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Week of 10 December 2018: Energy Shocks

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With various analogies over the years, I have talked about our myopic look at energy issues. Your view of energy production, consumption and other KPIs related to energy are largely dependent on where you sit and what you read. Often, we find this is wrong, when the real numbers are placed in front of us. So, we are going to travel a little outside our normal realm of pulp and paper this week, hopefully giving you material not only to think about but to challenge you, the next time you think you know something, to dig a bit deeper.

Let's start with airline travel, specifically in the United States. By the way, I'll not list my sources here, but unless I otherwise make an exception, I am largely pulling information from Wikipedia. In the United States, airlines carry (nominally) over 600 million passengers per year. Takes a lot of fuel, right? Yes--jet fuel consumption in the United States is roughly 76 billion liters per year (1.3 million barrels of oil per day). Of course, jet fuel is a lower grade fuel than Avgas--the high-octane fuel used in piston engine airplanes. Jet fuel is basically kerosene. Kerosene was developed to replace whale oil for illumination in the mid 1800's.

Jim, you're going old fashioned on us--kerosene lamps? They went out with the horse and buggy. Sorry, dear reader, the current use of kerosene for illumination via lamps is 77 billion liters per year, slightly more than the jet fuel consumption in the United States.

As pulp and paper makers, we have an interest in wood consumption (and not necessarily just for energy production). IKEA uses roughly 1% of commercial solid wood produced in the world, not wood for heating or cooking.

According to the EIA (the US Energy Information Agency), in 2017, approximately 2% of total US annual energy consumption came from wood. This is the same percentage as comes from solar. To be fair, solar is growing rapidly and is considered a "high value" source of energy (in the form of electricity) while much wood consumption is considered "low value" because the temperatures produced are relatively low and hence not particularly useful in industrial or heavy commercial uses.


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Speaking of wood, the country with the most forested land is Russia (over 8 million Km2) while Qatar is at the other end--it records zero land covered by forests.

Peatlands, yet another source of fuel, cover an amazing 4% of the world's land area (forests are nominally 30.5% of the world's land area). Some agencies consider peat a renewable energy source, others do not because of its slow regeneration cycle.

As I mentioned last week, energy in the form of oil and natural gas is particularly inexpensive at this point. When oil and natural gas go low, other forms of energy cannot compete. A number of years ago, for instance, we thought PET Coke (Petroleum Coke) was going to be a viable alternative for natural gas. Fracking killed that idea and PET Coke continues to look for a home.

It will be interesting to see where we are a year from now on the viability of various energy forms. Guaranteed, it will be a different picture than we see today.

For safety this week, most forms of energy can harm us if improperly used. Keep up to date on safety procedures, especially if your mill has an exotic energy source.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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Are you struggling to fill Maintenance Technician roles? (9-18-18)


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