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Old 17-02-2010, 21:51   #1
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Ok maybe this is stupid but I sometimes think of this:

Some day we will run out of fossil fuels. When that day comes will we revert to wind power to ship goods across the seas? What technologies and designs advances will we use to pick up where the great sailing ships left off? Will we make lots of smaller ships or will we take the great hulls of tankers and container ships and simply put huge rigs on them? Will we be able to improve on the ideas of the past or did the "age a sail" reach a state of perfection before steam and oil came into play? Indulge me but, please, no one mention Kevin Costner.
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Old 17-02-2010, 21:54   #2
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They are already doing this. There was a thread about it on this forum some time ago.

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Old 17-02-2010, 22:18   #3
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I suspect the day when the world runs out of fossle fuels is much further away than anyone has calculated, or even thought possible in their wildest dreams.

I work in the oil and gas industry. There have been improvements in technology of natural gas production that have changed the nature of the game. Specificly, the production of natural gas from shale reseavors is completely off the charts. This development is almost completely unprecidented in the US since maybe the early 1900s.

The real kicker is that the shale field are only big in north America. They exist all over the world. Every continent has shale feild that hold potential for gas every bit as big as the ones in north america. I honestly have NO CLUE how this is going to play out.

This ofcourse doesn't get into the coal liquifaction, shale oil, heavy oil, etc.

Before we started seeing sails on commertial ships, I would expect to see some adoption of the "hydrogen economy". Merchant ships could be powered by some form of hydrogen generated and stored on land through any number of methoids. In general, I would assume it would take the form of off peak electrical power. The hydrogen would then be stored on the ship as fuel.

Honestly, I hope to live long enough to see the fossil fuels run out. I expect it to take many decades.
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Old 17-02-2010, 22:35   #4
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There are at least two transformative technologies that will likely change the basis of developed world economies long before we run short on fossil fuels: high temperature superconductors and fusion power. Fusion power can produce all the electricity we'll need without generating radioactive waste and superconductors can send that power without losses anywhere it is needed. Once at the end user, electricity will drive superconducting motors, which promise orders of magnitude more efficiency than our current generation of motors. We will be an electric-driven world. Both technologies are moving right along: the latest generation of fusion reactors is capable of breaking even, meaning they generate at least as much power as you put into them. Superconductors are evolving to handle higher currents and temperatures. NYC is beginning to install superconducting electric mains.

And then we have economics--as the supply of oil shrinks, you can bet the price will rise. As oil gets more expensive, it becomes economical to replace oil with other fossil fuels like methane. As the prices of all fossil fuels rise relative to other alternative forms of energy, the share of energy produced from fossil fuels will decline. We will never run out of fossil fuels. They will either become too expensive or obsolete.

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Old 17-02-2010, 23:06   #5
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Having lived some approximation of many decades it doesn't seem so far out when you put it that way. Peak oil is a contentious subject but we've known how to get oil from shale for a very long time but the costs in energy (and the attendant pollution), damage to the environment and amounts of water required have made it not viable. As an engineer in the industry I'm sure you're aware of this. One has to ask why it is viable now? One answer is the high price of oil based on supply and demand. Demand keeps going up and supply hasn't kept pace. Another is international instability in oil markets. The U.S. can't meet its own needs and is unable or unwilling to rely on those that can. Are these good reasons to mine the oil in shale? If the Alberta oil sands are any example the answer has to be no. Should the oil sands projects continue they will have the distinction of being the biggest environmental disaster in the history of humanity. An area the size of the United Kingdom given over to a toxic dump that will support no life and which will, as it already does, continue to leach toxins into the wilderness that surrounds it for far longer then I will be on this earth. Where is the water going to come from? As it is, the oil industry resists using brackish water because the "cost is to high". Far cheaper to dump the worlds supply of clean water down a filthy hole. Is this the world you want to hand to your children?
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Old 17-02-2010, 23:11   #6
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Old 18-02-2010, 05:58   #7
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Ok maybe this is stupid but I sometimes think of this:
Some day we will run out of fossil fuels...
The issue is not one of "running out" of oil, so much as it is not having enough to keep our economy running.
Oil based economies doesn't need to deplete their entire reserves of oil, before they begin to collapse.
A shortfall between demand and supply as little as 10 to 15 percent is enough to wholly shatter an oil-dependent economy, and reduce its citizenry to poverty.
Think back to 1979 ➥ 1979 energy crisis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If 2005 was the year of global Peak Oil, worldwide oil production in the year 2030 will be about the same as it was in 1980 (bell curve).
However, the world’s population in 2030 will be approximately twice as large, and much more industrialized & oil-dependent than it was in 1980. Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin.
As a result, the price will skyrocket, oil dependant economies will crumble, and resource wars might explode.
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Old 18-02-2010, 06:25   #8
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Going back to the original subject. I doubt that we will go back to sailing ships for world commerce, unless the current civilization completely collapses. We might go back to coal powered ships or nuclear. Sailing ships would never be able to keep up with the demands of today's shipping, they couldn't even keep up with the primitive steam ships by the end of the 19th century.

The windjammer fleets had reached a very well developed state of technology. Steel hulls, masts and rigging. Run by steam powered winches. Modern materials such as nylon, dacron and high strength line would allow further development. Roller furling sails could greatly reduce the crew requirements of a modern square rigger. ( There are a few sailing like that, as yachts and cruise liners ).

I suspect that as oil declines, more of it will be reserved for 'mobile' uses and less will be used for fixed uses that can more easily be powered by electrical. With the electrical power generated by non petroleum power.
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Old 18-02-2010, 06:42   #9
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Technology always steps up to the mark when the pressure is on. Its the same as wartime resourcfullness. Neccessity being the mother of invention and all that.

How much world trade transportation is neccessary? I certainly dont see much future in flying fresh fruit and veg round the world. Its perverse to burn fossil fuels in aircraft to transport french beans from Peru to UK. Transporting Spring water round the globe is another trade which should be outlawed.
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Old 18-02-2010, 07:03   #10
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The rising price of fossil fuel will drive consumption down long before it's gone. When gasoline reached $4/gal in the US consumption plummeted. wait till it's $6 plus...those wimpy eco cars start looking pretty good to us all of a sudden..
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Old 18-02-2010, 07:30   #11
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I don't think that ships will ever revert to sailing entirely. You might end up with hybrid ships which have the ability to sail, motorsail, or power. From time to time, you end up with one of these proposals, the last one that I heard of involved rigid wing sails on tankers.

Looking at what can be used to power ships, you have a few options. Oil is great because it has very high energy density and diesel engines are efficient and reliable. There are synthetic oils out there, the question is whether they will ever be able to supply a significant portion of the demand. As an engineer, I was asked to do a technology assessment of turning coal into oil using the Fischer-Tropsch process (this is actually done widely in South Africa by SASOL) and we concluded that it was not feasible on a long term global scale. Other technologies exist to break down carbon chains into usable fuel. One very promising technology to me is biodiesel. The energy return on biodiesel made from algae is actually quite high and there are no major technical issues (there are plenty of solvable small ones like cold weather operation) that prevent burning it. Ethanol seems to be the talk right now but the conversion efficiency is very poor and we would have to burn it in turbines which is very inefficient and would not be practical for ships. Ethanol is much better used in making biodiesel in my opinion.

Electric drives are well established and work quite well, however energy storage is not where it needs to be. Problems for large scale electric propulsion include storage since our batteries and capacitors are not even close to up to the task. Another problem is charging, our conventional electrical system can't move energy fast enough to give reasonable recharge times. Hyrdrogen was seen as the solution to all of this because it could transfer energy quickly and could be produced from renewable sources. However, they never cracked what medium to store the hydrogen in.

I don't really want to enter into the oil debate but I would like to point out that everyone uses different numbers to prove their views. The issue revolves around what are "recoverable reserves". We will never recover all of the oil in the ground, how much we will recover is dictated by the cost of recovery, technology, and the demand for conventional fuels. I have no clue how much we will recover but I would hope that it sill be less than what we are headed for.
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Old 18-02-2010, 07:55   #12
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Having lived some approximation of many decades it doesn't seem so far out when you put it that way. Peak oil is a contentious subject but we've known how to get oil from shale for a very long time but the costs in energy (and the attendant pollution), damage to the environment and amounts of water required have made it not viable. As an engineer in the industry I'm sure you're aware of this. One has to ask why it is viable now? One answer is the high price of oil based on supply and demand. Demand keeps going up and supply hasn't kept pace. Another is international instability in oil markets. The U.S. can't meet its own needs and is unable or unwilling to rely on those that can. Are these good reasons to mine the oil in shale? If the Alberta oil sands are any example the answer has to be no. Should the oil sands projects continue they will have the distinction of being the biggest environmental disaster in the history of humanity. An area the size of the United Kingdom given over to a toxic dump that will support no life and which will, as it already does, continue to leach toxins into the wilderness that surrounds it for far longer then I will be on this earth. Where is the water going to come from? As it is, the oil industry resists using brackish water because the "cost is to high". Far cheaper to dump the worlds supply of clean water down a filthy hole. Is this the world you want to hand to your children?
1. Shale gas is very diffrent from the production of oil from thermaly immature shale in Colorado. The current shale gas production is from thermaly mature rock, with very high porosity, and low permeability. The gas already exists in the rock, it only needs to be released. The technology that makes this all possible is horizontal drilling combined with a new methoid to stimulate the rock through fracturing. This technology is very diffrent form the world even 10 years ago. We are talking probably an order of magnatude of change for the industry. Chesapeake has gone on recoard as saying that their shale field production is actualy lower cost than their conventional production. That's a pretty bold statement. In much of the nation, shale gas is taking resources away from conventional gas wells. That is also a very intersting effect. In 1984 when the oil market went crash, all of the unconventional production work stoped, leaving only the conventional. This time, it was the other way around.

2. Mining the tar sand is not the only way to produce the Canadian oil. There are several successful projects in Canada utalizing steam injection, and horizontal drilling to increase the temp of the tar in the ground, and then produce it as a liquid. The technology that makes this possible is the development of dirictional drilling equipment that allows wellbores to be placed VERY close together. One wellbore delivers the steam to the rock, and the second delivers the oil to the surface. Much the same is being done in South America.

3. There are more fringe oil and gas technologies than I can really name right now. Everything from ultra deep water, fire floods in oil shale, polymer floods, coal bed methane, even better horrizontal drilling, superior fracture stimulation, in situ coal gassification, and who knows what else. What has REALLY impressed me is how coal bed methane, and gas shale have pulled resources away from conventional feilds, to the point the conventional feilds are basicly abandoned as too expensive.

4. As far as the utalization of freash water, the solution appears simple to me. If you need the water, bid up the price untill the oil industry finds it's cheaper to use non freash water. Simple, easy, and effective.

5. As far as the origional topic goes, no one has mentioned the possibility of nuclear powered merchant ships. Sure they havn't been popular yet, but they have been proven practical, as the costs were too high. If the cost of fossil fuels goes up, I would expect some nations to turn to nuclear powered ships first.
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Old 18-02-2010, 08:01   #13
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It is not lack of fuel(s) or technology that makes things diffficult as we go forward. There are great revenue streams throughout the world economy that will be protected at the expense of progress. Solutions for individuals will come from individual hard work and insight (hopefully shared on sites like this). Don't look for innovation from the revenue stream boys. Their self interest is counter to progress. We will have to do it ourselves.
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Old 18-02-2010, 08:04   #14
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I work in the Oil & Gas industry. Of course, I'm a PR writer, not an engineer, so my detailed knowledge of the various processes is limited, but I get the high-level briefings on how it all works. We specialize in the hard-to-reach stuff, i.e. ultra deepwater, oil sands mining, etc.

We're not going to run out of oil for a very long time. However, it is 90 percent more efficient to have one plant convert fossil fuels to electricity and have that electricity run cars, boats, etc. than it is to process and distribute gasoline/diesel.

That being said, the current hold-up is battery technology. The current power-to-weight ratio isn't there to make them efficient enough, and there's no way to charge them fast enough.

The person who can invent a battery that will run a car/ship 500 miles and charge in 10 minutes or less will end up the wealthiest man/woman to have ever lived.

I think until then, we won't see a major shift toward any green energies. I think Iceland is the only country that has made an effort. They used their natural geothermal energy to build hydrogen plants with the goal to convert all their cars to hydrogen. It was big news a few years back, but the entire country went bankrupt when the markets crashed, so I haven't heard whether or not they've had any success or if they sidelined that initiative.
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Old 18-02-2010, 08:17   #15
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It is not lack of fuel(s) or technology that makes things diffficult as we go forward. There are great revenue streams throughout the world economy that will be protected at the expense of progress. Solutions for individuals will come from individual hard work and insight (hopefully shared on sites like this). Don't look for innovation from the revenue stream boys. Their self interest is counter to progress. We will have to do it ourselves.
Trust me, nobody likes working in unstable regions or dealing with shady governments. There is plenty of R&D money being spent on wind, wave, geothermal, solar, solar reflector, nuclear, eGrass, and many other technologies in hopes that one will finally pan out. As soon as a technology matures enough to create some sort of revenue stream - even with very small margins - you'll see it explode.

Right now the biggest problem is with people. Norway has had success with offshore windmills. The same was proposed in California to the legislators screaming for green energy. They said, no way, it ruins the view.
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