Involuntary decarbonization

China is aware that its coal is running out and that it needs new sources of energy. The rest of the world blunders along on the assumption that fossil fuels will remain plentiful.

Guest essay by David Archibald

At a conference on coal gasification in Colorado Springs on 12th October, the lead speaker was Dr Yong-Wang Li of Synfuels China. The third slide of his presentation contained this statement:



That includes coal. There are people being born in China today who will see the end of coal. This agrees with my own analysis which has China having burnt through half of its coal endowment by 2025:


Coal production in China is relatively opaque. Last month the E.I.A. revised its estimate of Chinese energy consumption from coal by 14%. Despite China’s agreements with the Obama administration to curtail carbon dioxide emissions, and its finite reserves, China is further increasing its coal consumption by building coal-to-synthetic natural gas (SNG) plants. Possibly more than 30 will be built, increasing coal consumption by more than 400 million tonnes per annum. According to theory of the consumption of a finite resource, production cost rises once half of the resource has been consumed. On that basis, the cost of doing everthing in China will start rising appreciably from 2025 and China’s relative competitiveness will start declining.

As Dr Li noted, China has to develop new energy resources. At least China is aware of their problem. In 2014, the team developing the Chinese thorium molten salt reactor were told to do in ten years rather than the original 25 years they had given themselves. Researchers working on the project said they were under unprecedented “war-like” pressure to succeed. Ideally, for China, the decline in coal production coming from the mid-2020s will be seamlessly replaced by a ramp up in nuclear power production from thorium reactors.


144 thoughts on “Involuntary decarbonization

  1. The Thorium approach is great for China and If our own moribund Department of Energy would get its act together, we too might benefit from Dr Sorensen’s initiatives.

    • Dr. Sorenson may have the best plan for an ideal thorium reactor. ThorCon power has the most practical plan for a good enough thorium reactor.

      With a relatively modest investment, they think they can get to market in under a decade. Check out their presentations.

      They’ll start with molten salt uranium reactors and transition into thorium breeders when the fuel costs justify it.

    • Nuclear fission is the ace in the hole for future energy needs. Ideally cleaner solutions will be developed in time to be used, but if it comes down to either having shortage of power or using conventional water cooled reactors, water cooled reactors will be built, and waste will be stored in the ground (there is plenty of space underground for thousands of years waste to be safely stored) with or without approval of environmentalists. There is no point worrying about whether or not we will have power in the future. We will, that is a given. Some people are just serial worriers.

  2. China needs to worry. Countries like the USA though, have enough coal, oil and natural gas to last 100s of years of their own usage .

    Even in that graph from Li’s presentation shows that coal production only declines in China. In the other regions, it remains the same, or in the case of North and South America (and Europe!), coal production actually increases.

    • They might get a little from Russia to ease their worries. Just a short train ride away.

      At current production levels, coal reserves in Russia could help support its coal needs for around 443 years. Russia, with a share of 18.2%, is second only to the US (27.6%) in terms of global proven coal reserves at the end of 2012. Domestic coal reserves totaled 157 billion t, comprising sub-bituminous and lignite grade coal reserves of 107.9 billion t and anthracite and bituminous grade coal reserves of 49.1 billion t. However, the projected total domestic coal reserves are expected to be in the range of 4 ? 5 trillion t, chiefly spread across eastern Siberia (84%) and the far east of Russia (6%). The Kuzbass coalfield has the largest share of coal reserves (56%), along with the Kansko-Achinky coalfield (12%), Zabaikalsk area and Khakassia with 6% and 4%, respectively.

      While Russia eyes a major share of the growing demand for coal from the Asian markets of China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, it faces tough competition from the US and the European coal export markets.

      While the lignite grade does not warrant shipping, the Sub-bituminous does and 157 billion compares to the U.S. Geological Survey estimated in-place resources of 1.07 trillion short tons of coal in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming and Montana. Of that total, with a maximum stripping ratio of 10:1, recoverable coal was 162 billion tons.

      • Moving coal isn’t free.
        A ton of coal mined profitably in Wyoming for $10/ton ends up being $60+/ton by the time it reaches Florida and $80+/ton by the time it reaches Europe/Asia.

        The IPCC emissions projections inore the fact that inexpensively extracted coal is not distributed equally throughout the world.

        If we look at the part that matters with coal…proximity to population centers…then inexpensively extracted coal appears to be located as far as possible distances from population centers. Transportation costs end up pushing alternative forms of energy…not extraction costs.

      • @harrywr2
        The question domestically then becomes is it cheaper to ship the coal to the power plant, or build the power plant next to the mine head and ship (transmit) the power to market? It’s all about delivered cost.

    • With the US debt on target to reach 20 Trillion by the end of Obama’s term. The attraction will become overpowering. The US will need some one to hold their bonds, and China and India will need Coal.

      The UK also has around 800 years worth of Coal and a lot of debt. Much of their heavy industry has already been shuttered.

      I don’t think it will be hard to see which way the wind is gonna blow.

      • I don’t think it will be hard to see which way the wind is gonna blow

        I’m not sure you are correct here. The idiots currently leading the western world have achieved a level of stupid incompetence way beyond anything seen before.

  3. I wish the debate was about depleting resources instead of bogus climate alarmist stories, then we could begin to look at which renewables should be developed as part of the solution.

    • the “problem” is man’s ingenuity. Fracking shale to recover previously unavailable methane has increased natural gas reserves for at least 50-70 more years of extraction in the US alone. For now the EU remains fracking averse, but that could change if Gazprom shuts its valves. Who knows how much “non-renewable” gas and oil remains in the world. The CO2 it creates is only a problem for the CAGW orthodoxy.

      • Having owned a small share in sone gas and oil wells in Texas for over 85 years now, it is clear that they recharge over time. As gas and oil are not fossil but derive from Earth’s core by neutron repulsion reactions, there is no visible end to this source.

      • Re oil and gas wells recharging … bull feathers … take a course in geology and learn some science. I always get annoyed at the nonsense on oil posted by folks who never found a barrel of oil.

      • Stewart, are we to assume that you have found a barrel of oil? I think that you are the one who might need to do a little more research. There have been numerous oil fields that have produced far more oil and for far longer periods of time than originally had been predicted. Why this sometimes happens has numerous explanations depending on the situation. In most cases that I have knowledge of, the theory has been that high pressure acting on oil in deeper areas not included in the original estimate has been pushed the into shallower voids that are currently being exploited. I have never heard of “neutron repulsion reactions” from the earth’s core replenishing oil reserves. But I personally wouldn’t be insulting someone who has had a long time interest in a property that had overproduced. Whatever the reason… reserves are often underestimated and that is the primary message that I take from Highley7’s post.

    • China already has — there is more Wind generation Nameplate Capacity in China (105 GW) than Nuclear, and China will add 15 more GW this year. In the next 5 years China will reach or exceed 200 GW of installed nameplate Wind Generating Capacity

      China has installed 11 GW of PV in 2014, bringing the total from 17 GW to 28 GW in 2014. By June of 2015 China had reached 35.8, putting China on track to install 15 GW in solar PV in 2015.

      • Get real; all that widespread wind and solar infrastructure only accounts for 7% of their installed capacity, and actually provides just 1% of their energy consumed. Even when the installed capacity for wind is at 200 GW it will still be severely limited in the amount of electricity it can actually deliver due to its inherent drawbacks. And to top it all off, every single wind turbine will need to be replaced at least 5 times in the 100 years they have to replace coal.

      • @RW Turner

        They said that 10 years ago about solar and wind. Solar is on an exponential increase in China — not linear, and Wind is holding at 15-20% year over year (also not linear)

        As far as 20 year replacement — even some of the old tech turbines at Tehachapi have lasted 40 years

        FYI — wind is always blowing SOMEWHERE — at 350 ft altitude alot of somewhere, even though it may be calm at ground level — Stanford published an analysis that interconnected wind farms can be used as BASELOAD power at 30-40% of Nameplate Capacity

        I think it’s a bit telling that this is predominantly (China acutely also understands the economic cost of coal pollution) an Economic and schedule driven policy by China — it makes better economic sense to install 50+ GW of Solar and Wind per year than Nuclear

      • When the govt pays people to put the things up, is there any surprise that lots of people are putting things up.
        As to the wind blowing somewhere, so what? If it’s not blowing where you are, it’s useless to you. That’s because electricity can’t be shipped more than a couple hundred miles.

      • @MarkW

        The max distance is 300 miles (90,000 square miles) for HVAC, but much much farther with HVDC
        But that is not material, because the likelihood that the wind is EVER not blowing across that entire area is basically zero.

        Perhaps you should research the rayleigh and weibull distributions of windspeed, and whether there is wind above 4m/s across multiple weather stations in a 100 square mile area — weather underground may be a good place to start. Now the stations are usually 3m to 10m elevation which will skew the results to seem more calm — and there is a significant increase of wind speed with altitude.

        There may be some newer data sets from wind surveys — 50 meter height and 1 hour samples over the course of a year.

      • Karl, where is that “somewhere” where the wind always blows? If I look at production graphs of Germany or neighbour countries I see quasi zero production at times.

  4. The country which first develops a standard design Thorium power plant will steal a march over other industrialized countries. They will give themselves a competitive advantage which will be very hard to deal with.

    • It’s not the Reactor design that is the ‘long pole in the tent’ — it’s the fuel

      U-232 is a huge gamma emitter, and Pa 233 has a half-life of 27 days and is a neutron absorber which doesn’t help but actually hurts with the continued conversion of Th to U-233, and leads to transuranic isotope creation

      • I would appreciate a short lesson on the chain reactions and issues you know of. I need simple language though. Thanks.

      • @ Coach

        Yes Thorium — but thorium doesn’t work well by itself as a fuel, that’s why it uses it’s own daughter product Uranium 233 to provide neutrons to continue the cycle

        U-232 is also a daughter product as is Protactinium 233

        U-232 is a high intensity gamma emitter — great to keep from being easily used in weapons, not so great for handling

        Pa-233 is a neutron absorber

      • Karl,

        “U-232 is a huge gamma emitter,”
        I think you mean U-233, produced from Th-232 by neutron capture. From what I have read, you are correct; the thorium fuel cycle is very hard. It makes more sense to first develop molten salt reaction for uranium, then eventually adapt them for thorium. There is no short term need for thorium, since molten salt reactors can use a much larger fraction of the uranium than conventional reactors.

      • Oops. I made the fundamental error of posting then checking. Although U-233 is the main uranium isotope in the thorium fuel cycle, Karl is correct that the troublesome gamma emission is from U-232.

  5. Julian Williams in Wales

    You say

    I wish the debate was about depleting resources instead of bogus climate alarmist stories, then we could begin to look at which renewables should be developed as part of the solution.

    Globally there is no problem of “depleting resources”. There is sufficient coal for at least the next 500 years.

    Economically the only ‘renewable’ worthy of consideration is hydropower.


    • In some locations geothermal and tidal are economically viable.

      And wave power may be economical with cheaper replacement components.
      Not yet but soon.

      • Those places with large tidal surges rely on harmonics to acheive. Any change to the tidal basin will change the dynamics and quite possibly eliminate the harmonics that create the big surges.

    • Agreed, Richard. The only problem, as with alleged food shortages, is distribution from where there is plenty to where there is a shortage. And payments, of course. But if the thieving warmists could be eliminated along with their taxpayer subsidies, money would no longer be a great problem.

      • rich, M, Mike,

        I would add – remote locations, with a low usage [and good battery back-up]; these may use solar & wind, if correctly designed.
        More likely, they will be ‘hybrids’, with likely an on-site diesel generator, plus renewables.
        And that highlights the need for hot spinning nuclear/fossil reserve for when it’s dark – and calm.

      • Europe is on the road to banning diesel fuel aided and abbeted by the UN. They have been preparing the ground in the usual manner. Publicity on the BBC and French TV. Papers issued in the ‘journals’ etc. A ban is likely in the next 5 yrs using the Obama method of increasing taxation.

    • True : we have enough coal for 500 years. But energy is so important for our human existence that it won’t do any harm thinking about it now and slowly begin to find alternative resources. I, personally, dream of mankind, as well as our technological civilisation, lasting a good deal longer than 500 years.

      • AndyE:

        Nobody can know what – if any – need for fossil fuels will exist in 500 years time.

        300 years ago transport relied on horses and it was feared that today’s amount of transportation would be impossible because there is not enough land to grow all the hay. But today’s transportation does not rely on horses.

        Nobody is stopping you spending your money to research whatever you think may be needed 500 years in the future. I object to my money being wasted on that activity.


      • Talking about horse, in the late 1800s, city planners were very worried how they would clear all the shit from the roads, and what would they do with all the muck, but within 25 years, the modern motor car arrived, rendering the horse and carriage obsolete (although it was slowly replaced).

        New technologies are always just around the corner. there is no need to think that what we are using today, will be in use at the end of this century, so there is no need to be worried by diminishing resources..

      • The fear of using up carbon based fuels has been around since shortly after the first oil well was drilled:

        Who remembers this?

        But Carter wasn’t even close to the first to make this claim:

        • 1857 — Romania produces 2,000 barrels of oil, marking the beginning of the modern oil industry.

        • 1859, Aug. 25 — Edwin L. Drake strikes oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania

        • 1862 — First commercial oil production in Canada, also 1863 in Russia.

        • 1862 — Most widely used lamp fuel (camphene) taxed in US at aprox. $1 a gallon; kerosene taxed at 10 cent per gallon.(Kovarik, 1997)

        • 1863 — John D. Rockefeller starts the Excelsior Refinery in Cleveland, Ohio.

        • 1879 — US Geological Survey formed in part because of fear of oil shortages.

        • 1882 — Institute of Mining Engineers estimates 95 million barrels of oil remain.With 25 million barrels per year output, “Some day the cheque will come back indorsed no funds, and we are approaching that day very fast,” Samuel Wrigley says. (Pratt, p. 124).

        • 1901 — Spindletop gusher in Texas floods US oil market.

        • 1906 — Fears of an oil shortage are confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Representatives of the Detroit Board of Commerce attended hearings in Washington and told a Senate hearing that car manufacturers worried “not so much [about] cost as … supply.”

        • 1919, Scientific American notes that the auto industry could no longer ignore the fact that only 20 years worth of U.S. oil was left. “The burden falls upon the engine. It must adapt itself to less volatile fuel, and it must be made to burn the fuel with less waste…. Automotive engineers must turn their thoughts away from questions of speed and weight… and comfort and endurance, to avert what … will turn out to be a calamity, seriously disorganizing an indispensable system of transportation.”

        • 1920 — David White, chief geologist of USGS, estimates total oil remaining in the US at 6.7 billion barrels. “In making this estimate, which included both proved reserves and resources still remaining to be discovered, White conceded that it might well be in error by as much as 25 percent.” (Pratt, p. 125. Emphasis added).

        • 1925 — US Commerce Dept. says that while U.S. oil production doubled between 1914 and 1921, it did not kept pace with fuel demand as the number of cars increased.

        • 1928 — US analyst Ludwell Denny in his book “We Fight for Oil” noted the domestic oil shortage and says international diplomacy had failed to secure any reliable foreign sources of oil for the United States. Fear of oil shortages would become the most important factor in international relations, even so great as to force the U.S. into war with Great Britain to secure access to oil in the Persian Gulf region, Denny said.

        • 1926 — Federal Oil Conservation Board estimates 4.5 billion barrels remain.

        • 1930 — Some 25 million American cars are on the road, up from 3 million in 1918.

        • 1932 — Federal Oil Conservation Board estimates 10 billion barrels of oil remain.

        • 1944 — Petroleum Administrator for War estimates 20 billion barrels of oil remain.

        • 1950 — American Petroleum Institute says world oil reserves are at 100 billion barrels. (See Jean Laherre, Forecast of oil and gas supply)

        • 1956 — M.King Hubbard predicts peak in US oil production by 1970.

        • 1966 – 1977 — 19 billion barrels added to US reserves, most of which was from fields discovered before 1966. (As M.A. Adelman notes: “These fields were no gift of nature. They were a growth of knowledge, paid for by heavy investment.”)

        • 1973 — Oil price spike; supply restrictions due to Middle Eastern politics.

        • 1978 — Petroleos de Venezuela announces estimated unconventional oil reserve figure for Orinoco heavy oil belt at between three and four trillion barrels. (More recent public estimates are in the one trillion range).

        • 1979 — Oil price spike; supply restrictions due to Middle Eastern politics.

        • 1980 — Remaining proven oil reserves put at 648 billion barrels

        • 1993 — Remaining proven oil reserves put at 999 billion barrels

        • 2000 — Remaining proven oil reserves put at 1016 billion barrels.

        • 2005 — Oil price spike; supply restrictions and heavy new demand

        • 2008 — Oil price spike; supply restrictions and heavy new demand, global economies collapse when oil reaches over $140 USD/bbl.

      • Making plans for 50 years in the future is of questionable value, making plans for 500 years in the future is a fools errand.
        Can you make a list of the technologies that will be available 500 years from now?
        Just do what we can to improve the economy today, which will provide our descendants more resources with which to deal with the problems we can’t forsee.

      • Yes that family is having wonderful family time together, conversing and laughing with each other. No, not in the old fashioned way of using their mouths and vocal cords (how primitive) but with their thumbs and index finger, smart phones and social media sites.

        Oh look, the granddad was just texted a picture of his grandson in his lap doing something cute. Looks like his son and grand-daughter got the same picture. Maybe someone should text it’s time to eat before the food gets cold.

  6. We will have to wait until Helen Caldicott and her fellow anti-nuclear hysterics leave the planet so we can have a proper debate about nuclear energy here in Australia. We really should be using our uranium deposits for our own generation and use our coal for conversion to liquid fuels. It is strategically foolish for this island nation to rely almost exclusively on imported liquid fuels.

      • Mike
        I think the Rugby Union World Champions call it West Island.
        A large, but culturally backward [lacking the haka, mostly] repository of Northern hemisphere ne’erdowells, with interesting food – and vaguely enticing beer.

        Some year ago, a Pan-Am pilot is reported to have called Sydney ATC, and announced, ‘Clipper 13, Sydney – I have your island in sight. Am I cleared to land?’
        AT, ‘Clipper 123, Thanks, loud and clear. Please circle our island twice, and we’ll see you in.’

        Both wonderful countries, and I wish we English played rugby as well as either – one day, again . . .

        Auto, goin cold turkey of some stunning rugby.

    • “It is strategically foolish for this island nation to rely almost exclusively on imported liquid fuels”


  7. It’s amazing the things one can predict with such certainty when one hasn’t the slightest grasp of elementary price theory.

    • Nice thing about predictions, you don’t need the slightest grasp of anything, just keep throwing predictions against the wall until one gets someones attention. If it does, then wait to see if it comes true,. If it does, claim you are a genius, if it doesn’t, pretend you never made the prediction and move on to your next prediction.

      This can all be found in the FREE “Charlatans Handbook of Free Enterprise” – $24.99 for shipping and handling of course.

  8. as coal becomes more expensive the market automatically provides incentives to find alternatives.

    the problem comes when governments try and artificially manipulate the market for policy reasons. graft and corruption flourish in the region between the artificial market and the true market.

    this is the elephant in the tea shop. when you make something artificially expensive to try and limit its use, this creates a huge opportunity for crime to buy product at the market price and sell it at the artificial price and reap huge profits.

    It is this huge profit potential that provide the incentive for crime. in effect, when governments seek to manipulate prices to enact policy, they create tomorrows criminals.

    • Higher prices also encourages the development of resources that were to expensive to exploit at lower prices.

    • A few weeks ago an Australian cole mining operation was sold for 1 Australian Dollar.
      The big gamble:
      The massive amounts of steel nescessary to expand and renew the ancient Silk Road and the Chinese alternative for the Panama Channel.
      China needs at least 6% economic growth to keep its population happy.
      Not much of a gamble if you ask me.
      Only the coal reserves in Norway will last 3.000 years. Just google it. No coal shortage for milenia to come.
      As for copper reserves we have 500 tons available for every human on the planet.

  9. 100 years is a very long time in technology terms. 100 years ago, the current state of the art in personal transportation was the Ford Model T. The airplane just getting it’s wings, and nobody was thinking in terms of international commercial aviation. Times change. In 100 years time, a coal fired power plant may well be a technology which has simply obsoleted out, like the coal fired, steam powered railroad locomotive.

      • Seems to me that the technological difference between 1900 and 1950 is vastly greater than that between 1950 and 2000 (or, for that matter, between 1850 and 1900). I think my grandmother saw much bigger changes in her lifestyle (ubiquitous walking -> ubiquitous cars; hauling well water -> dishwashing machines) than I have seen in mine. The biggest change I’ve seen over my 60+ years has been access to information; even the clothing fashion changes have been trivial compared to the changes Grandma saw.

      • @mellyrn

        I remember my grandmother (Austro-Hungarian born 1888) commenting on the moon landing in 1969.
        She thought it was a “bad thing” to be messing with the moon. Certainly saw a LOT of change in her life.

      • @ MarkW: In what terms? Grandma went from kerosene lamps, hand-pumping the household water, hitching up the horse and buggy in order to travel farther than a walk, and communicating long-distance by mail or at best telegraph, to electric lights, dishwashing machines, driving (a Metropolitan) and having a (nonshared) phone. About the only thing significantly different in my life now from when I was a child is the Internet (I consider a microwave a slight improvement over an electric stove, versus the electric stove over a wood-fired one; and a personal phone a slight variation from “household phone” compared to “house phone” versus “no phone”). She had radio and TV, late in life; my computer is my radio/tv substitute.

        Presently the entire Apollo program will be closer to 1900 than the present. Considering the huge leap from Kitty Hawk to Tranquility Base, something really amazing and unexpected is going to have to pop up by ~2040 just to keep up. Most changes in the last half-century seem to be refinements of existing tech, rather than anything terribly new, Internet excepted.

        What early SF works anticipated the Internet?

    • Will Coal still be used as a major ingredient in steel-making?

      Isn’t it also used to make many Chemicals and Plastics?

  10. Underground coal gasification has the potential to significantly increase coal reserves by processing deep coal and seams too small for conventional mining. It may be kicking the can down the road, but it makes the road a very long one.

  11. conference on coal gasification in Colorado Springs….

    had to laugh when I saw who the sponsors were

  12. Global coal reserves are frickin huge …/story. No, really. No one on this planet will be changing away from coal because of reserve exhaustion. Other techs will be available long before that happens.

  13. Don’t worry, Australia still has at least 10 years worth of coal, if extracted at 9000 billion tons per annum, which will give China a bit more breathing space.

  14. First it was peak oil, now it’s peak coal.
    As always, those who are pushing a solution that nobody wants have to convince others that everyone else’s data is in error.

    • About the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and so on to . . .: from Wikipedia:
      Peak Copper
      In 1924, noted geologist and copper-mining expert Ira Joralemon warned:
      “… the age of electricity and of copper will be short. At the intense rate of production that must come, the copper supply of the world will last hardly a score of years. … Our civilization based on electrical power will dwindle and die.”

      stark warnings for copper

      • In case the above isn’t clear enough:
        The “ages” do not end because of a lack of the commodity.

      • We extract copper from unimaginably low ore grades compared to a few decades ago. Yesterday’s tailings are tomorrow’s resource. In Kalgoorlie (Western Australia) there was a project to reprocess the tailings (the creatively named “Kaltails”) from old gold operations. It ran for quite a few years.

        Plus copper gets recycled quite a bit. I find the idea of resource depletion for non-energy fuels rather bemusing. With the exception of a few objects sent into deep space (others are mostly destined to return to earth from whence they came) and helium, very little is lost from this globe. Ultimately I imagine the majority of metallic resources will be largely recycled when energy is cheap enough. That’s assuming it isn’t still cheaper to mine them instead.

  15. China’s strategic power production
    China recognizes the essential need for power for economic growth and is forcing rapid power plant growth. See China Shows How to Build Nuclear Reactors Fast and Cheap

    China. . . will invest over US$100 billion to construct about seven new reactors annually between now and 2030. By 2050, nuclear power should exceed 350 GW in that country, include about 400 new nuclear reactors, and have resulted in over a trillion dollars in nuclear investment.

    Other developing countries including India, Brazil similarly need to rapidly increase power for economic growth.
    Environmentalists are forcing US into steady relative decline by blocking power plants.

  16. Some years ago now, probably during 2011, I mentioned Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors on this site. I don’t think anyone had ever mentioned them here before then. I have watched Thorium Remix 2011, so many times I nearly know the entire 2 hour dialog.

    So it is good to see it mentioned here often now. Knowing that LFTRs will someday move us into the thorium age is what gives me hope, and makes me think my grandchildren will not live in an energy starved world.

    • My problem with a thorium group is it they try to confuse thorium with liquid fuel. I believe liquid fuel reactors we’ll start with uranium from our current store of nuclear waste. There’s enough uranium there to last for hundreds of years.

  17. As idiotic Leftist Western governments waste $trillions on insanely expensive, inefficient, diffuse, intermittent and unreliable wind/solar boondoggles, China is racing along in developing thorium MSRs, that will be cheaper than coal, unlimited, reliable and clean…

    China is absolutely ecstatic watching Western countries waste $trillions on CAGW rules, regulations, mandates, expensive wind/solar programs, etc., which simply makes their products uncompetitive and drives production and market share to China..

    China will eat our lunch again, as Western countries contemplate whether jack o-lanterns are a contributing cause to global warming….

    Leftists have gone completely insane.

    • Didn’t China and Russia used to be the left? Seems like they are more capitalistic than a large part of the “western” world that has fallen into creeping socialism. It takes me back to school days studying different forms of government. Even back then (50+ years ago), for developing countries in particular, a “beneficial dictator” was touted as the most effective form of government. We students laughed at the time, but I have stopped laughing recently.

  18. The molten salt reactor CAN run on Thorium, although it makes little sense to do so, since it presents proliferation issues (plutonium is produced). For some reason some folks think the world will
    be running out of uranium, which is nonsense – the oceans are full of it and molten salt reactors burn uranium so completely that just the nuclear wastes now available will provide all of the power this planet requires for 72 years, or the U.S. for 1000 years. Most uranium mines have stopped operating because of the oversupply of uranium.
    It ain’t gonna take no 25 years for this technology to develop – that’s preposterous – Transatomic Power has designed the reactor and is now testing new components that make the molten salt technology practical for the first time. Their plan, which is on schedule, looks to a prototype reactor within 5 years.
    There is yet another company pursuing the design – Terrestrial Energy. Their plan is to commercialize
    withiin 5 years as well. China should just wait and buy from us.

    • “The molten salt reactor CAN run on Thorium, although it makes little sense to do so, since it presents proliferation issues (plutonium is produced).”

      It doesn’t produce plutonium. See the document I referred to above.

  19. 2 Nov: ClimateChangeNews: Alex Pashley: China, France agree Paris climate deal must deliver regular reviews
    At the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s legislature, Hollande told a news conference the declaration established a “likelihood the Paris conference will succeed,” AP reported…
    Both sides promised within five years to publish carbon-cutting strategies out to 2050.
    However, they qualified this trend must be “at a rhythm consistent with strong economic growth and equitable social development”…
    In a separate deal, France and China also signed a nuclear cooperation agreement on nuclear waste recycling that could be worth $22 billion, Bloomberg reported…
    Greenpeace analyst Li Shuo: “With the recent decline in coal consumption and robust renewable energy development, China is positioning itself at the front of climate leadership”…

  20. @ arthur4563
    “The molten salt reactor CAN run on Thorium, although it makes little sense to do so, since it presents proliferation issues (plutonium is produced).”

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The main Plutonium isotope produced via the Thorium cycle is 238Pu. This is not a fissile material but it is much more expensive than bomb stuff (fissile 239Pu). The current price for 238Pu is more than $1 million per kilogram. Plutonium would be a valuable by-product from Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors along with Platinum and some other useful elements.

      • That is too true – and I’m a nuclear engineer!
        It is a crime that political crap got in the way of liquid thorium reactors being developed ages ago. All the advantages of fusion (power too cheap to meter, no really!) but doable today.

  21. Coal is an important component of our energy mix. But I agree with the Chinese. Accessible reserves will run out before 2050. Since it takes 15 to 20 years for a new technology to be widely accepted, proven, and practical, it would need to be in Beta stage by 2030.

  22. Are going to run out of coal before or after peak oil? IIRC, peak oil occurred about 10 years ago, which is why oil has declined in price by 60% over the last year.

    All resource shortage stories are the same and have the same validity.

    • I thought we had at least 100 years of coal?

      “synthetic natural gas” is an oxymoron. The original gases for lighting/cooking were synthetic, so we called the stuff from rocks “natural”.

  23. Assumptions of and previous projections of China’s energy useage were based on a population growth curve driven by a 1-Child Policy. As of last Friday that is now a 2-Child Policy.

    The West is engaging in economic suicidal folly if it believes the lies of Barack Obama and his ignorant drive to cut US oil, coal, and gas energy use. As the US and the West drives for deep cuts in energy use and the fact that China does not have to set any carbon emission limits until 2030, the implications are clear, and it is a dire future for the West if Obama has his way.

  24. At least these Chinese show the truth about coal consumption in China and India. Western ignorants claim that they are about on the same level. Not at all!

  25. there is lots of coal in mongolia that hasn’t been mined yet, it’s too far to compete with chinese coal from their ports.

    the graph above is probably way too low in terms of future world production.

  26. Anyone interested in knowing more about thorium reactors, here are a couple of links to videos about it on youtube:

  27. No, the rest of the world is not “blundering along”. I know that, because even as the most casual lay observer that I am, I am aware of leading people in the industry saying, for example for oil, that production can carry on as is for at least another 150 years.

    And those are not even the actual resources, those are only the resources that are deemed worth pumping at the present market price. There is a lot more oil, and aloooot more we know there is but haven’t tapped yet, a lot to be discovered still, and about everywhere we have stopped pumping it already, we can go back and get a lot, lot more because again, based on cost, the historic oil fields haven’t been half exploited because it was always cheaper to move on. Everybody’s favourite Prof Muller has a talk on this, but that is not where I am getting my insight from, you can hear this from various people in the oil industry, and heck, only very recently, the World Energy Council has called off peak oil all together, well, because for the above reasons, there really is no such thing in sight…

  28. the above analysis is nonsense. Philip Foster MA has done a detailed analysis of fossil fuel resources which shows we have hundreds of years of fossil fuels left. also huge finds of oil and gas off the coasts of Brazil and Greenland

    • See my link below to the recent study by BP that suggests that there is several hundred years worth of oil and gas reserves.

  29. Dear Philip can you please give a reply to this latest scare on the WUWT web site that we are running out of coal. Terri

  30. Large areas of the UK are presently under a haze of fog, and it is predicted that this may continue for perhaps 20 days.

    This obviously means that there is all but no wind blowing over much of the UK. true to form, the other day windfarms were only producing 1% of their nameplate capacity. How can a country expect to survive if reliant upon such an unreliable source of energy?.

    Talking about resources, BP has just stated that there is no sign to Peak Oil being reached in the near future. It recons that there is more than 20 times the oil and gas needed for the next 35 years (ie., taking us through to 2050) even taking into account increased demands for oil and gas as developed nations develop. This report suggest that there must be enough Oil and Gas for the next 300 years, or thereabouts!


    There is neither Peak Coal, nor Peak Oil in the foreseeable future, and given innovation, it is extremely unlikely that in the next 100 years man will still be reliant upon coal for base load power generation, nor oil for transport. Oil will be used for plastics and the like, but probably not for powering vehicles.

    • BP are big supporters of global warming. Either they are easily deluded fools or quite evil in promoting something they know to be wrong. If they are wrong on global warming, and they have had decades to figure it out, their statements on any subject cannot be taken seriously.

  31. For the last 24hrs the UK has received 1.7% = 0.64GW from wind.
    Meanwhile 37.5% from Combined Cycle Gas Turbine.
    Impressive wind figures. We got a bargain there. (sarc)
    And who is going to pay in the future for the clean up, if economically unsustainable turbines 75 miles from the coast are dumped into subsidiaries which declare bankruptcy?
    I wonder? It couldn’t possibly fall into the lap of the taxpayer, again. Could it?
    Such an outrageous thing could surely never happen…

    • I fail to understand how any politician could have supported the push for wind since it does not reduce overall CO2 emissions by any significant extent due to its intermittent nature and the need for conventional fossil fuel backup generation.

      This backup generation is either run 100% of the time, but with power being drawn off only when the wind does not blow. On average the wind blows for about 25% of the time, but this type of back up runs not for 75% of the time, but for all the time, and therefore produces 100% of the CO2 emissions that it would produce even if no windfarm had been built. Alternatively, the back up is not run all the time but is instead run in ramp up/ramp down mode with the generation being ramped up when the wind is not blowing, and then ramped down when the wind blows. but this too does not reduce overall CO2 emissions since this mode of operation is very thirsty, just like urban driving (start stop driving in a car), and if anything this creates even more CO2 than would be the case had the back up generation simply be run in steady state mode.

      When one adds in the emergency diesel generation to balance the grid, the CO2 emitted in siting the wind turbines in concrete (which is very CO2 intensive) and coupling these up to the grid, there is no measurable CO2 reduction at all.

      But surely politicians must monitor the performance of windfarms. If they had done this the experience of the harsh winters of 2009 and 2010 when there was a blocking high sitting just off the UK for the best part of a month would have confirmed how unsuitable they were.

      one of these winters, I can’t recall which one, I monitored the performance of the windfarms for nearly a month. In this time there were a few days when they outputted about 8% of their nameplate capacity, but most of the time they were producing only about 1 to 3% of their nameplate capacity. In such cold weather bearing in mind power required for heating the gearbox/shaft oil, and keeping the blades turning slowly so as not to distort the shaft, and/or bearings, they probably were net consumers of power!.

      if the UK had been dependent on wind for a large part of its power in the winters of 2009 and 2010, it is no exaggeration to say that there would have been rolling blackouts leading to thousands, probably tens of thousands of deaths.

      People often mistakenly think that they will be alright since they have gas or oil central heating. However, electricity is required for ignition and to run the pumps. Only those with wood fires or coal 9smokeless0 would have had heating in their homes for hours on end, and UK homes are old, draughty and damp such that serious problems would have arisen particularly for the old or infirmed.

      This policy is an accident waiting to happen.

      • “I fail to understand how any politician could have supported the push for wind since it does not reduce overall CO2 emissions by any significant extent due to its intermittent nature and the need for conventional fossil fuel backup generation.”

        In three words: money, power, control

      • “I fail to understand how any politician”

        Two factors:
        First, there are the friends/family/campaign donors who are getting rich supplying/operating the windmills to produce the power mandated by govt.
        Second, there are the low information voters who go ohhh and ahhh when presented with shiny things mandated by govt.

  32. Yet another forecast. Don’t these people ever learn?

    Operators and investors have enough nous (and all the skin in the game) to make a determination on whether there will be enough fuel to power their investment over its life.

    As and when that determination changes, investment will shift to different technologies.

    In addition as technology continues to change, investment will shift to the lowest cost solution.

    Yet another Malthusian chart is of no use to anyone.

  33. Am I the only one who has noticed that China’s coal consumption on the graph resembles THIS Gary Larson Far Side cartoon… and THIS one…?

    Perhaps China had these specific cartoons in mind when she began the steep ramp-up of coal production in the 21st century, and this single graph — with China’s Garfield/baby bump — represents the culmination of effort to this single end. Is this so far-fetched? Is it a coincidence that 2001 was a Year of the Snake?

    If so, then bravo China! What a master stroke of genius, you carried it off beautifully. How could you have known that the rest of the world would flatten out on coal production or keep to its slow linear growth, so that your snake-bump could dominate the graph? It must have been quite a gamble, because it would have made good common sense for everyone to scale coal up significantly more within the same time frame, because coal has more reserves that are geologically proven to remain accessible and available than natural gas. It would have made sense, if keeping the lights on was a priority. You were gambling on everyone else’s foolishness… and it has paid off.

  34. Advancements in any field, which includes energy, is just not predictable. Carbon dating and penicillin are relatively recent developments discovered like many great discoveries indirectly or by accident. Kind of like looking for the misplaced car keys and finding the flashlight that was misplaced a month ago.

    Even as climate science strives for the heady days of the dark ages, science in general marches on at an amazing rate with undreamed, potentially civilization changing discoveries around every corner.

  35. The way to handle “involuntary decarbonization” is to let the free market handle the situation. The free market handled the European “wood shortage” about 500 years ago when Europeans switched to coal,
    the free market handled the “tin” shortage a little over 3000 year ago, and switched from bronze to iron.

    As coal becomes more difficult to extract, thorium reactors, solar cells, etc automatically become relatively cheaper.

    • But there were bumps on the way. English iron production fell after they had burnt through their forests and before they discovered the use of coal in smelting.

  36. The multiple instances of premature declarations of “peak” this and that geological resource over the past century and more suggest that we take projections of “peak coal” for China (and any other locale) with more than a grain of salt. On item after item, we’ve used more than what was estimated as total reserve four, six, eight decades ago, but now have more proven reserves than we did then, and estimates of resources keep growing. The distinction between reserve and resource is crucial.

  37. David Archibald,

    I understand that in places like the U.S. and U.K. coal resources, at least the ones shallow enough to be extracted by conventional means, have been quite thoroughly mapped. So it actually makes sense to talk about how long reserves will last, unlike the case with oil or gas. But is that true in China? I seem to recall reading that large new coal deposits are being found and mapped in China. So the supply might last much longer than assumed in your figure.

    • Agree with Mike, both China’s exploration and coal mining methods are behind those in the west and they can both discover much more and make better use of their resources

  38. Peak Coal? I’m not so sure. Just as with oil, new technologies will, or should that be: may, make now inaccessible deposits exploitable. Underground gassification, use of robot technology, and who knows what else. Just this week BP annopunced that peak oil has been postponed by at least a century from the original estimates in the 1940-ies. Same story for natural gas. Why should coal be an exception?

  39. Surely the South China Sea situation is evidence of how serious they are about this. Chinese mainland oil reservoirs were the location of some of the earliest wells drilled, several centuries ago in fact, in the world, long before the west considered oil more than interesting geological phenomenon. These have also mostly played long ago. The existing and potential oil in the area is primarily the reason that China is willing to risk war with every member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as the US and every major economic power that has shipping through the area.

  40. […]the lead speaker was Dr Yong-Wang Li of Synfuels China. The third slide of his presentation contained this statement:[…]

    Are we supposed to take his ‘slide’ as some kind of ‘gospel’?

    Really? So China will run out of Coal?

    I really don’t think that’s going to happen. Not any time soon. My country (The UK) has hundreds of years of Coal still available. Australia has thousands of years worth. China, if it needs Coal, will purchase it from other countries (Brazil?). That assumes that China won’t find its supplies internally.

  41. >>My country (The UK) has hundreds of years of Coal still available.

    i don’t think people here understand what peak-something is. It is NOT when a resource runs out, it is when production slows for whatever reason, or demand exceeds supply. In the case of UK coal, we reached Peak Coal in 1913. So how anyone can say that peak-something is a myth is beyond me.

    And there is no point shouting “Malthusian” as a typical Left-Green technique of shutting down the debate. And there is no point claiming we will find another resource. And there is no point saying there is still coal in the ground, because we will never reach 1913 output again – ever. The inescapable fact of the matter is that due to economic and social conditions, the UK reached Peak Coal in 1913.

    End of story. Stop denying it.

    • In the same sense we had Peak Flint just before the Stone Age ended.

      But I take Peak Oil, Gas and Coal to relate to the globally accessible deposits. Furthermore, US peak oil was in the 70-ties after which production in the US steadily declined. Then came the shale boom and suddenly the whole concept went out of the window. Who knows if, a century from now, UK coal makes a comeback based on completely new, and now unimagined, technology. I for one would not bet against it.

      • >>But I take Peak Oil, Gas and Coal to relate to the globally accessible deposits.

        There is no point relying on world supply if there is a crisis or the producer nation gets richer. They will be keeping supply for themselves. Besides, the UK is a microcosm and template for the wider world. What can happen in the UK can and will happen in the wider world at some point in time. So there is no point denying the reality of Peak-something. It can and will happen, even if forecasting it is half science and half astrology.


      • Friends:

        I see ralfellis is again promoting his daft ideas of peak fossil fuels. Therefore, I will yet again refute that nonsense with reality.

        I begin by explaining some basic terms which ralfellis does not understand.

        1. Reserves and resources

        A reserve of a mineral (e.g. stone, metal ore, coal, crude oil, etc.) is the known amount of the mineral which can be obtained at economic cost using existing technology.

        A resource of a mineral is the estimated amount of the mineral which can be obtained using existing or imagined technology.

        Reserves usually INCREASE as resources are depleted.
        This is because the value of a mineral is affected by its availability.
        To understand this, please consider the simplified case of 3 men who each own a field which contains diamonds.

        Man A has one diamond on the surface of his field.
        Man B has 10 diamonds 10 meters below the surface of his field.
        Man C has 100 diamonds 100 meters below the surface of his field.
        The resource is 111 diamonds (i.e. 1+10+100 diamonds) but the reserve is only one diamond.
        Man A can find and obtain his diamond at much cheaper cost than Man B and Man C can find and obtain theirs. So, Man A can undercut the price for a diamond demanded by the others.

        Then Man A sells his diamond.
        The reserve then increases to 10 diamonds because Man B can now undercut Man C, but the resource reduces to 110 diamonds. Also, the cost and price of diamonds increases.

        Then Man B sells his diamonds.
        The reserve then increases to 100 diamonds but the resource reduces to 100 diamonds.
        This, of course, assumes the need for diamonds is such that there is no alternative to paying the cost of Man C to obtain his diamonds. Diamonds from somewhere else or an alternative to diamonds may be cheaper, and – in that case – the alternatives become the reserves.

        2. Limits to minimum magnitude of reserves

        People do not pay to find more reserves when they have the reserves they need.
        This is why oil reserves were equivalent to ~40 years of supply throughout the twentieth century and will be at least ~40 years of supply throughout this century. Oil companies have a maximum planning horizon of ~40 years so pay for more oil to be found if they have less reserves than needed for the next ~40 years. But they do not pay to find more reserves when they have enough.

        2. Limits to growth imposed by the finite nature of resources (e.g. Peak Oil)

        In the real world, for all practical purposes there are no “physical” limits to natural resources so every natural resource can be considered to be infinite. This also is a matter of basic economics which I explain as follows.

        Humans do not run out of anything. The usage of a resource may “peak” then decline, but the usage does not peak because of exhaustion of the resource (e.g. flint, antler bone and bronze each “peaked” long ago but still exist in large amounts).

        A resource is cheap (in time, money and effort) to obtain when it is in abundant supply. But “low-hanging fruit are picked first”, so the cost of obtaining the resource increases with time. Nobody bothers to seek an alternative to the resource when it is cheap.

        But the cost of obtaining an adequate supply of a resource increases with time and, eventually, it becomes worthwhile to look for
        (a) alternative sources of the resource
        (b) alternatives to the resource.

        And alternatives to the resource often prove to have advantages.

        Both (a) and (b) apply in the case of crude oil.

        Many alternative sources for crude oil have been found. These include opening of new oil fields by use of new technologies (e.g. to obtain oil from beneath sea bed) and synthesising crude oil from other substances (e.g. tar sands, natural gas and coal). Indeed, since 1994 it has been possible to provide synthetic crude oil from coal at competitive cost with natural crude oil and this constrains the maximum true cost of crude.

        Alternatives to oil as a transport fuel are possible. Oil was the transport fuel of military submarines for decades but uranium is now their fuel of choice.

        And synthetic crude oil (i.e. syncrude) can be made from coal. This has been possible for more than a century by use of the Fischer-Tropsch process that has been developed into the SASOL process in South Africa.

        Importantly, the existing price constraint on crude oil is the Liquid Solvent Extraction (LSE) process for coal into oil. We proved the LSE technology both practically and economically with a demonstration plant at Point of Ayr, Wales, in the early 1990s. (There are several papers on LSE in the public domain and UNESCO commissioned one on it from me when I was the Senior Material Scientist at the UK’s Coal Research Establishment where we devised and developed LSE. But the UK government owns some important technical details of it.)

        There is sufficient coal to provide synthetic crude oil for at least the next 300 years. Hay to feed horses was the major transport fuel 300 years ago and ‘peak hay’ was feared in the nineteenth century, but availability of hay is not a significant consideration for transportation today. Nobody can know what – if any – demand for crude oil will exist 300 years in the future.

        In summation, any claims of peak fossil fuels are a fantasy fabricated from ignorance.


      • So says the commie who believes in the great fairy at the bottom of his garden. Or is it behind a cloud? Please do tell, Rich, we would love some evidence.

  42. Archibald fails to understand that the term “reserves” (of a resource) is not so much a volumetric number as it is an economic statement. As the value of reserves increases, the amount that is economically recoverable increases. US oil reserves that are economically recoverable (at $45/BBL compared to $100/BBL) have recently dropped precipitously.

    • Excellent observation. Just like the recent article on last chances, how many similar idiots have told us we’d absolutely positively run out of oil for gasoline by 1970, no wait 1975, no 85, 2000, 2015, etc.

      Sure, China MIGHT need to import more, maybe even lots more, coal to feed it’s current construction of electricity generating stations. I’m sure Australia and Wyoming would love to ship them more. This provides America and Australia good jobs in mining, rail, ports and shipping. Many people fail to understand the “invisible” hand of free markets. Invisible in this sense does not mean imaginary. It just means that people free to conduct business will match demand with supply if there’s a benefit for both parties. While it is a true statement to say that the amount of coal under the ground on our planet is finite, no one would dispute that there is a lot remaining, and with a higher price, the efforts humans will make to find it and extract it will increase as well.

  43. David, as is far too often a problem in climate science, you have not identified the data that you are using. You present a lovely graph to back up your somewhat vague claims, without a single word as to its provenance.

    Your claims may indeed be right, but using an uncited, unreferenced graph to back them up is alarmism of the worst order.


  44. China: Just remember that China has a command economy and the economic things that happen are decreed by the central planners, with or without the benefit of market forces.

    Thorium reactors: Thorium is only one neutron away from becoming uranium, which is the key fact of any thorium nuclear fuel scheme. Then, it’s uranium all the way. Reprocessing of nuclear fuel alleviates the burn-up efficiency problem (just ask the French) and allows the use of mixed-oxide fuel (burning plutonium). Everyone is aware that there are thousands of tons of uranium in a cubic kilometer of seawater, right?

    My personal fave: Boron-10. The reaction B10 + n => He4 + Li7 releases just as much energy per unit of mass as nuclear fission, without any gamma rays or extra neutrons. All one needs is a neutron source, which can easily be provided by a small conventional reactor. How much boron is there in the world? About half of it is B10.

  45. Let me add that as of 2013, proven coal reserves were 891,531 million tonnes, and annual coal consumption was 7,896 million tonnes. In other words, proven reserves alone are enough for 112 years of consumption at current rates. (Figures from the BP Statistical Report)


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