04 September 2010

Dinosaurs, micro-organisms, and the Abiotic Theory

Dear Reader,

Congratulations if you have decided to visit this blog once again. It's been a busy few months for me and I have had very little time to update this blog. In fact, if there are volunteers who wish to take over this blog, I would like to hear from you. I'll transfer the domain name to you and the hosting is taken care of by Blogger.com (fully owned by Google) so there will be no hiccups with hosting. Some of you may have wanted to write your own blogs before; but you have wondered how to do it. The suggestions that I have is to always try to name your sources. If you come to your own conclusions, say so. There is no need to be a magician and put words into other people's mouths. :)

Peak Oil and Dinosaurs

Petrol and fuels will continue to dominate the headlines from time to time. Petrol is a finite resource; the words "peak oil" refer to a time where oil has been fully mined. When we were little children, we were told that crude oil was formed from the decayed remains of dinosaurs. But today we have to rethink this view. Most dinosaurs, when they perished, would have died in the open air. Eventually, their remains would have been consumed by other animals. What would have remained, would have been their bones, and perhaps the little pieces of flesh hanging from them -- the paltry remainder of carcasses -- that the scavengers would not consume. How many dinosaurs had to perish to form one litre of petrol? That is a scary thought when you come to think of it. How many dead dinosaurs does your car fart into the atmosphere each day? The driver who would still believe that dead dinosaurs powers his automobile may rely on the theory of an asteroid colliding with the Earth and causing a giant tidal wave that wiped out all dinosaurs. (Ref: Imperial College London. "Asteroid Killed Off the Dinosaurs, Says International Scientific Panel." ScienceDaily 4 March 2010. 5 September 2010)

For the more discerning reader, however, please know that dinosaurs did not die for you so that you may have petrol. Some part of the petrol you pump at the petrol pump is of course derived from dead dinosaurs. But the bulk of it is now accepted to be derived from micro-organisms that perished on the sea bed and was turned into oil. The following may be instructive:

  • New York Times, 2nd Aug 2010. Tracing Oil Reserves to Their Tiny Origins. Quote: "Today, a principal tenet of geology is that a vast majority of the world’s oil arose not from lumbering beasts on land but tiny organisms at sea. It holds that blizzards of microscopic life fell into the sunless depths over the ages, producing thick sediments that the planet’s inner heat eventually cooked into oil. It is estimated that 95 percent or more of global oil traces its genesis to the sea."
  • University of Waikato (NZ) Science Learning, 12 Jun 2008. Student Activity - Misconceptions about fossil fuels. Quote: "While many students understand that hydrocarbons are the result of decaying organisms, they often lack the understanding of the actual material of origin. For oil, predominantly it is the result of decaying marine organisms that were buried beneath ocean sediment."

Dear Reader,

To be fair, there is another theory on the origin of oil, i.e. that oil is abiotic, meaning not from any biological source. This theory says that oil may be a naturally occurring substance in the Earth's minerals, and as such may continue to be produced (and hence: we will never run out of oil). A series of talks presented online, "The Oil Myth or We Will Have Oil Forever", is a strong introduction to the abiotic origin theory. Here is a quote:

In 1951, a Russian professor named Nikolai Kudryavstev proposed that oil is in fact abiotic and comes from material that the earth exudes on a continual basis. In other words, the center of the earth is continually creating oil that bubbles to the surface and collects in the pools that we then drill into. Of course, this theory was dramatically different from the fossil fuel theory and so it was dismissed by Western scientists, but in the Soviet Union, several thousand scientific journal articles have been published supporting this theory. Chemists, physicists and geologists have found strong evidence that this abiotic oil theory is accurate, and now believe it or not Russia, is number two in the world in the production and extraction of oil.
(Source: The Entrepreneur School Blog, 13th November 2009. The Oil Myth or We Will Have Oil Forever (Part 3). Incidentally, it is a great blog for well-thought out articles on entrepreneurship.)

Interested readers can follow the "The Oil Myth or We Will Oil Forever" series of lectures of 5 parts. Here are links for: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

In July 2008, Green Energy News commented on news that NASA had discovered occurrence of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn. (Ref: Green Energy News, 31st July 2008. Oil doesn't come from dead dinosaurs.) NASA scientists concluded that based on their findings, hydrocarbons rain down in Titan and the amount is enough to form rivers. The author also wondered whether our planet was in the past, similar to Titan's. Was it possible that our atmosphere was once rich in hydrocarbons that have evaporated or burned, leaving behind the present atmosphere?

For further reading, please consider reading up on:
  • Alfred E Treibs, the German chemist who discovered that oil contained the fossil remains of chlorophyll, and thus established the biological and organic origins of oil. He is credited as the founder of geochemistry.
  • The abiogenic petroleum origin theory, which hypotheses that oil doesn't originate from biological matter but is continually produce in the Earth's crust. Proponents include Thomas Gold and Nikolai Kudryavtsev.

If the abiotic theory is correct, then we can keep our petrol-powered cars until Kingdom Come. But if the Peak Oil theory is correct, then sooner or later we will have to discard our petrol-based vehicles or at least renovate them to consume alternative fuels. It is this alarm that is now pushing the world towards electricity as an alternative source of fuel. I for one would support the shift towards an electric car, simply because the combustion that goes on under the hood is sometimes quite noisy. We can hear the roar of vehicles each day that we drive along the highway. By itself, one car is not very noisy. But wait until the jam starts in the busiest parts of the city, roll down your windows, and listen to the snarling growl of combusting car engines all around you. Sit along a busy highway (for example, the PLUS highway) and you will hear the scream of car engines as they whiz by. With electric vehicles, all we will hear is a gentle breeze -- "Whoosh" -- as the electric cars glide by. I look forward to that day.

Til next time,

Thank you for visiting.

P/S Here is a video of Barney the Dinosaur reminding us Malaysians that we should love one another.


Shah Jehan said...

aiya bro... gua baru je baca muqaddimah anda. Yang selebihnya, gua skimmed tru sampailah gua jumpa Barney. Nanti gua baca lagi ek... Tapi yang menariknya, anda mahu melepaskan blog anda ini sebagai anak angkat orang lain? Sibuk sangat ya bro? I pray and hope you will have reasonable time for your writings. They are truly enriching! Salam lebaran. Berhati hati di jalan raya dan di meja makan :)

Johnny Ong said...

whatever it is, m'sia's oil may diminish very soon