Please Canada, develop the oil sands of Alberta!

Post ImageI have long thought that we as a country should be investing more money in energy, including properly developing Alberta’s vast oil sands. Canada could become the most important region in the world for oil if we were able to extract it efficiently enough – and while it may not the best for the environment, it would certainly be a welcome change to have the oil capital of the world in a democratic, peaceful place for once. A new report from CIBC World Markets seems to support the idea of developing the oil sands, suggesting it will become the most important source of new oil by 2010:

Alberta will sit on one of the most valuable energy sources in the world by that time, and one of the few still open to private investment, said Jeff Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets, the bank’s wholesale banking arm.

He added that conventional oil production around the world apparently peaked in 2004.

Energy companies are finding new oil, but most of it will come from non-conventional sources. Ocean oil rigs are the primary source of new oil today, with Alberta’s oil sands tomorrow, with expansion projects rivaling those of Saudi Arabia.

If we were able to properly develop the oil sands, without ceding too much control to the United States, Canada could become very rich, and the world would have oil for longer than is currently projected. This means two things would happen; first, the push for alternative energy sources may be slightly delayed and second, Canada could use its new wealth to invest in those alternative energy sources to be prepared for the time when no more oil can be extracted. If we sit back and choose not to increase production, the world will shift to other sources of energy more quickly, and we might one day be left with a bunch of useless oil, or at least, much less valuable oil.

One of the problems with the oil sands is that our technology is not good enough to efficiently extract the oil on a large scale. There has been some progress, but not enough. So how do we solve that problem?

  • We could just hope that Syncrude, Suncor, and the other companies involved figure it out.
  • The Canadian government itself could hire lots of researchers, engineers, chemists, whoever it takes, to try and improve the technology.
  • Canada could sponsor a research competition, kind of like NASA or DARPA’s popular programs in the United States. Challenge people to develop the most efficient, least harmful process for extracting oil from the oil sands. This is probably the best way to get some quick, meaningful innovation.

The point is that problems are not insurmountable.

There are lots of people who want Alberta to be the only one to profit from our reserves, but I don’t think there’s any reason that Alberta cannot be properly compensated and still have the entire country benefit. We don’t want Trudeau’s NEP, but we do need a national policy that recognizes Alberta and benefits all.

Unfortunately, our political parties do not seem that interested in developing such a policy. Vitality Magazine has a good round up of the “green” platforms the parties have announced for Monday’s election. There are quite a few mentions of alternative energy sources, but no mention of the oil sands. I think if we’re serious about alternative energy, we need to invest a lot of money into it, and what better way to obtain that much money than by fully exploiting the oil sands?

The oil sands offer our country very unique possibilities for the future. Let’s do something with the oil sands and take advantage of those possibilities!

(For more information, read these notes I took during a September 2005 conference that included some discussion on Canada, the oil sands, and the need for a national policy on energy.)

H2N-Gen

Post ImageHow would you like to make your car more efficient? I know I would, given the current cost of oil. We’ve seen prices drop a little in the last week or two, but nothing significant. That’s why the H2N-Gen looks incredibly cool:

Basically, the H2N-Gen contains a small reservoir of distilled water and other chemicals such as potassium hydroxide. A current is run from the car battery through the liquid. This process of electrolysis creates hydrogen and oxygen gases which are then fed into the engine’s intake manifold where they mix with the gasoline vapours.

It’s a scientific fact that adding hydrogen to a combustion chamber will cause a cleaner burn. The challenge has always been to find a way to get the hydrogen gas into the combustion chamber in a safe, reliable and cost-effective way.

Just how much better does this device make your fuel consumption?

Most internal combustion engines operate at about 35 per cent efficiency. This means that only 35 per cent of the fuel is fully burned. The rest either turns to carbon corroding the engine or goes out the exhaust pipe as greenhouse gases.

The H2N-Gen increases burn efficiency to at least 97 per cent, Williams said. This saves fuel and greatly reduces emissions.

That would be some pretty significant savings! Savings that would make you go, “sign me up!” And the really great thing about it is that no hydrogen is stored on board – it is “just in time” manufactured.

Some other information on the device: it’s a Canadian invention, it is supposed to last ten years, can be attached to any internal combustion engine (diesel, gasoline, propane), and should cost around $7500. If this thing is for real, it could really change up the way things work – both the oil and vehicle industries would be greatly affected.

Read: Montreal Gazette

Locking gas caps!

Post ImageHow can you tell that gas prices are far too high? Well, you might spit coffee all over the dash when you drive up to the pump and see the price, or you might be checking prices on one of those converters that makes your car burn restaurant grease as fuel. Or, you might even be ordering a locking gas cap:

The word from Pittsburgh is that auto parts suppliers are rapidly selling out of locking gas caps, which were originally invented in the 30s because of gas thefts during the Great Depression. Buyers are reporting their gas tanks have been siphoned, or that they want to head off potential siphoning due to ever-rising gas prices. Some stores are having difficulty getting more units in stock from manufacturers.

There was a similar little article in today’s Dose too. Are people really siphoning gas, or is this a little bit of Pimp My Ride? I mean gas prices are so high, what’s another few dollars on a locking gas cap right?

Read: Engadget

Oil prices will go higher

Post ImageDriving to work earlier today, I noticed that some gas stations have raised prices again, this time to 102.9. I have never seen gas prices so high, and I never thought I would. I remember a few years ago when a litre of gas cost less than half what it does today. And the worst news of all? Oil prices are going to keep rising.

If you think I’m joking, read this Economist.com article. It does an excellent job of explaining things:

So far, however, the effect of higher prices has been surprisingly muted. Gas-guzzling America has seen GDP grow at a brisk clip, far outstripping many of its daintier peers in the rich world. Though high oil prices are contributing to America’s surging (and unsustainable) current-account deficit, they do not seem to be worrying consumers, who have kept on spending.

In part, this is because the oil-price records are an illusion, brought about by inflation. While nominal prices are at record levels, in real (inflation-adjusted) terms they are still well below those seen in the wake of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, when the cost of a barrel of oil hovered around $90 in today’s dollars (see chart). Consumers are better-off now—in 1980, the median personal income in America was $16,800 (in 2003 prices), versus $22,700 in 2003—and economies are more fuel-efficient. Both of these things should cushion the shock of higher prices.

There are other factors to consider too. During the hostage crisis, OPEC deliberately kept prices higher than the market could bear – but it backfired. We became more fuel efficient as a result, something OPEC would not want to do again. There’s a theory though, that they have lost the control required to keep prices artificially high anyway:

With the exception of Saudi Arabia, its producers are pumping as much as they can—and Saudi excess capacity is in heavy crude that is harder to refine into the cleaner fuels demanded by rich countries. OPEC made a great show of raising its members’ combined quotas to 28m barrels per day (bpd) in June. But thanks to rampant cheating, they were already pumping at least that much, and possibly as much as 30m bpd, making OPEC’s promises little more than a carefully staged bit of public relations.

There is an excellent Wikipedia article covering the current increase in oil prices, complete with breakdowns of demand and supply, and some excellent charts. It too, says the worst is yet to come:

While oil prices are considerably higher than a year ago, they are still far from exceeding the inflation-adjusted peak set in 1980.

There are lots of people talking about the gas prices, obviously. The number eight search on Technorati right now is gas prices. And over on Flickr, you can check out some of the prices around the world as people take pictures and post them.

Here in Edmonton, you can keep an eye on gas prices at EdmontonGasPrices.com. And if you think it’s time to park the car, the ETS website is http://www.takeets.com.

Read: Economist.com

China's Next Cultural Revolution

Think we’re advanced with our hybrid electric cars? Think again, and read the hook for a new article in Wired: “The People’s Republic is on the fast track to become the car capital of the world. And the first alt-fuel superpower.”

China has a both a huge problem and a huge advantage over Western nations when it comes to energy sources. The big problem of course is the gigantic population. A population as big as China’s, which is expcted to hit 1.5 billion by 2030, means that “pollution-related illness will suck up as much as 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product” by the same time. Rising GDP means that more families have disposable income and thus money to spend on cars, seen as a sort of status symbol much like North America of a few decades ago. The big advantage of course, is that China lacks an entrenched energy industry.

For hydrogen powered cars to work in North America, one has to deal with the oil companies. They don’t want to see the combustion engine go – that’s their bread and butter. China doesn’t have such an industry. There are no oil companies to deal with. They could very well leapfrog the entire combustion engine era and go straight to alternative fuel automobiles. And that’s probably a good thing for the rest of the world too because as Yang Yiyong, the deputy director of the Institute of Economic Research says, “If you pump for oil, you have to fight wars for it.” China is already the world’s second largest oil consumer after the United States, so anything to avoid confrontation between the two when reserves run low is a good thing.

And in North America, clean fuel sources are being developed out of interest and a desire by a relatively select few to protect the environment. In China, the same technologies are being “created by people desperate enough to imagine it.” There’s a big difference there, and I think that’s the reason China will become the world’s alt-fuel superpower.

Read: Wired