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America's Irrational Petroleum Dependence

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  • America's Irrational Petroleum Dependence

    I read this article when the servers were messed up here and I just remembered it today. A real-world way to put the madness of a petroleum economy into perspective. The same argument against wasting electricity to produce hydrogen for autos applies to gasoline and diesel as well.


    By Doug Korthof

    For the amount of electricity it takes to refine oil, we could leave the crude in the ground.

    Open Access Article Originally Published: June 19, 2009
    It takes 8% to 12% of the energy in a barrel of oil to refine it into gasoline.
    Oil extraction and refining is the largest industrial user of electric and natural gas in California (about 12% of the national market for cars, gas and the car culture, more than our share by population). There are other costs: for example, 20 gallons of federally-subsidized potable water, the amortized cost of exploration, transport, distribution, cleanup, etc.
    The electricity used to refine oil alone would power cars further than what's in the rest of the barrel
    Now, a simple calculation shows that, of the approximately 1470 kWh of potential energy in a 42-gallon barrel of oil, it takes about 140 kWh of electric and natural gas to refine the oil into appx. 44 gallons of "refined products", diesel, gasoline, heavy oil, etc.
    With simple "ceteris parabus" (all things being equal) assumptions, the 140 kWh of energy used to refine that barrel would propel an average EV (or CNG car) at least 640 miles and as much as 840 miles, depending on the type of all-electric car. The EV1 would go 6 miles on one kWh; the RAV4-EV small SUV might go as little as 3 miles on one kWh, so the average would be somewhere in between.
    The rest of the barrel, if all converted to gasoline or its equivalent, would yield about 1300 kWh of energy in the burnable fuel (remember, we're subtracting the energy to process the barrel of oil), or about 38 gallons of gas, enough to take the average Internal Combustion ("IC") car about 760 miles (at our fleet average of 20 mpg).
    So, as a nation, we use 140 kWh of electric to produce 1300 kWh of IC fuel to go 760 miles, even if some cars use more and others use less. Thus, you can see that the modest use of hybrids that can't plug-in is not going to change this dynamic in the slightest. All it does is allow the hybrid drivers to relieve some guilt and feel better about themselves; as a people, we ALL contribute to this charade.
    Using low-cost electric and "free" natural gas to refine the barrel of oil is really just an energy transferrence, a way of storing energy in the form that we, as a society, think it should be used best -- as high-energy fuel for IC cars.
    This pattern, of profligate energy usage (not to say waste) to produce the kind of fuel that produces the most money, is repeated again and again.
    Logically, it's quite mad to expend the barrel of oil when the energy used to process it, without using the barrel of oil at all, would accomplish the same goal, i.e., to power individual auto transport for the average use (i.e., individual automobile cars).
    So we, as a people, could get the 700 miles of transport without any further expenditure of energy, and still keep the barrel of oil in the ground, thus avoiding its expense, the oil wars needed to obtain and defend it, the air, ground and water pollution and the health problems it causes.
    But we see this madcap activity time and again.
    In the case of the vast Athabascan shale-oil deposits, for example, the most cost-effective method of producing oil is to use "free" natural gas (free to the oil companies, that is) to heat the shale in-situ, then to pump out the resulting very-heavy and low-grade crude oil product,
    millions of barrels per day, which is then shipped to refineries for further processing. Obviously, the natural gas alone used for (or "wasted on") this project would carry CNG cars far more miles than the resulting gasoline carries IC cars.
    Not to mention how far the wasted electric would carry EVs.
    Now, it's true that the price of electric power is tied to the price of natural gas, because much of our electric is produced in high-quality natural gas "combined cycle" power plants. Similarly, the price of coal may be related to the cost of electricity, since much of our electric CAN be generated in antequated coal power plants in the red states and the East Coast.
    It's a popular fiction that the price of oil is tied to the price of other energy, such as electric or natural gas.
    The only causal relationship is that electric and natural gas is used to make oil and petroleum products; thus, if electric and natural gas rose, the price of oil would have upward pressure (if the price of oil had any relationship to the cost of production, which it does not).
    As a rule of thumb, the price in dollars per 1000 cu. ft. of natural gas (at STP), which is about the same as 1 million BTU, is about the exact same cost, in cents, of one kWh of electric generated in a modern power plant.
    Here's the latest numbers, showing that while oil is still rising, due to the price set by the oil companies' monopoly, the price of natural gas is falling, if anything; basically, it has languished in a range since the 1970's, even without counting inflation.
    So what does it all prove? The obvious fact is that, as a nation, we don't use the most efficient means to run cars, we use the method that results in the most profit - and the most controlled profit stream -- that benefits the Standard Oil Trust "Seven Sisters" oil companies and evidently bribed officials in Congress. And in the administration.
    Note that generation of electricity via natural gas now costs less then 4 cents per kWh, which is expended to produce much more profitable, but less efficient and more socially objectionable, fuel for IC cars.
    This analysis, then, sort of pulls the mask off the claim that the oil market is a free market, or that our energy policy is rational.
    __________________________________________________ ____________


  • #2
    If only we had a storage device that made it as quick and easy as the liquid fuels of today. Arent we a bunch of gluttons for convenience? Chances are though that we will learn to harness anti matter first But I do remain hopeful.



    • #3
      Ziggy, batteries may not charge as fast, but what's easier than just plugging your car in at night?


      • #4
        I only mean for a TOTAL solution, especially to the US problem. There is absolutely no way I would spend 12 days driving from Colorado to Vegas (exaggeration I know). As for a commuter vehicle 100-120 miles would suffice for most drivers. They would have ample distance every day and ample recharge time overnight even with AC, Radio, and a side trip to meet the wife for dinner and a movie. This would NOT however cover the needs of a driving enthusiast like myself.

        Its about 45-55 miles to my favorite mountain back road. That road, depending on the rout you take, is about 100 miles. So lets say I take only the first, and far less interesting 20 miles. At a minimum that is 110 miles, without AC or a radio, 90 miles of which is at 75mph highway speeds. Considering the obvious factor of speed on a winding mountain road, the distance would be decreased. For a fun tilting three wheeler 110 just wouldnt be enough for a bare minimum for me. Especially if the thing costs me $35k+

        But distance is not really the key. Its the cost of the initial battery investment and/or full propulsion system that is the problem. Most solutions call for a $40k+ vehicle at the minimum. That just doesnt cut it. Even if it were 29-35k most Americans wouldnt be willing to pay that much for a vehicle that is distance/recharge time limited. Thats why there is so little acceptance for this type of propulsion. Simple to remove, modular batteries would solve the problem of distance but that requires infrastructure that isnt available yet.

        As of now you need either deep pockets, and space, for a pack that can get you the distance you need OR some kind of generator that gives you extended distance. Add in a genset and you have additional weight, controllers, needed space, and $$$.

        Dont get me wrong. Ideally I would love to have a full EV version with a backup range extender that was fuel dependent for distance (read unlimited distance), but the cost of such a vehicle, at this time, is just way out of budget. If the purpose is to make an efficient three wheeler for a single/double person commuter, why the hell waste time on a tilting mechanism or motorcycle tires that last 1/10 to 1/2 the distance of a car tire? Just put some thin tires on it, throw out the tilt and the added weight of such a system, use an ipod and get to work. Right?

        Maybe this is the very conundrum most EV makers are running into.

        "Do we make an effecient commuter for $35k or a fun as heck long distance fun as heck to drive monster thats $50k+? And if we make either, will they sell at those proce points?"

        Last edited by ziggy951; 06-28-2009, 10:23 PM. Reason: grammar


        • #5
          I hear ya Ziggy. I too like to drive the open road. It's about 288 miles from my driveway to the Excalibur parking lot in Vegas. That's still out of range of what's practical even with today's LiFePo batteries, and without fast charge points along the way, well, I would have to consider moving closer if I wanted to be able to drive my EV there on any regular basis. Right now, even with 240 volt charging, it would take about twice as long to make the drive, and, like you, I'm not going to sit somewhere for 5 hours waiting for my car to charge when I'm trying to get somewhere.
          In the long run, EVs are really not any more expensive to own than a "regular" car, but the up-front costs are higher, at least for now, and today, they simply are not practical to use for long-distance driving. The option still remains to rent a car when you need to drive farther, or my personal favorite, being able to take yourself and your EV on a train for interstate travel. You get to enjoy the trip more, and you still have your car with you when you get there.
          The bottom line is, we can no longer afford the health risks of breathing all this polluted air, or of fighting wars and financing the very people that want to destroy us (not to mention keeping oil companies rich and powerful). As Doug Korthof shows above, our petroleum economy is also extremely wasteful. And as Jack Rickard said in his video, if the tailpipe on your car came out of the steering wheel instead of out of the back, the switch to EVs would have been made long ago.


          • #6
            I think we all agree, but there just isnt a solution at this point and the people that, ironically, are in power are complete (insert your term of choice here) when it comes to energy and transportation. Not that I think we need to let the government decide whats best for us, and considering what they came up with for cap and trade I suggest we find our own solution, but they have been funneling billions of USD down the hydrogen pipeline for at least half a century without any real effeciency increase in the conversion process. That is where the money has been, and will continue to be, spent. By the way, the cap and trade bill PASSED the house on Friday. Go read it....then go thank your State's representative. /sigh

            I still dont understand why humans havent focused on nuclear energy. If they are worried about a nuke going off...burry the damn thing a mile underground or something. I understand the high costs of phtovoltaic and wind, but solar cells have had a serious resurgence and have made AMAZING strides in effeciency in the last decade alone. I guess its all about the Bengamins when it comes down to it. The fact that our government wastes a rediculous amount of our money on things that are less likely to "save the planet" or reduce greenhouse emissions or stop the global war for oil than Michael Papp is to pay back all those that he defrauded, but it doesnt supprise me.

            Without getting political, since I throw all Washington politics into the same catagory, Washington needs a real change. Since THEY choose where to spend our taxes, and there apparently isnt a way to get them to charge us less, we might as well get somone in there that knows what they are doing. And I dont care what party they come from as long as they care more about the citizens of this country then they care about their power, possition, or political ideology.