The recent significant increase in the cost of hydrocarbon energy sources are being driven by several factors including:
- The world's usable supply of hydrocarbons is finite and soon to be decreasing,
- There is an ever-increasing energy demand in the so-called developed countries for hydrocarbons, plus new demands in China, India and other developing countries.
According to the DOE, the U.S. currently uses ~20 million barrels of oil per day. Our oil production peaked in the early 1970's and is decreasing at a rate of ~2% per year. Today we are importing ~65% of our oil and this is projected to increase to more than 85% by 2020. And oil is the primarily fuel for the transportation that is required to feed our population and fuel this economy across the vast reaches of our country.
It is generally recognized that the ultimate solution for mobile platforms will be hydrogen fuel cells. However, the primary problem preventing the implementing of a so-called "hydrogen economy" is the availability of transportation-grade hydrogen. It is also recognized that synthetic fuel, or "synfuels," are a solution for the period when cars are transitioning from being pure hydrocarbon burners (now), to hybrid hydrocarbon-electric, to hybrid hydrogen-electric, to hydrogen fuel cells.
This high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactor is the only available technology that can address the world's energy shortage by creating new electricity generating capability with a significant increase in efficiency (from 30 to 33% up to 50% and above), plus economically generate hydrogen from water and "synthetic" fuels (commonly called "synfuels") from coal and other hydrocarbons. However it should be noted that other industrial nations, including Japan, China, South Korea, and South Africa, are rapidly moving ahead with these technologies. Without a new national vision and renewed research and education, the US will have to continue to rely on the generosity of other nations in order to meet our pending energy requirements.
An interesting note is that Japan started developing the high-temperature gas reactor technology some 10 years ago with the goal of rapidly changing to a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell economy. The Japanese Atomic Energy Research Institute predicts that commercially available hydrogen will fuel 5 million fuel-cell powered cars in Japan by 2020 and 15 million fuel-cell powered cars by 2030. During this same period they expect to deliver 10 GWe and 12.5 GWe through "single-home hydrogen fuel-cell power stations."