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Displacing Oil Costs Less than Oil

By Zana Nesheiwat | Thu, 16 May 2013 22:14 | 9

“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity — not a threat.” — Steve Jobs

Are we running out of oil? Are fuel alternatives overrated? Can fossil fuels become irrelevant? The recent surge in so-called “energy” discussions is astounding. From top news outlets like National Geographic’s “Great Energy Challenge” and The New York Times’ “Wheels” to niche sites like The Energy Collective and Oil Price, proponents have consciously delegated a space to discuss solutions to some of the most important transportation, electricity generation and environmental issues of our time.

An article by a contributing editor to The Atlantic, Charles C. Mann, is among those believing in the economic significance of fossil fuels. He claims that "Americans will be less likely to spend trillions on fancy no-oil cars if cheap petroleum is in abundant supply," which is debatable for two reasons:

First, new oil is harder to find, takes longer to develop and requires a lot more capital. We are not running out of oil. Although supply is indisputably important, the amount of oil that can be extracted at a reasonable cost should be more of a concern. Oil must be in the range of $50 per barrel to sustain economic growth, far below the current level of over $100 per barrel. Even when the price of oil in the U.S. (the WTI) dips, the price of gasoline does not decrease because it is determined by the international market (Brent Price).

Related article: North Dakota Oil Boom Set to Continue for Some Time

Second, modern technologies to save or displace oil cost far less than oil. Alternatives become highly attractive when considering the entire cost of relying predominantly on oil for transportation, from individual wallets to economic and political stability. Here are some facts:

•    In 2012, the U.S. spent $291 billion on imported oil.
•    Oil accounts for over half of the nation’s trade deficit.
•    The bulk of our national security budget is spent on protecting oil routes in oil-rich regions.

And the list goes on.

Presently, the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S. is at its highest level in almost 30 years. We should reduce our dependence on foreign oil by utilizing our substantial petroleum reserves. Yet, our domestic oil supplies alone cannot satisfy our present or future transportation needs. Another error in Mann’s article, along with many others that attempt to tackle our so-called “energy” problem, is lumping electricity and transportation fuels together under one synonymous and interchangeable category — energy. When discussing the topic of oil consumption, it is imperative to distinguish electricity from transportation because approximately 71% of our oil supply fuels transportation.

Lastly, Mann is not wrong to be concerned of costly car conversions and the potential need for new car manufacturing to accommodate abundant replacement fuels. But why not consider fuels that can be easily transported with existing infrastructure, directly used in flex-fuel vehicles with minor engine modifications and blended with gasoline? Most cars that have been produced over the last five years are already capable of being flex-fuel vehicles that can run on ethanol and gasoline.

Related article: Shell Takes the Lead on Natural Gas, Welcomes the Future of Clean Energy

However, to enable the cars to run on multiple fuels, slight modifications to fuel line seals and other parts and computer reprogramming in the vehicle are required. Ethanol and gasoline flex-fuel capable cars could be converted to support a blend of up to 60% methanol by merely replacing fuel system seals and o-rings. Support for higher methanol blends can be achieved by modifying an automobile’s spark tables. Late model year non-flexible fuel cars could be converted to flex-fuel by reprogramming their on-board computers to recognize alcohol fuels. Altogether, there are an estimated 50 million cars and trucks that could be converted to run on ethanol, methanol and gasoline blends. In addition, it is not costly to convert vehicles. Most of the associated costs are for the labor that is required to replace the seals with alcohol-compatible products.

Because the role of government in capitalism is to enable markets, our goal should be simply to facilitate an open market that encourages fuel competition. New businesses will compete, prices will fall and innovations will drive efficiency and quality. How do we know such a transformation is possible? Because it has happened time and again as our free market system has evolved and thrived over hundreds of years. By disregarding the power of competition we are running away from a great opportunity.

By. Zana Nesheiwat

About the author

Contributor
Zana Nesheiwat
Company: Fuel Freedom Foundation

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  • Lampos Clarks on May 17 2013 said:
    I agree with you on alternative fixes will cost less in the long run. Plesse notice that the FFV cars get much less gas mileage than the gasoline vehicles with 10% ethanol. With a hydrogen fuel cell component added with flex fuel gas car that should improve a car's miles per gallon and provide our country with a much needed boost to our economy. In addition, utilizing Ocean current and river current to generate electricity to our power grids would also benefit the entire nation as a whole. According to Ed Wallace, writer in Inside Automotive and talk show host on KLIF 570 in Dallas, America is using 30% less gas through their cars. It is frustrating that gas prices do not reflect that conservation. In addition, If every vehicle would travel 60 to 65 miles per hour instead of 70 to 75, all cars would improve on gas mileage.
  • ngass on May 17 2013 said:
    A typical US view. The car is to be saved. Best to plant corn for producing ethanol than to plant crops to for hungry people.
  • David Hrivnak on May 17 2013 said:
    Please do not forget electric cars. While hard to retrofit if you buy an electric your "fuel"costs drop by 85%. I can easily drive 200 miles on $4 worth of electricity.
  • Ross Ephgrave on May 17 2013 said:
    When is the world going to wake up? Oh yeah, when its too late. Ponder this Oil Price; What almost happened late 2011? Was the US not almost out of corn, your countries main staple? Sitting with only 30 days supply? Your country is in drout, so you come to Canada for water but do not want our "dirty oil" (but only because now is not the right time. You would rather put it on the "back-burner" for a rainy day when you have nothing left to frac).
    We need to move from oil, but converting valuable food to gasoline is not the answer. Neither is using valuable water for fracking, Sag-D oil recovery or the tar-sands. I wish this rat could get off the sinking ship, but it is sinking in quicksand.
  • Zana Nesheiwat on May 17 2013 said:
    "Food" is not the only feedstock that you can use to produce fuel. As I stated, we have an abundant supply of natural gas that many fuels can be derived from, including methanol.

    Also, electric cars are great. . Usually, new technology like EVs, first appear in either specialty cars or in high-end luxury market. It is a slow process, between 10 to 20 years, for that technology to slowly make its way to every vehicle category and every class of consumers. Add to that the 5% – 7% replacement rate (i.e. only 5% – 7% of the car fleet get replaced every year), and we are looking at 30 to 40 years until the impact of that technology is fully felt. We don't have 20 or 30 years to wean off oil.
  • winstongator on May 17 2013 said:
    Ethanol blending is not a real alternative. Growing corn is energy intensive, and that corn can go to other things.

    The bigger impact will be how the overall national fleet economy changes over the next 10 years. You can already see the impact of higher CAFE standards with current offerings: 4-cyl Altima & Mazda6 are 20% more efficient than previous generations. Coupled with less driving, this can deliver serious reductions in oil consumption. Further along will be changes in development and mass transit to reduce consumption.
  • Zana Nesheiwat on May 17 2013 said:
    The CAFE standards require each automaker to produce cars for each model year that average out to a specific number of miles per gallon of gasoline. The standards are intended to gradually improve average fuel economy of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.
    While increasing the required number of miles per gallon can reduce the petroleum consumed per mile of driving, this approach does not incentivize the necessary shift away from the near-exclusive use of petroleum-based fuels.

    There are currently over 250 million registered passenger vehicles on the road in the U.S. By 2035 there are expected to be 300 million. With population increases and more cars on the road, not to mention lower costs associated with fewer gallons, the 35.5 mpg and the 54.5 mpg requirements, which will begin to take effect in 2016 and 2025, respectively, will not substantially make a dent in our oil consumption.
  • jcwink on May 17 2013 said:
    ethanol return on energy in is not good plus it damages engine parts. Ethanol must be a government subsidy idea because the free market would reject it.
  • Metallurgy on May 20 2013 said:
    Says you: We don't have 20 or 30 years to wean off oil.

    Says me: And you know this how? The global warmers 20-30 years ago were saying the same thing.

    They were wrong and so are you.

    Electric cars are a failure. Their batteries pollute the environment and the energy they save doesn't recoup the energy it costs to make them.

    Besides, where are you going to get electricity to charge all these cars while Obama is closing down coal mines and not allowing new Plants to be constructed to meet all this new energy demand? Wind Farms? Yeah, ask the Canadians and Europeans how expensive and disastrous that failed project went.

    For every wind farm you create, you STILL have to back it up with equivalent KWPH of a coal fired power plant for when the wind is NOT blowing, so the power plant has to built on top of the expense of the windmills, transmission lines to the coal fired power plant not to mention heavy maintenance to keep those turbines rotating because they break down all the time.

    Now your so called "green" energy isn't so green is it? You still need to burn coal.

    Ethanol is by no means green either as it takes more energy to produce it than the energy it provides by burning our feed-stock supply and wasting billions of gallons of water to make it.

    None of it is sustainable with out government subsidies because it can't come to market under it's own merit. We are broke and this country cant afford these nonsense alternatives that don't work.

    What a waste of natural resources these insane religious green energy cabal has inflicted on the planet.

    Shame.

    Leave the market to it's own devices and it will get sorted out on it's own. Our dependence on gas ends when their is no more oil period. And that is not going to happen in your lifetime.

    Why? Because you have no education.

    Oil is NOT a "fossil" fuel, it is an "Abiotic" which means it is made naturally by the earth. That's right, it is RENEWABLE and we will NEVER run out.

    Christ, Oil is found BELOW the fossil record.

    There is a formula for making hydrocarbons and oil:

    CaC03 + FeO2 + H2O @2000 F @ 200K psi = hydrocarbons

    or

    Calcium Carobonate + Iron Oxide + Water @ 2000F @ 200K PSI = Hydrocarbon or laymans terms;
    Granite + iron + water @2000 degrees @ 200K psi = oil

    These conditions exist in the Earth's mantle. This has been done in the lab.

    Go back to school and get some education. While your at it, get a refund from the college who taught you this peak oil nonsense.

    Fossil fuel doesn't exist and was branded thus to give "oil" the illusion that it is scarce, which it's not. To say the world will run out of oil is to say we will run out of ocean. It is a ridiculous, preposterous and uneducated statement.

    It is government regulations that make it more expensive and scarce to get out of the ground by forcing oil companies to build oil platforms in deep water rather than the safer and cheaper method of drilling in shallow water. (don't worry, you still won't be able to see them from shore as an ugly eyesore.)

    Obama has banned oil drilling here in the US on National Lands. He only allows drilling on small existing plats that don't have enough oil to make it profitable to extract it from the ground.

    Oil companies are not going to drill on non-productive contracts at a loss!

    My hell, no wonder this country will go bankrupt. That WILL happen in your lifetime young one.

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