Now that it’s largely an organic industry, the market price of fuel is subject to the vagaries of the weather. In the past, the fuel price was controlled by Arab sheiks, now it’s the farmers’ turn to demand high prices when supply is low.
Even ‘synthesized’ biodiesel needs organic feedstocks, and celthanol is even more susceptible to crop failures. The truth of the matter is, since the widespread conversion to biofuels and the collapse of the oil industry of yesteryear, pump prices are far more sensitive to climate than political intrigue.
The fuel industry is up in arms over global warming, and sounding more and more like the Greens of last century in their calls for something to be done, as drought takes its toll.
What’s more, the continued decline in crude stocks due to oil-eating bacteria means that mineral oil can’t take up the slack.
Read the full story of how oil became an agricultural business in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Natural, synthetic or organic?
At US$ 50 to 70 per barrel for oil, ethanol and biodiesel become viable alternatives for motor vehicles and industry, even in 2005. As technology improves, the break even point is lowered, and varies globally by region. Brazil is already blending up to 20% ethanol in their standard gasoline.
Sasol, arguably the world leader in synthetic fuel technology, currently provides 40% of South Africa’s fuel consumption, mainly from coal. Sasol’s gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology produces ultra clean diesel from natural gas, and this technology is being applied to some of the world’s largest gas fields in Qatar. Sasol is also researching synthetic diesel from organic feed-stocks. In Germany almost 5% of diesel is produced in this manner.
Once the oil cartel is broken for good, bio-fuel and synthetic fuel processes will dominate the fuel industry. Ultimately the weather and market conditions will determine the ‘oil’ price.
2004: Crude oil breaks above $50>
Crude oil exceeds US$50 per barrel on international markets for the first time.
A joint study by the US Departments of Agriculture and Energy (USDA and DOE) concludes that the land resources of the US could produce a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption.
2007: Celthanol boost
Scientists at Dow-Cargill develop genetically modified (GM) bacteria that dramatically increase the production of ethanol from cellulose feedstocks such as straw and wood. Cellulosic ethanol becomes a viable gasoline alternative at an oil price of US$35 per barrel.
2009: GM Soya boosts biodiesel>
GM Soya from Australia, engineered to produce more oil and less protein, replaces canola as the feedstock of choice for biodiesel. This strain is quickly adopted in the US Midwest and South Africa.
In Minnesota, flexfuel known as E85, a blend of gasoline and 85% ethanol has been popular for years. This becomes the most common fuel for automobiles throughout the Midwest.
2011: Gas-to-liquid success>
Gas-to-liquid synfuels now account for almost 15% of global automotive fuel consumption.
2013: Greentide cleans up oil spills>
Crude oil hovers around US$25 per barrel as demand drops. Synfuels and biofuels have reduced the demand for mineral crude to such an extent that OPEC is in disarray, and the Gulf states face the possibility of declining revenues and increasing trade deficits. Fears of political unrest in the Middle East increase.
Scientists genetically modify anaerobic bacteria to consume oil residues, breaking down sludge and tar and converting them to harmless minerals and gas. Oil companies use these bacteria to make a detergent called Greentide, which is used in the Suez canal and other areas of spillage to completely remove oil pollution.
2015: Bumper crops drop biofuel prices>
Riding on a wave of technology breakthroughs and bumper harvests of feed-stocks, the price of synthetic fuels drops to a new low, making them almost mandatory for ‘green’ nations. China continues to snap up cheap crude stocks, but global protest over Chinese pollution levels mounts.
2016: Greentide eating oil reserves>
Greentide contamination of the Saudi and Iraqi oil fields starts to affect the size of proven reserves. It seems that the bacteria continues to grow underground, and is gradually depleting the world’s biggest oil fields.
2017: Drought sends fuel price rocketing>
A global climate anomaly leads to poor harvests in most countries. Biomass feedstocks are decimated and fuel prices shoot up. Many industry players cannot handle a quick conversion back to mineral crude, which rises in sympathy. Fuel shortages hit most of the developed world.
The big fuel companies are up in arms. “This is directly related to global warming,” they protest. “We have to accelerate plans to combat climate change on a global scale. Our very existence depends on it.”