Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Future Of Oil

... many observers incessantly contradict themselves on whether they want oil to be inexpensive, or whether they want higher oil prices to spur technological innovations ...

... oil imports at $100/barrel today are not much higher of a percentage of GDP than in 1998, when oil was just $20/barrel. 

In fact, the US produces much more economic output per barrel of oil compared to 1998. 

Of even more importance is the amazingly consistent per capita consumption of oil since 1982, which has remained at exactly 4.6 barrels/person despite a tripling real GDP per capita 

This immediately deflates the claim that the looming economic growth of China and India will greatly increase oil consumption, since the massive growth from 1982 to 2011 did not manage to do this. 

... technologies that are advancing to reduce oil demand by varying degrees, many of which have been written about separately here at The Futurist : 

 Natural Gas : Technologies that aid the discovery of natural gas have advanced at great speed, and supplies have skyrocketed to a level that exceeds anything humanity could consume in the next few decades.  The US alone has enough natural gas to more than offset all oil consumption, and the price of natural gas is currently on par with $50 oil. 

 Efficiency gains : From innovations in engine design, airplane wing shape, reflective windows, and lighter nanomaterials, efficiency is advancing rapidly, to the extent that economic growth no longer increases oil consumption per capita, as described earlier.  There are many options available to consumers seeking 40 mpg or higher without sacrificing too much power or size, and I predicted back in early 2006 that in 2015, a 4-door family car with a 240 hp engine would deliver 60 mpg (or equivalent) yet still cost no more than $35,000 in 2015 dollars.  People scoffed at that prediction then, but now it seems quite safe.   

 Cellulose Ethanol and Algae Oil : Corn ethanol was never going to be suitable in cost or scale, but the infrastructure established by the corn ethanol industry makes the transition to more sophisticated forms of ethanol production easier.  But fuels from switchgrass and algae are much more cost-effective, and will be ramping up in 2012.  Solazyme is an algae oil company that went public recently, and already has a market capitalization of $1.5 Billion. 

 Telepresence : Telepresence, while expensive today, will drop in price under the Impact of Computing and displace a substantial portion of business air travel, as described in detail here.  By 2015, geographically dispersed colleagues will seem to be closer to each other, despite meeting in person less often than they did in 2008.   

There are also technologies that increase oil supply, such as supercomputing-assisted oil discovery and new drilling techniques. 


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