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Ballard Power Systems Inc. Message Board

  • EBKennel EBKennel Dec 16, 2005 10:15 PM Flag

    OT: Petroleum

    I don't know how pertinent this is to BLDP or fuel cells or alternative energy, but I'll pass this along...
    Recently I've been visiting petroleum companies, because I'm trying to find someone to sponsor research and development on coal-derived fuels. It's been a tough sell, even though the place I work at has developed a very inexpensive and idiotically simple way to produce clean fuels from coal. I've talked to a number of petroleum engineers recently, though I wouldn't say that I can present a representative survey of all petroleum engineers, just a snapshot of a few.
    Anyway, the junior engineers that I have met seem to have a consensus view that their refineries will be booked solid with petroleum for at least 10-15 years. They believe that we HAVE entered an age of scarcer petroleum, but they believe that higher prices will permit refineries to obtain more crude, shortage or no. They will just drill deeper and obtain lousier sources of crude than they now are willing to settle for, or so they believe.
    None of the guys I know in the industry feel that coal-to-gasoline or coal-to-diesel will be needed in a market-driven economy, at least for the next decade. They do think that the politicians may mandate more domestic sourcing, and that would be the reason to use coal-derived fuels.
    If synthetic fuels are beyond their time horizon, then hydrogen is farther yet. I challenged them on their thinking. Hey, don't they read USA Today? A gasoline shortage is coming! Well, they just kind of laugh and suggest I go back and study first year economics. Ha, ha, very funny.
    But as far as the hydrogen economy is concerned, it has already arrived at most refineries in the US. Hydro-cracking (as opposed to simple distillation of sweet crudes) is a tremendous growth industry in view of the fact that refiners are having to work with heavy, sour crudes rather than the sweet crudes they used to get years ago.
    I will admit to being shaken up a little by the universal confidence that the petroleum guys seem to have in the longevity of the Petroleum Age. However, for the record, I still think that they are wrong, and that alternate energy of some kind (whether fuel cells or synthetic fuels or whatever) will be needed in the next few years. Imho, the petroleum companies can feed their refineries with higher priced crude only to a certain point. But if crude petroleum prices start to rise faster than coal prices, then coal-derived liquids are going to find their way to the refineries.
    I also think that natural gas is in an even worse situation than petroleum, and we may see synthetic natural gas before synthetic petroleum.
    Anyway, that's what things look like from my tiny vantage point, for what it's worth (or not).

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    • EBKennel,
      I think that the petroleum engineer point of view shows that peak oil (really peak light crude) will not be the big crisis that some predict. Higher prices for gasoline will lead to a drop in consumption (I heard that 2 wheel vehicle sales shot up when the price of gasoline went over $3.00). Giving plenty of time to switch to Coal to liquid and/or bio fuel or hybrids or BEVs or Plug-in hybrids or maybe even h2 or h2 FCVs. I think that petroleum engineer/ oil companies are wise to not move to before we are sure that we have reached peak oil because we do not know when it will hit. Consider the losses the oil companies would have taken had they moved to alternatives like coal to liquid in the 1970s.


      EBKennel I am curious about why the methods that are used to for coal to liquid are not used for biomass to liquid. Is it just that the biological methods are much more efficient? Or is it that the biological methods can be done on a smaller scale?

      Thanks for the post I trust information from industry insiders much more that from authors and lectuters, who want to sell books and lectures.

      • 3 Replies to jwogdn
      • "I think that the petroleum engineer point of view shows that peak oil (really peak light crude) will not be the big crisis that some predict."
        Well, I have a slightly different interpretation. While I respect the opinions of the petroleum guys I have met, I still don't agree with them. I still think that the demand for hydrocarbons is going to increase dramatically due to economic development in India and China. At some point refinery capacity is going to outstrip the supply of crude petroleum, and at that point I think you are going to see the use of lower quality feeds like coal. Looking at it another way, the petroleum companies are fatter now than they ever have been. Although they didn't cause the hurricanes, they did benefit from the temporary imbalance in supply and demand. Most of the oil companies had their most successful quarters ever. So they are not motivated (at least not by market forces) to change the status quo. I don't think they are really going to be very pro-active to help solve the energy problem, whether by hydrogen fuel cells or synfuels or anything in between. The tentative conclusion is that the production of alternate fuels may need to be done outside of the normal petroleum refinery system (for example, using Fischer-Tropsch which produces a finished product rather than a refinable crude; or in a modified chemical plant). Market forces seem to direct the petroleum companies to simply exhaust our existing supply as quickly as possible, which is probably not in the public interest (gee, I am starting to sound like a liberal economist, aren't I?).

        "I am curious about why the methods that are used for coal to liquid are not used for biomass to liquid." What methods are those? As far as I know CTL methods can also be used with biomass.

      • Ah jwogdn, remember your dear old hybrids will only be 10% of the market in 2030, not much of a market is it then for them there hybrids, Eh!! LOL.

    • Hey EBKennel

      Thanks for your post about your observations concerning the Petroleum Industry. I wish that we actually had Petroleum Engineers posting on this message board. If they are ,they are being very discrete. However,even if they were posting,very few readers of this board would believe them or even understand their messages. There has been so much misinformation posted about the Petroleum Industry on this board,it is pathetic.

      I am not a Petroleum Engineer,but from my past,I was fortunate to have been involved with consulting engineering and construction projects for oil companies{domestic and foreign}. I learned that these large oil companies had layers and layers of engineering experts pertaining to all engineering facets of their industry. One thing for sure that that all these companies have in common and that is a very strong use of ECONOMICS when they make billion dollar capitol spending decisions.

      I find it very useful to read the Petroleum Industry links when I want to know what is REALLY happing in the Petroleum Industry{rig counts,refinery expansions and such}.Here is a good link to learn more about the Petroleum Industry.There are many other links but I do not recommend links to USA,CBS for learning what is really happing in the Petroleum Industry.

      Recently when we were bombarded with the misinformation about the obscene profits that the oil companies were making,a quick check of the Real Data,would have shown:Earnings in cents per dollars of sales for the Banking Industry is 19.6 cents:for the Petroleum Industry-- 7.7 cents:All US Industry--7.9 cents.
      Yet due to the disinformation and because of the greed of our politicians,there is a movement to confiscate the profits from the oil companies and redistribute the monies to some vote buying political schemes.

      The bottom line is that these big oil companies spend billions of dollars on projects after they have well researched the technology and most certainly the ECONOMICS of the project

      • 3 Replies to green4603
      • Hey Green!
        I agree with your observations about the petroleum industry and the people who work in it...depending on who you talk to, you might get the idea that people who work for the oil companies are vampires or something. My experience has been that they are intelligent, honest, hardworking people, like anyone else, and I think they are decent enough to tell me what they really think. I'm hoping to visit a few other oil companies in the next few weeks, because I'm hopeful that I will encounter at least one that has a more bullish attitude about the need for alternative energy. But so far I've been surprised to find that a lot of respectable engineers, scientists and businesspeople are telling me that they do not expect to have excess refining capacity in the US until after 2020.

      • "" pathetic ""

        You certainly are, my hat goes off to Bernice, what a life with you "" pathetic ""!! LOL.

      • Gee...greenie an oil industry shill as well...who would of thunk it? LOL!

        <<I find it very useful to read the Petroleum Industry links when I want to know what is REALLY happing in the Petroleum Industry{rig counts,refinery expansions and such}.Here is a good link to learn more about the Petroleum Industry.There are many other links but I do not recommend links to USA,CBS for learning what is really happing in the Petroleum Industry.>>

        So when you want to know what is REALLY happening in the fuel cell industry do you look to the fuel cell industry? look to the petroleum industry...the universal soothsayer of truth...right? LOL! These guys can't even be sworn in before Senate and were exposed telling mis-truths. The Petroleum Industry "is" Saudia Arabia and the other Arab this the source of your "truths" green?

        Please greenie...about time you get out in the REAL world and recognize that a few different sources of information and perspectives on things might bring you a better view of reality.

    • EBK, I am not surprised at the attitude you ran up against. Very few industries fully recognize the changes that are coming in the energy field.

      I think the article that redshoe linked to in post 119279 should be mandatory reading for everyone on this board (not to mention every politician and the petroleum engineers you met).

      • 1 Reply to groundhogsteve
      • GroundhogSteve I am quite confident that energy supply and demand cannot be adequately predicted for more that 5 years out nor can the solution to high fuel prices. Consider some have been predicting that the FCV would be in mass production in 5 years for about 10 or 15 years now.

        I strongly believe that amount of gasoline and diesel fuel consumed in 5 years from now will depend far more in the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel than, for example, on hybridization.

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