10 Disruptive Technologies and Ideas That Could Bring an End to the Age of Oil
The other day, I came cross the video below from Bloomberg entitled 'Another Oil Crash is Coming, and There May Be No Recovery'. To summarize it quickly, it starts off by revealing a little bit of information about the ever-elongated estimate of 'Peak Oil', followed by concisely mentioning our realization that we have more petroleum resources than we originally established due to new recovery methods, then finally how it's possible, from the creator's perspective, that electric vehicles could expedite the process of yet another oil crash eventually bringing about our fallout from the 'Age of Oil'. Check it out.
As an engineer who holds a degree in petroleum engineering as well as worked within the field, I get quite a number of questions concerning my departure from industry itself. To put it plainly, not only did my self-discovery of personal passions seem to collide with the industry, but in the few years that I've been directly involved, I saw the price for a barrel of crude oil sit anywhere between a high of $109.53/bbl in April 2011 all the way to a low of $31.68/bbl in January 2016. Needless to say, the oil industry is extremely volatile which makes one really question job security and the future of the business. I also like to think of myself as a futurist, one well-versed in trends. I spend a lot of time following frontier R&D companies, reading about scientific studies, as well as newly founded technological breakthroughs. My review of these trends have all pointed me in one direction...and that's the definite end of extreme reliance upon oil. I could also arguably say that this end may come earlier than most may think.
Anyways, I did some research, brainstormed a little, and developed the list below. Here are 10 technologies and ideas that I believe would expedite our transition away from oil.
1. Affordable Electric Vehicles
In 2014, within the United States alone, approximately 2.5 million barrels of oil per day was specifically allocated to gasoline fuel for motor vehicles. This represents approximately 47% of Total US oil consumption on daily basis. Without a doubt, electric vehicles pose the most threat to the industry. Revolutionizing the single main invention that is both pertinent to our modern civilization and to the profit of oil exploration, production, and refinement companies provides the clearest strategy for an exit. The main issue with the mass transition to electric vehicles, although, is undoubtedly the cost. Affordability and the current infrastructure is not 'electrically' friendly for the target consumer. Yet, it is obvious that many companies are on a mission to change these conditions. Tesla, GM, and Nissan have all opted for a concentration on building affordable, long-range electric vehicles within the next year, aiming for the $30,000 range.
2. Gas-to-Electric Vehicle Conversion Kits
With the 1.2 billion gas powered vehicles on the road today, in an electric world, what happens to these vehicles? I highly doubt they would all reach a salvage yard and be eventually processed into recycling facility to be reconditioned into raw materials. Now imagine the potential of converting these gas guzzlers into electrically powered champions of efficiency. Providing consumers with an easy, somewhat inexpensive, bolt on kit that enables their car to switch into an all-electric vehicle provides a tremendous amount of market opportunity as well as threat to the world's oil consumption. This concept coming into being may be a world away, but the theoretical potential is alarming.
3. HyperLoop-Like Rail Systems for Cargo Shipping and Logistics
I've been following Elon Musk's HyperLoop project heavily for a few years now. I think the concept is great, but it's heavily focused on human transport. I believe its true potential lies in fulfilling logistics needs on a commercial basis. Currently, HyperLoop employs an operational method that simulates that of the vactrain or magnetic levitation concepts, regarded as the more efficient method of propulsion and resistance reduction, but is expensive and difficult due to the size of project. So rather, the Loop utilizes air compressors and linear induction motors to produce the same effect. Hopefully upon its release, it will open a vast window of opportunities to replace the current fossil fueled methods of providing cargo and logistic needs.
4. The Jet Fuel Replacement
Jet fuel provides a tricky dilemma when it comes to transition to electric. At this current point in time, its properties of weight and energy content affords no alternative that comes close to its performance. There are, although, currently many forces in the works to develop the "Jet Fuel Replacement". The CAAFI, Elon Musk, and various events such as NASA's Distributed Electric Propulsion Aircraft Design Competitions, push the potential of such an idea to become reality.
5. Battery & Energy Storage Systems for Residential or Commercial Properties
Developing a powerful lightweight battery or similar energy storage system is most likely the holy grail catalyst for our transition away from oil. Although I may be mentioning it here in context of powering residential and commercial properties, a paradigm battery or energy storage design could possibly make all of the other items on this list a reality or replace them. One of the main issues with utilizing other forms of energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, for power generation, lies within issues with the energy storage system itself. Not having the ability to store the necessary renewable produced energy to provide instant power to our world in the safest and most cost effective way causes us to continue to rely upon the current fossil fuel alternative such as coal or natural gas. A list of companies including Tesla, sister company, SolarCity, and competitor, Flow Batteries, are all currently making headway in the energy storage market, claiming their individual market stakes through innovation and product development.
6. Widely Distributed Wind and Solar Farms /w Smart Grid Technology
Energy Sources of Electricity Generation in the U.S.
As we can see above, within the U.S., renewable resources make up only about 13% of total resources used for electric power generation. Solar and Wind only produce approximately 4.8% of the total electric power generation for a yearly consumption, according to the EIA in 2014. Obviously this varies from country to country and year to year, but presently, both solar and wind lack the capabilities of providing energy due to setbacks in technology, infrastructure, and investment. Compared to other first world nations with high electric power generation from renewables such as Canada (64%), New Zealand (73%), or Norway (98%), the U.S. is obviously trailing in the transition and proves to still be immensely reliant upon fossil fuels. With more solar and wind farms in conjunction with smart grid technology, this gap can be bridged tremendously provided investment and resources are focused towards the alternative resources.
7. Energy Producing Building Materials
Here, I'm referring to more then just passive ways of allowing building projects to be more energy efficient. Rather, I'm referring to new technologically advanced materials itself that create, develop, and store energy. One example that I've found so far is the Energy-Producing Algae Facade being developed and tested by Splitterwerk Architects and Arup. Imagine creating a whole structure that can power itself, separate of external sources. The possibilities are endless (i.e. Solar Power Windows, Geothermal Rods attached to the building's foundation, or a complete turbine-esk spinning structure advantageous to gathering wind energy).
8. The IOT and Micro-Smart Grid Applications for Analyzing, Controlling, and Sharing Energy Locally
Outside of major structures, it is also important to focus on the more local appliances and products that utilize this energy. Anything from electronics to the space heater has the ability to be more energy efficient. With the "Internet of Things", every product has ability to be made 'smart', allowing us to analyze, control, and eventually share unused exhaust energy locally to other appliances. This concept is similar to the Smart Grid application, but on a much smaller scale.
9. Advanced Nanotech Materials and Renewable Synthetics to Replace Petrochemical-Based Products
A major use for oil lies within its abilities to create petroleum based materials such plastics and other synthetics which we use as the building block for a great variety of products and tools that we use within our daily lives. Replacing this resource with things such renewable synthetics that are able to be grown organically or nanotech materials of which can repair and build self systematically eliminates our needs for petrochemical based materials.
10. Ocean Wave Energy Harnessing Technology
One potential resource that is often overlooked is that of the ocean. The constant movement of water through waves and currents provide a potential foundation for harnessing energy. The issue although is figuring out how to do this. Potentially, turbines or oscillators that spin/move with the currents or waves could produce and convert this energy. With coastal water all around us, this extension of hydroelectric power has the potential to be yet another resource for expedite our movement away from an oil-based world.