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Resource depletion and energy system transitions

Figure 1. Result from the ROMEO optimization model showing the transition to oil substitutes. Source: Brandt et al. 2010.

The depletion of energy resources is a complex phenomenon.  Depletion is not a process of simply "running out" of a resource, but instead is a complex process of technological change and adaptation. This adaptation can leads to development of new resources, which are often lower quality, more costly to process, or more difficult to access (e.g. deepwater oil resources, shale oil, or bitumen). We attempt to understand depletion within this broad context of technical change and adaption, and to understand the impacts of these shifts on the environment.

Oil depletion and oil transitions

A research interest of the EAO group involves exploring the mathematical tools used to model oil depletion at large scales. This interest has also lead to work on optimization modeling of the transition to substitutes for conventional oil in the face of resource depletion. These tools will help us understand which oil substitutes might be used in the future, how quickly and extensively we might need to develop them, and what their impacts could be (both environmental and economic).

Resource depletion and the energy efficiency of resource extraction

Recent work has focused on the role of energy efficiency in resource depletion and resource transitions. Many problems associated with resource depletion can be understood as arising from the increasing energy intensity of extraction as a resource becomes increasingly depleted.  Metrics such as energy return on investment (EROI) aim to shed light on this effect.  We have examined this energy efficiency effect in resources such as conventional oil, heavy oil, and the oil sands.  We have also explored the energetics of unconventional oil alternatives, such as oil shale.


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