"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Friday Forum: What do we use oil for anyway?

I have been getting into a lot of good discussions about the nature of oil.  As an engineer, I know that oil is a substance we will tend to always find a use for.  Oil gets used in a myriad of ways, particularly when we consider transportation and plastics.  So many things find their origins in petroleum through creation of petrochemicals.  I thought surely our demand for gasoline would not be the only way to shape our demand for oil.  Surely our never-ending love affair with plastics would shape our holistic demand for oil.

Or so I thought.

Digging deeper into the uses for oil shows that roughly 10% of oil goes to plastics.  Ten whole whopping percent. Our stores, filled to brimming with an incredible array of plastic products, represent ten percent of our collective thirst for oil.

Oil also makes up a significant portion of asphalt.  Miles and miles of road paved.  Millions of potholes being filled.  The fact that I cannot drive around right now without encountering roads being resurfaced makes visible our demand for asphalt.  Three percent.  Again, an incredible three percent of our collective thirst for oil.

Regular, normal gasoline?  Forty-six percent.  The stuff that we put in our cars to get us around.  Forty-six percent.  And I thought we had a complete insanity when it came to our use of plastics in everything.

Sometimes I really love Wikipedia.

I’m curious.  What would need to happen to reduce your demand for gasoline?


2 responses

  1. Interesting. Maybe plastics isn’t higher because it goes to “durable goods.” I’m surprised jet fuel is 9%. Diesel, etc. at 26% isn’t a surprise because I understand that there’s a “cracking fraction” that tends to keep diesel and gasoline in fairly fixed ratio.
    I reduced my need for gasoline, strictly speaking, by buying a Jetta TDI wagon. I could reduce it further by moving downtown and walking to work, but my wife won’t hear of it. We could reduce it further still by living in walkable communities generally, where daily necessities could be sourced on foot and petrochemicals would be needed less often (but then more would be used to transport the goods to multiple smaller stores, too).

    4 June 2010 at 6:10 am

    • Manufacturing does fix a number of these percentages, particularly as we try to maximize the percentage of oil going to the transportation sector.

      4 June 2010 at 6:33 am

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