Greenhouse gas emissions set to rise as new sources for transport fuel are used

Dec 07, 2006

The use of low-quality sources of petroleum, such as tar sands, will dramatically raise global greenhouse gas emissions according to a new study.

The work is reported in the paper Risks of the oil transition, published in the new Institute of Physics open-access electronic-only journal, Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

Lead author Professor Alex Farrell of the University of California, Berkeley said: “Liquid fuels for transportation are increasingly coming from a wide range of sources other than conventional petroleum. We call this the oil transition and we conclude that the environmental risks associated with this transition are much bigger than the risk to a country’s economy or the security of their fuel supply.”

Tar sands are currently one of the biggest unconventional sources for petroleum. Bitumen, a very think mixture of organic liquids, is mined from the tar sands. Natural gas is then bubbled through the bitumen to separate the impurities, mostly sulphur. The use of natural gas for removing impurities and then in refining tar sands into oil is a highly energy intensive process itself, even before the resulting oil is refined into gasoline and then burned in vehicles.

The sulphur separated in the production combines with Hydrogen to form H2S, the characteristic 'rotten egg' compound. Solid sulphur is then separated out, yielding vast pyramids of yellow sulphur blocks which are stacked and stored on the site.

“We have calculated that production of fuels from low-quality and synthetic petroleum, such as tar sands, could have greenhouse gas emissions 30%-70% greater than the emissions from conventional petrol. Tar sands are already being used as a source for petrol, with over one million barrels refined each day in Alberta, Canada. With oil selling for $60/barrel on the international market, the $30/barrel production cost for tar sands is no longer an obstacle to production as it used to be.”

Professor Farrell continued: “The enormous abundance of fossil fuel reserves means that the real challenge for the future is not dealing with scarcity of supply but managing the transition from traditional sources such as oil fields to new unconventional sources whilst protecting the environment and balancing the changes that the transition will bring to the global economy and the security of supply for individual countries.”

Source: Institute of Physics

Explore further: Dam hard: Water storage is a historic headache for Australia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

$58 million effort to study potential new energy source

Oct 22, 2014

A research team led by The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded approximately $58 million to analyze deposits of frozen methane under the Gulf of Mexico that hold enormous potential to increase ...

Hydraulic fracturing linked to earthquakes in Ohio

Oct 14, 2014

Hydraulic fracturing triggered a series of small earthquakes in 2013 on a previously unmapped fault in Harrison County, Ohio, according to a study published in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

Recommended for you

Australia set to pay polluters to cut emissions

4 hours ago

Australia is set to approve measures giving polluters financial incentives to reduce emissions blamed for climate change, in a move critics described as ineffective environmental policy.

TransCanada seeks approvals for pipeline to Atlantic

15 hours ago

TransCanada on Thursday filed for regulatory approval of a proposed Can$12 billion (US$10.7 billion) pipeline to carry western Canadian oil to Atlantic coast refineries and terminals, for shipping overseas.

Does it help conservation to put a price on nature?

18 hours ago

Putting a price on the services which a particular ecosystem provides may encourage the adoption of greener policies, but it may come at the price of biodiversity conservation. Writing today in the journal ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.