Friday, August 28, 2009

150 Years of Progress.... Now Time for the Next Paradigm

Yesterday marked the 150 birthday of the commercial petroleum industry. With Edwin Drake's discovery of oil in Pennsylvania the future of western civilization was moved forward at a speed unpredictable and mind bending. Ironically (a little trivia history) the day Drake struck oil was the day he received word from his backers to pull out and stop drilling.

Wired Magazine and Fastcompany both have tribute mentions on their website.

Usually presented as a force for evil or sinister change the benefits of petroleum have been spectacular. The immediate ability of humanity to harvest the btu's and calories of another geological dynasty has been good to those of us in the U.S.. Bending hydrogen and carbon molecules to our own needs has given us wealth and lifestyles beyond the imagination of any human alive in the 19th century. At the time of the American revolution in fact the wealth and lifestyle of today's American middle class would impress the great monarchs of Europe. From food and entertainment options the wealth cheap power provides is mind boggling when you consider it.

That brings us to what next? I would like to state simply (in honor of the 150th anniversery of petroleum) a hypothesis. That the prominence of petroleum at the center of our civilization is because of two items. One the cost of extraction is so cheap that the product is nearly free in comparison to most other products. Two, the amount of research and development reinvested by the petroleum industry have turned this nearly free btu rich product into the center piece it is to our civilization.

In short, as petroleum costs rise there is no reason other products will not take petroleum's place. In fact the harvesting of biomass and recapture of garbage can provide 100% of our energy in a closed carbon neutral loop. It only takes two things. A little market share for these new synthetic crude technologies as well as 150 years of experiments to bring them along to where petroleum is.

Look them up. Fast pyrolisis, Fischer-Tropsch, thermal depolymerization, and similar variant technologies. All simulating the Earth's geological process that created crude oil by heat, pressure and a oxygen poor environment. Reforming biological materials commonly seen around us magically into a source product for everything we take for granted in the modern world.

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