The road to decarbonisation is paved with oil….

15 11 2022

I follow Nate Hagens’ work with almost religious fervour. Recently, he published a You Tube video featuring Art Berman whose knowledge of the oil industry is second to none. In this video Art discusses the way a barrel of oil (or millions of them!) get cracked in refineries to manufacture all the products civilisation expects to get to keep running business as usual going. It turns out half of what we get is petrol (gasoline), and another 20 to 30% is diesel and/or jet fuel. Now I’ve known for a long time that when oil was first extracted and exploited, all they wanted from it was heating or lighting oil which we now call kerosene. Everything else was waste. Until someone invented the internal combustion engine, all that waste fuel was, I can only presume, burned off much the same way gas is flared off. Or maybe it no longer is now there’s huge demand for it.

Diagram showing fractional distillation crude oil illustration

It then occurred to me that after all the plastics that today make up most of a car’s interior, not to mention the increasing number of plastic body panels, the lubricants for the moving parts in steering and suspension and wheel bearings, the rubber tyres (which are bigger than normal cars’), the very roads that EVs drive on, are all refined from oil, what on Earth will happen to the waste fuel if EVs were indeed to miraculously replace all the Internal Combustion cars that currently make up the transport fleets?

Now I’m well aware that after seeing Simon Michaux’s limits to metals and resources presentation, EVs will never replace ICE vehicles….. but all the same if a substantial number of these hi tech vehicles were to be manufactured, I reckon they will not only do nothing to ‘solve’ climate change, they may actually make everything worse. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way either.. (warning, this guy swears a lot….)

Our predicament is not a lack of EVs, it’s too many cars, and too much consumption. The good news is, my gut feeling is that the global car industry is in a world of pain…. If you watch enough of the Auto Expert’s videos, you will start to feel that build quality, even of marques like Mercedes Benz and Toyota, renowned for building indestructible vehicles in the past, are really struggling. Car sales are way down too. Waiting times for new models, like Toyota’s ridiculous but highly popular Land Cruiser models is running into years. Limits to growth is affecting supply chains of nearly everything. Even vitamins I discovered yesterday. Mitsubishi has completely pulled out of Europe…..

Nate Hagens and Art Berman make quite a combination, let me tell you (though I was surprised Nate, after years on the Oil Drum, didn’t know so much gasoline was produced from crude oil). Enjoy…..



5 responses

15 11 2022

We have lots of great info about the problems with cars, EVs on if anyone’s interested. I too think this episode of Nate’s podcast is great for people who don’t think about where gas, diesel, plastic, etc. come from.

15 11 2022
samsavvasSam Powrie

Good observations Mike. I would only add that I believe that most ‘poly’ plastics (as opposed to those made from cellulose or other plant/animal-based products) are actually products of the natural gas industry.

15 11 2022
19 11 2022

What I don’t understand is how need for each of the distilled products exactly matches the proportions. Or do some of them get dumped?

For example, what if not many new roads are being created, but there’s all that bitumen left over from production driven by diesel?

19 11 2022

They don’t. Different oils give different proportions. For instance, nearly all of the oil fracked in the USA is incapable of producing diesel. That’s why they import tar sands oil from Canada, they blend the oils together, then they get what they want from it.

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