It's just a matter of time, Peak-Oil will happen. There is no logical argument to assume it will not.

We are doing efforts to replace petrol based products with something else, for fuel in combustion engine ethanol is candidate #1.

But is there even enough space on earth to produce the ethanol that's needed?

We can only guess how effectiveness will increase, but I assume that fuel consumption is more likely to increase than decrease, even while electric cars are becoming establised.

  • Hi Sempie, and welcome to sustainability.SE. You're making a lot of assertions here without substantiation. Some people may disagree about peak oil. Some people may disagree that burning ethanol is the most likely (or best) alternative to burning fossil fuels. As you note, you're also making assumptions on future fuel use trends. However, there is a good question in there - Something along the lines of "If the world's cars were converted to ethanol, what area would be required to grow it, and how does this compare to available land". May I suggest revising the question along these lines?
    – Flyto
    Jul 4, 2015 at 22:02
  • That is as saying we will run out of oxygen because there is no logical argument to assume it not. What is your basis that fuel consumption will increase? US consumption peaked in 2007. A lot of bad assumptions here.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 19, 2017 at 18:40

1 Answer 1


No, we're not running out of fuel.

Peak oil never made sense as a problem, and still doesn't. I know that's an inconvenient truth for anyone who'd vested a lot of time and effort into the question of peak oil; but it doesn't help anyone to continue with a pretense that it's a problem.

That's because we can't afford to burn the fossil fuel reserves we do know about (whilst preserving human civilisation) let alone any undiscovered deposits. So it's always been the case that we were going to discontinue our oil dependence long before our oil reserves ran out, just as the stone age ended long before we ran out of stones (H/t Sheikh Yamani, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister 1962-1986).

The problem is that we have too much fossil fuels, not too little.

And there are already replacements for pretty much all fossil-fuel applications.

We know we can synthesise fluid hydrocarbons - the chemistry is pretty straightforward - which is one way to address the powering of heavy transport on road, sea and in the air. There may well be more economical solutions, but we know we have at least one working, scalable one. Some biofuels work, and are scalable too, so there may well be an increasing role for biogenic ethanol, and we've already seen viable biogenic jet fuel.

Fossil oil is also used for plastics; now, as long as those plastics are recycled, that's sustainable. However, for those plastics where we don't succeed in closing the loop, we'll have to find alternatives such as synthetic or biogenic materials. As far as I know, there are no impossible barriers thrown up by the chemistry there: the solutions are technically possible, but we haven't yet found the economically optimal ones.

And we already have highly-scalable fixes for the static applications of oil & gas: wind, PV and hydro all have well-developed global supply chains that have proven themselves capable of year-on-year expansion.

So although biogenic ethanol is one substitute, it's far from the only substitute. Hence, answering the ethanol question doesn't answer the question "are we running out of fuel?".

And although questions such as what share of global energy will sustainable biofuels have, what will be the best mix of fuels to power flight and shipping, and what amounts of shipping & aviation per year will be sustainable and economically efficient, are all presently unanswered questions, we do have an answer to your core question: are there viable sustainable substitutes for fossil oil in its current applications? And that answer is yes.

  • Your answer is very interisting and informative, but sorry, you did not answered my question at all.
    – jawo
    Jun 29, 2015 at 11:08
  • 1
    @Sempie you ask "are we running out of fuel?". The fIrst sentence of my answer is "No, we're not running out of fuel." That's as direct an answer as is humanly possible.
    – 410 gone
    Jun 29, 2015 at 11:12
  • This is just the title. "But is there even enough space on earth to produce the ethanol that's needet?" is the answer.
    – jawo
    Jun 29, 2015 at 11:12
  • And I've shown why that isn't relevant to your primary question of "are we running out of fuel". If you want to ask solely about how much ethanol the world could sustainably provide, then please do ask a new question about that; in which case, peak oil is not really relevant; nor is the question "are we running out of fuel?" This site's design and operation is predicated on asking one question at once; that way, answerers are all trying to answer the same question.
    – 410 gone
    Jun 29, 2015 at 11:18
  • 1
    @Sempie thinking about it, I think you've got a third good question buried in there too, which is: "is ethanol in an ICE the best (from an economic and sustainability perspective) substitute for oil derivatives in an ICE?"
    – 410 gone
    Jun 29, 2015 at 11:30

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