World’s coal supply may be vastly overestimated

May 14th, 2009 - 1:26 pm ICT by ANI  

Canberra, May 14 (ANI): A US expert ha suggested that the world’s coal supply suggests reserves may be vastly overestimated and we could be facing an unprecedented global energy crisis.

Common knowledge about coal is that major producing nations like China, the United States and Australia, have enough to last hundreds of years, far beyond the reach of oil, which may already be in its twilight years.

But, according to a report by ABC News, worldwide coal production could plateau as early as 2025, as one new estimate determines, and a growing group of scientists are concerned that fossil fuel supplies may begin dwindling by mid-century.

Last year, David Rutledge of the California Institute of Technology analysed the coal production patterns of five regions around the world - eastern Pennsylvania, France, Germany’s Ruhr Valley, the United Kingdom and Japan - each of which was producing at less than a tenth of its peak levels.

He found that each of the depleted regions followed a rough bell curve of production. Initial production was followed by a steep ramp-up, a plateau near peak levels, and then a consistent decline.

When he applied the same formula to coal data from around the world, the results were startling.

Though the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s maximum estimate for extractable coal is about 3000 billion tonnes, Rutledge’s calculations suggest just 600 billion tonnes.

The problem with the IPCC estimate is that it lumps coal reserves, which are easy to mine, with coal resources, which may be impossible to mine.

Rutledge’s study also shows that, historically, national governments in the five regions have overestimated their reserves by a factor of four on average.

“These appraisals are large-scale issues,” he said. “But they’re done by governments. What’s the incentive for governments not to give a number that is too high?” he asked.

“I think we’ll see peak coal somewhere between 2025 and 2035,” said Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute in California.

“This has huge economic implications. Without growth in our energy supplies, it’s very difficult to see how we’re going to grow the economy,” he added. (ANI)

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