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World in 2050 Essay

Abstract of paper to be presented at theRoyal Swedish Academy of Sciences international energy symposium, Energy2050, to be held on 19-20 October 2009 Fossil fuels are finite resources. In various regions of the world we see that production reached a maximum and then declined. Just now we consume around 85 million barrels of oil per day (mb/d) or 31 billion barrels per year. If we compare this with BP’s estimate of the world’s reserves of 1240 billion barrels this is equivalent to constant consumption at today’s level for 40 years, i.e. until 2050. A constant level of global oil production is not realistic due to the physical parameters of oilfields. Instead, we can expect a future maximum of production, Peak Oil, followed by declining production.

Today, oil is the raw material for the fuel for aircraft, passenger cars, busses, trucks, ships etc. For the last 40 years the oil requirements of our transportation modes have steady increased. During the coming 40 years the amounts of fossil fuels used for transport must be decreased. The political will for this will be tested in Copenhagen later this year, but more important is that limited oil resources will limit the production of oil. Peak Oil will be the politicians’ best friend when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions. The IPCC emission scenarios are based on incorrect assumptions of fossil fuel resources and are, therefore, exaggerated. Future oil production can be divided into six fractions;

1) crude oil from currently producing fields, 2) crude oil from fields yet to be developed, 3) crude oil from fields yet to be found, 4) crude oil from enhanced recovery, 5) non-conventional oil production and finally 6) natural gas liquids. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) publication World Energy Outlook 2008 these will constitute a total of 106 mb/d in the year 2030, an increase of more than 20 mb/d compared with today’s production. A production volume for 2050 is not given. A rational analysis by the Uppsala Global Energy Systems group yields that by 2030 crude oil from currently producing fields will have declined by 50 mb/d. In 2050 production from these fields will be only a small fraction of today’s volume. The “to be developed” production fraction consists of small fields compared with today’s giant oil fields.

By 2050 this fraction will make only a marginal contribution to total volumes. Discovery rate has declined every decade since the 1960s and the fields found are smaller and smaller. If new fields, with reserves equivalent to what the North Sea had, are in production in 2050 we can expect them to produce 6 mb/d. Non-conventional oil production might be the largest fraction in 2050 with an estimated volume of 6 to 8 mb/d. In 2030 we estimate that total oil production will be 10 to 15 mb/d less then today (i.e. ~70 to 75 mb/d). By 2050, depending on enhanced recovery, total production can be around 50 million barrels per day. Production of fossil fuels is limited by physical and economic factors.

We see that the fraction of the reserves that can be extracted annually is limited. When examining coal we see that mining has never produced more than 4% of the reserves in one year. Can an increase in coal use for conversion to liquid fuel combined with CCS be a future alternative for powering vehicle transport or should we turn to greater use of natural gas? In 500BC Confucius said, “Study the past if you would define the future”. Using our knowledge of the history of fossil fuel discovery and production we can estimate fossil fuel production for vehicles 40 years into the future – until 2050.

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