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Energy price prediction `more difficult,’ EIA’s Caruso says

Tina Seeley, Bloomberg
Predicting energy prices is “more difficult” now because of the lack of sufficient information from emerging economies, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

“No one could’ve predicted” recent record energy prices, Guy Caruso, administrator of the agency, said today at a press conference in Washington sponsored by Platts. Caruso, 66, announced earlier this month that he will step down on Sept. 3 as head of the agency, which is the statistical arm of the Energy Department.
(26 August 2008)

Bioplastic – better living through green chemistry?

Big Gav, The Oil Drum: Australia New Zealand
The New York Times recently had an editorial on Samsung’s “Corn Phone”, which is being heavily promoted as environmentally friendly as the casing is made from bioplastic. Somewhat to my surprise, they point out that it is neither – firstly because the bioplastic is made from corn (and is thus contributing to the problems that corn based ethanol is causing) and secondly because phones have become nearly throw away items that are rarely recycled.

… While Samsung’s phone doesn’t seem to have passed the “greenwash” test, peak oil poses a problem for plastic production for which bioplastic could be one potential solution, so in this post I’ll have a look at what is happening in the industry and how our desire for plastics could perhaps be satisfied in a post oil world.
Plastic and peak oil

Chemicals and plastics are an integral part of peak oil concerns, as oil is the primary raw material used in their production, leading to the conclusion that as we pass the peak the shrinking availability and rising price of oil will cause a reduction in supply of these products.

There are 3 basic approaches to dealing with this scenario in a positive way:

1. Substitution: Use other materials – cardboard or paper packaging for example, or going back to using metal eating utensils instead of disposable plastic ones. Many other items currently made with plastic can also be made with wood, glass or metal (or even popcorn).

2. Recycling: Some plastics can be recycled – or converted back to oil for that matter, though the net energy benefit of this is debatable. Plastic recycling is already widely practiced though we have a long way to go before all recyclable plastics reach the correct destination. Recycling plastic not only reduces the amount of feedstock required to make the material, it also reduces the energy required in manufacturing by around 70%.

3. Bioplastics: Use carbohydrates to create plastics instead of hydrocarbons, an endeavour which was historically known as “chemurgy”.
(27 August 2008)

Could $100 oil turn dumps into plastic mines?

Kate Kelland, Reuters
Sparked by surging oil, a dramatic rise in the value of old plastic is encouraging waste companies across the world to dig for buried riches in rotting rubbish dumps.

Long a symbol of humanity’s throw-away culture, existing landfill sites are now being viewed as mines of potential which as the world population grows could also help bolster the planet’s dwindling natural resources.

“By 2020 we might have nine billion people on the planet, we could have a very big middle class driving millions more cars, and we could be in a really resource-hungry world with the oil price climbing and a supply situation in Libya, Russia and Saudi where natural gas is limited,” said Peter Jones, one of Britain’s leading experts on waste management.

“It is those drivers, those conditions, which will encourage the possibility of landfill mining.”
(26 August 2008)

Scrapping fuel subsidies can help climate: U.N. study

Alister Doyle, Reuters
Abolishing subsidies on fossil fuels could cut world greenhouse gas emissions by up to 6 percent and also nudge up world economic growth, a U.N. report showed on Tuesday.

Subsidies on oil, gas or coal are meant to help the poor by lowering the price of energy but the report, issued on the sidelines of a 160-nation U.N. climate meeting in Ghana, said they often backfired by mainly benefiting wealthier people.

… “Cancelling these subsidies might reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 6 percent a year while contributing 0.1 percent to global GDP,” it said.

People forced to pay higher prices for energy would likely cut back on use of fossil fuels, the main source of greenhouse gases from human activities.

“Governments should urgently review their energy subsidies and begin phasing out the harmful ones,” said Achim Steiner, head of the Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).
(26 August 2008)