Monday, May 14, 2012

Need to review how long we can go with fossil fuels.

Alternative energy sources, advantages and drawbacks.

Aqil Khan   
Need to review how long we can go with fossil fuels.

Current human world population is 6.69 billion, and keeps on increasing specially in Asian countries. By 2050, global demand for energy could double, driven by a rising population which is expected to reach 9 billion. Even with intense investment in all energy sources - from oil and natural gas, to bio-fuels, nuclear power, solar and wind - it will be extremely tough for the world to keep pace with rising demand.

Pakistan is currently the sixth most densely populated country in the world and is on its way to having the fourth largest population by 2050. Energy consumption would be four times what is used in Pakistan today. Finding new sources of energy is vital to keep pace with demand and fueling economic progress.  

Fossil fuels:
As we know, there are three major forms of fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. Need to be discussed, the sources where they came from and how fast we are consuming them and how long we can go with fossil fuel, is important to save our future.  Fossil fuel were formed many hundreds of millions of years ago before the time of the dinosaurs called the Carboniferous Period.

Importance of knowledge on Geological history of formation of Fossil Fuels.

In case of oil and Gas deposits, to improve reservoir predictability, it requires a better understanding of the complex depositional environment and facies, the structural control on sedimentation and subsequent trapping interval and the effects of the inter-bedded volcanic deposits on reservoir characteristics (detail discussion is beyond the objective of the heading however a little awareness of it among the youth is the need of time).
So in case of Coal, without detailed knowledge of Geological history of formation of specific coal deposit, any attempt of extraction and its onward utilization may lead to miss-planning and cause failure or delay of project and extended loss of money.(e.g the geology and quality of coal deposits of USA and Australia are different from the various coal deposits of Russia, China or India ).

let us share the information about our home the Earth( Pakistan cannot remain isolated).The earth was different in the distant past due to plate tectonics and all the continents were once all together forming a Super continent PANGEA .

Related Videos:

Earth's continents during the Carboniferous Period were arranged differently than they are today which can be observed from above video.
 Coal Beds of the Carboniferous Period:
How the World Looked when they were Deposited

Early  coal deposits of the world which underwent geological and chemical changes with the continental drift.
Brief about Carboniferous Period:

Carboniferous period occurred from about 360 to 286 million years ago. At the time, the land was covered with swamps filled with huge trees, ferns and other large leafy plants.

The water and seas were filled with algae - the green stuff that forms on a stagnant pool of water shown below. Algae is actually millions of very small plants.

The above photo is specifically chosen to bring to light the current Algae-based bio-fuel technology discussed below.

Some deposits of coal can be found during the time of the dinosaurs, during the late Cretaceous Period (65 million years ago).

But the main deposits of fossil fuels are from the Carboniferous Period.

i)Formation of Oil and Gas Deposits:

 Petroleum source rocks formed at sea, usually in mud that washed offshore (forming shale) or in limestone. A thick rain of dead plank tonic algae adds organic remains to this sediment.

Oil and gas started out as tiny organisms in ancient, shallow seas. Over millions of years, the remains of these organisms piled up. As layer upon layer of sediment accumulated and consolidated, the resulting pressure gradually created a type of sedimentary rock known as oil shale. A lot of oil shale can be found in the world today and it is possible to distill oil from these rocks. However, extraction of oil from oil shale is expensive.

Before dead organic matter becomes petroleum or gas it exists as a material called kerogen. Kerogen ( l / ll) is a family of solid terrestrial sedimentary materials essentially made of C, H and O interlocked in a disordered, more or less aliphatic, structure. 

With time in the ground, kerogen matures into an assortment of hydrocarbon molecules of all sizes and weights. The lightest (smallest) hydrocarbon molecules waft away as natural gas, and the heavier (larger) ones make up an oily liquid.

In some places, oil in the shale migrated out and gradually floated upwards through water-saturated layers of sedimentary rock. Whenever that oil reached an impervious surface that prevented further movement, an oil (petroleum) deposits were formed like under Arab Peninsula. Most of the oil and gas we extract come from such deposits.

An educational animation explaining the formation of a oil deposit.
Related  video:

Jim Conors, Professor at the University of South Alabama, discusses the occurrence of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico

ii) Formation of Coal Deposits:
Coal is similar to oil in that it originally came from living organisms. In the case of coal, though, those living organisms were plants in marshy areas.

Over time, the decayed plants created a layer of peat, which is a soft spongy material. Over millions of years, sediment covered the peat and pressure and temperature gradually converted it to coal.

In both the above settings of Oil/ Gas or Coal, the mixture is buried under conditions of no atmospheric oxygen.

Oil, Gas and Coal are called “ fossil” fuels because they came from the remains of ancient plants and plankton(microscopic organisms).

We are using up the fossil fuels that took more than 300 million years to form. Once they are gone they are gone and are not renewable within a human life span. Therefore, once we consume all the available deposits there will be none left for future generations.

As per recent report dated March 2012

Thar Coal Deposits:
The above plot is needed to be modified. Pakistan’s Thar coal deposits have not been included in the above reserves of coal which have been estimated as total of 175 billion tons, accomplishment of which Pakistanis are awaiting for quite a long time, need to be discussed separately.

Shale Gase reserves:
Worldwide Shale Gase reserves including Pakistan’s 50 trillion cubic feet of Shale gas reserves, have already been brought to light. Please refer the following link.

Country vise Proven & Unproven Fossil Fuel Energy Reserves.

Canadian Oil sands or tar sands Reserves:
Oil sands, or tar sands as the Canadians call them, are sedimentary rocks and sands that contain very thick, almost solid petroleum.
The US has no oil sands, almost all of the world's deposits are in Canada, specifically Alberta and Saskatchewan. Currently, they are mining these and this is where Canada gets most of their oil from today. The oil sands have resources of over 12 trillion barrels and place Canada second (barely) behind the Saudi's.

Canada Tar sands reserves:

 Uncertainties in estimated reserves and resources.

There are uncertainties in estimated reserves and resources, some of which may not be economically recoverable with current technologies and energy prices like under mentioned.

As per reports there are probably oil and gas reserves under the Antarctic continent but the Antarctic Treaty forbids drilling. Energy hungry nations on the other side are moving north. About a quarter of all oil reserves are said to lie north of the Arctic Circle .

 Artic’ methane gas  Alaska:
Arctic's crude oil resrves
Methane Hydrates:

Methane the Undersea fuel of the future:

World current energy consumption by source.  “Renewables” are solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass. Data from the BP Statistical Review. 

BP Energy Outlook 2030 - Global Energy Future Trends.
London January 2012.

It identifies long-term energy trends, building on Statistical Review of World Energy, and then develops projections for world energy markets to 2030, taking account of the potential evolution of the world economy, policy, and technology. Pakistan cannot remain isolated. 

Total global Electricity production by source is shown in Figure below. World electricity production by fuel type. Renewables (defined by AGW activists as solar-, geothermal-, wind-, and biomass-generated electricity, but not hydroelectricity) are 2.7% of the total electricity use. Data from National Geographic. 


The human being would have to use the above mentioned huge amount of fossil fuels in the period started from industrial revolution 1850 to 2050 in order to develop and convert into a current high tech. society and then the role of fossil fuel seems to be diminishing and will almost be finished by 2100.

Because fossil fuels are nonrenewable, the price for oil, gas, coal and other natural resources will naturally further rise in future as supplies begin to diminish, making things worse which can be now severely felt in countries like Pakistan.

 The human has to find new resources of renewable and cleaned energy to survive on the planet Earth that should be long lasting.

Circular debt and line losses are the biggest problems of Pakistan which ultimately contribute to the increasing load-shedding. Why Circular debt keeps on increasing, needs to be discussed separately.

To preserve a good future for young people and future generations, short or no time has left for Pakistan, heavily depends on expensive imports.

Alternative Options, Advantages and Drawbacks.

1) Bio-fuels:

Bio-fuels can be produced from any biological carbon source. It involves absorbing the energy of the sun to grow biological material and then harvesting that material for fuel. Trees, switch grass, sugar cane, grain, root crops, palm oil, animal fats, algae or bacteria have all been proposed or used as fuel biomass.
 There are merits and demerits depending on agriculture for fuel. Will its use displace food crops? Can growing biomass improve and reclaim agricultural land?

 If bio-fuel is to be used as a renewable fuel then the energy used to manufacture it, should be less than the fuel supplies to an end user. There needs to be a net gain in energy, otherwise it is no longer renewable. Some of the limitations of using biomass are: how much Biomass is being used around the world and to what extent it can meet human needs.

However Algae bio-fuel is something that is currently receiving lot of attention and Americans consider this as one of the most promising bio-fuel technologies that would significantly reduce their dependence on fossil fuels in future.

Algae are naturally growing organisms and are very diverse in nature. Different algae strains have different properties. Since the major concern is to choose such an algae strain which is easily available in the location, can multiply easily at the prescribed location and has maximum quantity of lipid/oil content in it so that it can be used to produce biodiesel. Algae absorb carbon dioxide and nutrients from the water and make oil out of their biomass, while producing oxygen. Algae are single cell organisms and they reproduce by dividing themselves into two cells, grow bigger and divide again.

Since algae growth needs large amounts of sunlight, brackish water and carbon dioxide. Those conditions are typical in the costal regions that makes algae the best long-term feedstock for biodiesel.

Bio fuels from Algae:
President Obama announces Algae projects:
Related Videos;

 The following video provides the introductory information about algae and shows the involvement of US youth in national energy programs ( Algae narrated by Noah Engel, Wydown Middle School in St. Louis).

In the USA, Aurora and Sapphire and Exon Mobile are putting millions and millions into algae research and also Australians at James Cook University of Queensland spending millions on Algae research. Both USA and Australia have vast  land so they do not have the restriction of depletion of agricultural land. They both are going to make some great break through in Algae Bio Technology to produce Bio fuels soon. Let us share the information presented in following Videos ( Please skip the adds if any).

Bio fuels from Algae Project in USA.

High Density Vertical BioReactor USA.

Algae Research and Development Facility at James Cook University Townsville Queensland Australia.

Turning algae into Oil the NASA way.

2) Solar Energy:
Sunlight is a widespread source of energy that is free and available to everyone. Solar Energy is also renewable and non-polluting. So why isn’t everybody using solar energy right now?

 Solar Fastest Growing Industry in America

As per report by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory USA, states that the price for switching to solar in the U.S. has, on average, decreased dramatically through 2010 and the first half of 2011. Solar advocates applaud these findings as the latest indicator that solar is ready to power America’s new energy economy..


Thin film photovoltaic cell ( low-cost ) has lower conversion efficiency than that of traditional high price crystalline silicon (polysilicon) photovoltaic cell.

New Efficient Designs in Solar Panels have been introduced:

SolarBeam Concentrator - Parabolic Solar Concentrator Dish.

 German policy obout Solar Power.
Despite the great potential of Solar PV, current cost and efficiency of solar panels makes them green for rich countries, up till now expensive, alternative to conventional ways of generating electricity, such as Coal, Gas and Oil operated power plants, as well as Nuclear and Hydro electricity, which is obvious from the under mentioned plot.


The above comparative cost analysis plot is one year old but still can be used effectively for our ongoing discussion to reach a conclusion. Specifically when one consider the required investments for really massive scale photo-voltaic, one come up to  the conclusion that this is a very long shot. The energy investment to build photo-voltaic cells shouldn’t be underestimated. For small scale it is not very pertinent, but if we think of scales in the order of many Mega Watts it becomes a constraint.

The above data is not showing the true reflection of the per capita income of  95% of Pakistanis which is less than $ 1000.

The limitation for Pakistan to take on solar energy in national grid is the above low per capita income of below average Pakistanis who could not afford high energy bills like citizens of USA or GERMANY. The electricity bills in Germany are almost double than USA but are still affordable for average German citizen.

Cost/kw/hr and payback periods.

 The main obstacle that is holding the wide-spread of solar PV is the long ROI (return on investment) that in some situations (like Pakistan) may exceed 20 years.

3) Wind Energy.

Wind energy is undeniably one of the cleanest forms of producing power from a renewable source. There is no pollution; there is no burning of fossil fuels. But it’s not like we can erect a wind turbine anywhere and it will start generating power for us.

Fundamental factors:

Both the speed and force of the wind are the essential deciding factors to determine the available potential of a country or region for wind power.

 For example ,the North Sea region of Europe offers the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the winds that come off of the sea and for countries like UK, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and Poland etc. are all at the ideal setting as the wind literally never stops blowing. They can use wind power as their efficient source of Power which can be observed from the following  wind classes data of Europe.

It is considered on safe side to invest that wind should have to be minimum 17mph strong to produce energy efficiently in a wind turbine.

1 mile =  1604.344 meters
1 hr = 3600 sec
17 Mph= ( 1604.344 * 17 ) / 3600 =  7.576 m/s

Different regions have different wind speeds. We can gather the available wind dynamics data from below mentioned link, to calculate roughly how effective will be the wind of a particular region.

The best site for wind in Asia are found in Taiwan, Japan and main land China.
In view of the data of wind speed from above link, the potential of wind energy in Pakistan is nominal but can be utilized by taking into account all the factors have been mentioned.
Cost of commercial turbines:

Apart from above essential factor, the other factors influence the cost of commercial turbines are:

Ø  Location where the wind turbine will be installed
Ø  Type of wind turbine
Ø  Capacity of wind turbine
Ø  Construction of tower
Ø  Operational cost
Ø  Maintenance required
Ø  Warranty period
Ø  Transportation cost
Ø  Payback period

Major components of  Wind Turbine Generators (various models and size ranges)
Related Video:
It is reported that most of the wind energy is available at high altitude so the developed counties where  higher wind power is available have started installing large capacity turbines.

Following Video showing the delivery and erection of a large wind turbine tower and blades at Haswell Moor.


Ø  Wind stops blowing and Its availability is variable, and cannot be counted upon to fulfill consistent demand.

Ø  For lesser windy regions, small turbines in large number and huge farm lands are  required  to set up a wind mill.

Ø  Constant threat for the birds due to the spinning blades specially to the migrating birds.

Birds and Wind Turbines:

Ø  Wind turbines are quite noisy.

Ø  As per recent information, a wind turbine costs around 2 million dollars to install one megawatt capacity. This is comparatively higher than other sources.

Wind Turbines Accidents:

Stronger wind is considered good for electricity production. But the speed of wind should not be too strong or above 50 mph because it makes turbines spin too fast and in this process it commits suicide.

Turbine blades get ripped off by stronger winds – excessive heat damages the alternator.
Wind Turbine Blade Failure UK after a storm in Cornwall.

Turbine evidently hits tower caused by high winds

 Wind turbine suffers a brake failure and collapses near Hornslet, Denmark

A wind turbine of $3 million, went on fire during the high winds Hurricane in December 2011 near Ardrossan Scotland UK.

Because of  nominal wind potential in Pakistan, it will require years & years to get some benefits of wind energy but may loose investment in few hours of storm as mentioned below.
Cyclone Report Asifa Karachi by Ulfat Bukhari 11 6 11
Dust Storm to Continue in Sindh & Baloachistan- 20 Mar 2012

(Options of Thar Coal utilization and Nuclear Energy need to be discussed separately).

The objective of the ongoing discussion is to reach a conclusion where to invest so that a below average or a low income Pakistani could get long lasting benefits.

Ø Fossil fuels are considered non-renewable resources because their replenishment rate is extremely low relative to their consumption rate, due to their millions of years of generation time as discussed above. However on going Thar coal projects and Shale Gas reserves need to be expedited.
Ø  Currently expansive Solar energy does not permit Pakistan to take it on to the national grid; however the private housing societies and luxury apartment schemes may be given incentives to install solar panels at their own to promote the inflow of technology in Pakistan.

Ø   As drastic advancements in Solar technology are being introduced, for any Govt. Solar project, prior accepting any bid , in-depth market survey of available  technologies may be carried out and supplier may be allowed on turnkey basis with future maintenance warrantee.

Ø  In view of the data of wind speed from the following link, the potential of wind   energy in Pakistan is nominal but can be utilized by taking into account all the factors have been mentioned above.

Ø  We have vast Ocean and plenty of sunlight in Pakistan. We have conditions to promote the algae technologies in enormous areas at onshore and under Ocean the way  like NASA which doesn’t compete with agricultural land. By growing algae, the production of algae bio-fuel can decrease the need for fossil fuels, and expensive foreign oil.

Ø  At an early research stage for algae, Departments of Bio- Engineering and Chemical Engineering of Various Engineering Universities of Pakistan may be assigned this task as joint venture with Pakistan Navy for focusing on the physics, chemistry, and microbiology of the process, to make it commercially viable energy source in Pakistan.

Ø  Pakistan has a vast Ocean all along the Arabian sea. Expeditions may be organized in conjunction with  Pakistan Navy to explore the Methane Hydrates in our legitimate Oceans which might become a source of self sustain fuel supplies for the industrial/ domestic use.

Ø  However the exploitation of available fossil fuels resources  and production of renewable and clean energy, may be considered as a part of our short term planning  and will be insufficient to fulfill the future needs of Pakistan.  In order to become a green and industrial prosperous country, a long lasting and economically viable energy solution is to be sought out.