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Proceedings of the Second International Energy 2030 Conference,
November 4-5, 2008, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Strategies for Advanced Oil Utilization

Prof. Stefan P. Schleicher

University of Graz, Austria

Abstract
Is oil much too valuable to burn? Or put it differently: Should oil be shifted from the currently typical one-step use of its energetic functionality to a multi-step use of its material functionality and only at the end of the life-cycle serve as a source of energy?

For a number of reasons it seems to be worth to investigate such a paradigm shift in the use of crude oil in particular and of fossil hydrocarbons in general. Independent of uncertainties in reserves, the new map of geopolitics, the call for a carbon-constraint economy, or new demand from emerging industrialized countries in Asia there should be ample consensus that both owners and users of oil share the common interest to harvest as much wealth out of it as possible, not only just over the next few years but also over any thinkable horizon in the future.

The simple answers of mainstream economics coined in various variations of the Hotelling rule have definitely turned out being too simplistic: the recommended use of an exhaustible resource as oil is maximizing discounted future net-revenues with the implication of exponentially rising prices at the socially accepted discount rate. This perception, however, has never explained quantities and prices of the global oil market.

The still dominating use of oil is its energetic functionality. Major advances in materials science, however, compete for the material functionally of oil. Fiber-enforced polymers can customize the physical properties of every cubic millimeter of a structure. They not only substitute but outperform in many applications concrete and steel. These polymers can be produced out of oil but also of recycled plastics. In a next stage of technological development industrial polymers will be produced out of plant-based materials.

Advances in polymer technologies have reached a point that may encourage a major re-design of the way we provide in our economies the functionality of energy and materials. Without being able to suggest definitive answers we want to make two contributions to these emerging discussions. First, we propose a conceptual framework that is adequate for analyzing this complex issue since we argue that it is more important to put the right questions before giving premature answers. Second, having realized the importance of this issue, we put forward an institutional framework that is devoted to serve as a center of excellence for research, policy analysis and strategic corporate decision making on this topic.




 

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