What would be the medium-term effects of long-term cheap oil?

Imagine someone creates a process to mass-produce oil from CO2 and H2O that is cheap. All you need is energy. Which you can get from your local nuclear reactor / wind farm / whatever.

What would be the medium-term effects of this? A decrease in the importance of the Middle East and the proliferation of nuclear energy are obvious, ditto a decrease in pollution, but what else?

I don’t see how it would decrease pollution; whether it comes from the ground or a factory it creates pollution when burned.

As for other effects; it would slow down any attempts to stop the greenhouse effect from wrecking the economy and ecology even more. It would have some uses for creating aircraft fuels and the raw material for plastics and fertilizers, but the damage done would outweigh the advantages IMHO.

This is essentially the concept of biofuels (plants turn CO2 and H20 into organic matter using sunlight as the energy source, which we then can turn into combustible fuel). A “mechanical” option of turning CO2 and H2O directly into fuel could be carbon neutral as well PROVIDED that the energy it uses is itself carbon neutral (on a life-cycle basis).

In most cases though, it makes more sense to harness the energy directly - ie. use the energy in the form of electricity rather than use it to generate fuel. The fact is, even if you can somehow find a very efficient process for creating fuel from CO2 and H2O, most of the processes that burn fuel (ie. internal combustion engines) aren’t that efficient, so you will ALWAYS be using way more energy to make the fuel than you will in the end get out of it in useful work. Chances are, in the short-medium term it would likely INCREASE overall GHG emissions due to not using your energy efficiently. You may have heard the same thing about corn ethanol - while sunlight is renewable, the fertilizer, harvesting, and processing into ethanol all use energy from fossil fuels.

The only advantage of using energy to generate hydrocarbons is so that it can be used with current infrastructure and technology.

It creates CO2, but that CO2 would just be pulled back out of the atmosphere and turned back into oil at wind farms or nuclear plants which would not produce CO2. So it would be a fairly neutral source of CO2. It would pull out as much as it put back in.

What do I think the effects would be? I think massive economic damage to oil producing nations (obviously) which isn’t just the middle east but also the US, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and others.

I have no idea what effects it would have on political stability in the middle east. With countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait or Iran not able to rely on oil revenues, domestic unrest could increase. I don’t know if that would be a good thing or a bad thing.

No it isn’t.

Electricity has the problem of transmission losses and lack of storage facility.

This is not relevant. My OP postulates power + H2O + CO2 = Oil. Yes, it won’t be 100% efficient, but we’re getting the power from nuclear, wind, solar, whatever, not coal or oil.

I disagree, but anyway I’m asking after the medium term, not the short term. All those nuclear reactors and wind farms are going to take time to build.

But it’s carbon neutral. You’re taking CO2 from the air and turning it into oil, which then gets burned and goes back to CO2 in an endless cycle. Yes, some CO2 will be emitted by the other parts, but that will be minimal, and more than offset by the carbon not emitted by burning fossil fuel deposits.

A decrease in pollution? Walk me through this one.

Fossil fuels release carbon that was previously sequestered underground. Fuel manufactured from C02 and H20 reuses the same atmospheric C02 over and over.

I was thinking more of the all the carcinogenic substances in car exhaust.

OK; I understand what you mean now.

Still; there would be other pollutants as marshmallow points out. Probably not as dangerous on the worldwide scale as C02 may ultimately turn out to be, but unhealthy. Probably at least somewhat less unhealthy than the pollution from natural oil since I presume it wouldn’t be synthesized with any unnecessary sulfur, heavy metals and so on added in.

A reduction in the price of plastic products.

So expect the smog problem around large cities to get even worse, right?

There is nothing hypothetical about this really. Hydrolysis of water produces hydrogen. The water gas shift reaction produces water and carbon monoxide. More hydrogen and carbon monoxide are used in the Fischer Tropsch process to get gasoline.

It all takes a huge amount of energy, and there is no way around it.

But it’s not currently economic, else we’d be doing it already. So, please assume that someone has cracked the economic issue, and tell me what you think the medium-term effects would be.

The only reason it’s not economic is because of the energy. Since you are effectively undoing the reaction you used to get energy out of the oil in the first place, there is no thermodynamic way around it unless you are invoking magic. Every chemical transformation is going to lose energy. Like they said above, you are much better off just using the electricity directly.

I’m kind of curious about what the results would be if we built a gasoline-powered electricity plant. Compared to coal, how efficient would it be? How polluting? I figure we could get some massive economy of scale here.

It is impractical to build a gasoline-powered plant to compete with coal, for the reason that doing such would not leverage gasoline’s potential well enough. You would build it to compete with combined cycle natural gas turbines, which currently can hit efficiencies over 60%. Whereas the best steam-turbine coal plants are probably in the 42-45% range, depending on many things which I need not bore people with. In short, you could achieve much higher efficiency burning gasoline than coal.

Competing against natural gas turbines, I think you could end up being slightly more efficient than even those, due to reduced latent heat losses from the gasoline combustion, due to the higher C/H ratio. The reason no one uses gasoline in a gas turbine is due to many things, almost all of them being economics. However, you might also not be able to get the compression you want in the turbine due to the knock properties of gasoline, to it would be much better to use #2 oil in the turbine rather than gasoline. And in this mythical process, I would assume that #2 could be made just as well as gasoline.

Correct, Una, I was simplifying when I said gasoline. I meant petroleum product in general. I was wondering about something that had slight real-world implications. What if, instead of burning gas in cars, we burnt the product in the power plant and charged the cars off it? How much pollution would there be, relative to A: electric cars powered off coal plants, and B: gas powered cars?

Ignoring for the moment, the issues with electric cars and so forth, I was wondering about just relative pollution levels.

Assuming, and no, this isn’t fair, but it would be accurate, typical scrubbing in your average coal plant, (eg, one that’s been three quarters rebuilt instead of fully so, so it didn’t need to update to emissions standards), versus a newly built and maximally efficient and scrubbed petrol plant.

Diesel engines are just slightly more expensive to produce than gasoline engines and produce the mileage of hybrids. It would put more cars on the road that pollute less for the money spent. In addition, diesel from algae results in the conversion of Co2 so it cycles it rather than releasing additional co2 stored in fossile fuels. On top of that it would use the same distribution system currently used to fuel cars so the infrastructure is already in place.

To answer the op, all the money spent on imported oil would be recirculated in the economy of those countries importing the oil.

Dude, how could that be a good thing? The poorer a country gets, especially right after being pretty well-off, the more non-liberal its people become. It always baffles me why this principle isn’t more widely understood.