Most of us are blissfully unaware of Building Energy Rating (BER) until it comes to buying our first home. We soon figure out that D2 means it will be cold and expensive to heat – probably built in the 1960s – whereas B1 spells snug and cosy, with good insulation. But that’s a bit vague and unscientific. What exactly is BER and why should it concern us?
Introduced by European directive in 2002, a Building Energy Rating calculates the effect of energy-saving measures in the home, in a bid to reduce carbon dioxide emission levels for buildings. A one-step increase in BER rating can increase the sale price of your home by as much as 2.8%. It’s therefore well worth knowing how small improvements, such as a strategically placed rug or energy-efficient lightbulb can improve your rating, not to mention the environment. We take you through the ins and outs of the energy performance of buildings with our handy guide.
Oil is everywhere. Whether you’re filling up your car, sketching with some crayons, or wearing pantyhose (yep that’s right, their nylon is a petroleum-derived thermoplastic), you’re using it. Our society relies on it fundamentally. Without it, we’d probably still be trying to keep warm with mammoth fur. Well, maybe things wouldn’t be that bad, but just to make sure, let’s oil up our thinking muscles and share some fuel for thought. Eh? Eh? … I’ll get my coat.
3rd AD Century China
As it is so often, the Chinese were the pioneers. 2,000 years ago, they were developing deep drilling, and paved the way for extraction. Drills were constructed using bamboo, and before you ask, yes, pandas were an incredible nuisance and consumed countless rigs.The Chinese along with the Japanese, who referred to oil as “burning water”, used the fuel for lighting and heating.
This very bright Persian scholar, called Razi, invented kerosene and with it, the ability to have a reliable light source. This was a real game changer and really lit up the oil scene. However, it wouldn’t be till 1854 when Canadian geologist, Abraham Gesner would distil it for commercial use.
While Gesner was making a few bucks selling kerosene lamps. Benjamin Silliman, who really should have been called Benjamin Cleverman, was over at Yale distilling petroleum from crude oil for the first time. With access to petroleum at any time, the world was our oyster in terms of innovation.
Oil is now the world’s most important source of energy, it’s precious, inspiring movies that star big names like Antonio Banderas: Day of the Falcon. But also about 90% of our vehicles rely on oil. That’s a lot, but that’s not all. Oil is the raw material for just loads of chemical products including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics.
Here’s a few of our favourite products that wouldn’t exist without oil. Some are unexpected, and some are downright outrageous. And all of them rely on black gold.
Approximately five percent of worldwide oil production is used to make plastics. So without oil millions of people would be bopping along to empty Walkmans. Oh wait, they wouldn’t have the Walkmans in the first place…
Praise this invention. It has saved countless children from the trauma of a kiss from a toothless grandparent. Not only is it involved in the adhesive element. The synthetic flavouring of the teeth glue is often derived from petroleum. So if I had no teeth and oil didn’t exist, “Denture Adhesive” would sound like “Enshure Ahhesithh”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is science fact.
No one would disagree the lather is a lot of fun. It’s almost magic. Why does it smell so good? That fragrance is again, yes that’s right, made from oil. In fact, 95% of synthetic fragrances are created from petroleum.
Me: “Shampoil more like, am I right?
You: “Hell yeah!”
Oil is the primary source for some 40 basic chemicals on which 40,000 chemical products are based. Including ice cube trays. Before these you had to buy ice in a shop but ice cube trays puts the power to mould ice in your hands, but be careful, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Where to start? Today most aspirin is created using phenol, a compound derived from crude oil. Helping millions through the stress of pain and mitigating such conditions as arthritis, most of us have used aspirin from one time or another. Again, we can thank oil.
There is a commonly-held belief that oil is running out and that sometime soon global society will be thrown into an energy crisis as wells around the world run dry.
As is often the case, the reality is as far removed from the popular belief as it could be. We are not on the verge of an oil drought, in fact thanks to ‘unconventional oil’ deposits, we now have access to more oil than we could ever have dreamed of.
What is Unconventional Oil?
‘Unconventional Oil’ is any oil that is extracted using techniques other than conventional oil well drilling.
There are a variety of methods other than drilling oil wells that allow oil to be extracted. The most developed unconventional methods for obtaining oil are extracting from ‘Oil Sands’, ‘Oil Shales’ and extracting ‘Heavy Oil’.
Oil Sands or ‘bitumen sands’, as they are technically known, are naturally-occurring mixtures of sand, clay and water that are saturated with bitumen. Colloquially known as ‘tar sands’, it is estimated that more than 2 trillion barrels of oil is contained within these sands worldwide.
The bitumen contained within oil sands cannot be pumped from the ground, as conventional oil is, but must instead be mined or forced to flow into wells using either steam, solvents and/or hot air.
Also known as ‘kerogen shale’, oil shale is the term applied to a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing enough organic material (kerogen) to yield both oil and combustible gas when distilled. There are an estimated 2.8 – 3.3 trillion barrels of recoverable oil in oil shale deposits worldwide.
To extract the oil from kerogen shale the shale must first be mined and then distilled through a process known as pyrolysis. Also known as ‘retorting’ or ‘destructive distillation’, pyrolysis is where the oil shale is heated until the kerogen within the shale becomes a vapour then the gases are separated and cooled to form oil.
Heavy oil is crude oil that does not flow as easily as conventional ‘light’ oil, making its extraction process more difficult. Any liquid petroleum with an API gravity less than 20° (a density greater than 932 kg/m3) is classed as heavy oil and any liquid petroleum with an API gravity less than 10° (a density greater than 1000 kg/m3) is classed as extra heavy oil. Heavy oil is only referred to as ‘unconventional’ because the cost of refining it is higher than light crude oil.
There is more than twice the amount of heavy oil in the world than there is conventional light oil. However even with the latest technologies only half of the available heavy oil is recoverable. There are a variety of extraction processes for obtaining heavy oil. In situ methods usually rely on heating the oil so that the lighter oil separates from the heavy coke and the majority of alternative methods involve pumping the heavy oil out so that it can be processed at a later stage.
Where is all this Oil?
Unlike light oil which mainly resides in the Eastern Hemisphere (the Eastern Hemisphere accounts for 85 % of the world’s light oil reserves), 82% of potentially recoverable bitumen (the unconventional oil found in oil sands, oil shale as well as heavy oil) is found in the Western Hemisphere.
‘Proven’ Crude Oil Reserves (*in billion bbl):
Estimated Unconventional Oil Resources by Region (*in billion bbl):
Total Oil Resources by Region (*in billion bbl):
As the above data demonstrates there is an enormous wealth of unconventional oil ready to be extracted. If only 50% of unconventional oil reserves are recoverable that is still more than double the total current ‘proven’ reserves and even if only 10% of unconventional oil reserves are recoverable that will still be equal to the entire reserve of the Middle East.
Thanks to technological advancements in the mining, processing and refining of unconventional oil we can be safe in the knowledge that we will have a steady supply of oil for many years to come.
Note on our Data – Oil is measured in average US standard barrels. Depending on density there can be from 6-8 barrels per tonne, with an average of 7.33299113 barrels per metric tonne. The World Energy Council classifies Russia as part of Europe; however traditionally Russia is classed as part of Asia. The data from the World Energy Council has been modified to rectify this.
Unconventional Oil – http://dollardaze.org/
THE OIL RESERVE FALLACY – http://www.radford.edu/
Why the world isn’t running out of oil – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Unconventional Oil – http://www.theoildrum.com/
Unconventional Oil: Tar Sands and Shale Oil – http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3839
Survey of Energy Sources 2010 – http://www.worldenergy.org
About Tar Sands – http://ostseis.anl.gov/
Heavy Oil – http://www.slb.com/
Extracting Heavy Oil – http://www.shell.com/
The Status of World Oil Reserves – http://www.bakerinstitute.org/
Is Peak Oil Slowly Fading into the Dawn? – http://oilprice.com/
Usually when something leaks, it gets fixed, especially when it’s on the market! For example, few people notice a leaking pipe in the house they are selling and do nothing about it. This is because a leak means a loss. Most potential customers are not interested in buying a house with known issues, like leaky pipes.
Due largely to the mentality of needing to see things to even notice them (our world is too fast-paced to be aware of everything, particularly invisible things) few people think about energy leaks. Yet, energy leaks are exceedingly common in homes. At this point in time, energy leakage hardly affects the selling value of a home because it is out of sight, and thus out of mind.
One company, however, recognizes the real issue behind leakages. Leaks create a loss of finance because they cause a loss of functioning capacity. Using the leaky pipe example, consider that whether or not the home is on the market, if it has a leaky pipe it will be fixed because the leak means the homeowner is paying for water gone to waste (and likely creating a mess)! Essess is a Boston-based energy-efficiency company. It considers energy leakage to be a loss that prospective homeowners (or any property owner) should be aware of and doing something about simply because loss isn’t good.
According to David Ferris, who wrote this article about Essess and what the company does, energy-efficiency doesn’t seem all that exciting, but the company is trying to change that.
Essess, recognizing that much of the world today follows the “out of sight, out of mind” sort of mentality, has become the “Google street view of energy efficiency”. A van drives around at night time hours appropriate for the company’s infrared cameras capturing images of homes’ energy leakages. The company hopes to use these photos to call attention to energy leakage and to offer information to homeowners on fixing the leaks. Real Estate companies will hopefully be able to use this information as well, selling homes that are energy efficient and thus more efficient for homeowners.
Although the whole ordeal might sound boring, it is important enough to be exciting for more than financial reasons. The article by Ferris cites the statistic that “forty percent of America’s energy use is from buildings, and forty five percent of that is from space heating”. With the world experiencing great changes that are causing alarm concerning the environment and sustainability, technology and information like Essess is offering is essential to changing the mentality of the wasteful world.
As Essess introduces this exciting, important information technology to the world, it is also forming partnerships in the corporate world to allow it to set homeowners or real estate companies up with those companies and services which can fix energy leaks. This will allow Essess a great deal of power, which, hopefully will be wielded well as the company seeks to better the environment and financial situation of many through energy efficiency efforts.