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No Peak Oil

Scientists have apparently located a deposit of hundreds of times as many liquid hydrocarbons as all previously known earthly reserves. Unfortunately, they're on Titan.

I don't expect this announcement to have much impact on the petroleum futures market.



Al wrote:


The conventional story is: Oil is from dinosaurs.
So, dinosaurs on Titan? Or reasonable non-biologic formation of higher hydrocarbons? Or something unique to Titan?

Brock wrote:

I'm gonna make a wild guess that the energy cost of getting that stuff back to Earth makes it energy-prohibitive as a source of fuel.

Al: There was a dinosaur space-faring civilization that founded colonies on Titan. You didn't know?

Dennis Ray Wingo wrote:

Gas station on the way to alpha centauri!

Fuloydo wrote:

Am I the only one having an "Alien" flashback here?

Duncan Young wrote:

Its not oil (ie petroleum). It's mostly methane, outgassing from the interior that was either trapped there in water ice during accretion or being cooked up from the organics in carbonaceous chondrites. High temperature weathering of basalt can also generate some methane, although in all cases you have to keep it the hell away from oxygen and/or UV. That explains the lack of methane in the inner solar system.

Also oil for the most part comes from plankton. Also not generally thought of as spacefaring.

Steve wrote:

It's a futures market alright. Just WAY in the future.

Tom wrote:

Let me pre-empt the necessary thread for this comment stream:

So, does Bush have time to invade Titan before he leaves office?

Jane Bernstein wrote:

Could someone calculate whether there's more energy in the combustion of the oil or its potential energy that far up the solar gravity well?

Rand Simberg wrote:

Good question, Jane.

I was trying to think of some quick'n'easy way to evaluate its economic potential. I suspect that if it has any value at all, it's in space, and perhaps even in LEO, or at least in a Langrange point, but not for import to the planetary surface.

Mike Puckett wrote:

"The conventional story is: Oil is from dinosaurs.

No Al, it isn't. At least not by anyone who passed Geology 101.

Think decaying plankton and algae.

Duncan Young wrote:

The energy released by burning 1 kg of methane is 50 megajoules, the energy required to accelerate 1 kg of methane to the escape velocity of Titan is 3.5 megajoules.

However, the energy difference between one kilogram at Saturn and at Earth is 400 megajoules; to get it to Jupiter would be 35 megajoules - so using elevators and gravity assists (and, maybe, perpetual motion machines) it it might be just economic to get it to Earth.

Of course, you also need the oxygen.

Big D wrote:

But, by the time you could build the infrastructure to deliver it to market, there probably won't *be* much of a market for hydrocarbons. :P

Duncan Young wrote:

Fuel fraction from the surface of Titan to infinity isn't too bad burning CH4 - 55%. Gets down to 42% using hydrogen, but you need to crack up both water ice and methane to do that. With the optimal reentry characteristics of Titan's atmosphere it would be a great place for an SSTO.

Ed Minchau wrote:

Duncan, Titan is minus 179 degrees Celcius. That's hardly a good condition for high temperature weathering of basalt or cooking up of carbonaceous chondrites.

Maybe Thomas Gold was right.

Duncan Young wrote:


Titan is minus 179 degrees Celcius

At the surface. It gets hotter as you go down. You've heard of the whole magma business? Lava? Yeah, like that. Also, radiogenic decay implies that Titan's interior was hotter in the past. That heating was concentrated deep down as the silicate, radiogenic element-bearing rocks sank through the icy layers.

The isotopic composition of nitrogen on Titan indicates the current N2 atmosphere arrived as ammonia during accretion and thermally decomposed in the interior (as opposed to being primordial N2). Also, the liquid methane present on the surface, abundant as it is, is not enough to buffer the atmospheric methane observed. Massive methane outgassing from the interior is required over geologic time.

Maybe Thomas Gold was right.
Cooking up of carbonaceous chondrites actually was exactly what Gold suggested.

kert wrote:

You are obviously confusing reserves with resources in your post.

Jeff Mauldin wrote:

Cool. Now somebody can write an update of the Martian Way (Asimov). Instead of going and getting an asteroid from Saturn's rings to supply water after a ridiculous political campaign to (unnecessarily) preserve water on earth, we can have our heroes go set up petroleum production operations on Titan, thus silencing a (future, somewhat imaginary) political campaign to stop all use of petroleum on earth, due to it's eventual drying up.

That was always one of my favorite sci-fi short stories. Great engineering feat, danger, politicians more interested in power than truth, technology and engineering alleviating unfounded fears, cool ideas...

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 13, 2008 12:34 PM.

The Empty Suit was the previous entry in this blog.

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