Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Bad News for "Peak Oil" Apocalypticists

Aluminum as an Alternative Fuel Source?

By Ann Sosnowski, Editor-in-Chief, Diligent Investor, for Taipan Financial News.

[Aluminum] is already one of the most important commodities in the world economy. The metal is used heavily for building structures and transportation projects. The only other metal that exceeds its use on the global scale is iron. Not to mention [that aluminum is] the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust.

Scientists at Purdue University in Indiana have found that when aluminum is doused with water, hydrogen is produced “on demand,” so you only get what you want when you need it. Simply, there’s no waste.

The current system of producing hydrogen from the reaction between aluminum and H20 can be used to power chainsaws, lawnmowers and other smaller mechanical objects. But the researchers are working on a way to use it in automobiles and other types of transportation.

The main catalyst for the aluminum-to-hydrogen equation is gallium, which keeps a protective “skin” from growing on aluminum pellets, allowing the reaction to occur.

The reaction is not only waste-free, but it’s also toxin-free.

Analysts have estimated that the hydrogen from this aluminum-water-gallium reaction would retail at about $3 per gasoline-gallon equivalent, a little less than gasoline prices today.

This is an alternative fuel story well worth following. This “on-demand” fuel could give ethanol-based and electric cars a run for their money in the future...

19 Comments:

Blogger Oroborous said...

I don't mean to imply that changing over from a petroleum-based civilization will be pain-free, nor that powering our vehicles with hydrogen won't take a lot of engineering problem-solving, nor even that alternatively-powered vehicles will be as good as oil-powered ones, merely that the end of cheap oil won't be the end of America, nor the end of Western Civ., not by a long shot.

It won't even be the end of obliviously comfortable American middle-class living, any more than the 70s were.

May 27, 2007 5:33 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Seems a bit suspicious to me. What's the energy input for disassociating the hydrogen? Why can't I build a perpetual motion machine that burns the hydrogen to water, powering pumps that take the water back to the aluminum to be disassociated again?

May 27, 2007 8:15 AM  
Blogger David said...

No one of these stories is going to end up being the magic bullet that painlessly replaces carbon based fuels and saves the environment. For that matter, we're not going to stop using either petroleum or coal any time soon. Most of these stories (garbage to fuel, animal waste to fuel, ethanol) will end up being blind alleys because of problems of scale or cost effectiveness. But, overall, it's clear that some of the alternate energy sources will find their niche and that, if we have to, we'll be able to move to a new mix of energy sources with minimal dislocation.

May 27, 2007 8:19 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

What's the energy input for disassociating the hydrogen?

The aluminum reacts, and becomes aluminum oxide. So it eventually gets "used up". (Interestingly, rubies and sapphires are naturally occurring crystalline forms of aluminum oxide).

Aluminum oxide, also known as alumina, is the main component of bauxite, the principal ore of aluminium. So by disassociating the hydrogen, you're essentially using the energy used to process the ore into aluminum.

May 27, 2007 9:05 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Why is this bad news for Peak Oil Apocalypticists"? It sounds like potential good news.

May 27, 2007 9:41 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Peak Oil Apocalypticists like to believe that The End is Nigh, that reduced production from conventional petroleum sources will result in huge and devastating changes to society.

So any indication that civilization won't collapse, due to less oil being available, causes them emotional pain.

May 27, 2007 10:25 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...


Peak Oil Apocalypticists like to believe that The End is Nigh, that reduced production from conventional petroleum sources will result in huge and devastating changes to society.


How did you find this out? Interviews? A survey?

May 27, 2007 12:22 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

I converse with them.

Here is a good place to find some, if you're interested: The Oil Drum

May 27, 2007 2:12 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

So I guess that "interviews" is the answer.

May 27, 2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

I see quite a lot of evidence that they believe that reduced production from conventional petroleum sources will result in huge and devastating changes to society. I see no evidence that they are happy about this or would be disappointed to see an alternative energy source.

What did they say to you to make you suppose this?

May 27, 2007 10:21 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Perhaps you aren't making a distinction between people who believe in "peak oil", (which, in and of itself, is a theory which depends in part on the failure of the ingenuity of humans), and "Peak Oil Apocalypticists", who are a subset of the former.

The tell of an apocalypticist is that they aren't just skeptical when presented with evidence and ideas about possible scenarios which negate or mitigate "peak oil" itself, or its effects on developed nations, should it come to pass, but are instead angry and confrontational.

They are quite similar to apocalyptical religionists, in that their beliefs rest on emotional or psychological need, rather than anything rational.

They don't like: Deep-sea oil drilling, Arctic oil deposits, tar sands, oil shale, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, et al., although there are very good reasons to believe that some combination of all of the above will entirely negate the putative negative societal effects of dwindling output from conventional oil fields, and the massive rise in demand for energy from China and India.

May 28, 2007 2:25 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Oro, your last comment exposes the fact that you agree with the preomise of peak oil, that at some point the production of oil will peak. The theory doesn't say that the production of energy from all sources will peak, only the production of oil from wells. I believe that the peak oil theory is sound, but it is just difficult to pinpoint a year for the peak to happen.

The aluminum-hydrogen technology is not an energy source, it is an energy conversion process. It doesn't yield more energy than it takes to produce the inputs to the reaction, and it won't curb the demand for primary energy sources, whether that is oil, coal, wind, hydro-electric or nuclear.

May 28, 2007 7:12 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: Of course the production of oil from wells is going to peak. Everyone accepts that. The production of whale oil peaked, too. What people don't accept is that the peak will be catastrophic.

May 28, 2007 8:17 AM  
Blogger Tanya said...

I find it funny that you chose to name your post "More Bad News for Peak Oil Apocalypticists". Are these "radicals" somehow rooting for Peak Oil to destroy us all? I've found that most of these "radicals" seem to also hope that their own predictions are wrong. The common man does not care greatly about any major problems that we may encounter in the future. I think more respect is due to those who chose to look at life realistically and not assume that a prosperous future is a given.

May 28, 2007 11:39 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Tanya:

Are these "radicals" somehow rooting for Peak Oil to destroy us all?

They seem to have some emotional investment in a "doomsday" scenario.

I think more respect is due to those who chose to look at life realistically...

"Peak Oil Apocalypticists" don't look at life realistically. That's why it's easy to make fun of them.

Again, as I wrote to Mark Frank up-thread, it's crucial to make a distinction between people who believe in "peak oil", (which, in and of itself, is a theory which depends in part on the failure of the ingenuity of humans), and "Peak Oil Apocalypticists", who are a subset of the former.

Duck:

The theory doesn't say that the production of energy from all sources will peak, only the production of oil from wells.

Actually, the theory is that the production of oil, period, will peak.

The production of oil from conventional wells most certainly will peak, as David writes, and might already have done so.

But if we gradually turn to tar sands, oil shale, thermo-depolymerization, and coal-to-oil processes, then the production of oil from both conventional and unconventional sources is very unlikely to peak during the 21st century.

[The aluminum-hydrogen technology] won't curb the demand for primary energy sources, whether that is oil, coal, wind, hydro-electric or nuclear.

Sure, but the U.S. has 300 years' worth of coal at current demand, and meanwhile (as of 2004) we're using slightly over fifty percent of all oil consumed in America for passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, and freight trucks. U.S. passenger vehicles alone account for 10% of world petroleum consumption.

Since America imports around 55% of all the oil it uses, if we switched all road vehicles over to some other power source, then domestic oil production would meet about 90% of American needs.

And if America used its vast coal reserves to produce electricity to power the aluminum/hydrogen system, then we'd push peak oil worries into the 22d century, when they'll be far better equipped to deal with it.

May 28, 2007 2:28 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

Problem with coal-burning is that it produces a lot of CO2. Assuming that CO2 is responsible for AGW, there's going to be political pressure against using that.

'Course that could be taken care of by a massive switch to nuclear but the greens don't want that either.

May 29, 2007 2:45 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Very true, Ali.

At this point, there is no "easy choice". But whatever we're eventually forced to do, it won't be that bad.

And as far as CO2/AGW goes, Reid A. Bryson is known by some as "the inventor of Meteorology", he’s a member of the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honor — created, the U.N. says, to recognize “outstanding achievements in the protection and improvement of the environment” - and is identified by the British Institute of Geographers as the most frequently cited climatologist in the world. So he's got impeccable credentials.

What does he think about the CO2/AGW connection ?:

[Emphasis added] "In the first 30 feet of the atmosphere, on the average, outward radiation from the Earth, which is what CO2 is supposed to affect, [eighty percent of the heat radiated back from the surface is absorbed in the first 30 feet by water vapor].

"And how much is absorbed by carbon dioxide? Eight hundredths of one percent. One one-thousandth as important as water vapor. You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide."


Hattip: David Cohen.

May 29, 2007 8:08 AM  
Blogger Ali said...

Cheers Oro, I've sent that link on to a mate who pretty much had me convinced warming was anthropogenic.

May 29, 2007 9:25 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Since America imports around 55% of all the oil it uses, if we switched all road vehicles over to some other power source, then domestic oil production would meet about 90% of American needs.

Or greatly increase the pathetically low thermodynamic efficiency of the poppet-valve internal combustion engine.

If I was a Saudi, I would be very, very afraid of fuel cells.

May 29, 2007 11:01 AM  

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