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Power Hardware

Mideast Turmoil and the Push For Clean Energy 314

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-time-like-the-present dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Adam Werbach writes that in July 2008 oil prices reached $147 a barrel and suddenly energy prices and alternative energy was on everyone's agenda but soon oil prices fell as the economy faltered and people moved on to the more immediate concerns of keeping their jobs and businesses alive. Now with the possibility looming of $200 a barrel oil, the US has a robust field of clean energy technologies that are slowly coming online, from thinfilm solar to fuel cells to cellulosic ethanol — unlike 2008, when it seemed like we were starting our innovation engine from a cold start. 'In the last three years, as oil prices have softened, we've seen stumbles as companies like Applied Materials pulled back from the clean energy space because of operational and market conditions,' writes Werbach. '2012 will be a rich year for equity capitalizations, giving energy entrepreneurs the capital they need to build infrastructure. Even with the draconian austerity measures that are coming into effect across the country, this is a second opportunity for energy innovation.'"
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Mideast Turmoil and the Push For Clean Energy

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  • Nothing new here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by quarkie68 (1018634) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @02:35AM (#35394964) Homepage
    In our world there are innovators and there are also people that will vow to re-use existing suboptimal solutions with all their pros and cons until it is absolutely necessary to adopt something else. Unfortunately, the second type is the majority, even if it is completely obvious that the dependency of the West on the Middle East is one of its largest weaknesses. I wonder how many slaps does it take for some people to wake up from their deep oily sleep.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      In our world there are innovators and there are also people that will vow to re-use existing suboptimal solutions with all their pros and cons until it is absolutely necessary to adopt something else. Unfortunately, the second type is the majority, even if it is completely obvious that the dependency of the West on the Middle East is one of its largest weaknesses. I wonder how many slaps does it take for some people to wake up from their deep oily sleep. So what's the problem? You just spelled out the optimal solution. It doesn't take six billion people to innovate a replacement for petroleum-based transportation so there's proper division of labor. And society isn't going to do better than to stick with what works, until something comes along that works better (which incidentally hasn't happened yet with transportation).

      Finally, what's wrong with giving good business to the Middle East? It helps everyone.

      It just seems to me that you haven't really compared the status quo to the alternatives. It's the traditional conceit to assume that because the present scheme has flaws, then some alternative is better. My view is that the flaws and benefits of the alternatives to our fossil fuel burning haven't been seriously evaluated.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)
      Sorry, I really messed up my last reply with a single typo. Let's try this again.

      In our world there are innovators and there are also people that will vow to re-use existing suboptimal solutions with all their pros and cons until it is absolutely necessary to adopt something else. Unfortunately, the second type is the majority, even if it is completely obvious that the dependency of the West on the Middle East is one of its largest weaknesses. I wonder how many slaps does it take for some people to wake up from their deep oily sleep.

      So what's the problem? You just spelled out the optimal solution. It doesn't take six billion people to innovate a replacement for petroleum-based transportation so there's proper division of labor. And society isn't going to do better than to stick with what works, until something comes along that works better (which incidentally hasn't happened yet with transportation).

      Finally, what's wrong with giving good business to the

      • by iserlohn (49556) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @05:05AM (#35395484) Homepage

        Finally, what's wrong with giving good business to the Middle East? It helps everyone.

        That is a very naive view of trade. Take for example the plight of the citizens of Nauru. Although different in scale, it parallels the situation we have in the Middle East.

        The Republic of Nauru is a small island nation in the Pacific which had an economy that was based almost solely on phosphate mining which was plentiful once, but not any more. In the beginning, most of the money generate from this industry went to the Australian interests who were exploiting the mines, then gradually the islanders wised up and negotiated a better deal. This money was saved up in a trust fund, but ultimately corruption set in and the trust fund lost most of its value. At the same time, mining had stopped on the island as the phosphate ran out. Now the unemployment rate is near 90% the government failed in implementing reforms to encourage a diverse economy and the establishment of alternative industries.

        Trade is not always good, and in some case (such as what's happening in the middle east), it is very exploitive to the people of the lands on which we are sucking the resources from. Many times, it only benefits a few at the top and the money never trickles down to the working population. That frequently causes political instability as the leaders has the resources from the mineral or oil wealth to establish an authoritarian regime. It often causes over-dependency on the export of the natural resources within the state. Once the resources are depleted, what results is a failed state.

        • by khallow (566160)

          That is a very naive view of trade. Take for example the plight of the citizens of Nauru. Although different in scale, it parallels the situation we have in the Middle East.

          That changed in the 70s. The Middle East has taken charge of its resources and its destiny. I won't take the blame for any resulting failed states. My view is that the revolutions of 2010-2011 will mark a historical turning point for the Middle East. Oil revenue will have contributed indirectly to this state of affairs.

      • by quarkie68 (1018634) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @05:40AM (#35395614) Homepage
        There is nothing wrong with doing business in the middle east. What is wrong is to rely so much on the Middle East. This creates contention and undesirable situations, especially for Middle East folk. The very fact that most of them export their resources to oil feed the rest of the world, when very little money returns to them is indicative of most of the geopolitical problems that rose, are rising and will rise in the area.

        Oil is not the only example. Manufacturing and outsourcing is another. If only 20% of the Asian manufacturers of integrated circuit/assembly lines decided to close tomorrow for whatever reason, the implications for the US and the rest of the electronic consumer's world would be at least worrying and at most catastrophic for the market.

        I believe this is a general trend of globalization, which is mainly driven by us, because we want the cheapest and then someone has to produce that cheapest product by pushing outsourcing to the point where we rely on few places. Personally, if I knew that a product is REALLY only made in the US/UK/Europe etc, I would buy it, even if it was more expensive. Not because I dislike Asia or whatever distant part of the world, but because I want with my behavior to enforce resilience, the very opposite of absolute reliance.
        Do you really think that the world has resilience today in terms of energy?
        • Do you really think that the world has resilience today in terms of energy?

          Yes. There are lots of sources for chemical energy that we do not use because of cost. That is being fixed... Painfully. Also, there are many sources of oil not being used because of cost and political will. As the cost goes up, that political will has to change. And this is just chemical energy, which is still the best source for transportation. Electrical energy is really only held back by political will. There are safe, low polluting reactors now, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reactor#Futur [wikipedia.org]

    • by tomhath (637240)

      In our world there are innovators and there are also people that will vow to re-use existing suboptimal solutions with all their pros and cons until it is absolutely necessary to adopt something else.

      The headline of this story illustrates your point perfectly. High oil prices should push us to seek other, less expensive sources of energy. But the current administration is fixated on solar and wind. They can't see past those suboptimal "clean" sources to the other alternatives available to us (*cough* nuclear *cough*).

      .

  • Thorium Reactors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NFN_NLN (633283) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @02:35AM (#35394968)

    Why is the west still concentrating on solar and wind power while the Chinese are already into Thorium reactors?

    The US oil companies can stall all they want while they squeeze as much profit as they can out of fossil fuels.. but the Chinese aren't going to wait around.

    • Re:Thorium Reactors (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NFN_NLN (633283) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @02:39AM (#35394988)

      Sorry, forgot to include this:

      Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Telegraph daily, suggests that "Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium," and could put "an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years."[14]

      The Thorium Energy Alliance (TEA), an educational advocacy organization, emphasizes that "there is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 1,000 years."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium#Thorium_as_a_nuclear_fuel [wikipedia.org]

      • by IHateEverybody (75727) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:17AM (#35395110) Homepage Journal

        A lot of it is due to residual fear of any kind of nuclear energy and chronic NIMBYism. Everybody wants cheap energy but no one wants a power plant anywhere near their home. Most people have no idea when thorium is or of its benefits over traditional nuclear energy. This runs into a basic human fear of change. Oil has worked for America for a hundred years and Americans have grown emotionally attached to their gas guzzlers and have rewarded oil companies with the kind of wealth and political influence that make them a force in Washington.

        Add a fundamental lack of will and rampant political cowardice and you have a formula for Chinese domination of the "green" industries of the future.

        • by Zoxed (676559) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @04:39AM (#35395392) Homepage

          > Everybody wants cheap energy
          Wrong: people want, for example, warm houses. Whether that comes from pumping energy in, or insulating it to prevent energy leaving it is irrelevance. You can invest in energy saving, and not need cheap energy.

          • Saving energy is only going to delay the problem and won't help much in addressing the root of it. Unless energy saving can reduce expenditure to zero or close to it - and it can't - we still need to find a long-term solution when (not if) oil runs out.

            Don't get me wrong, energy saving is a good thing and should always be considered if economical or practical. But while the other half of energy research should be directed at new (shale gas), renewable (sun, wind, water, biomass) or long-term (nuclear) prima

            • by AmiMoJo (196126)

              Nuclear produces waste. We don't want proliferation of nuclear material and despite our best efforts like anything will never be 100% safe. Remember we need to produce energy in less stable and well maintained parts of the world, not just Europe and the US.

              On the other hand solar thermal energy production (using mirrors to reflect light onto a water tank and then using the steam to drive turbines) produces no waste and you can build a lot of what you need from recycled material too. In the event of an accid

              • by tmosley (996283) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @09:43AM (#35396806)
                Keep up with the technology. Thorium produces short lived (10-15 years) waste that can be stored on site, and, in fact, can and HAS been designed to be 100% safe (pebble bed reactors, anyone?), where they physically CAN'T melt down.

                You SAY that solar thermal doesn't produce a lot of waste, but you have clearly never been to a smelting operation, nor have you considered the energy input it takes to produce the hundreds of thousands of miles of tubing and mirrors that would have to be purpose made for such plants, or the environmental effect they would have on the NOT lifeless deserts you people want to destroy with them.

                Further, you can't use WATER to store the energy--you can barely store heat in water. How are you planning to heat water to a boil using the energy stored in water? If you want it to produce energy overnight you have to use molten sodium. There's an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. You are talking about distributing little pockets of 10,000 degree heat all around the place, rathe than having a few,centralized, large, easily controlled pockets of 3,000 degree heat that won't melt much more than ice, certainly not steel and concrete.
          • No, they want cheap energy.

            I'm not opposed to energy conservation, far from it; but reducing energy dependence isn't eliminating energy dependence. A very efficient home will still have nontrivial energy use (including externalities such as the energy to produce and transport the goods that maintain that efficient home), and it's folly to focus exclusively on either supply or demand when there's so much that can be done on both sides.

      • by Zoxed (676559)

        Firstly I confess to never having heard of Thorium as a nuclear fuel.
        But if your best references are a *business* reporter for a right-wing, reactionary newspaper, a business advocacy group, and a Wikipedia page that includes a quote from an engineer: "meaning one that will produce and consume about the same amounts of fuel," then you have not convinced me, for one !!

        • heh. I'm unsuccessfully scratching my head trying to remember the book, but it was classic science fiction of the good ol' space opera variety. The adolescent hero's adventure was all about striking it rich by finding huge thorium deposits on Mercury. Written in the 1950s.

        • Re:Thorium Reactors (Score:4, Informative)

          by KonoWatakushi (910213) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @06:04AM (#35395708)

          Actually, Thorium was the natural choice for nuclear energy; Uranium was chosen instead so that we could build bombs.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Actually, Thorium was the natural choice for nuclear energy; Uranium was chosen instead so that we could build bombs.

            I keep hearing this bullshit over and over, as if peopel just cut and paste it from some random website.
            Thorium is a rubbish choice for several reasons:

            Firstly, while it is possible to build a thermal breeder reactor using thorium, you would have to really push the the neutron economy, and thus the doubling time would be very long. As a consequence of the very long doubling time, the initial

    • I love the fact we have a giant pit out west with over 10000 tons of processed Thorium ore. Stuff that has been mined, concentrated, and then just dumped in a pit.

      With minimal processing we'd have thousands of tons of thorium pure enough to use in reactors.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        The problem with Thorium IIRC was the plans that show Thorium working are to have hundreds of "mini-reactors" like say one in every city 10,000 or better. Now that might work in China where there isn't as many crazies and they (from what I understand) have control of their borders thanks to a "we'll shoot your ass and send you to PMITA prison" policy, but try to remember we have plenty of nutballs here both from the Arab countries we've been fucking with for decades, along with our very own home grown crazi

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          Just stick it in a shipping container in an industrial estate somewhere. It'll be fine.

          That's the nice thing about modern reactor designs. You could stand on top of it beating on it with a sledgehammer, and the worst that would happen is you might slip and twist your ankle.

        • by tmosley (996283)
          Uhh, having them distributed means they will be smaller. They might as well attack the coal plants we have now.

          Further, no truck bomb is going to be able to breach an underground facility, which is generally what I have seen being called for, especially with the micronuclear reactors designed by Hitachi, which are designed to provide power to 1000 households for 50 years with no maintenance, and are so cheap that you could literally throw them away when you are done (they only cost a few million each,
    • by khallow (566160)

      Why is the west still concentrating on solar and wind power while the Chinese are already into Thorium reactors?

      I imagine because the payback is obvious. Thorium is a long way from becoming a profitable technology. I imagine fusion research is also killing funding into thorium. After all, if you have a working fusion reactor then why deal with any sort of fission power?

    • Petrochemicals. Oil isn't just about energy, it provides the raw building blocks for modern industrial goods. You can't replace them with nuclear energy.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrochemicals#Petrochemicals_products [wikipedia.org]

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      Steven Chu is trying to get small, prefabbed modular nuclear reactors going:
      http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0330/Nuclear-power-Obama-team-touts-mini-nukes-to-fight-global-warming [csmonitor.com]
      The problem with Thorium reactors is that they are not ready yet. Yes they sound good but they are years away.

    • by turing_m (1030530)
      When there is enough solar for everyone, why use a non-renewable fuel?

      What's the big deal about using non-renewable fuels? Some day we are probably going to need an energy source as dense as nuclear fuel for space colonization. If we set ourselves up to use nuclear on a widespread basis for simple stuff like heating our homes and transport, we'll run out of it. If I've learned anything in life from playing computer games, it's that the surest fire way to have to require a restart from the beginning is to

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why is the west still concentrating on solar and wind power while the Chinese are already into Thorium reactors?>

      Eh?! China is concentrating on biofuel, solar and, especially, wind power(*), just like the West. It also research molten salt reactors [wikipedia.org] (aka thorium reactors), just like many countries in the West. In the West, a lot of countries spend a lot of government money on research and experiments with different kinds of power sources, including better ways to utilise nuclear power. Heck! I live in Sweden where we are, since 1983, slowly replacing all nuclear power with other sources of energy, and even inside Swede

  • The cheapest and most obvious alternative to mideast oil is domestic oil. We have lots of it. It's being produced in North Dakota in increasing quantities. It's available under the Alaskan wasteland. It pollutes the Santa Barbara beaches from natural oil seeps -- pollution that would be prevented by oil drilling. And it's available in vast quantities in the Gulf of Mexico.

    And in Canada, the oil from tar sands will be available to use in mass quantities. But environmentalists are trying to prevent the c

    • by jjohnson (62583) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:05AM (#35395076) Homepage

      America has plenty of shale oil, which is more expensive to produce than the oil in the tar sands of Alberta, which is more expensive to produce than the oil in the Middle East. Environmentalism has nothing to do with failure to develop North American oilfields; the cost of a barrel of oil simply isn't high enough to start thoroughly exploiting local deposits.

      Oil has to be around $70/barrel for the tar sands to be worthwhile, and no one knows the floor price to make shale oil extraction profitable because that's a field of engineering only now being developed. As for the Gulf of Mexico, the reason BP was drilling 5,000 feet down was because all the shallow fields have been sucked dry.

      • by Gutboy (587531)

        ... and no one knows the floor price to make shale oil extraction profitable because that's a field of engineering only now being developed.

        Say what? Shale oil extraction has been around since the 10th century, lots of development went on in the 1980s
        . Kiviter process facilities have been operated continuously in Estonia since the 1920s [wikipedia.org]

        It's obviously cheap enough as some people have been doing it for nearly a century.

      • by rrohbeck (944847)

        The main problem with shale oil is that its EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) is only about 3, i.e. to produce one barrel of oil you need the energy equivalent of 1/3rd barrel. And that's with the easily extracted stuff. Once the EROEI gets close to one it doesn't matter how much you have and what the oil price is.
        http://theoildrum.com/ [theoildrum.com] is *the* resource for this kind of info.

        • by QuoteMstr (55051)

          Bullshit. EROEI isn't everything, or even the dominant factor in extraction.

          EROEI > 1 makes perfect sense when you think about it. Petroleum is even more useful as a chemical feedstock than it is as a fuel, and even as a fuel, petroleum products are portable and convenient in a way unmatched by any alternative. We'll see extraction continue far past EROEI > 1, with the excess made up by nuclear, wind, solar, and so on.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And it's available in vast quantities in the Gulf of Mexico.

      No shit, Sherlock [wikipedia.org].

      All you need is a rowboat and a bucket.

    • Plenty of oil is the wrong term when you have a limited resource and constant growth of demand.

      Watch this video [youtube.com], it's insightful.

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        TL;DW - got a transcript?

        If it's that important they should write it down instead of making a boring video.

    • Domestic oil is somewhat expensive. It's there, yes, but it's pricy - deep down deposits in the golf, and sands that take intensive processing. That's why so much of it is imported. The shallow deposits of the middle east are so easy to get to, it's cheaper to get it over there - even with the OPEC cartel.

      Oil prices have, in recent times, gone up high enough to make even oil shale profitable. But there is no guarantee they will stay that high. Why would any company spend hundreds of millions to build a pro
    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      US oil consumption: ~22 million bbl/day.
      Proven US oil reserves (including Alaska, Gulf of Mexico and the continental shelves): ~21 billion bbl.
      You call that lots?

    • by Alioth (221270)

      The problem is not the QUANTITY of oil, it's the RATE at which you can extract it.

      The biggest supplier to the USA of oil is Canada, not the Middle East. But consider this: Canada's proven reserves are 1.7 trillion barrels of oil if I recall correctly. By comparison, Mexico's Cantarell field was only 0.1% of the size of Canada's tar sands reserves. However, after two decades of development, Canada's entire tar sands reserves can barely produce at the rate of Cantarell - a field 0.1% of the size - at its peak

  • Most of the 'clean' energy projects are not for replacing oil (as a transport fuel) but are for replacing fossil fuels like coal and natural gas in electricity production.
    Until we get a big breakthrough in battery technology we are not going to be able to run our cars on wind and solar power.

  • by l2718 (514756) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:01AM (#35395068)

    As a product becomes more expensive, developing alternative means of production becomes more profitable. For example, extracting oil from the shale in Alberta (Canada) is more expensive than the bare costs of extracting it from wells in the middle east. If political risks make middle-eastern oil more expensive, it will now be profitable to extract oil in Alberta. But oil prices could also come down if the political situation becomes more stable, so it's difficult to tell if the investment in alternatives is worth it. It depends on the ability of the market to deal with the volatility coming from the political instability (if it can, then the fluctuations in prices don't mean much in the long run).

    If you view the product more generally (energy) then again more expensive oil would make alternative energy solutions more profitable. For example, shifting from gasoline-powered to electric-powered cars tends to reduce the volatility in the cost of driving the car, since electricity can be produced by many means.

    What I don't see is why the so-called "clean" alternatives to oil would be cheaper than the "non-clean" ones. Given the terrible experience with wind power in Spain and Germany, the disaster that corn-based ethanol is in the US etc, it is simply not believable that such technologies would be cheaper than, say, natural gas.

    Then there's fusion reactors, a proven clean energy source that seems to always be left out of the discussion. At current oil prices building nuclear reactors should be more profitable, but given the possibility that oil prices will eventually come down, I don't think short-term savings will be enough to counter the public's irrational fears of nuclear reactors.

    • by toejam13 (958243)
      I think you meant to say fission reactors. AFAIK, fusion reactors that generate more power than they require to sustain a fusion reaction are still science fiction.

      However, I do agree with your statement. Nuclear reactors [in combination with hydro and off-shore wind] would make for excellent base-load generation. The efficiency and safety of fission reactors has come a long way since the 1970s, which is the age of many reactors in the US.

      The problem with nuclear is mostly image. People think of C
    • Corn-based ethanol was an idiotic idea from the start, born only of lobbying by the corn industry so farmers wouldn't have to actually change their crops. Corn is and always has been a terrible source for ethanol. The problem is it is politically impossible in the US to stop subsidizing inefficient farming practices, despite most farms being owned by mega-corps anyway.

      I don't know what you're getting about wind power in Spain and Germany though. Their biggest problem is that they can't let it grow to be too

      • by jonwil (467024)

        I suspect that for ANY field being used to grow corn ethanol ANYWHERE in the US, you could find something else to grow on that same field that produces better biofuel outcomes.

    • Then there's fusion reactors, a proven clean energy source that seems to always be left out of the discussion.

      You probably mean fission, unless you know something we don't [wikipedia.org]. Or are you talking about the biggest power source within eight light minutes of us [wikipedia.org]?

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      All the economics doesn't change one fact: There will be Peak X for any nonrenewable resource X at some point. The question is not if but when.
      Shale oil can keep us going for a decade or two, at high cost, but it's the last chance to get off fossil fuels. By the time shale oil hits its peak, peak coal will also be imminent - in 20 to 30 years. If the economy is still running on fossil fuels by then it will collapse. Even without that worst case scenario we will be hit by crude price peaks repeatedly - proba

  • by MrQuacker (1938262) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:20AM (#35395120)
    When oil got that high, the Saudi King decided that if it got any higher people would really start looking at alternatives. So Saudi Arabia overinflated oil reserve and production estimates, and upped production as high as possible. By flooding the market with more oil they lowered prices a bit. Along with the banks fiasco, oil went "cheap" again.

    Now the Saudis production is slowing down the fields are going dry.

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      All OPEC countries inflated their reserves because their market share was allocated proportionally.
      In 2008 Saudi Arabia couldn't increase production any more although the price was at a record high and Bush begged them for more.
      Right now it looks very questionable if they can really increase their production to pick up Libya's shortfall. Nobody measures how much they export so they can tell us anything. The crude oil price will tell us in the end.
      http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7550 [theoildrum.com]

    • It's not just Saudi Arabia, it's all of OPEC. They work as a consortium to keep oil prices high, but not *too* high. Or at least they try. They have enough influence to nudge the price of oil up or down, but not to just dictate it.
  • by Palmsie (1550787) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:26AM (#35395148)

    If the wave of manufactured democracy has any foundation from the US government, bravo sirs. We have been trying to artificial create democracy in the middle east for quite some time. Right before Obama is beginning the Afghan pull out, democracy not only appears, but thrives. Massive propaganda success? Maybe. Who cares. Mission accomplished. I, for one, hope that the strain on oil continues. I'm in CA atm and we're up to $4.10 for regular but the long term goal is that this forces us to reconsider alternatives: serious alternatives, seriously.

    It is only when gas gets so ridiculously high that average citizens actually change their behavior that we as a nation can change. It forces us. And, as previous posters have noted, this will not solve the entire energy problem but it will allow for an ecosystem to grow in society where you can have a broad range of thoughts: robber barons, genuine captains of industry, small fixes, big fixes, fixes for cars, fixes for electricity. It allows for what Don Campbell called an 'experimenting society'. Rather, a society where everyone can (through science) solve the woes of humanity. Building that kind of society is the first step but it isn't the last.

    • The rebellions in the Middle East have shaken things up but no lasting changes have yet been made. Figure heads can easily be replaced by the next dictator.

      Things are happening but to say Democracy is thriving... lets wait for the first free and open elections to be held at least eh? Some of us old stick in the muds think that they are a fairly important element of democracy. Silly I know but humor us.

      When not only a government has been fairly elected but ALSO one freely elected government has been freely a

      • by cdrguru (88047)

        Might want to see who gets elected as well. A huge problem is that there are very few established poltical organizations in those countries and the ones that do exist we wouldn't really like to see in power.

        But whether we like it or not, the established and well known organizations are likely to end up in control. It won't be like Iran but it will almost certainly be like Gaza where Hamas was elected in a supposedly free and fair election.

        If people want to vote in a new dictator, who are we to stop them?

  • It isn't about electric cars. It isn't about the middle east.

    It is about infrastructure, long term planning, economy, the status quo and vested interests.

    Oil is not just oil. Not all oil is equal for one. One of the problem with Libya is that its oil is very clean (low sulfur) and can be easily turned into petrol. Other oils especially those from the US are very poor. They are dirty and take a lot of processing to turn in to petrol.

    But petrol is not all. We could survive without petrol far easier then we co

    • by Alioth (221270)

      Pencils ARE made from biomass, they are made from wood and carbon. Terrible example!

      In any case, the amount of oil we use for plastics is dwarfed (probably by orders of magnitude) compared to what we burn. Plastic is also very reusable, unlike fuel that is burned.

      In any case, to make plastic, fundamentally you need hydrocarbons. If you have energy you can make hydrocarbons. Carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are incredibly abundant; have a big enough source of energy and you can make any hydrocarbon you want. It's

  • I have a couple questions and comments about this stuff...

    First, doesn't the US import most of its oil from South America? Maybe I'm remembering outdated information, but I could have sworn that was true..

    Second, aren't oil prices sort of artificially controlled by OPEC? I mean, if the Middle East wanted prices to go down, they could just produce more oil. So it seems like they're trying to get to that sweet sport where prices are high enough that they make lots of money, but low enough that it seems
    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      Venezuela is the #3 or 4 source usually, that's the only significant South American source. The other top suppliers to the US are Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Nigeria.
      Prices are no longer controlled by OPEC but by the market. Close to half the supply comes from non-OPEC countries so they can't dictate prices. All they dictate is production rates for their members and the members generally don't obey them.

  • Oil is too cheap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @05:11AM (#35395500)

    Not too expensive. It's too cheap!

    You will not see any investment in alternative energies or more efficient engines as long as it's cheaper to just use more oil. Do you think people would care about getting 10 or 30 miles to the gallon if we still had the gas prices of the 70s? Especially if that 10 mpg car would cost quite a bit more since more R&D is necessary? Efficiency is never free, someone has to come up with a way to save fuel.

    And as much as it will hurt, only with higher prices for gas other, more expensive, forms of energy will become popular. Electric and H2 cars will instantly be a hit when gas prices double.

    And also, let's not forget that local production becomes quite a bit more interesting if the transport of crap from China gets more expensive...

  • Sort of tangential, but Sandia has made tremendous progress on thermal-electric conversion efficiency. Using supercritical carbon dioxide in the Brayton cycle [nextbigfuture.com], efficiency is 40-50% better than with the conventional steam cycle. As an added bonus, the system is thirty(!) times smaller, and will be correspondingly cheaper. The technology is applicable to existing coal, natural gas, nuclear, and even solar thermal plants.

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