Monday, August 25, 2008

Abiogenic petroleum origin

In considering the truth of the Peak Oil theory it is worth our while to consider alternate theories. The Peak Oil phenomenon follows from normal theories of the origin of fossil oil. Namely that there is a fixed quantity of oil which exists, and that it was formed from buried biological matter which was compressed and heated over millions of years. However the abiogenic petroleum origin theory claims fossil oil came from other sources. It states that natural petroleum was formed from deep carbon deposits, perhaps dating to the formation of the Earth.

Supporters of the abiogenic hypothesis suggest that there may be a great deal more petroleum on Earth than commonly thought, and that petroleum may originate from carbon-bearing fluids which migrate upward from the mantle. The abiogenic petroleum hypothesis predicts that oil is formed in the mantle at temperatures and pressures consistent with the laws of thermodynamics.

If this abiogenic theory has any truth then perhaps the peak oil theory is poppycock.

However most geologists now consider the biogenic formation of petroleum to be supported scientifically meaning that very few geologists find the abiogenic theory to be of any value.

There is methane visible all through the universe, so there must be non-biological sources for some methane. However it's not clear whether the fossil oil came from any source other than the biogenic source of fossilized biological material.

Within the mantle, carbon may exist as hydrocarbon molecules, chiefly methane, and as elemental carbon, carbon dioxide and carbonates. The abiotic hypothesis is that the full suite of hydrocarbons found in petroleum can be generated in the mantle by abiogenic processes, and these hydrocarbons can migrate out of the mantle into the crust until they escape to the surface or are trapped by impermeable strata, forming petroleum reservoirs.

Abiogenic theories reject the supposition that certain molecules found within petroleum, known as biomarkers, are indicative of the biological origin of petroleum. They contend that some of these molecules could have come from the microbes that the petroleum encounters in its upward migration through the crust, that some of them are found in meteorites, which have presumably never contacted living material, and that some can be generated abiogenically by plausible reactions in petroleum.

Proposed mechanisms of abiogenic petroleum include

  • Primordial deposits: Meteorites are believed to represent the major composition of material from which the Earth was formed. Some meteorites, such as carbonaceous chondrites, contain carbonaceous material. If a large amount of this material is still within the Earth, it could have been leaking upward for billions of years.
  • Creation within the mantle: Russian researchers concluded that hydrocarbon mixes would be created within the mantle.
  • Hydrogen generation: Hydrogen gas and water have been found more than 6 kilometers deep in the upper crust, including in the Siljan Ring boreholes and the Kola Superdeep Borehole. Data from the western United States suggests that aquifers from near the surface may extend to depths of 10 to 20 km. Hydrogen may react with dissolved carbon compounds in water to form methane and higher carbon compounds.
  • Serpentinite mechanism: Petroleum could be formed at high temperatures and pressures from inorganic carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, hydrogen and/or methane. This mechanism is supported by several lines of evidence which are accepted by modern scientific literature. This involves synthesis of oil within the crust via catalysis by chemically reductive rocks. A proposed mechanism for the formation of inorganic hydrocarbons[25] is via natural analogs of the Fischer-Tropsch process known as the serpentinite mechanism or the serpentinite process.
  • Spinel polymerization mechanism: Magnetite, chromite and ilmenite are Fe-spinel group minerals found in many rocks but rarely as a major component in non-ultramafic rocks. In these rocks, high concentrations of magmatic magnetite, chromite and ilmenite provide a reduced matrix which may allow abiotic cracking of methane to higher hydrocarbons during hydrothermal events.

    Chemically reduced rocks are required to drive this reaction and high temperatures are required to allow methane to be polymerized to ethane. Note that reaction 1a, above, also creates magnetite.

  • Carbonate decomposition: Calcium carbonate may decompose at around 500 °C.

Some theories of abiogenic origin of fossil oil is similarity with the Fischer-Tropsch process. This process was created in Nazi Germany before WWII. This and similar reactions can create hydrocarbons through direct reactions or reactions with catalysts. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis proceeds from carbon monoxide and hydrogen, while CO2 hydrogenation proceeds from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Artificial catalytic materials often use rare materials, but some catalysts use somewhat more common materials such as silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, iron or nickel. Methane production is most common although more complex products such as ethane, propene, propane, and butane have also appeared. The high temperatures needed for direct reactions are reduced to lower temperatures when a catalyst is present.

Searching Google for the abiogenic origin of fossil oil turns up a number of pages which are of very low credibility. Most of the resulting pages are echoing each other and are not from credible scientific journals or other credible sources. It would appear that the abiogenic theory has little in the way of credible backing.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

My abnormal normality...

I went grocery shopping this evening and it struck me along the way how the way I do it is so normal to me, but so obviously out of normality to what I see people around me doing. The roads were filled with cars scurrying around, going to shopping or dinner or whatever, and there I was on my electric bicycle hauling a cargo trailer with a fine selection of cloth bags.

I've been doing this for several years and have gone through several iterations of bicycles. The practice has improved considerably but it could stand to be even better. And, no, "better" does not mean doing the shopping trip with a car. "Better" would mean finding a more convenient cargo bicycle combination, with a better electric motor, perhaps some turn signals and good quality rear view mirror and good quality horn, etc.

The current bike is an Electra Townie 21. Despite the name, the Electra brand bicycles are not electrified but I do think it's highly appropriate to electrify an Electra bicycle. The motor is an old Wilderness Energy 36 volt hub motor mounted in the front wheel. I have a lithium-iron-phosphate battery pack. I've constructed a really bright lighting system using LED lights meant to be used for car accent lights. And the bike has the Cycle Analyst monitoring system to help me know how much electricity is being used, the current voltage, current speed, etc.

I like the Electra Townie because of its relaxed seating, feet somewhat forward, my torso sits straight up so I can see the world, rather than leaning over the handlebars confining my view to the pavement. I think my next bike will be a Recumbent.

I use a trailer I found at a shop which specializes in roof racks, so I don't know why they had a trailer for a bicycle but there it was. It has a hitch that hooks to the bicycle frame, it has sides made of a wire mesh, and it's not exactly the sturdiest thing in the world but it does haul four bags of groceries. To help I attach over the top a mesh cargo net meant to be used on motorcycles. FYI I've collected a list of links about bicycle cargo trailers elsewhere on this web site.

The bicycle as configured travels at 15 miles/hr or so with modest pedaling, faster if I pedal hard. It's very silent and a very pleasant relaxed ride.

The trip to the grocery store is 1.5 miles, close enough that it's ridiculous to fire up the gas car for the trip. Except, there are a lot of people who do exactly that. 1.5 miles is close enough to walk.. though.. I can hear echo's of this scene from the movie American Beauty, "Walk? That's a whole mile!!". The real problem with walking to the grocery store that distance is, how would you carry the groceries home? But, I see some of my neighbors do this, as there are some who walk towards the grocery store and then an hour later I'll see them walking back carrying bags.

Somewhere between these two extremes, walking and driving the car, is where I operate. If I lived next door to the grocery store I'd walk, and in fact I did a couple times live next door to grocery stores, and I did walk to them. However given that bicycle cargo trailers exist then of course it makes sense to use them for shopping trips.

Riding my bicycle uses a miniscule amount of energy, yet allows me to do a full shopping trip. If I were to walk and carry the groceries by hand I'd feel the trip was tedious, and my arms would get tired. Riding my bicycle does give some small degree of exercise and as I said accomplishes the goal much more competently than if I were walking, and in a much more sustainable fashion than if I drove the car.

External Media


MIT Researcher claims 24/7 solar power

Solar power is an intermittent energy source. It's only available when the sun is "up" and even then it's best on cloudless days. It would be difficult to rely soley on solar power, but at the same time every day there is enough solar energy striking the planet to supply all the "energy" needs our society currently uses. Solar energy is fetchingly attractive in many ways and the obvious thing to mitigate solar energy's intermittency is through energy storage.

"Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Daniel Nocera and his MIT colleague, Matthew Kanan have published a technical paper that describes what they claim is a breakthrough in solar energy storage. The idea is to use the energy from solar photovoltaic panels (or another electricity source) to crack water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Those gases would be stored and used later in a fuel cell to make electricity when the sun is not shining." Uh, this is new? It's clearly obvious one can use the electricity to separate hydrogen from water and later use that to generate power. I was scribing that equation in high school physics class and my excitement dampened when the numbers showed you lose power in the cycle of water to hydrogen to water. Which means where that cycle works is when there is an external input of energy, such as electricity from a solar panel.


"I'm open-sourcing this to let everybody run with it," he said. "My plan is that when people see it, they'll see it's easy to do and they'll start working it." Cool..

He has spent 25 years studying photosynthesis in order to develop this technology. It's way cool he's open sourcing it. The video makes it clear he's followed a sort of biomimicry pattern of thought, that clearly plants can store enough energy to make it through the night and so should human societies. The trick turns out to be the catalysts.

The technique makes use of earth-abundant materials and can be carried out in room temperature open environments with no special equipment or techniques required. The catalysts is a patented formulation of cobalt phosphate. Patent? Open Source?

"Because our catalyst is green, the machines that perform electrolysis can be much less expensive than they are today, since they don't need to be protected from environmental contaminants," said Nocera. Currently, MIT is working with photovoltaic cell manufacturers to incorporate electrolysis using their catalyst into solar energy systems. By combining the two, excess capacity during the day could be stored as hydrogen and oxygen, then used in fuel cells at night when needed. Cool, when can I buy one?

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School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering


The School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering is internationally recognised for its research in the area of photovoltaics, most of which is now conducted under the ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics and Photonics. It was also the first organisation internationally to offer undergraduate training in the area of Photovoltaics and Solar Energy, and since then has extended the educational programs offered to include postgraduate and research training opportunities.



Solar Princess Receives Double Crown

Nicole Kuepper, a 23 year old solar cell scientist, has been voted Australia's favourite scientist in the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes People's Choice Award. Kuepper, a PhD student and lecturer at the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales, the Eureka Prizes People's Choice Award was her second Eureka prize. She also won the British Council Eureka Prize for Young Leaders in Environmental Issues and Climate Change. Nicole was awarded both Prizes for her work in developing and patenting a revolutionary solar cell that can be manufactured at low temperatures using everyday items like a pizza oven, nail polish and an inkjet printer. Nicole hopes that her technology will mean cheap, clean and green energy for developing countries, providing electricity to 2 billion of the world's poorest people.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Speed Versus Power For Different Cycle Types


A chart compiled by the NVHPV (Dutch HPV Club), using their SRM measuring thingummy-doodah, showing the power efficiency of different kinds of bicycles. The bicycles range from a normal typical bike to a recumbent with full fairing. It shows a drastic range of power required to attain a given speed (40 km/hr) and the speed attained for 250 watts of power.