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Thursday, January 12, 2006

David Goodstein lecture at MIT

I just heard David Goodstein give a lecture at MIT. It's a good thing I got there early because the snack table and all available classroom seats were both quickly depleted.
I mean it was packed. People covered all available floor space and stood out in the hallway.

The MIT physics dean read a bio and Goodstein made some joke about the CalTech/MIT school rivalry, which is still a big thing in Cambridge. They also gave a plug for the New Energy Council at MIT.

The main event was an hour lecture and PowerPoint aid by David Goodstein, also titled Out of Gas.

Goodstein tried to be provocative by listing "energy myths"

$2.40 is too much to pay for gasoline
-well duh
oil companies produce oil
-technically, carbon, time, and pressure produce oil
we must conserve or well have energy crisis
-we're going to have one anyway
when we run out of oil, the marketplace will assure that it is replaced
-not fast enough to save us
there's enough fossil fuel to last for hundreds of years
-but hubbert's peak is the problem
nuclear energy is dangerous
-long-term it's safer oil, gas, and coal
the greenhouse effect and global warming are bad
-not intrinsically bad, but humans could soon make earth uninhabitable

Goodstein then gave a brief history of energy.

the caloric theory
law of conservation of energy
potential energy, kinetic energy,
thermal radiation
Count Rumford
Jame Prescott Joule

Goodstein then gave a brief on the Earth's Climate

The Sun Earth System
Tilted Axis
4 Seasons
the El Nino Cycle
The Therohaline Flow

It was like an intro-to-science course and a church-of-reason sermon to the academics.
into the greenhouse effect, etc..

Goodstein then talked about the industrial revolution.

Watt's steam engine started it
Whale oil was popular
blah blah blah

Finally, he got to the good stuff.
"We can no longer live on light from the sun."

He spoke about oil reserves.
"Nobody else counts, only the middle east matters."

He spoke about M King Hubbert and put some curves up. Goodstein then shored up his argument by stating some obvious truths from BP's public data.

"we are using oil faster than we are discovering it"

Then this little old professor dropped the bomb. He put Colin Campbell's famous prediction curve. Peak is here. 2005-2010!

I could tell this made some people in the audience uncomfortable, including the froshman sitting next to me.

Goodstein then proceeded to frighten us.
"mile long lines at the gas station, misery, end of our way of life"

Then he got realistic again. He casually explained the Colin Campbell prediction assumes there is 1.8 trillion barrels in the ground. He says, in recent year we're seeing more like 2 trillion total. That could stretch it off a couple more years.

Then he reminds us it doesn't matter. 10 or 20 years is very little in a historical sense. You have to believe it, coming from a super-old dude like him.

He points out that Kenneth Deffeyes realized M King Hubbert was correct when he saw the 1971 SF Chron headline:

"The Texas Railroad Commission announces a 100% allowable for next month"

And looks what's going on now:

"Saudi Oil is in decline"
New York Time: Feb 24, 2004

Then, in a very deliberate manner, Goodstein explains what this means. Plastics. Medicines. The Green Revolution. And he says: "transportation is the most important application of oil"

He gently reminds us that there are 6.4 Billion to feed. And 5% in America consume a quarter of all energy. He explains the current state-of-the-union of fossil fuels and then spends the remainder of the time talking about what to do about it.

The tar sands are now called oil sands because it attracts more investment.

2 tons of oil sands and a lot of hydrogen are needed to make 1 barrel of oil.
shale oil = not oil = sucks
methane hydrate= nobody knows
you would have to increase the rate of coal production by 5x offset depletion
world's population is increasing
people like to drive cars...

What does the future hold = "There will be an oil crisis very soon"
in 10 or 20 years...

Anthony Lovins, Rocky Mountain inst.
switchgrass, poplar, sugar cane in brazil
ethanol from corn is an energy looser
feebates = you charge a fee to people who burn a lot

Since this is MIT, it wouldn't be complete without technofixes. And the mother of all technofixes is Nuclear Fusion. In David Goodstein opinion "Nuclear is the best."

Goodstein gave a pretty thorough rundown of all the major technofixes and their associated "challenges." The most common "challenge" was simply scale.

we would need 200,000 square Kilometers of photovoltaic
it takes 3-6 gallons of fuel to make equivalent 1 gallon of hydrogen gas
We would need 10,000 gigawat nuclear plants

But we can do these thing. "We understand the basic principles."

What we really need to do is Fusion. Goodstein says "Fusion is our best hope."

And the head of the MIT fusion team gets up and says, not a chance with the current federal funding situation. Goodstein give props to the $250 million Stanford energy program.

Goodstein wrapped up his presentation with a happy thought. Scientists are supposed to make predictions I have a prediction.

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out."

You know I stuck around for Q&A. I wanted to ask about MEOR, but earlier he had said with kind of a groan, "People send me solutions all the time." He seemed like he had heard it all, so I just listened.

The first comment was optimistic. 10,000 new nuclear plants. That's not out of reach. All it would take a couple hundred million per plant. USA got plenty of money.

Then some liberal guy gets uppity with the next question. You are assuming it would be a good idea to keep going with our wasteful lifestyle. blah blah blah I ride a bike blah blah current administration...

All Goodstein had to say to that is "awareness has grown in the last year,
as it becomes more and more true people will conserve fuel."

Finally some guy asks Goodstein do you have a prediction on when a policy shift might occur?

Goodstein says, "I have no prediction, but $2.40 per gallon is not enough."


tkn said...

It's Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute)

chalacuna said...

wether we like it or not, fuel prices will keep on rising. so many factors pointed out which contributes to the crises. the main reason is simply the law of supply and demand.

the major oil players like OPEC are very smart that they are able to control the supply to make an artificial demand.

the best we can do is to conserve fuel by using less or none at all. stay away from those luxury cars..

Hybrid SUV and
Renewable Fuel Source