Back in the 1970s they were expecting global cooling – of the economy. There were oil shocks and shocking prices, and petrochemists beavered away, sweating over test tubes the size of football fields, whisking up synthetic fuels.
It was not the first time that the world had tried to synthesise liquid vehicle fuel. Hitler famously did it during the Second World War, and had it not been for Bergius and Fischer-Tropsch, Nazi Germany would have collapsed much sooner under the anvil of global economic sanctions. I mean, the history books insist the multi-pronged military assault was responsible for the Victory in Europe, but the final push would never have succeeded without the suspension of energy trade.
Various syngas and synfuel projects have continued in various places, mostly America, and although the first plants used coal and Natural Gas to make other things, these days the emphasis is on biomass.
We can expect to see a dramatic rise in the amount of Biogas and Bio-syngas produced over the next few decades, along with renewably-sourced hydrogen. It will all get fed into the global syngas refineries, and out will pop power, vehicle fuel and chemistry.
But as soon as Natural Gas peaks, and tighter gases like Shale Gas with it, we can expect to see pressure on geoengineering projects to run in reverse. You see, carbon-rich gases are essential for the operation of bio-refineries, and so it will pay to collect the waste gases from any power station. And if those gases have been stuffed underground, we can expect people to want to extract them again.
So, the oil, gas and coal companies have been pressuring governments, central banks and international bodies for funds to do Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) projects. And we’ve fallen for it – offering bailout money to the energy companies to allow them to continue to burn coal and capture the carbon and store it somewhere.
And then, in twenty or twenty-five years time, the oil, gas and coal companies will come back for public funding to extract the carbon dioxide out of the ground again, so that they can give us all – no, sell us all – lots of synthetic fuels, because the petroleum fossil oil will be significantly depleted by then.
Yet another reason not to publicly fund CCS, I’d say.