Global Energy: The 300-Year Outlook

Charles Botsford looks at all available conventional sources and concludes that renewables are our only option.

Published: 27-Jan-2012

In the long run (a few hundred years, perhaps) humans will exhaust the Earth’s current supply of fossil fuels. It is more accurate to say that before we exhaust the supply, humans will stop burning fossil fuels to produce electricity and power our vehicles because fossil fuels will have become too valuable. From a chemical engineering perspective, would it not be more appropriate to use fossil fuels as feedstocks for chemicals, rather than burning them for fuel? Answering that question requires an understanding of the future prospects for each of the currently used energy sources.

A detailed analysis of each fuel type could fill a book — or maybe even a large library. The following article briefly summarizes the commonly held wisdom of reserve ranges for each non-renewable fuel, and the factors that may affect their use.

Figure 1 shows the general trends of energy production and projected use for the next three hundred years. The absolute numbers in any given mid-term year can be questioned, but the near-term numbers, say the next twenty years, are predictable, and the increasing percentage attributable to renewables in the long-term is inevitable.

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