Make More Oil

Oil takes a long time to make, so we should start making more now. When we strip mine for coal, we will eventually want to fill those holes back in. We should fill them in with plant waste and cover with rocks. Besides starting the oil-making process, this will help sequester carbon. Later generations will thank us. (Actually I have no idea whether this would actually start making oil, but there may be something along these lines which would.)


  1. fche said,

    May 21, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    Unless human slave labour becomes widely available again, this may simply burn more oil to stuff caves with dead stuff than the dead stuff might end up producing … some millions of years later.

  2. etbe said,

    May 21, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

    At the moment we don’t really know what exactly happens to produce oil. It’s generally regarded that some combination of pressure, temperature, and time will do it.

    Covering with just any old rocks isn’t going to work either, the areas that have oil reserves have particular types of rock that catch oil. I believe that it tends to be layers of sedimentary rocks composed of fine particles that have been bent by tectonic plate movement to form catchment areas, also some permeable rocks are required to allow the oil to migrate to areas where it can be mined.

    Storing biological materiel to prevent CO2 escaping has been suggested in the past, so this isn’t a new idea. But given the lack of success in finding suitable sites for carbon-geo-sequestration for coal power plants I am sceptical of the long-term benefits of this.

    There are however ways of making fuel from biological waste, any animal matter or oily plant matter can have oil extracted with a suitable combination of heat and pressure (see the above article for details). Also work continues on breeding yeast suitable for making alcohol from plant waste.

    It seems that producing fuel closer to where it will be used by thermal depolymerisation will add some efficiency into the process while also disposing of some of the waste and reducing the need to drill for oil. This can be used to help avoid or alleviate the collapse that is approaching.

  3. ncm said,

    May 21, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

    I ask for plastic bags at the grocery store, and sequester the carbon in them in landfills. If they didn’t make that bit of oil into plastic, they’d make it into fuel instead, and eject it into the atmosphere. Paper sequesters carbon for only a short time unless you can keep it from rotting, but it’s produced from carbon actually extracted from the atmosphere. If you can sequester the paper you handle for a half-century or so in the basement, you’re better than neutral. I know people who have a several-decade jump on us, that way.

  4. rdb said,

    May 21, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

    If the attempts to create Terra Preta soils with biochar improve productivity work for enough soil types, without reducing initial soil carbon, then it should be a better investment.

    Russell, the CSIRO people at the Melbourne Conversations “Energy and Climate Change: science and technology for
    Australia’s future – Non-Renewable Energy – coal, gas, nuclear” seemed confident that there are plenty of sites for injecting Yallourn’s CO2 output – that it’s a small matter of engineering. They were also confident that if it’s put in deep enough to stay liquified, that it wouldn’t be back up – gradual incorporating into the rock.
    (Victoria’s base load electricity is from brown coal with ~%40 extra CO2 over black coal power plants).

  5. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    May 21, 2008 @ 9:55 pm

    I really have to thank y’all for notes that are much better thought out than my actual post.

  6. ncm said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 12:51 am

    rdb: While investigating your assertion about brown coal (evidently you have to burn more of it to get the same power out because you’re wasting much of its heat content vaporizing the water in it) I discovered boron nitride, an amazing substance.

  7. etbe said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 4:11 am
    rdb: I have previously blogged about geo-sequestration (see the above URL). In summary wind and solar power is not much more expensive than current coal power, so geo-sequestration needs to be cheap to compete. Piping the CO2 any distance is expensive, so they need to put it somewhere close to power stations. FutureGen is planning for full-scale “clean-coal” in 2022, I don’t think that we can wait that long to try and mitigate the environmental damage.

    Another issue we have in Australia is a shortage of water (caused by climate change). Water is used in coal fired power plants and the water shortage has already increased wholesale electricity prices (thus making wind and solar power more financially appealing).

    CO2 doesn’t get gradually incorporated into rock, if that was the case then it wouldn’t be leaking out in Mammoth Mountain and that lake in the Cameroon.

    The coal advocates suggest that we should be confident in something which has never been properly tested and ignore technologies that have worked well for 30+ years.

    Terra Preta is a good thing, but that’s not in exclusion to other things. The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is going to cause us serious problems (the arctic ice melt is already a significant problem), we need to reduce it. I don’t think it’s possible to have Terry Preta even match the current CO2 emission levels, let along exceed them to reduce the CO2 levels.

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