Oil prices have begun their rise into the sky. OPEC knows that oil reserves are falling and that demand is rising. OPEC has cornered the petroleum market. OPEC’s prospects for jacking up oil prices without opposition are unlimited. Or are they?
Consumers cannot expect any help from drilling for oil on US soil. US oil companies have been raising prices in lockstep with OPEC.
Two onerous facts are still annoying the energy industry. OPEC must make sure that world economies do not collapse under the burden of excessive oil prices. The goose that lays the golden eggs must be kept alive. OPEC will carefully manage supplies and petroleum prices to maintain optimum cash flows coming, but will avoid studiously the collapse of world economies. Then there is another, more serious threat, which is more difficult to control by OPEC. It comes from the battered fuel users.
People are slowly awakening to the fact that the world is overheating and that the accelerating combustion of fossil fuel is the culprit. Combustion of fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Only a small amount of this carbon dioxide is absorbed in oceans, lakes, and rivers. Most of it is accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide is a very stable chemical compound and stays for very long times in the atmosphere. It is also optically active. This means that it absorbs and emits thermal radiation. Heat transfer processes between Sun and Earth and Earth and Outer Space are being altered. As a result, the Earth is heating up.
Governments across the world must get together and make plans to stop fossil fuel burning as soon as possible. After all, ice melting is already leading to an unstoppable rise in sea levels and climate changes are being reported increasingly from all quarters of our world.
What can enlightened governments do to prevent unavoidable damages by coming climate events, which are caused by the overheating of our planet?
Modern energy supplies are exclusively based on three energy forms; electric power, heating gases, and liquid fuels. The technology for converting fossil fuel fired power plants and making them emission-free is widely available. Sufficient nuclear fuel can be mined or reclaimed and will last at least for another century. Windmills and submerged turbines can generate electricity from wind power and marine power. Substantial amounts of electricity can be produced by photovoltaic and thermal conversion of sunlight.
The future outlook for replacing coal and natural gas energy with renewable energies for electric power generation is bright. Costs of future electric energy supplies can likely be kept from escalating due to the low cost of nuclear fuels and the complete lack of energy costs for sunshine, wind, and moving water.
The outlook for suitable replacements of liquid fuel energy, on the other hand, is quite dismal. At present, there is one, and only one, potential replacement technology for liquid fuels on the horizon; the conversion of biomass into petroleum substitutes. Nature has converted biomass into petroleum before. We must now learn to imitate this process. We know how to apply heat, high pressures, catalysts, and chemicals. However, we do not know yet, how nature succeeded in converting carbohydrates in the form of biomass into clean and highly concentrated hydrocarbons.
The past history of converting biomass into viable motor fuels shows many failures. We have just witnessed another misstep. The US administration elected to subsidize the large-scale production of ethanol from corn. The energy yield from converting corn into ethanol is exceptionally low. Driven by a substantial subsidy of $0.51 per gallon of ethanol and by skyrocketing gasoline prices, demand for ethanol was artificially driven up and made ethanol competitive with gasoline at fueling stations.
Increased ethanol demand drove up the price of corn. Increased corn prices drove up the prices of many foods. Escalating food prices led to protests and riots worldwide. The apparent lesson is that the world cannot tolerate the direct competition between food and biofuel substitutes based on market prices. Instead, we must keep the growing of food crops completely separated from the farming of biomass for the production of liquid fuels.
Most importantly, the US must establish a new, autonomous agency that will develop processes for producing petroleum substitutes from biomass in less than a decade. Only by producing a high quality petroleum substitute can the world expect to stop global overheating and to contain skyrocketing oil prices. The production of an affordable petroleum substitute at $50 per barrel will preserve our fleets of automobiles, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes. It will also preserve oil refineries. Inexhaustible liquid refinery feedstocks from biomass will give the oil industry an opportunity to replace high priced fossil petroleum reserves and to halt global overheating.
There is an excellent chance that the US can take the lead in developing this novel technology and reap unique benefits. But we must be vigilant about one fact; OPEC and energy industry interests across the world will fight such endeavor with all their unrivaled might.