Dave's Energy

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to Visualize What Daily Oil Production Looks Like

I get in all kinds of discussions in various venues about alternative energy. The latest Presidential debates have people talking about various alternative energies and energy independence. As I always say with alternative energy, the first thing one has to ask is "alternative to what?" If you are talking about transportation fuel (gasoline and diesel), then you are looking for an alternative to crude oil and a new way to fuel the transportation market. If you are talking about the electricity generation (power) market, that is another subject entirely. leading to how to displace coal as our top generation source (while the power sector also uses nuclear, natural gas, solar, wind, etc., coal generates close to half our electricity).

For the transportation (crude oil) sector you have heard my prior posts discuss why it is hard to displace crude oil with any ONE solution. Still, many people I talk to have a hard time understanding that many alternative solutions cannot SCALE large enough to displace oil, because realistically the amount of oil we produce every single day is so massive that it is hard for people to get their heads around it. So in order to get people to visualize just how much oil we produce every single day in the world, here's a quiz I used to like to give potential interns:

We produce and use 90 million of barrels of oil EVERY day in the world. If you stacked those barrels on top of each other, how many days of production would it take to reach the moon? 1, 10, 100, 1000?

The answer might be derived in this manner:

1) 90 milliion barrels x 3 feet (approx) height per barrel = 270 million feet tall (one days' production)

2) 270 million feet / 5280 feet per mile = 51,136 miles of production each day

3) Miles from the earth to the moon: approx 238,837 / 51,136 per day = 4.7 days

Resulting answer: about 5 days to reach the moon

So, if you want to replace oil with some liquid fuel derived from algae, corn, etc,, you have to find something that you can stack to the moon every 5 days and do that every day, all year long with no disruptions. Hard to do.

EDIT: Now you can go to my next post titled "Stacking Oil Barrels to the Moon" and see if you really appreciate just how far away the Moon really is.

Does that sound like a great deal of product? It should... Put another way: we speak about oil production in terms of barrels per day because if we talked about annual production the numbers are astronomical:

90 million barrels per day times 365 days a year equates to over 32 BILLION barrels each year (an oil barrel is 42 gallons so that is 1.3 TRILLION gallons of oil).

To yield something like that from any other naturally occurring source of energy is extremely difficult. And to top it off, those barrels of hydrocarbons are VERY energy dense. You can pack a lot of energy into a gallon of gasoline or diesel, which are very portable with today's infrastructure. Portable, dense, abundant. Hard to replicate that for now. That is why there is no ONE solution.

Which is why efficiency is the key, and electrification of the auto allows that while it diversifies the source of the power in front of the electrical plant. See my prior post titled: "The Best Alternative Fuel"

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