In what industries is oil the least replacable?

Regardless of whether it is actually true, lets say that it becomes public knowledge that oil will be too rare (and thus too sensitive) in 20 years. What industries are in trouble the most? There seem to be plenty of alternatives for transportation of people and goods that could be developed within 20 years. But are there other industries where oil is much harder or impossible to replace?
Also, do you guys think its a good idea to stock up on fuel now, maybe it would be worth its weight in diamonds sometime in our lifetime when it is hard to get but still needed for some applications?
Do you guys think that oil will somehow be synthesized in an affordable way in our lifetime?

First one that comes to mind is the plastics industry. Plastic is a petroleum product and is used more than ever. Most things on the market these days contains plastics of some sort.

Can’t we make plastic or something to replace plastic? and recycle plastic and take it out of the ocean, at that spot in the ocean where it is collecting en mass. It doesn’t seem to me that plastic would be that big an issue.

In the first post, instead of sensitive, I meant to write expensive -_-. But the forum does not allow me to edit.

I think to a large degree the premise is off base. I would be fascinated to hear otherwise, but I don’t know that there is actually anything we make in which actual ground-drilled petroleum is an irreplaceable component.

For virtually any fuel, there are alternatives. For other things I’ve already heard about a lot of things where you can use differently prepared/treated/processed biomass as a replacement. There are plastics made with biomass, biomass can be turned directly into fuel for cars, power plants etc.

In many cases it’s more expensive than oil is today, but if all the oil was gone, that wouldn’t be a big hit against biomass products. Additionally, the price of biomass products isn’t so much higher that it would be the end of the world if we had to use them primarily instead of oil–I’m imagining of course a scenario in which the world has gradually moved to using them instead of oil from the ground and all the required infrastructure has been built up.

Of course, we always have coal too, and shit tons of it. You can turn coal into synthetic fuel that can be used just about anywhere oil is used now; the Germans did it during WWII. It’s more expensive, but again, in a world with no more available oil reserves that becomes less of an issue.

Anything we can make from petroleum we could synthesize from coal or other organic sources, so it isn’t like some substance will be absolutely unobtainable; it’s a question of cost. Would commercial air travel no longer be viable if fuel cost 10X what it does now?

Air travel is the big one, there is no economically viable alternative that packs enough energy into the weight needed. In 20-30 years we may well a return to 70’s era international flight costs were only the very well off can afford to fly regularly.

True but you can make plastics out of plant starch and similar materials, so this may not be the most affected.

It would be affected a lot. We use many sorts of plastics for different purposes, and the vast majority of them are made from petroleum products. Yes, in principle they could all be made from biological materials or coal, but it is likely to be a lot more difficult and more expensive. Many other sorts of chemical products, such as detergents, drugs, and many chemicals used in industry to produce other things, are also currently produced from petroleum. Again, it might be possible in principle to make them from other things, but it generally will not be easy or anything like as cheap.

As I understand it, with current technology it costs more fuel to grow, harvest and process vegetables for oil than it produces. Barring a major breakthrough, without fossil oil, it won’t be possible to obtain plant starch.

Cite for this?

My question is, what fuel will be used to create all these alternative products and fuels? Say fossil fuels are out, because, oh, maybe burning them alters the global climate, or some other far-fetched unlikely idea. So no more coal, natural gas, etc. But an energy source is needed simply to obtain and process and deliver biofuels, to manufacture these new celluloids. I have only a dim grasp of physics but it seems to me that the idea of making biofuels and bio-plastics using biofuels to make them has certain built-in weaknesses.

My guess is that there will have to be a drastic reduction of the consumption of just about everything. I can think of one or two ways that can be least-painfully accomplished, but the pessimist says, there are much more likely scenarios in which pain figures very prominently.

The continuing profitability of the petroleum industry.

Nuclear, solar, geothermal…

We certainly have more idea about alternative sources of energy than we do about alternative chemical feedstocks.

No, that’s not actually a cite. Biodiesel produced from sugar cane is a net energy positive for example, but the petroleum industry still makes money from refining petroleum into gasoline. Your contention that a process which can produce petroleum type products from plants that was net energy positive would be incompatible with the existence of a profitable petroleum industry is thus not true and thus cannot serve as a cite.

I know a lot of people think you can’t produce biodiesel or ethanol from plants without it being a net energy negative (this is primarily because much of the focus is on corn ethanol which is one of the least favorable plants to do this process with), so I was curious if Peter Morris’ claim was based on that or if instead he knew specifically that petroleum hasn’t yet been produced from plant matter without using more raw petroleum as an input than it produces as an output. (Note I’m not using the terms biodiesel / ethanol / petroleum interchangeably and for good reason, I’m familiar enough with the biodiesel/ethanol situation, but the production of actual petroleum from plants is a bit more foreign to me so I don’t know the specifics.)

Cite for this?
I don’t claim to have any great knowledge of the subject. I just repeat what I’ve heard.

If I’ve heard wrong, I’m willing to have my ignorance fought. But I’ll need details before I accept what you say.

Well, in terms of transportation, there are other fuels available where it has been proven technologically feasibly to build vehicles that use them, and this has been so for a long time. The Ford Model T, not exactly the latest and greatest from Detroit, could run on straight ethanol, which is renewable and can be produced from maize or sugarcane. Old rail steam locomotives ran on wood - I seriously doubt that there is any reason other than industry inertia why there couldn’t be a 2019 Chevrolet Steam Boy with a steam boiler that took wood and scraps of old newspapers.

In terms of a future situation where petroleum supplies are dwindling but the oil is still flowing and still needed for certain critical uses, you could have laws passed increasing the tax on road gasoline and road diesel to the point where you reach the desired equilibrium, if the rising cost of free-market oil doesn’t reduce consumption as much as is desired. You could even provide tax breaks for buying cars that can run on ethanol, biodiesel, fryer grease, wood, or whatever or provide tax breaks for installing conversion kits on old cars.

Peter, I think what you’re remembering is the (hotly contested) claim that generating ethanol from corn produces less energy than the fossil fuel inputs to it. Even if this is true (and the consensus is that it is not), most of the fossil fuel inputs are in the form of natural gas being burned to produce heat for the distillation process. If we didn’t have oil any more (and even if we didn’t have natural gas), we’d still have ways to make heat, so we could still grow and harvest biomass for use as fuel.

In a lot of cases, the reason that these alternative sources are more expensive is because cheap oil means that there’s no incentive for people to research less expensive ways of producing them. If the price of oil changes, they start to look a lot more attractive, and the research will be done.

So your original claim was not based on any knowledge at all, but just anecdote? So basically it wasn’t a real claim at all, just you talking about something you didn’t really know about.

As for my claim, it’s backed up by science, and lots of applied technology in Brazil (meaning this isn’t just theoretical):

Large NG feature, this has both some articles and interactive graphs and displays. You’ll note that Brazil (nearly 7 years ago), was producing 3.96 billion gallons of ethanol from sugarcane, at a cost of $0.87/gallon. The energy input/output graph for Sugarcane will show that for every one unit of input sugarcane produces 8 equivalent units of output. Basically meaning for every say, BTU of energy consumed to grow, harvest, and process the sugarcane you get 8 BTU back out.

Article in the New York times noting sugarcane varies from 8.3 units of energy for every unit of input to 10+.

This PDF from the World Bank repeats the energy ratio figures on pages 28-29.

After that, you can go to this fairly good wiki article on Brazil’s ethanol industry which contains some 150+ citations to support what is said in the article itself.

That’s because the crops we grow now were bred for specific desired traits related to food use. If they were intended for biofuel use, they would be bred for different traits. (Or even different crops altogether.)

For example, corn has been bred to produce big ears with large kernels, and to put only minimal energy into producing the stalk & leaves. But it’s the stalk & leaves that are fermented to produce biofuel. Otherwise they would be used as low value sileage or plowed under as fertilizer, so it’s mostly a waste product of the corn plant that is used for biofuel. A corn plant bred for biofuel would produce less corn and more leaves. Or more likely, some more grass-like, perennial plant would be preferred. Especially one that coould grow on more marginal land, with less cultivation needed.