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Blog > Where will the last drop go?

Author: Martin Hayes

Estimates of when the world will finally run out of oil vary tremendously and there’s no doubt that one silver lining to the current economic crisis (along with the end of Woolworths) is that supplies of ‘black gold’ will undoubtedly last a few years longer than they might otherwise have done.

But – in 20, 30 or even 50 years time – how will we be using that increasingly precious and no doubt vastly more expensive energy? Well my bet is that the last drops will be used by aviation and goods transport (by truck and ship). They will be the chosen ones since they, above all other transport modes, are going to find it most difficult to substitute other fuels.

City buses, cars, motorbikes, trains – all of these can be powered by other means, much of it electrical energy hopefully from ‘clean’ nuclear sources. But trucks, ships and planes are much more difficult to power alternatively, at least with technology we can see and feel today. Yes, in 40 years time we may all be in a hydrogen society but someone has to yet prove that you can make and store the stuff safely, cleanly and economically. Until then the door is open to other forms of energy production and storage.

Of course there have been many false dawns – the wonder of biofuels being one of the most spectacular. I was more than surprised last week, on a first visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall, which prides itself of its right on PC credentials, to see a lengthy explanation and series of exhibits telling visitors just why biofuels could save the planet. That’ll be the same biofuels, will it, that have proved to be a direct cause of further Amazon deforestation, rising food prices for some of the globe’s poorest residents not to mention howls of anguish from engine makers trying to provide reliable combustion systems to burn the stuff?

Maybe we should all be careful about being too prescriptive about the future beyond oil before we know more about the up – and down - sides of the alternatives available. Meanwhile, Eden Project owners, by all means run your tractors on biofuels (assuming you can get a warranty on them) but do be more honest in your discussion of the issues to simple punters who might just fall for your storyline – and delude themselves as a result.

23rd Feb 09

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