Skip to comments.Ending America's Dependence on Middle East Oil
Posted on 11/17/2004 6:14:40 AM PST by forty_years
Gal Luft is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, D.C. He is a specialist on strategic issues and energy policy with a PhD in strategic studies from Johns Hopkins University. A former lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, his writings have appeared in Commentary, Foreign Affairs, the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Review of International Affairs, the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Luft addressed the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia on October 27, 2004.
In both World War Two and the Cold War, the side best deploying scientific innovation and technological advancement achieved superiority. The turning point in the war on militant Islam will similarly arrive in the form of innovation that deprives the enemy of its current advantages.
Today, however, the U.S. finds itself in the position of financially supporting both itself and its enemies in the "War on Terror." This is a consequence of the U.S.'s growing dependence on oil, particularly as a transportation fuel. Currently, the United States consumes 25% of the world's oil while possessing only 3% of world oil reserves. The Muslim world, in contrast, depends on oil far less while possessing 75% of the world's oil reserves. As the U.S. continues to invest in the oil economies of the Middle East and the Muslim world, these economies continue to use their oil revenues to spread radical Islam, promote anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas, and in some cases, develop unconventional weapons. Every time an American goes to a gas station, he is sending money to America's enemies.
To complicate the matter, America is not the only country with a growing demand for foreign oil. China and India, hosting two of the largest and fastest growing economies, are also experiencing a steep rise in their demand for transportation fuel. China, for example, will likely enter into Middle Eastern politics in order to meet this demand. It will need to enhance its diplomatic relations in the region and possibly increase its weapons sales to the Muslim world's oil moguls. Foreshadowing this potential development is the Pakistani nuclear bomb, which was built by the Chinese and financed by the Saudis.
The steeply rising demand for oil today means that the disruption of petroleum production causes oil prices to rise. America's Islamist foes are aware of this reality and view it as America's Achilles' heel. According to an al-Qaeda spokesman, the October 2002 attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen was a victory against the "Crusader nations." After the terrorist attack against oil employees in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda leaders bragged that the consequent rise in oil prices caused Americans to suffer. (The website www.iags.org documents terrorist attacks on oil facilities around the world).
Some people believe that an American invasion of Saudi Arabia, home to the world's largest oil reserves, will resolve the oil problem. These people fail to look at the situation in Iraq, home to the world's second largest oil reserve. Due to the instability caused by the invasion, the U.S. is not receiving any Iraqi oil and will not obtain any Iraqi oil in the near future. Results from an invasion of Saudi Arabia would be similar.
The U.S. needs to get serious about gradually reducing the demand for foreign oil and bringing about the turning point in the current war. To do so, it must promote scientific and technological advancement by tapping into homegrown fuel sources that can be used for transportation purposes. These include: electricity, coal, and biomass (agricultural waste). Currently, the U.S. has 25% of the world's coal and billions of tons of biomass. In fact, nearly 60% of the garbage Americans throw away can be used as transportation fuel.
Electricity can power vehicles. On an electric battery, a vehicle may drive between 20 and 40 miles before the battery needs to recharge, which can be done easily overnight. New hybrid vehicles will carry both an electric battery and a normal engine. The engine will run on gasoline only after a driver exceeds the mile capacity of the electric battery. This will make it possible trips longer than 40 miles. These hybrids will empower electricity companies and end the transportation fuel monopoly held by the oil companies.
Alcohol fuels such as ethanol, made from corn or biomass and methanol, made from coal, can also power a vehicle. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on any combination of gasoline and alcohol, thus reducing the overall amount of oil used. There are three million cars on the road today that are built to use the alcohol-gasoline mixture. Ford Taurus, Dodge Caravan, and Mercedes C-320 are all flexible fuel cars. In addition to decreasing U.S. need for foreign oil, flexible fuel will also aid the economy because it will bring new jobs to the American farmers and the American coal miners.
These alternate fuel vehicles can move the U.S. into an energy era free of dependence on OPEC and other oil exporters. Equally significant, the Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, and others will look to the U.S. as the world leader in this new energy era.
Unfortunately, current U.S. energy policy is looking elsewhere, towards seeking oil reserves outside the Middle East. This is at best a short-term and ultimately shortsighted solution. If we deplete the oil reserves outside the Middle East before we deplete the reserves in the Middle East, we will become in time more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than ever before.
To avoid these outcomes, there needs to be a "Set America Free Plan" that will utilize alternate energy sources. In order to effectively implement its principles, leaders of this initiative must use the conservative political movement in America as its avenue to the American public.
Usually, environmental political groups endorse energy initiatives of this nature as part of environmental preservation or anti-global warming campaigns. These campaigns, however, fail to resonate with the American public because of a general apathy toward the environment and distrust of anti-capitalists causes. Contrarily, if the initiative is presented by the conservatives and linked to the national security agenda, it will gain the necessary public support for implementation. Consequently, liberal political groups will also look to endorse the new energy campaign, further bolstering its appeal. Essentially, America will not be able to win its "War on Terror" if energy security is not at the top of its agenda.
This summary account was written by Ari J. Goldman, a researcher at the Middle East Forum.
the largest source of untapped energy in the world sits unused except for a pilot project in Hawaii a number of years back. when we start building very large floating islands capable of tapping this souce, we will wonder why we never thought of it before...
The technology for generating electricity from different ocean temperatures is known as "ocean thermal energy conversion," or OTEC. OTEC makes use of the difference in temperature between the warm surface water of the ocean and the cold water in depths below 2,000 feet to generate electricity. As long as a sufficient temperature difference (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) exists between the warm upper layer of water and the cold deep water, net power can be generated.
OTEC uses clean, abundant, renewable, natural resources. Warm surface sea water and cold water from the ocean depths replace fossil fuels to produce electricity.
Suitably designed OTEC plants will produce little or no carbon dioxide or other polluting chemicals which contribute to acid rain or global warming (the "greenhouse effect"). Extensive research indicates little or no adverse environmental effects from discharging the used OTEC water back into the ocean at prescribed depths.
OTEC systems can produce fresh water as well as electricity. This is a significant advantage in island areas where fresh water is limited.
There is enough solar energy received and stored in the warm tropical ocean surface layer to provide most, if not all, of present human energy needs.
The use of OTEC as a source of electricity will help reduce the state's almost complete dependence on imported fossil fuels.
The cold sea water from the OTEC process has many additional uses, including air-conditioning buildings, assisting agriculture, and growing fish, shellfish, kelp and other sea plants which thrive in the cold, nutrient-rich, pathogen-free water.
OTEC-produced electricity at present would cost more than electricity generated from fossil fuels at their current costs. The electricity cost could be reduced significantly if the plant operated without major overhaul for 30 years or more, but there are no data on possible plant life cycles.
OTEC plants must be located where a difference of about 40° Fahrenheit (F) occurs year round. Ocean depths must be available fairly close to shore-based facilities for economic operation. Floating plant ships could provide more flexibility.
Although extensive and successful testing of OTEC has occurred in experiments on component parts or small scale plants, a pilot or demonstration plant of commercial size needs to be built to further document economic feasibility.
Construction of OTEC plants and laying of pipes in coastal waters may cause localized damage to reefs and near-shore marine ecosystems.
Some additional development of key components is essential to the success of future OTEC plants (e.g., less-costly large diameter, deep sea water pipelines; low-pressure turbines and condensers for open-cycle systems; etc.).
The Basic Process
There are basically three types of OTEC processes: closed-cycle, open-cycle, and hybrid-cycle.
In the closed-cycle system, heat transferred from the warm surface sea water causes a working fluid (such as ammonia, which boils at a temperature of about -28°F at atmospheric pressure), to turn to vapor. The expanding vapor drives a turbine attached to a generator which produces electricity. Cold sea water passing through a condenser containing the vaporized working fluid turns the vapor back into a liquid which is then recycled through the system.
Open-cycle OTEC uses the warm surface water itself as the working fluid. The water vaporizes in a near vacuum at surface water temperatures. The expanding vapor drives a low-pressure turbine attached to a generator which produces electricity. The vapor, which has lost its salt and is almost pure fresh water, is condensed back into a liquid by exposure to cold temperatures from deep ocean water. If the condenser keeps the vapor from direct contact with sea water, the condensed water can be used for drinking water, irrigation or aquaculture. A "direct contact" condenser produces more electricity, but the vapor is mixed with cold sea water and the discharge water is salty. That mixture is returned to the ocean. The process is repeated with a continuous supply of warm surface sea water.
Hybrid systems use parts of both open- and closed-cycle systems to optimize production of electricity and fresh water. See the Natural Energy Lab's OTEC Fact Sheet.
This is a big stretch, but I remember in my college days reading an abstract stating "If all of the energy of a copper penny could be harnessed, it could power a small city for several years...". The world needs an alternative non-petroleum energy source.
yes and why not put rows of ugly expensive uneconomic but "give u a fuzzy environmental feeling" wind farms all along our coastlines whilst we're at it ?
Can I run the air conditioner? It gets awful hot here down south!
What should be done is a prize should be given with an outrageous amount of money attached to those who can come up with provable, easy and cheap to implement forms of renewable energy. The winners would collect their prize as well as hang on to a certain amount of patent rights. One restriction should be however that these technologies can not be shared with foreign powers until the US is converted off oil. That'll piss of the French. I have great faith in our private industry and feel this problem can be solved with a little push in the right direction.
I put in a ground source heat pump with four 200 foot wells when we built our house two years ago. The air conditioning is essentially free.
We could do it inside of 10 years.
OTEC? Nope. Too costly, too inefficient. As I recall, OTEC plants have projected efficiencies in the single digits. That makes them HUGE...and any small errors can drive the efficiency to zero or negative. Nobody will invest in such a flawed concept.
1. Diesel engines use 35-45 percent less fuel for the same power output as gasoline engines. That means lower CO2 output for the same power.
2. Diesel engines are easily adaptable to run off biomass-derived diesel fuel, which burn much cleaner than petroleum-based diesel fuel (no particulate issues to start with). (After all, the first prototype engine Rudolf Diesel built ran off peanut oil ). There are studies that show we could build 20 mile x 20 mile x 10 foot deep ponds growing certain types of algae that could harvest enough biomass to refine into diesel fuel for every vehicle in the USA and then some! That right there could drastically reduce the need to import oil from outside the USA.
3. Diesel engines are actually preferable for light trucks, SUV's and minivans, vehicles that need lots of torque low in the rev range (the strength of diesel engines).
And if they are huge, that means the only economical OTEC plant would be open-cycle (i.e., it would circulate actual seawater, instead of ammonia). The problem with such systems is that they biofoul in short order. Every few months--or weeks--their innards would need to be scoured of barnacles, mussels, and whatever else can cling and grow.
We have been researching alternate sources for 30 years. The main stumbling blocks to a political solution are political because solutions advantage red states. So, for the time being I say, thank God for foreign oil.
Middle Eastern oil is cheap oil. That's why we buy it. If we develop other sources of energy that cost more but then chose those sources anyway, the only effect will be that we unnecessarily hobble our own economy. Somebody else will step in and buy the cheap stuff from the Middle Easterners in our stead. The only way to reduce the flow of funds to the Middle Eastern oil holders is to either develop an alternative energy source that is significantly cheaper than their oil (good luck!) or to go over there and kick their asses, take their oil, and then - voila! - no more Middle Eastern oil. Just more American oil that happens to be located in the territories formerly known as the Middle East.