Replacing Crude Oil with other Energy Resources-Impossible Task?21 Jul

The pie chart shows the amount of annual energy consumed in the United States during 2009 from petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewable sources.  Petroleum is used for transportation and manufacturing. Furnaces, dryers, transportation, fertilizers, hydrogen production and electric power generation consume natural gas. Coal is used to generate electricity and is utilized by alumina refineries, paper manufacturers, as well as the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Nuclear energy is primarily employed to generate electricity. Renewable sources, such as wind and solar, contribute only a small fraction of the total energy consumed by the United States.

My blog post of July 11, 2011 reported that the United States now imports 60 percent of its crude oil needs. In 11 years that figure will rise to 100 percent based on known reservoir capacities and current withdrawal rates. Thus, the slice of pie attributed to petroleum consumption (i.e., 37 percent) will be entirely supported by imported crude oil in about 11 years. This “time window” of 11 years means that 137 million passenger vehicles in the United States, now powered on gasoline derived from crude oil, will have to be powered on something else in order to avoid total foreign oil dependency.

The question becomes, “What other slices of the pie could be expanded to accommodate the needs of 137 million passenger vehicles?” How about natural gas? If natural gas from shale (using hydraulic fracturing) can be produced in sufficient quantity without harming the environment or consuming water needed by, say, farmers, then perhaps this fossil fuel source could power millions of vehicles in the form of compressed natural gas.

If electric vehicles (e.g., hybrid, plug-in-hybrids) became a reality in massive numbers within 11 years, then coal fired power plant usage would have to be increased. That would happen at the expense of the environment with more CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Possibly the amount of coal usage could be held constant by using less of it, say, in the paper and chemical industries, while consuming more coal to produce electricity to power electric vehicles. However, those industries would marshal their vast lobbying resources against this proposal.

It is doubtful that renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar, could achieve signicant scale up to generate sufficient electricity to meet the needs of tens of millions of vehicles power by electricty. The capital cost of wind and solar systems greatly exceeds their fossil fuel counterparts. That will continue until critical mass funding is devoted to innovative technology development for wind and solar. The need for innovation funding was discussed in my blog post of July 13, 2011.

Conclusion: there is no easy way to replace 37 percent of the U.S. energy consumption with something else, especially in 11 years. It is even more difficult if no one in authority is paying attention. Frankly, in my opinion nothing will happen until after a major disaster occurs, for example, a massive oil cut back from Saudi Arabia.

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2 Responses to “Replacing Crude Oil with other Energy Resources-Impossible Task?”

  1. The Reality of U.S. Energy Policy: Foreign Dependency, Insignificant Renewable Energies, and Potentially Unsafe Nuclear Plants | JHEverson Consulting Reply

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About Dr. Everson

Prior to forming this SBIR consultant practice, Dr. Jeffrey Everson was director of business development for QinetiQ North America’s Technology Solutions Group (previously Foster-Miller, Inc.).

Dr. Everson has won and been the principal investigator for several SBIR programs, including a Phase I program for NASA, a Phase I project for the U.S. Air Force, and Phase I and II contracts from the U.S. Department of Transportation. For the Phase II program, he received a Tibbetts Award for exemplifying the best in SBIR achievement.

Previously Dr. Everson held senior scientist positions at Battelle Memorial Institute, The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC), Honeywell Electro Optics Systems Division, and Itek Optical Systems Division.

He holds a PhD in physics from Boston College and a MS/BS in physics from Northeastern University.


For more information about how JHEverson Consulting can help your company with its SBIR and STTR proposals, please contact Jeff Everson.

JHEverson Consulting is based in the Boston area but consults for clients throughout North America. It also is supported by affiliated consultants.