The Energy Minerals Division was organized in 1977 as an international forum for those working in the exploration, development and production of energy sources other than conventional oil and natural gas. Our purpose then, as now, is to serve the AAPG by advancing the science, energy economics, technology and geology as it relates to energy resources other than conventional oil and gas. These include uranium and nuclear minerals, coal, coal-bed methane, lignite and other carbon minerals, geothermal energy, gas hydrates, unconventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas and liquids, oil shale and oil sands. As the concepts of blended energy resources and energy portfolio economics developed, we added wind, solar, tidal, biomass and other renewable resources to our content of support to the AAPG. This is what we have done in the past and what we do now, and we continue to do it all very well.
However, any intelligent and growing organization continues to seek and search and ask the questions of: “What is our next and best step?”, “How do we grow?” and “What future must we support?”
Learning from the Learning Curve
I am a student of, and fascinated by, the learning curve. You might be too. Simply put, a learning curve is a graph representing the principle that the more you do something, the better you become at it. Or, maybe better stated — the more skill and knowledge you develop, the greater that skill and knowledge develops. It is a graph, often with a linear, geometric or exponential growth rate. These curves, and the math that goes with them, are very useful in determining technological or institutional growth and in predicting a point in the future. I use them often in the development of research scope and technology development. They are very useful in looking back to where we have been and forward to where we want to be, all given the growth of the associated knowledge and technology associated with our mission.
Consider the growth in the technology, engineering and science of the oil and gas industry, and the overall extractive energy minerals industry. Consider the growth in the world energy demand, the need for supporting resources for efficient energy utilization and in the politics and philosophy of global energy. Can we factor all of the various learning curves generated from these areas into a curve that can inform and help us for the next 40 years? I think so.
First we must consider the overwhelming and growing change from a global long-chain hydrocarbon to a short chain and molecular hydrocarbon market. Much of the science and technology, as well as the global political and philosophical discussion, involve this change. Although conventional and unconventional oil, as well as coal, are global staples now, their use in the future will diminish as methane use from shale or hydrates increases. These factors contribute to our learning curve.
Second, the wise need for a mixed energy portfolio, both from an economic and financial perspective, an environmental perspective, bespoke needs, as well as an energy security perspective, will demand the use of geothermal, nuclear and surface process energy sources such as solar, wind and tidal energy. The mix, and the technological merger of these technologies, presents an interesting component in our learning curve equation. When combined with the energy needs of space and deep ocean exploration, unique military requirements or in distributed energy scenarios, our learning curve changes.
Finally, the global need, as expressed though the global political and philosophical system, is for universally distributed and readily available, efficient and inexpensive energy. This factor can drive our learning curve from linear to exponential, or geometric. Our first and second considerations are increasingly being informed, guided and driven by this thought.
As EMD, or even as AAPG, where are we on this curve now? What is the shape of our forward-looking learning curve? Considering the developments associated with non-conventional oil and gas, new technologies developing in renewables, new scale concepts in nuclear, plus the growth in the technologies associated with energy distribution and storage, I believe we have just passed an inflection point and that a spectacular, non-linear growth has begun. Technology and innovation is moving fast. Our learning curve could be geometric or exponential but I do know it will be steep. New ideas and approaches will keep us fresh and growing. We are good climbers!