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 »

Limits to growth? Beware of the next Malthus

12 01 2010

Source: Wikipedia

It is the perennial question. Are we outgrowing the Earth? Since Mathus’ dark predictions, the issue of Earth carrying capacity has been on and off the public agenda. There is clearly no definite answer as people have painted convincing scenarios for both sides of the question. On the on hand, the gloomy scenario depicts an earth suffocating under a booming population requiring more and more resources to attain new standards of wealth. On the other hand, technology optimists believe that game-changing innovations will enable a wealthier larger population (e.g. nuclear fusion, climate engineering, etc.)

It is typical that issues like these quickly evolve from a scientific “consensus building approach” to a heated advocacy debate. I will come back to this in a number of posts as it is symptomatic of society where science, policy and business worlds have collided. Instead of challenging and building on a work-in-progress theory like in any scientific problem, advocates from both sides monopolize the debate and believe that the truth will emerge from the best rhetoric. The main reason for this evolution resides in the inherent complexity of the issue, which leaves a scientific approach short of closing all the critical uncertainties. As a result, you see “religions” come to light as the debate gets parceled around nays-sayers and doomsayers, between right and wrong. Read the rest of this entry »