Energy Research at the University of Washington

George E. Mobus

Energy Research Area: Understanding the impacts of the global peak of oil production on other energy sources and the dynamics of the energy return on energy invested to extract it from different sources (e.g. fossil fuels, nuclear, and solar). What are the dynamics of an economic system as constraints on energy flows tighten?

Associate Professor
UW Tacoma
Institute of Technology

My research involves the development of a computer model of something I call an abstract economy. The main feature of the model is that it deals very explicitly with the physics of extracting energy from a fixed, finite reserve of fuel and the increasing energy cost of doing so. The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) associated with oil production has been in steady decline for the past 100 years due to the increasing costs associated with finding and pumping more oil from exotic locations (e.g. continental shelves). Far more energy is used up producing the infrastructure for obtaining this harder to reach oil. Today, for every BTU of oil that is obtained from these locations, we use up 1/20th of a BTU of previously pumped oil (or equivalent from other energy sources). Oil pumped from shallow wells in Pennsylvania or West Texas, nearly 100 years ago only required about 1/100th of a BTU for each BTU we obtained. The increase in difficulty in finding and extracting oil along with the declining EROEI is causing a decline in the extraction and refining rates. The dynamics suggest that we are near or at the peaking of global oil extraction. This leads to questions regarding energy’s role in economic activities. The research area looking at the role and dynamics of energy flow in the economy is called Biophysical Economics.

A graph showing the rise and peaking of gross energy from a fixed, finite source (e.g. oil), the increasing cost (in energy units) of extraction per unit of energy extracted, and the rise and peaking of net energy gained and supplied to the economy
A graph showing the rise and peaking of gross energy from a fixed, finite source (e.g. oil), the increasing cost (in energy units) of extraction per unit of energy extracted, and the rise and peaking of net energy gained and supplied to the economy

Record last updated on November 28th 2011 PDT.