January 22, 2006

All About Oil ...

When we finally return to the Blob, this micro-sketch by Frank J. Gaffney of US energy vulnerability - and worse - will be worth recalling.

We are funding both sides in this war for the free world, as our petrodollars are enabling much of the threat we most immediately confront. This is an intolerable — and unsustainable — situation.

Posted by CCRU-Shanghai at January 22, 2006 10:57 AM | TrackBack




Fareed Zakaria said much the same thing in August last year:

How to Escape the Oil Trap

[text in the tangents, in case Newsweek is still inaccessible in China]

Posted by: sd at January 22, 2006 12:37 PM



from Zakaria:

Posted by: sd at January 22, 2006 12:41 PM



interesting Gaffney mentioning electromagnetic pulse (EMP). solar flares are EMPs & one of the biggest recorded (X28) occurred 04-Nov-2003, with large sunspots easily visible on the Sun's surface. EMPs can disable power grids, disrupt satellite communications & electrical transmissions & may even impact airline navigational systems. during these storms astronauts on the International Space Station enter a specially shielded module & anyone flying at high altitudes risks radiation levels equivalent to a regular chest X-ray.


Posted by: northanger at January 22, 2006 02:14 PM



It would be slightly odd/ironic if WWIV were the thing to force the US to reconsider its gas-guzzling/belching foolishness and explore more elegant and futuristic energy sources.

Posted by: sd at January 23, 2006 10:58 AM



sd - there seems a lot of sense on many sides of this discussion. The Alternative Energy Manhattan Project types get me almost convinced, but then the Big Oil realists / let the free market work / fossil fuel abundance guys also have a lot of serious points to make. Would a big government programme to secure energy really work any better than the other disastrously misconceived State intiatives that have probably at least halved natural capitalist growth rates in 'mature' economies? Could a move off oil truly get under way when prices on international markets are sending a strong signal that oil is still massively abundant?
There's no end of tar sands and oil shale at approx. US$30 extraction rates - dwarfing Saudi reserves - the reason its not gushing is that the industry experts see current price levels as unsustainable. That's to say, if anyone was able to put a US$50/barrel floor under the global oil market, we'd all be drowning in the stuff. Any approach that ignores this basic fact is going to be misleading ...

northanger - EMP deserves its own thread - tenuously connected at best ;)

Posted by: Nick at January 23, 2006 02:27 PM



nick. "US$50/barrel floor" — shouldn't that be Euro currency instead of the "currency of the enemy"?


Posted by: northanger at January 23, 2006 05:08 PM



did not mean to be purposely misleading, honest.

Posted by: northanger at January 23, 2006 05:10 PM



northanger - US$/oil-nexus is indeed fascinating. btw, says pretty much everything one needs to know about the Euro that its high-point of international dignity is to be a stick for flaky despots to poke in Uncle Sams eye ...

Posted by: Nick at January 23, 2006 11:47 PM



Nick – oil is messy and so last century ;)

According to you-know-who, Solar power captured by nanotechnology will power the Singularity:

“The most promising approach to nanomaterials-enabled energy is from solar power, which has the potential to provide the bulk of our future energy needs in a completely renewable, emission-free, and distributed manner. The sunlight input to a solar panel is free. At about 10¹ watts, or about ten thousand times more energy than the 10 watts currently consumed by human civilization, the total energy from sunlight falling on the Earth is more than sufficient to provide for our needs. As mentioned above, despite the enormous increases in computation and communication over the next quarter century and the resulting economic growth, the far greater energy efficiencies of nanotechnology imply that energy requirements will increase only modestly to around (3x10) by 2030. We could meet this entire energy need with solar power alone if we captured only 0.0003 (three ten-thousandths) of the sun’s energy as it hits the Earth.

It’s interesting to compare these figures to the total metabolic energy output of all humans, estimated by Robert Freitas at 10 watts, and that of all vegetation on Earth, at 10 watts. Freitas also estimates that the amount of energy we could produce and use without disrupting the global energy balance required to maintain current biological ecology (referred to by climatologists as the ‘hyperthermal limit’) is around 10 watts. This would allow a very substantial number of nanobots per person for intelligence enhancement and medical purposes, as well as other applications, such as providing energy and cleaning up the environment. Estimating a global population of around 10 billion humans, Freitas estimates around 10⁶ (ten thousand trillion) nanobots for each human would be acceptable within this limit. We would need only 10 nanobots (ten millionths of this limit) per person to place one in every neuron.

By the time we have technology of this scale, we will also be able to apply nanotechnology to recycle energy by recapturing at least a significant portion of the heat generated by nanobots and converting that heat back into energy. The most effective way to do this would probably be to build the energy recycling into the energy itself. This is similar to the idea of reversible logic gates in computation, in which each logic gate essentially immediately recycles the energy it used for its last computation.” (TS 248/9)


Kurzweil also mentions the nanobot-sized fuel cell or ‘vampire bot’ which “uses glucose, a sugar in blood, with a non-toxic substance used to draw electrons from glucose.”


a fuel cell which incorporates actual microbes:


However, the most tangible development is that of carbon nanotubes for storing energy in nanoscale batteries.

See this report for some nanotube marketing, including some current prices and predictions of massive price deflation in the next 5 years:


“Production is shifting from the US and Japan to Asia Pacific. While the USA currently leads the world in the production of MWNTs (mulit-walled carbon nanotubes) and SWNTs (single-walled nanotubes), China is likely to overtake both the US and Europe in 2 years time. by 2010 the major supplier of all types of nanotubes will be Korea.

Prices will decrease by a factor of 10-100 in the next 5 years. Nanofibres and WMNTs will meet price barriers for most applications in the Energy market and will start seriously competing with current technologies” (p3)

The US obsession with the blob/the manipulation of the US by the blob could be another reason (apart from moral hangups about stem cells) why the US will fall behind Asia. China could simply jump the automobile stage and go hellbent into pocket-sized power.

Posted by: sd at January 24, 2006 01:51 AM



sd - comprehensive and persuasive (dealing with batteries is the final step that makes it fit together). Sounds like solar will carry things through to hydrogen nanofusion then.
Still leaves the question about what the path getting there looks like - real OPEC power is not extortionate cartel pricing, but the ability to collapse the price with at most a couple of years lead-time to US$10 a barrel or less, economically destroying anyone who's half-way to kicking blob-addiction.
In any case, the cost-trends for alternative energy (especially, as you say, solar) falling steadily and relatively fast, so the Blob's days are numbered (which is why it's getting super-mean) ....

Posted by: Nick at January 24, 2006 02:29 AM



nick. "US$<>Euro€/oil-nexus". hey, nothing personal, just the cost of doing bizness in the anglosphere.

Posted by: northanger at January 24, 2006 03:26 AM



The killer app for nanotechnology, about twenty years away, is nanobots. Inside our bodies and brains, nanobots will provide radical life extension by destroying pathogens and cancer cells, repairing DNA errors, destroying toxins and debris, and otherwise reversing aging processes. Nanobots are computer-based robots small enough to travel in our bloodstream. —Ray Kurzweil

For all the high-minded talk of nanotech curing cancer and creating world peace, do not underestimate the power of the true killer app: Vanity.

My and others' question has always been, what will trigger the tipping point? Time, a killer application, a nanotech-related movie or book, one or more hugely successful IPOs or an accumulation of nano-products? Until recently, I've been unsure, but now I have a prediction. CNT (carbon nanotube) displays will likely trigger the first nanotech boom, as they beat all current HDTV displays in quality, energy consumption, cost to produce and own and become available at great prices at your local Circuit City in the mid 2006-end 2008 timeframe.

Jobs, you old son of gun, you.

Posted by: northanger at January 24, 2006 03:47 AM



Today's manufacturing methods move atoms in great thundering statistical herds. —Ralph Merkle
Nanotechnology as it is understood now though, the Nanotechnology meme in other words, is the brainchild of Feynman's one-time student external linkK. Eric Drexler. Drexler presented his key ideas in a paper on molecular engineering published in 1981, and expanded these themes in a layman comprehensible book Engines of Creation...

Now, consider the economy. The concept of a genie machine was introduced on page 81 of Engines of Creation -- "What you ask for, it will produce." The economy will already produce whatever you ask for. That little word "ask" makes it look so simple -- the question is, how do you ask? As usual, the devil is in the details -- in this case, the details of the process of asking.

Tonight I was surfing and by a circuitous route I found myself reading the Encyclopedia Britannica article about the history of Iran. You have the Hellenistic period, the rise of the Parthians, the Sasanian period, and so on, century after century. Is history going to go on from our present situation, century after century, one period giving way to another? Two thousand years from now, will there be an encyclopedia article that describes our own time as just one period in a long series?

I don't think so. As Vinge says, "Perhaps it was the science-fiction writers who felt the first concrete impact... More and more, these writers felt an opaque wall across the future. Once, they could put such fantasies millions of years in the future. Now they saw that their most diligent extrapolations resulted in the unknowable... soon."
But the question is not whether some momentous change is happening, the question is what is happening. What kind of situation are we in? The worst thing you can do is to have a belief about this. I am in danger of getting locked into a "steady state" belief, which is no better than believing in the Singularity. We have to stay open to events as they unfold.

We should also remember the Merkle Maxim (originally due to Alan Kay): the best way to predict the future is to create it.

The operative question is, which research agenda is going to bear fruit?

Posted by: northanger at January 24, 2006 03:59 AM



sd. "oil is messy and so last century" — lol.

Posted by: northanger at January 24, 2006 04:02 AM



The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is a federal R&D program established to coordinate the multiagency efforts in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology.

The goals of the NNI are to:
• Maintain a world-class research and development program aimed at realizing the full potential of nanotechnology;
• Facilitate transfer of new technologies into products for economic growth, jobs, and other public benefit;
• Develop educational resources, a skilled workforce, and the supporting infrastructure and tools to advance nanotechnology; and,
• Support responsible development of nanotechnology

"A five-year goal of the NNI is to ensure that 50% of US research institutions' faculty and students have access to the full range of nanoscale research facilities, and student access to education in nanoscale science and engineering is enabled in at least 25% of the research universities." Mihail C. Roco, NSF Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology and NSET Chairman.

What is a Nanotechnologist? We're not exactly sure, but we've talked to some people who do nanotechnology. Here are some of their answers and advice for those interested in being a nanotechnologist or just in knowing what it's all about.

Teacher Resources - www.nano.gov/html/edu/eduteach.html
NanoKids™ - nanokids.rice.edu/index.cfm

Dr. Tour: I was bothered by press reports about nanobots, that they will reproduce, do bad things, even eat us as a source of carbon! No matter how many times I said, “No, this is not going to happen. Nanomaterials are smaller than DNA; they are not going to function like that.” the reporters didn’t write about that. So I thought, “Okay, you want nanobots, I’ll give you nanobots!” I had noticed that when my kids saw me working with chemistry drawings, they’d recognize a shape and say, “Nice spider.” Or nice whatever. One day, my six-year-old son said, “Nice boy.” And he started putting hair on the drawing and limbs. I thought, why not teach chemical concepts by attaching arms and legs to molecules. That’s how we make molecules, by attaching things. Students could see a very logical progression to chemical synthesis through building these molecules.

Posted by: northanger at January 24, 2006 04:14 AM



"oil is messy and so last century" - OK, but nano can get quite goopy when it goes feral ...

Posted by: Nick at January 24, 2006 06:18 AM



Gunge, the brave nanobot his dog Tiswas & how they saved the planet Nanobyte from the horrific economic collapse engineered by the evil Nictoid. the awesome tale of how Nickelodeon got its Green Slime. (promotional toys (produced real cheap in China!) in McDonald's Happy Meals™)

Posted by: northanger at January 24, 2006 07:42 AM



Nanotech has such a broad scope of applications, it's development will be strong.
Alternative energies, however, have been stymied for years by the powerful oil lobby and has only recently, because of duress, been drawn from the closets of fringe science and dusted off.
Solar is getting cheaper and better but there have been no practical applications of it for transportation.
Fuel cells, seen as the savior of transportation are a long way off yet.
Nuclear fusion, another hopeful contender promising unlimited power with no external costs, is still a long way off.
Geothermal energy has alot of potential and doesn't recieve the attention it probably deserves.

I have long hoped for a guerilla market of alternative energies to undermine the Big Oil establishment. It seems to be coming into fruition finally, and hopefully increase even moreso as the state capitulates to the necessity of change.

"Blob" addiction is the #1 obstacle to the technological singularity. The #1 obstacle to existence itself.

Posted by: visItor at January 25, 2006 07:58 AM



VisItor - while far from wanting to dismiss your construction of the situation, the notion of alternatives being "stymied for years by the powerful oil lobby" IMHO requires considerable elucidation. How is such 'stymying' possible in a decentralized global market economy? If any economic agency were able to profitably promote alternatives, how exactly could they (have they?) been obstructed? The "oil lobby" (Oil majors) have large quantities of capital, serious political problems gaining access to new fields (due to resource nationalism and exhaustion of cheaply extractable reserves in liberal economies) plus well developed energy marketing expertise - what would stop them taking over the alternatives industry themselves if it could be done profitably? Didn't for e.g. BP's morphing into 'Beyond Petroleum' express precisely such a (frustrated) ambition? You can't be suggesting that Big Oil has a sentimental attachment to a fossil fuel business model, surely?
It seems more realistic to me to assume the oil majors have a solid analysis of energy economics and understand - or at least genuinely conclude - that fossil fuels are still sufficiently abundant to make the leap to a post petroleum world infeasible in the medium term. My attachment to this position is far from dogmatic, however, and I'd be interested to hear a fleshed-out version of how you think their obstructionism ("to existence itself") actually operates. Hoping it won't involve the name Halliburton :)

Posted by: Nick at January 25, 2006 12:27 PM



"far from dogmatic" = schizophrenically conflicted

Posted by: Nick at January 26, 2006 12:43 PM



Hmm... I didn't think my message posted here in on topic.... anyways.
Perhaps I used the wrong choice of words Nick. I believe my own underlying antipathy towards many of the oil majors (their power and influence over the geopolitical issues of the day more specifically) obfuscated my intended message. I do in fact believe they are capable of a turnaround towards alternative energies and I find forward looking programs like Beyond Petroleum highly laudable. I also feel that many of them will be inclined to ride the fossil fuel dinosaur into the ground. We are still highly dependent, and rising oil prices (and thus rising profits) may only encourage them, until the rug is pulled from under them by alternative energies. So I am doubtful whether we will see significant change until change becomes inevitable, unless there was a state funded alternative energy research program, or perhaps even funded by a nonprofit science foundation.
That is essentially my view of the halliboogeyman problem. :) Not that they are actively trying to stifle alternative energy, though that may be happening, but rather that the free market system is systemically flawed in this regard. Being that profitability is the modus operandi, there is little to no incentive for making this transition optimized.
My own veiws, by the way, are far from dogmatic as well, and subject to change as new data makes itself available.

Posted by: visItor at January 27, 2006 06:20 AM



VisItor -
(your constructive tone highly appreciated)
Seems to me the biggest problem with this topic is that, while it seems very reasonable to be eager for a switch over to a post-fossil fuel economy, the way this is to be realized is a whole lot less straightforward than the recognition of its necessity (= eventual inevitability).
While markets may not be great at navigating structural catastrophes in the world economy (story of electrification is probably best empirical ref. available) it's quite a leap IMHO to imagine governments are going to make better decisions (if one thought that, wouldn't soci*lism still be a plausible general ideology? - almost a reductio in my book).
The issue is obviously about timing. No one doubts that petroleum economics has a time limit. No one thinks we can do the switch tomorrow. So that narrows the problem: who's best going to get the timing right. I'd definitely have said markets, but then there's a war on, and that complicated matters ...

Posted by: Nick at January 28, 2006 04:39 AM



Changing the policy environment in which markets operate is probably a reasonable compromise. For the US, an incrementally rising WWIV tax on gasoline (offset by pro-growth tax cuts elsewhere) seems sensible enough.

Posted by: Nick at January 28, 2006 04:56 AM



Choosing between post-petroleum alternatives (of which there are a confusingly large variety) also seems something that governments are likely to be extremely incompetent at. Best to stim. markets a little rather than trust bureaucrats to get things right ...

Posted by: Nick at January 29, 2006 12:07 AM



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