Exhausting Natural Gas: Their Solution to Everything
Energy Outlook; US Department of Energy; 1998 (.pdf)
This was even before the idea of using Hydrogen to power cars got on the front burner. It shows a rising portion of the electricity that is supposedly going to be generated with natural gas, easily an increase in 2020 to more than three times what was being used in 1996. Nuclear power was to decline because they were not building new reactors, and coal's portion also is to increase which is not the best for the climate because it is the worst greenhouse offender among all those listed. But this is the way a growth economy has to approach the future, always more.
Updated from the Annual Energy Outlook; 1998 (.pdf)
The price of natural gas was allowed to climb to whatever price people would pay around 1980. As a result, the supply increased, the prices moderated and the speed of exhaustion climbed back up. This is mainly a one time effect, because once the opportunity to really rake in the money comes along, most people get on board the first time around. Yet the government is predicting that the thin red line will be the portion gotten from drilling in the lower 48 US, much higher than the peak of 1973. The thick red line is the actual exhaustion.
The reserves, what's still left to take out, were to supposedly rise even as more is being exhausted. This would be having your cake and eating it too. The thin green line was the predicted and the thick green is the actual.
The low short blue line represents the Canadian natural gas that they are hoping to import.
The whole idea is to somehow figure out a way to keep the black line which represents the total exhaustion, soaring even faster towards the sky, so the growth economy can keep on growing.
Joseph P. Riva has studied these same predictions and concluded that there is not enough known gas to be found for this to happen, and not enough wells being drilled to find it that most likely they won't even be able to hold production the same over the coming years. He allows that if they were to find staggering amounts in the deep Gulf they might get by for a while. What has been keeping returns from the Gulf Coast drilling from falling so much is that they turn to drilling in deeper and deeper water every year. ¿But what happens when there's no deeper part to go to?
Guzzlers on Hydrogen
If natural gas is the preferred source of hydrogen now, and natural gas is being planned on to catch the slack in electricity, and electricity is going to be needed for any hydrogen production beyond that from natural gas, there's going to be a whole lot of depending upon natural gas to keep the guzzlers going, even if the guzzled is going to become hydrogen.
To generate enough hydrogen to replace just gasoline in the combustion engine, about 62% of the total amount of petroleum used in transportation, would require about half again as much as the total amount of electricity now generated in the US, or, if electricity were to be generated with natural gas, two and a half times the total amount of natural gas that is now used. With the difficulty in currently supplying electricity demand, and taking into consideration the fact that so much additional electricity generation is already planned on being done with natural gas, this looks like betting on manna from heaven.
Fuel cells might reduce the total amount if they are more efficient in converting hydrogen to power at the wheels than hydrogen at 26% (20% * 1.33) in the combustion engine, but don't let that make you think there's no problem. A 35% efficiency at the final drive from the type of fuel cell being considered for cars, PEM, would be an achievement in itself and still require 4.149E+12 kWh, more than the total amount of electricity now generated by coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas, and renewables (35% ÷ 26% = 1.346; 5.585E+12 ÷ 1.346 = 4.149E+12). To use the renewables of wind or solar power would require a multiplication of existing sources by a factor of 846 or 5186, respectively. (4.149E+12 ÷ 4.9E+9; 4.149E+12 ÷ 0.8) There will be a lot of noise made about how this is going to be the way of the future, mostly so that we don't have to worry now about changing the present.
And, this is before taking into consideration the entire energy cost. It goes back to our dinosaur blood spooner. You've got to build the additional electricity and hydrogen generation plants, the cars, keep the roads up, mine the minerals, and build a distribution system for the hydrogen, plus keep all those people who build it alive and sheltered before you get to the net eMergy, before you have something that the rest of society can work with.
Such a transportation system, using the most valuable of industrial energies through several stages of conversion loss for the sake of the chromed convenience of privacy pods, would require a much larger portion of society's effort to be dedicated toward that single goal than the already significant present amount. We cannot now imagine a world without the car, so has it been built around it, not for any intelligence of social organization, but simply because big bucks could be made when so many first wanted, and then because of the design of infrastructure, needed a car.