May 15, 2016
We continue to hear about how methane and carbon dioxide are turning the planet into a hot house, with the oceans rising and the dust bowls of the 1930s becoming common place. However, if we look at what the data actually tells us, gas is good — especially, when you consider the alternatives, and what the impact to human life would be if we did not have energy in the forms of fossil fuels to make global development possible.
A simple example of why we continue to use hydrocarbons for fuel is there portability and though energy per unit mass ratio. Despite the fact that hydrocarbons are a single- use form of energy storage (i.e. once you burn it that’s it), natural gas has an energy storage capacity of 14.85 kWh/kg.
Compare that to other renewable sources of energy — for example, that which is generated from solar, wind, or other forms of electricity — as represented by a battery. While densities per kilogram for rechargeable batteries are quite low, when multiplied by the number of cycles, they exceed the life cycle storage of natural gas. Two common battery types and their capacities are lithium ion, which has a 110 to 160 Wh/kg with 300–500 cycles (life cycle – 80kWh/kg), and nickel-cadmium, with a 45 to 80 Wh/kg at 1,500 cycles (life cycle – 120kWh/kg).
And these energy density calculations do not consider the environmental implications of mining the metals, the energy required to mine and process them, nor the fact that they too are a limited resource that are themselves potentially harmful to life. If we look at how life expectancy has changed in the last 500 years, which is before the industrial revolution when energy consumption started increasing significantly, you can see it has increased from roughly 30 years in 1550 to 80 today.
When we compare this to global energy consumption since 1800, which is approximately the start of the Industrial Revolution, the correlation between energy and lifespan becomes clear. There is ample evidence in literature, global history and that, even at today’s prices, development continues for gas as a chemical feedstock, heating source and, of course, the much-discussed LNG opportunities to supply parts of the world not as resource-blessed as we are here in Western Canada.
And if we can all agree that if we have to choose between a life expectancy of 30 versus 80 years as compared to the consumption of energy, the choice will clearly be – “gas is good.” Lastly, if you are planning on attending the Global Petroleum Show in Calgary, be sure to look for PROCESSWest.
About the author: Ian Verhappen is a professional engineer, ISA Fellow, certified automation professional and a recognized authority on industrial communications and process analyzer technologies with 25-plus years’ experience in the hydrocarbon industry. Verhappen provides global consulting services specializing in industrial communications, SCADA, process analytics and heavy oil/oilsands automation. Reader feedback is always welcome. Ian can be reached at iverhappen@ gmail.com