always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Why is that?

A high-level glance at a few indicators may provide you with quite a rosy picture. Not only can natural gas diversify your energy portfolio away from oil but it will also reduce your CO2 emissions – especially compared to coal for power generation. The upstream picture is quite attractive too. With plenty of proven resources and potentially game changing reserves just discovered below the US oil (the infamous shale gas), one cannot but wonder why natural gas does not become The fuel to transition our society out of fossil sources. Read the rest of this entry »

The future of fuels – Biofuels

20 01 2010


Ethanol and other biofuels have come under a lot of heat especially during the 2008 food crisis as most of them are derived from alimentary crops like corn (US), sugar cane (Brazil) and palm oil (Malaysia and Indonesia). It is almost commonly accepted that to become a sustainable part of energy portfolio new technologies will have to come online – the infamous second generation biofuels (e.g. made out of cellulose).

Governments have high hopes for renewable fuels for both strategic and environmental reasons. That’s why countries like the US establish very ambitious mandates like the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. This regulation stipulates that by 2022 about a fourth of the daily demand of gasoline (total demand ˜400 million gallons) comes from renewable resources.

While this number is great news to stimulate technological innovation in second-generation fuels, a more pragmatic look at the future reveals some tough (yet surmountable) hurdles ahead. I don’t think I have much to add to the real challenges technology wise, so let’s pretend that we manage to secure ˜100 million gallon of renewable fuel per day. In addition, I will not get into the wells-to-wheels controversy as to whether biofuels are actually beneficial as a whole or not. Allow me to focus instead on operations, as I think it is an issue too often overlooked in the biofuels debate. Read the rest of this entry »

The future of fuels – Oil

15 01 2010

Last drops of oil?

Peak Oil is The story that comes to mind when thinking about the future of oil. I have had the chance to ask a couple of current and former oil executives about it. They all agree that people mistakenly anticipate a very abrupt phenomenon. Yes, there will be a peak in production; but oil will not disappear one day, when we realize that there is not a drop left in the last barrel. On the contrary, it will slowly fade away. Price and demand will adjust to make the transition easier towards other types of hydrocarbons like gas and biofuels. This will also buy us some time to develop the necessary infrastructure for an electric-based transportation system.

In a nutshell, oil is here to stay and some oil executives like Leonardo Maugeri from ENI even predicts that oil will be around for the next 100 years. A recent article in Business Week supports this assertion with an optimistic and yet, very compelling graphic representation of oil supply (link here). Indeed, there are at least three drivers that can prolong oil’s supply behind what was expected. Read the rest of this entry »