1. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    Living in a world without fossil fuels.

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by stormcat, Jan 4, 2014.

    My story takes place on a terraformed planet that never had any life previously on it. There is no oil, coal, natural gas or fossils of any sort. What kind of effect would this have on the technology and economy of this planet?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You tell us. Write your story, Consider the technology that put your colonists on that rock. Once you've written your story, hope it makes people think enough to argue with your solution.
     
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  3. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    The technology that brought the colonists there is long gone. Its either fallen into disrepair from lack of fuel, outright destroyed or cannibalized to make other things. The colonists have been there for over a thousand years.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There are several other technologies to choose from. Natural phenomena on the planet is a good place to start (i.e., wind). You'll probably have to look up the costs associated with these technologies to figure out the impact on the economy.
     
  5. stormcat
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    stormcat Active Member

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    Hydroelectric and wind are great for powering a stationary structure, but I'm thinking "what about batteries?"

    Also, I believe solar panels contain components made from petroleum.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Batteries are not a primary source. Energy is required to create or charge them, in excess of the energy they deliver.

    Not necessarily. Besides, solar panels are not the most direct form of solar energy.

    Solar energy is the primary source for all our energy on earth, other than nuclear fission.
    EDIT: and tidal. Geothermal energy is partly fission-based, but also driven by tidal stresses.

    But I must repeat that it's your story. Your energy infrastructure appears to be fundamental to your story, so you should really work it through yourself, including your projected consequences of your energy system.

    Writers brainstorm by creating a finished story and listening to the discussion it generates.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2014
  7. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds like your settlers are stuck in a hard place. Fortunately humans are good at adapting to things. As Cogito mentioned, there is the option of solar energy. If you wanted to, you could even make something that is photosynthetic.

    Or you could create technology that functions by consuming precious gems. See what you can brainstorm. Your universe. Your laws of physics. :)
     
  8. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could easily end up with a paradox here, where you need technology to make the technology. If there are trees then there will be wood that can be burnt. I'd think of human history. Stone age, bronze age, Iron age and even the industrial revolution. I think you could smelt iron ore into steel by burning wood so steam engines should be possible. There may be animals drawing carts and railways but no cars or airplanes. Do the people retain knowledge or do they need to invent everything anew? It may be interesting in the story to explore social upheaval due to new inventions and opposition by the powers that be who want to keep things as they are. Perhaps access to ancient writings is strictly controlled. It sounds like it could be an interesting situation.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random thoughts:

    - You could research things, other than fossil fuels, that have been traditionally burned for fuel, or could be burned. Plant oils, animal oils (whale oil, for example), wood, cow chips, alcohol, no doubt others. As one idea, whaling ended due to wide availability of other oils; without that availability would people have farmed whales, perhaps breeding them for extra oil production? Or, more conveniently, would they have bred some land animal, again for production of fuel oil?

    - Wind power, water power, geothermal power, sun power. Wind and water power have been used for centuries. Solar panels as we use them might indeed be an issue, but where you have free heat, you have an opportunity to harness that for energy.

    - So there are a lot of possibilities for energy. But without fossil fuels, you have an issue with dense *portable* sources of energy. Cars and all those other things that use portable gasoline motors--weed whackers, lawn mowers, etc.--are probably gone.

    - And I'd guess that the total amount of energy available would be a fraction of what we have available to us today. All of those energy-saving things that we could but don't do in our society, your society would probably have to do. No bottled water transported halfway across the world, for example. Manufactured products would be far more expensive.

    - This means that practices that avoid energy use would have extra value. For example, the Romans used to heat greenhouses with the heat from decaying cow manure. For centuries, people used to store food in cool cellars. Ice was harvested from bodies of water in the winter and stored in insulating sawdust through the summer. And so on.

    - I was discussing this with a friend at lunch, and he pointed out that the lack of fossil fuels might be even more of a problem in terms of lubricants, than in terms of energy sources. A lot of machinery needs lubricants that can handle high-heat metal-on-metal contact, and without fossil fuels, that may not be possible. That could be another big issue with manufactured products.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, they do. A lot of the plastic material is made using petroleum. Also, fossil fuels have a very high energy density, so using them makes a lot of sense. They're also relatively cheap. Last time I checked, solar energy is 3-4 times more expensive than coal or natural gas. I know that because my parents have solar panels on their house. In the end, however, I think the cost ends up being the same for them because of state and federal incentives, but there's also the cost of installation and maintenance to consider. Solar panels are also really inefficient (something like 15% efficiency).

    Wow, it's not looking good for the people on your planet at all. :p
     
  11. Bromabo
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    Bromabo Member

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    That sounds like a very interesting scenario. Although I assume you mean coal as in the stuff one burns, not the element coal.

    I guess you have to decide if their present day technology is based on stuff that they brought with them or if they pretty much started from scratch (with of course the knowledge of their technological knowledge of their past civilization). If they have been there for a thousand years there would actually be some type of what people sometimes refer to as fossil fuels in form of peat (layers of partially decade vegetation in wetlands).
    I assume the first settlers would make use of wind and water power to generate electricity and as another poster wrote they could also burn animal oils or other type of oilrich plants. Algues are fairly rich in oil and grow quickly.
    All these fuels would probably be more time consuming to generate than fossil fuels (if compare them based on their energy content). So it might be possible that the use of high tech technology would relay on the availability of cheap manual labour. Just as it does in our society when I think of it.
     
  12. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Before you pay to the lacking of fossil fuels in that planet, you have to specify, is that planet similar to Earth in the other dimensions ? Has it oxygen, water , atmosphere, sea and so on
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2014
  13. Pink-Angel-1992
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    Pink-Angel-1992 Active Member

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    You said that your story will be set on "a terraformed planet that never had any life previously on it". I had to look up what you meant my "terraformed plaent", because I'd never come across this term before, but a few thoughts came to me.

    Never having had life on the planet before, would mean no trees or plants, therefore there shouldn't be any breathable air, right? Trying to remember back a few years to my science lesson, I remember learning something about trees and plants taking C2O (or was it something else) and producing the air we breath. If that's right and my memories not confused, then that would mean your settlement would have to be in a a dome or something similar that is filled with oxygen, but they also need a way to produce the oxygen. However, they wouldn't have enough materials to create the dome, builtings, furnishings, equitment and anything else, or at least I wouldn't think so. So then, this brings the question of what materials does the planet naturaly have that the settlers can utilies. Also, what about water? To support life, you need water, so where does there water come from? How will the settlers produce crops? Will they grow them in planet pots/troths? I don't think the planet would have fertile soil, that is if it has soil at all. What about live stoke?

    Have you actually thought about how the settlers have survived and substained life on the planet? The above are some things that came to my mind, there will be more, I think. Thinking about how it's possible for them to survive, what they need to survive might tell you some technology you will need and then you should think how it can be done.

    I have this book called, "World of Wonders, How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy" by David Gerrold, which provides guidence and tips on various areas. There are chapters about world build and for part of it he gives an example of developing a colony on the moon. Having a look at something like that maybe helpful to you, if you haven't all read.

    Anyways, sorry about the long post, but I hope it's of some help.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe that's taken care of by the terraforming that happened before the story started. The idea of terraforming is that you somehow fairly rapidly achieve plants, growable earth, an atmosphere (maintained by the plants), water, and so on. It would require a great deal of technology, but I assume that that happened before the planet was cut off and lost its technology.

    But "fairly rapidly" means that you won't have the millions of years of life required for fossil fuels. Even if the terraforming took a thousand or fifty thousand years to be finished and produce a livable earthlike world, you still wouldn't have those fossil fuels
     
  15. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Coal is not an element. Carbon is an element. Coal is made from Carbon.

    Actually a lot of things are made from carbon.

    This brings an interesting point, because you've written of plastic because there isn't any petroleum, but you can make plastic from just about any oil. All you need are long chains of hydrocarbons.

    If you want to keep plastic out of the equation you can, but there will be nerds who will ask, "Why can't they use their soy beans to make plastic to [fill in the verb]?"
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, personally my first question would be: how is civilisation surviving? What technology do they have?

    Now do your science research and see if the technology you need can actually exist in this environment.
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Why not give them some 'alien' items that could profit them somehow. Some sort of rock/mineral that could produce energy? Some sort of item that could be turned into food? I don't know if I'd make it so hopeless or drab as what would be the point of staying there?
     
  18. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    We've only been using fossil fuels for the last couple of hundred years. Without any on the planet, and if you're saying all the tech they took with them when the colony was founded is now broken for some reason, then you can at least reach a 17th century standard of living. With working knowledge of magnetism and dynamos you could likely generate some small amount of electric current, and steam-tech's perfectly possible - wood doesn't have the same energy as coal, but you could still run a high-pressure boiler if you had a charcoal kiln.
     
  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Terraforming means making the planet "Earthlike", which means an ecology capable of supporting human life, implying plants and animals.

    If they have edible plants then they have fuel to make fires. Absent anything else, that would imply steam power. You've got yourself a steampunk setting.

    If you want to somehow make it impossible to use traditional fuel sources of any kind, there are at least two alternatives I can think of:

    1) Water power of some kind. Waterwheels, for instance. Tidal power. Water pumped into raised tanks using human or animal labour and then used to power water turbines or wheels.
    2) "Black box" power sources left by the "ancients" that no one understands or can duplicate and are treasured beyond all other things. They might even be seen as religious/holy artefacts.
     
  20. Auratus
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    Auratus Member

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    "Synthetic Fossil Fuel" Yay! (Stole from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri)

    Charcoal work. Bicycle-Electricity also work. Death Furnace (Galactic Civilization II) also work. Wind power also work. You can also can have growable plastic to make Solar panel.


    I, as some here, didn't have image how your world looks like. What the world will be is totally up to you. You know it best :)
     

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