This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Monday, October 18, 2010


15 October 2010

It has been a bit of a struggle to adapt sweeteners in this project.  Not because we lack sweeteners native to Minnesota, but because I never really USED the ones that originate here...

Quick overview of the various sweeteners generally used:

Table Sugar- This is the processed, refined sugar from beets or sugarcane that has all molasses taken out.  Brown sugar falls in this category as well.  It has had the molasses removed but then added back in.  These are the most processed sugars and have no nutritional value.

"Raw Sugar"- These sugars are from the same sources as table sugar but do not remove the molasses.  Turbinado Sugar is in this category (Sugar in the Raw).  These have some nutritional value (though no sugars have enough nutritional value for that to be a justifiable reason to eat them except in very small quantities.

Agave Nectar- From Blue agave cactus plants.  Native to Mexico and about 90 percent fructose, agave is sweeter than sugar and has more concentrated fructose than HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). 

Barley Malt and Brown Rice Syrup- Made from maltose which is less sweet than fructose.  Used like molasses in sauces, muffins and other moist baked goods.

Coconut Sugar- Made from a coconut palm tree, this sugar is similar to brown sugar and higher in nutrients than other sugars. 

Honey- The sweetest of all natural sweeteners, meaning you don't need as much of it.  Good to use for adding moisture in baked goods.  Honey is the only sweetener available in a raw form.  Ames Farm produces raw honey, which is not filtered or blended with other varieties as typical honey is. 

Maple Syrup- Not as sweet as table sugar but also adds moisture. 

Molasses- A byproduct of processing sugar.

Stevia-Not technically a sugar, this sweetener is extracted from Stevia plants and is about 300 times as sweet as sugar, but has no calories.  Because it isn't a sugar, it does not react the same way in cooking and baking making it difficult to substitute.  It is good, however, for sweetening drinks and is becoming more popular. 

Of all these sweeteners, I am limited to Maple Syrup, Maple Sugar and Honey.  Sugar beets grow all around here, but I have yet to find beet sugar that is refined and processed locally.  This isn't all bad, the ones I have are great natural sweeteners, but it takes some getting used to having everything taste like maple and honey :)

I found this Maple Sugar Cookie recipe on  It is from the New England chapter of the United States Regional Cookbook, Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago, 1947.  This is the real deal, a recipe without having to make substitutions!  (Except I took out the lemon).

1_sift first three ingredients together
2_cream butter and sugar together, add eggs, lemon extract and milk
3_add flour mixture and blend well
4_refrigerate about 1/2 hour
5_preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease cookie sheets
6_roll dough 1/4" thick and dust with maple sugar, cut into attractive shapes with cookie cutters, place on prepared cookie sheets and bake about 15 minutes

The dough is excellent! Cookies are alright too, I only cooked them for 10 minutes so they are more squishy.  Yeah for sweets, its been a while :)


2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1 cup maple sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 tbsp milk


14 October 2010

I watched a great documentary on how different oil products are made and the extent of these products throughout our lives: History Secrets: Secrets of Oil last night and this is what I found!:

To make all petroleum products it must be refined in different ways from crude oil (the state it is in when it comes out of the ground).  Oil refining has four stages:
2_hydro cleaning

Crude oil can be separated into mixtures with various hydrocarbon makeups to make all kinds of different products.  This is done by boiling crude oil in a huge, tall tower at temperatures of up to 700F.  As the crude boils, different hydrocarbon molecules within the crude begin to vaporise at different temperatures, thus separating it into various vapors.  Each vapor rises to a certain point in the tower and as it cools it condenses and is drawn off at specific levels depending on the weight of the molecules.  For example, the lightest gasses which are used to make aspirin (yes, aspirin is a petro-product) rise to the highest level of the tower.  The heaviest molecules, those used to make gasoline and jet fuels, sink to the bottom and are drawn off by pipes at that level.  Asphalt is the 'bottom of the barrel' product, as it is the heaviest and collects at the bottom of the tower.  Here is a diagram of what the breakdown of products in a barrel of oil is (to be expanded later):

The second step in refining is 'hydrocleaning'.  This is the first stage of 'filtering' the different products.  Each product that comes out of the tower has different requirements for refining and goes through a slightly different process of cleaning and filtering.  In the hydro cleaning phase, a large amount of sulfur is removed from the products.  This sulfur is then sold as agricultural fertilizers, to make tires and to make explosives.

Third, during the 'cracking' stage, products are altered molecularly to created new products. 

Lastly, different products are blended together with others to create the finished product.

As you can see, petro-products must go through quite a bit of refining to be manufactured into the products we buy every day.  When plastics were first being made they were actually quite expensive.  However, as is the trend in economics, as they grew to a massive manufacturing scale, the price decreased to the extremely inexpensive point it is at today.  Oil has some things going for it.  Because it is a liquid (in most forms) it is easily transportable.  It is easily manipulated in processes such as 'thermoforming' (heating and pulling over a mold). 

Some examples of products we use every day which are made from oil:

Lubricants-One of the most important oil products.  Used in almost anything with moving parts (watches and motors).  Petroleum based lubricants do an excellent job of reducing the heat created when two objects moving together creating a thin cooling film.

Water pipes-Once made of copper, today 66% of water pipes are made from PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Asphalt- Four out of every five homes have asphalt shingles today.  While asphalt can be found naturally in tar pits, today almost all of it comes from oil refining.  Of the asphalt which is refined from oil: 15% is used for roofing, less than 15% is used for water resistant structures (sea walls, boats) and the remaining is used to cover roads.  On that note, of the 4 million miles of roads in the United States, 94% are covered in asphalt.  Asphalt fills in cracks and binds the aggregates of roads together.  "American roads contain more than 19,000 square miles of asphalt."

Mineral Oil- Also known as baby oil, this is a petroleum product we are probably all familiar with.  Here are some applications of mineral oil:
_Rubbed on the skin of infants for diaper rash and used as a lubricant during child birth
_Taken orally as a lubricating laxative
_Livestock vaccines
_Common ingredient in baby lotions, ointments and cosmetics.  Used in mascara to prevent brittleness and in lipstick.
_As a transformer oil in industrial/mechanical capacities
_As a preservative in shoe polishes, wood
_Used on cooking utensils, cutting boards, cookware and bake ware to prevent food from sticking
_Lava lamps
_Principle fuel in gel-candles
_Fog and Haze machines
_As a pesticide
_The basis for most automotive engine oils

The most significant petroleum product, however, is plastic.  Plastics are made from monomers and converted into a 'feedstock' of tiny pellets which are melted and mixed with other products to create different plastics.  There are seven basic feedstocks:

We ingest it, rub it on our bodies, transport our water through it, spread it on our food crops, lubricate our engines with it and drive on it.  Petroleum really is everywhere. 


13 October 2010

I have a confession.  The past 2-3 weeks or so I have slowly started to phase out of using the water barrel, falling back into more 'comfortable' habits of water use.  I have been running tap water to; do the dishes, fill up my shower bucket, wash my face and hands and brush teeth. I've been feeling kind of guilty about this because although I have a vague idea of how much water I'm using running the tap, I don't really know for sure.  To ease my conscience, and to make sure I am keeping on track with this project I wasted a bunch of water today running all the fixtures I use in my house to see what the exact flow rates were (timing myself to see how long it takes to do each task).

It was really interesting to actually take a timer and see how long I run a tap doing dishes or washing my hands.  I found that I only run a tap for; 20 seconds each time I wash my hands or brush my teeth, 1 minute to wash my face, and 7 minutes for rinsing dishes while washing.  I measured the flow rate of my shower head which came out to be 2 gallons/minute. I timed how long it took for me to do everything first.  Then ran the faucet at the same rate for each specific amount of time, capturing it in a 1 gallon bucket to measure. 

What I found was really interesting.  Most of my habits have really not changed from what I was using before the project started.  Everyday water uses such as drinking, cleaning food, house cleaning, hand washing and doing dishes are all consistent with my uses before the project. 

This scared me a little bit until I looked at the 'big users':
_Toilet flushing
_Clothes washing

Showering, toilet flushing, clothes washing and taking a bath use TONS of water.  My shower (which is a regular shower head, not low flow) fills up a gallon bucket in 30 seconds.  This means it has a flow rate of 2 gallons/minute, and a typically 10 min shower uses 20 gallons!  I used to take a bath about every week which is 70 gallons of water (10 gallons a day if measuring daily).  An average toilet flush is 2 gallons (5 times a day = 10 gallons).  By flushing only twice a day and putting a milk carton in my tank to make it 'low flow' I only use 1.6 gallons per flush (3.2 gallons per day).  Lastly, as I've mentioned before, a typical clothes washer uses 42 gallons per load (6 gallons a day if doing only 1 load a week).  My method of washing uses 14 gallons (2 gallons a day) and I haven't even been doing laundry every week. 

The chart below shows all my daily water uses, the big users stand out clearly (click to enlarge):

In total, the amount of water I was using before this project was 48 gallons/day.  I am now using an average of 15 gallons per day.  And the only things I have changed are showering, bathing and clothes washing.  The point is, when it comes to water, there really seem to be a few 'big water users' that are responsible for our huge over consumption of water. (Another big one that doesn't apply to my living situation is watering the lawn).

In the beginning of the project I was trying REALLY hard to minimize water in all aspects of my life: Using only 1 gallon of water total to do dishes (which my roommates loved because there was always dish soap left on them).  I was deciding what I cooked based on much water it would take to boil, and in general minimizing every use as much as possible.  This wasn't easy, and I was constantly worrying about how much I was using and struggling to use the least possible.  Once I had established some changed habits which addressed big water users (shower, toilet and clothes washing primarily) I fell back into 'comfortable habits' of water use and found that I am still using EXACTLY my water budget.  What a relief.  It was really enlightening to measure all my uses and total them for each day, I think for many people, doing an exercise like this would help them identify what the big water users in their life were and help to target those and ease some of the worry every time we turn on the tap.

We are fortunate in Minnesota to have a decent amount of average rain and precipitation (29.3 inches/year).  In a place like Phoenix, AZ (which only gets 8.6 inches/year) meeting my water budget would be significantly more difficult.  However, there are also plenty of regions in this country and throughout the world that get quite a bit more rain than we do as this graphic from illustrates: