In previous versions of this report the following three paragraphs introduced this section.

At the end of 2002, the UK government admitted that its target reduction of 6% in road congestion by 2010 would not be met. The increase in road use was explained by the growth in the economy. The number of new car registrations peaked in 2003 falling by 7% by the end of 2007. The number of commercial vehicle registrations, remained virtually at the same level from 2004 to the end of 2007. Bus and coach registrations peaked in 2006, falling 6% by the end of 2007, bringing the total vehicles on UK roads to around 31 million cars and 4¼ million commercial vehicles. 

To control congestion local authorities have been granted powers to apply various charging schemes to limit traffic in cities and in London a successful scheme was introduced. Perhaps if the fuel escalator tax had not been abandoned in 2000, but had been increasingly applied, sales in cars might have fallen and congestion restricted by higher costs. Indeed, the escalator could have been ramped up until it had a demonstrable effect on congestion. However, it has been suggested that it would take an increase of 5 times in fuel prices to make a noticeable effect on road use. The fall in new car registrations over the 5 years to 2008 was probably due to lack of road space more than high fuel prices.

But air traffic has increased and the skies are also congested, while the railways struggle to cope with more passengers than their carrying capacity. Two of the three principle forms of transport currently rely on oil-based fuels, the amount of which is finite. By consuming fuel at an ever increasing rate, the time when the roads and skies will empty is brought forward. Congestion will be exacerbated by increases in road and runway capacity,  but will eventually be relieved when the fuel sustaining it runs out. Paradoxically the very increase in demand encouraged by road and runway building will bring forward the final turn-down, leaving empty motorways and abandoned airfields. The exception to this is the railways which could eventually be powered by sustainable wind and tidal power.    

At the end of 2012 the situation is different, Increases in fuel prices began in 2007 to reduce road and runway usage, so that road traffic has decreased by 7% and runways' takeoffs/landings have reduced by 14%. See DfT's annual statistics published annually in July..

There will have been a decreasing effect on overall traffic from the recession from 2008, but from a Brent crude oil spot price in 2007 averaging $72.4/barrel to that in 2012 of $111.7 most of the decrease can be attributed to rising oil prices. Of the 7% overall decrease in traffic, HGVs decreased by 20%, while online purchase deliveries increased the use of light vans.

The case for building additional runway capacity in the UK has failed as although passenger and freight movements have recently increased slightly, overall the high cost of jet fuel has incentivised the purchase of larger and more fuel efficient aircraft so that takeoffs/landings have decreased. Although Heathrow is working at full capacity, other London airports have excess capacity. This excess is ample for a reducing runway usage and for any conceivable increase in movement.

Comparison of surface transport motive energy efficiencies

Before considering various forms of transport, it is useful to estimate the relative efficiencies of those operating on the surface, i.e., roads and railways (including trams). 

Method Overall %
Renewable electricity -> Transmission 90% -> Electric traction 85% (Rail and tram) 76
Diesel -> 46% ->Electricity 90% ->Electric traction 82% + 21% (Diesel-electric-battery train) * 55
Diesel engines; Average 46% (Road and train) 46
Diesel -> 46% -> Electricity 90% -> Electric traction 82% (Diesel-electric train) 34
Petrol engines 30-38%; Average 34% (Road) 34
Fossil fuels -> Electricity 40% -> Transmission 90% -> Electric traction 85% (Rail and tram) 30
Renewable electricity -> H2 44% -> Fuel cell 40% -> Electric traction 85% (Road) 15
Fossil fuels -> Electricity 40% -> Transmission 90% -> H2 44% -> Fuel cell 40% -> Electric traction 85% (Train) 5

* Hitachi diesel-electric multiple unit with battery storage enabling regeneration

From the above rough estimated stage efficiencies, it is evident that rail and tram make the best use of renewable sources of electricity, whereas the use of hydrogen as a "mobile" fuel able to be carried on a vehicle is the least efficient.19 It is also evident that renewable electricity offers 2˝ times more useful work energy that the primary energy used for fossil fuel electricity generation.

6. Road transport


The main emphasis should be in the elimination of unnecessary journeys. Although rising fuel prices will achieve a steady reduction in journeys, it is better to anticipate this and adjust life-styles in anticipation of the coming shortages.

Office workers

A vast number of people travel to work only to sit in front of a computer monitor. With the introduction of wired and radio networks, the potential now exists to link home PC’s with work networks so that functions currently performed in a single building can be performed in a distributed manner. The introduction of PC video cameras allows staff to be present in vision as well as voice.

Managers can address groups or even the whole staff for conferencing, making announcements and policy discussions. Just as staff currently have direct line numbers, customers can "visit" an office by wire and discuss business with several executives using split screens.

Many offices with "intranet" internal networks find that their staff engage in email "conversations" with colleagues rather than visit other offices in the same building. This practice shows that using the office network to converse with "Internet" linked colleagues could be a natural extension of a sedentary way of working. After the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers in New York, although the databases of the firms were duplicated in remote locations, many businesses lost key staff, which had they been deployed to their home offices would have survived. 

Working at home can be a lonely occupation and requires self-discipline. Moreover, domestic demands can interrupt the flow of work. One answer is to create local business communes with good communications where free-lance or out-placed workers can share facilities. Functions requiring attendance at the office can be scheduled on a periodic basis enabling key staff to meet when necessary. 


Another great use of the roads is made by school journeys in the morning and the evening. Many journeys are undertaken by parents to ensure the security of their children in an avoidance of danger from paedophiles, but more likely from harm from other vehicles.

Instead of attending school every day, some days could be spent at homes linked to a school network or to a school website on the Internet, attendance being assured by logging-on to interactive educational programmes. Pupils could also meet in local tutorial groups in equipped rooms in church halls and works canteens located within walking distance of homes. Schools would have a control centre able to co-ordinate lessons, to transmit teaching material and to test individuals. Many schools already have their own websites, the use of which could be extended to incorporate home working. 

This would be particularly useful in rural areas, where attendance at secondary schools leads to an inevitable use of transport.

Business travel

Sales representatives can currently travel as much as 50,000 km/annum in their search for and maintenance of customers. Presentations and communication of product information will have to rely more on electronically transmitted information.


Unfortunately, leisure pursuits are almost entirely reached by car journeys. Mass attendance events like football matches, horse-racing, shows and exhibitions will be limited by the high cost of travelling to the grounds. Public projects like the 2012 London Olympics, requiring great numbers to attend will not be viable.

The enormously expensive new football stadium at Wembley could instead of a conventional seated arena have been arranged as a giant studio, equipped with good lighting and audio-visual transmission facilities with just a few seats reserved for managers and the press. Audience participation can be created electronically by the use of microphones linked to television channels. The sound signals are transmitted to the stadium then synthesised into a simulated spectator reaction to events seen on the screen and realised in large loudspeakers.

Pursuits which in themselves will consume oil-based products, like motor racing, rallying and powered water sports will be even more restricted by the high cost of fuels.

Sports such as rowing, sailing and athletics in local sports facilities should be encouraged.

Bus transport

The trend since the 1930’s of scrapping electric trams and trolleybuses in favour of diesel-engined buses is now turning back to the building of modern tramways in major British cities. In Europe, tramways often extend into country areas and link up with buses and trains with inter-relating timetables. Ticketing usually allows a variety of means of transport to be used.

For long distances hybrid diesel/electric buses will provide an interim solution. Motorway outer lanes could be provided with electric overhead wires as once used for trolley-buses and hybrid vehicles could be converted to use mostly electricity.


Road haulage (excluding light vans) accounts for more than 90% of all freight moved over land in the UK 7. As stated above in the case of moving people, the first priority is to reduce the need to move goods. The single European market relies on cheap transport to unify prices throughout the Union. Britain remains a high price economy mainly because of its geographical isolation, but also because of its reluctance to join in a single currency. As transport costs soar with high fuel prices resulting from the run-down of fuel resources, prices of locally produced goods will rise due to a lack of competition from external suppliers.

Currently produce in supermarkets can be sourced from all over Europe and to a lesser extent from the whole world. Trucks, trailers and containers are transported from docks and airports to supermarket distribution centres and then to stores by road. Often similar produce is driven in opposite directions on the same road. The effect on import prices resulting from high fuel prices will enable UK farmers to compete with imported agricultural products, while at the same time absorbing increased fuel costs. If farmers grow rape and sugar beet for bio-diesel and ethanol production for their own use, the rise in price of fossil-fuel based diesel will restore their viability.

There will also be an overall saving in journeys as more localised production and distribution of goods dominates.

There has been a trend towards "mail order" from centralised distribution depots and the use of national and international courier services. Many mail order companies offer "next day" delivery when in many cases such urgency is unwarranted. High fuel prices will lead to a reluctance on the part of customers to require and pay excessively for more rapid deliveries than needed.

The fuel protests in 2000 showed how competitive the goods transport industry has become, but continental competition was more imagined than experienced. As fuel prices continue to rise, it may be that the tax element will lose some of its significance, though heavy taxes would provide an additional incentive to fuel economy and the development of alternatives.

The adoption of the proposals for survival to be defined later would mean the continued use of heavy transport for the movement of engineering materials. This reinforces the emphasis on the need for conserving currently available resources. They will be required to assist in the creation of alternatives to them for a future without them!.

The unreliability of the rail network in respect to maintenance militates against the transfer of heavy goods traffic from roads to rail. More parallel track is needed to cater for increased passenger use with its associated increased wear and could provide for the carriage of more freight.

(For proposals for developing the rail network see section 7 below).


Much of recent road-building has been to ease congestion points, mainly involving the addition of by-passes and elimination of roundabouts on major roads. The decrease in urban traffic gained by a by-pass soon succumbs to additional traffic generated by the development of the land it sequesters. The view of the noise-polluted countryside from the by-pass is soon augmented by a landscape of industrial and housing estates.

The greatest disincentive to road use is the congestion it generates. So once the current round of by-passes is completed, further roadworks should be abandoned. The civil engineering capabilities devoted to road-building will in any case be needed for railway construction, water pumping and flood alleviation schemes and urban renewal.

The UK Department of Transport announced trials will take place for a road charging scheme, requiring intelligent systems to monitor traffic over congested roads, charging fees according to the time and density of traffic on the utilised road sections. It is anticipated that such road charges would supplant vehicle excise duty and fuel taxes. As the cost of the scheme will be enormous a simple fuel rationing scheme would be far cheaper and effective. In any case, by the time such a scheme is operational in 2012, motor fuel will be very expensive and this will restrict traffic, making road pricing unnecessary.

Speed control

Fuel savings can be made by speed control. A speed limit of 80 kph (50 mph) was imposed during the 1973-74 fuel crisis, introduced as a fuel conservation measure. Petrol coupons were issued but not used. EU Commissioner Piebalgs has suggested a Europe-wide speed limit of 100 kph (62 mph) to aid fuel conservation. At the very least the current UK speed limit of 113 kph (70 mph) should be rigorously maintained, but the law is more flouted than observed. 

The employment of single-point speed cameras has had little effect on the overall over-speeding of vehicles. A more developed speed camera system is available that can recognise vehicles and register the time that they enter and leave a specified stretch of road. The system is able to establish times taken over long measured stretches of several kilometres between motor- and express-way entries and exits, enabling average speeds to be calculated by computer. In this way temporary reductions in speed at known camera locations would be of no avail in avoiding detection. For crime reduction and collection of road taxes an electronic vehicle identification system (EVI) may be introduced and this could be used for speed monitoring. Speed measurement is also linked to automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) devices, located in police vans. 

It is possible to restrict vehicle speeds automatically to that permitted in an area defined by a digital map and by reference to the global positioning system. The technology, known as "Intelligent Speed Adaptation" (ISA), has already been developed and tested. This may well be the final solution employed. If only fitted to new cars, as is proposed, it would sustain the used car market. Drivers caught speeding could have their licence endorsed to be valid only for driving vehicles with an ISA installed.

Alternative fuels

Much is made of the development of the hydrogen-fuelled vehicle, but the only sustainable method of hydrogen generation is by electrolysis using electricity from wind or marine current power. However, there will be great competition for this and it would be more efficient to use renewably generated electricity directly for trains or trams or for battery vehicles. To have supplied the 2006 level of road vehicle movements with hydrogen would require round three times the energy generated that year by coal, gas and nuclear power combined, viz., 1100 TWh compared with 400 TWh actually generated. This will restrict the use of the hydrogen car to a favoured minority. Transport fuels in 2006 amounted to 53.5 million tonnes. 

Bio-diesel is already being supplied in limited quantities, mainly as a blend with normal diesel. Currently in the UK, biodiesel is manufactured from waste cooking oil and imported palm oil. The likely amount of waste vegetable oil from the food industry totals only  75,000 tonnes/annum, which with bio-ethanol or methanol would make around 100,000 tonnes of motor fuel. However, in 2005 a plant was commissioned in Newarthill, near Motherwell, Scotland which augments waste cooking oil with tallow to produce 50 million litres (57,000 tonnes) of biodiesel per annum. But the final amount is restricted by the amount of land able to be devoted to rape cultivation, all the biodiesel from which will be needed for agriculture. It might be possible to import rape seed (or rape oil from it) grown on land currently used for tobacco. Other vegetable oils can be employed and there are controversial imports of palm oil.

Bio-diesel is currently made using methanol (to produce FAME) from the petrochemical industry, so to be sustainable it should be made using bioethanol (to produce FAEE). British Sugar manufactures bioethanol from sugar or wheat in Norfolk, but because of more favourable tax rebates in Poland has also located an initial venture there. Bioethanol is blended with petrol in any proportion up to 15%.

In 2006 the use of oil-based liquid fuels for road transport amounted to 53.5 million tonnes per annum, up from 49.5 million tonnes in 2000, a rise of 8% in spite of increases in fuel efficiency. There no possibility of replacing this with alternative fuels.

7. Rail transport 

Track capacity

A study of the rail network shows that there is little spare track capacity (or "redundancy") available for repairs to be carried out without interrupting services and inconveniencing passengers. For example, the West Coast route leaving Euston for the Midlands has four tracks until two branch off to Northampton. After Rugby it resorts to four tracks once more, but this does not continue to Glasgow. Tracks should be added where necessary between London and Glasgow to provide the whole route with four tracks, thus allowing maintenance to be carried out without affecting passenger services. (This process has started with the electrification of track between Kidsgrove and Crewe, allowing it to take inter-city trains.) 

Reserve track should be provided for all major routes on the UK network. In places this may mean building two tracks on gantries above the two existing. This method has been used at Ashford station in Kent where the Channel Tunnel Rail Link runs above the existing tracks.

Additional tracks will reduce potential conflicts between performance and safety since access for maintenance will be improved and the need for bi-directional use eliminated. In any case the capacity of the rail system needs to be radically increased to cope with current and future demand.

Improvements to the West Coast London-Glasgow line to enable it to carry high-speed tilting trains are causing delays and frustration. The potential reductions in journey times will be elusive as the upgraded track will have little extra "redundancy" and will be subject to increased wear due to the increased load on curves. To achieve real journey time savings between London and Glasgow a new route with optimal alignment is required as adopted for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, a section of which is now in high-speed service.


Electricity generated from the combustion of fossil fuels suffers from a thermal loss of 60%, followed by transmission losses, so it cannot compete with the direct use of diesel in an internal combustion engine, either driving the wheels directly or via a generator on a diesel-electric locomotive. However, as diesel supplies run out and renewable sources of electricity have to be utilised, the direct use of electricity in traction motors becomes the most energy-efficient method of motive power. Apart from battery-powered vehicles and perhaps trolley-buses, trains and trams which use associated current collection systems provide the only efficient use of renewable sources of electricity. 

Thus electrification should be completed so that diesel traction is progressively eliminated. Currently, diesel locomotives have to be used over electrified systems for through train services. An example is a new service from Norwich to Basingstoke which is diesel powered to run over largely electrified systems. The crash at Paddington led to a fire because diesel fuel was ignited by falling overhead wires. If an electric locomotive had been able to start and finish on a totally electrified line the fire risk would have been obviated.

Electrification also allows the use of alternative sources of energy to oil to be utilised, such as wind power. There are several systems of power transmission to the locomotive, some with overhead wires, some from additional rails. Universal electric locomotives can be arranged to run on more than one system.

Hitachi have developed a hybrid diesel-electric-battery propulsion train system, combining a diesel-driven generator with storage batteries allowing regenerative braking. Between the generator and the motor is a converter-storage battery-inverter module. Apart from giving a superior efficiency, the unit could be augmented with a current collection system to allow it to run from overhead electric wires. This would enable the locomotive to operate throughout the network and would adapt to a progressive electrification as an interim measure prior to full electrification. With an electrical failure the diesel engine could be started up and the storage batteries would also allow movement. (21)

Restoration of closed branch lines

Not all the lines closed by the Beeching Plan need to be re-opened, but some would find great use if restored, such as the closed line between East Grinstead and Three Bridges, which if brought back into service would ease car congestion around Crawley. A disused line between Bletchley and Bicester is to be re-opened to connect Oxford and Cambridge. There must be many other examples where re-opened lines would contribute to local commuting, due to an expansion of housing in areas previously greenfield.

Use of under-utilised motorways

As motorways will be under-utilised because of the high cost of motor fuel, the outer lanes could be electrified and devoted to tramways and railtracks. Buses could be converted to trolleybuses and run on one of the remaining road lanes.

Strategic Rail Authority

The SRA will be closed by the end of 2005 and its functions transferred to the Department of Transport and Network Rail.

Like all government initiatives, "The strategic plan" it issued in January 2002 8 took no cognisance of the forthcoming paucity of diesel supplies. There was no mention of the need for 100% electrification to enable trains to run without liquid fuel. There were only two electrification schemes in the original plan, Ashford - Hastings and Hurst Green - Uckfield, which would avoid the routing of diesel sets into a London terminus. Its last annual report for 2004-2005 has only one reference to electrification, viz., for a connection to Leeds from the East Coast Main Line. 

In the last five years of the 20th Century, usage of the rail network rose beyond the capacity of the unexpanded capital facilities of track, signalling and rolling stock. The contribution this plan offered to remedy the situation was to introduce more high speed trains and to build extensions to platforms to cater for longer trains. The load on the track is a function of the weight per length of the train, the centrifugal force on the rail when negotiating curves and the number of wheels that run over it. A combination of high speeds, tight curves and long commuter trains will mean increased track maintenance. No building of relief tracks for maintenance is mentioned in the report.

As for long term developments: the strategic plan suggested the creation of a North-South high-speed line. This seems like a good idea, but could mean that the much-needed investment in additional commuter tracks would be unfulfilled. Direct links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are under consideration, but since the air industry will grind to a halt in 20 years or so, new connections to empty airports will prove to be futile. In the interim, domestic air services are currently in competition with rail - so better connections to airports would simply divert rail passengers to air.

Interconnecting services in London, such as the Crossrail system connecting East to West are the most promising of the long term developments. 

In 2002/3 whole sections of the track of the London-Glasgow West Coast Main Line were taken out of service for periods of up to three months to upgrade it to take high-speed tilting trains. This caused considerable disruption to passengers in weekdays as well as the usual weekends. The aim of this is to reduce the journey time by up to an hour. In the meantime over the upgrading period journey times will be vastly increased. Speeds of the tilting trains are temporarily restricted to 200 kph (125 mph) below the intended 227 kph (140 mph) in a move by the rail regulator to relieve maintenance costs. 

High-speed trains were conceived as a response to competition from domestic air services from low-cost airlines. What is needed is capacity and reliability, neither of which can be achieved without massive investment in track. Working the refurbished track at high speeds will result in a higher rate of wear and replacement and greater unreliability and frustration. The tilting train was introduced to allow high speeds on the curved track of the Western route. This is not a realisable objective as the increased need for track maintenance will result in an increase in average journey times. 

The construction of a new North-South high speed rail link has implications for the route of the track. Tighter radii through urban areas will mean speed restrictions and to avoid excessive track maintenance the route should be as straight as possible. Operating at 225 kph (140 mph) requires a minimum track radius of 2400 m, while speeds at 270 kph (168 mph) require a minimum radius of 4000 m. So although a new line will be a better option than modifying existing routes for use by tilting trains, increased overall track capacity with redundancy for maintenance access would be a better goal. There is no need to be competitive in journey times with air travel, which will rapidly attenuate as oil supplies dry up.  

Reliability of the rail system could be achieved overnight by restricting the number of passengers ticketed to match the capacity. When entering a station there is an anticipation of obtaining a place, seated or standing, on a train. By computer linking ticketing offices, taking into account season ticket holders, the tickets issued at peak times would be limited to the passenger-carrying capacity. This would lead to frustration at the station entrance, but would restrict the load on the rail system to the real capacity of it at the time of demand. 

The parlous state of the rail system in 2003 channeled government subsidies into maintenance rather than into new capital works. The only way sufficient funds will be procured is through a recognition that rail and tramways will be the only viable transport in the near future. 

8. Water transport  

Inland waterways

British canals never developed to the same degree as in Holland or Germany. There is not the same geographical advantages of the Rhine and its interconnecting rivers and waterways. Nothing compared to the Danube flows in Britain. The British contours lead to an array of time-consuming locks and only relatively small narrow- boats can navigate our waterways. The contours also make for meandering routes, increasing distances.

Further use might be made of the Manchester Ship Canal, under-utilised because of competition from container ship/road traffic. The Forth-Clyde canal is now joined up again at its Glasgow and Falkirk ends. This millennium project is mainly for amenity and urban regeneration. If enlarged to take bigger barges, these would need diesel fuel (or its substitute) so such an attractive alternative will need to make use of alternative fuels.

The principle use of British Waterways canals remains for leisure and the transmission of water as part of a national water grid.

Sea transport

Apart from diesel requirements for marine engines, power is required for refrigeration for cold storage, mainly now provided by individually refrigerated containers.  

Ships may have to revert to coal boilers and steam turbines for motive power and electricity generation.

Innovation in the clean use of coal will reduce the pollution associated with burning coal.

9. Air transport


In 2003 the UK Department of Transport announced the result of a consultation on airport runway capacity, assuming that the usage of air transport will double by 2015 and triple by 2030. This would be achieved by an exponential annual growth in air traffic of 4.5% over the entire period to 2030. 

The most controversial inclusion in the published White Paper was a proposal to build a second runway at Stansted, while holding the industry's choice of Heathrow in abeyance until satisfactory control of pollution can be exercised. In the meantime, a new initiative to forward a new runway at Heathrow entitled "Future Heathrow" was launched in May, 2005. 

The construction of the runway at Stansted is planned to start in 2009/2010 concurrently with the Heathrow runway - on the assumption that demand will have increased to need them both, by which time a shortage of jet fuel will have reduced traffic and neither may be built. An opportunity to herald the onset of oil depletion was lost and the White Paper introduced no measures to levy a tax on aviation fuel. 

Air traffic

An expansion of air traffic in the UK depends on an increase in international traffic at the same rate. Domestic traffic in other countries would need to grow in parallel to UK domestic traffic to feed international activity. Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer predicts an annual global growth rate in passenger traffic of 4.5% beginning in 2000 at 3.2 x 1012 passenger-km/annum (or 2 x 1012 air-miles/annum) 16. If sustained this would rise to 12 x 1012 passenger-km/annum (or 7.5 x 1012 air-miles/annum) in 2030. The cumulative passenger-km over the 30 years totals 200 x 1012 passenger-km (or 125 x 1012 air-miles). 

Airbus forecast an increase in freight traffic of 5.9% per annum, rising from 120 x 109tonne-km (or 75 x 109 tonne-miles) in 2005 to 440 x 109 tonne-km (or 270 x 109 tonne-miles) in 2023 to around 500 x 109 tonne-km (or 310 x 109 tonne-miles) by 2030, totalling 7,000 x 109 tonne-km (or 4,300 109 tonne miles)

Civil aviation jet fuel requirement

With the introduction of the Airbus A380 super-jetliner and other fuel efficient aircraft from Boeing, it is expected that the to reduce the jet fuel requirement for a fleet gradually renewed will reduce by 2% per annum, so that a 4.5% increase per annum in passenger traffic and a 5.9% increase in freight traffic would result in a 2.5% and 3.9% increase in jet fuel consumption per annum respectively. 

This equates to a consumption in the 11 years up to and including 2015 of 2930 million tonnes  of jet fuel and in the 26 years up to 2030 of 9370 million tonnes or 76 Gb of jet fuel.  

Refinery yield

There is a reduction in the yield of jet fuel from 25% to 8-10% as North Sea crude oil production runs down and more Middle East crude has to be used. This means that the proportion of jet fuel to other refinery products is progressively reduced unless the refinery product profile is modified by installing additional equipment. More fuel is consumed internally, reducing the overall output while maintaining the yield of jet fuel, so a reduced refinery efficiency of say 91% will apply from now as a greater proportion of Middle East crude oil is refined.   

In 2004 global jet fuel consumption was around 2 Gb or 240 million tonnes which comprised 7.2% of total oil products. By 2015 crude oil production has fallen from a peak in 2010 of 30 Gb to 27 Gb, while the crude oil equivalent to the projected jet fuel requirement will be 2.65/0.91= 2.9 Gb (or 11% of oil production), but by 2030 oil production has fallen to 18 Gb, while the crude oil equivalent will have risen to 4.9/0.91= 5.4 Gb (or 30% of oil production). Demand for other oil products will make the attainment of 11%, let alone 30%, of crude oil production as jet fuel impossible.

Although the synthesis of jet fuel from natural gas or coal will offer some relief, there is no potential substitute for the bulk of the jet fuel currently obtained from crude oil. Gas-to-liquids (GTL) projects in Australia, Egypt, Qatar, Malaysia and Nigeria coming on stream in 2006 to 2012 aggregate to only 12 miillion tonnes of jet fuel per annum. In any case the remaining natural gas and coal will be required for the myriad of competing energy-consuming purposes currently reliant on oil.  

Passenger air miles

Accepting that peak oil occurs by 2007 and assuming that refinery profiles allow 7.2% of the declining crude oil production to be processed to jet fuel at 91% thermal efficiency, then from the 600 Gb of production of regular oil plus all other liquids available between now and 2030, around 40 Gb or 6400 billion litres of jet fuel would be produced. Assuming 25% of this is devoted to air freight, 30 Gb or 4800 billion litres would be available for global passenger traffic. An average specific consumption over the period of 3.8 litres per 100 passenger-km would provide 125 x 1012air-km (or 78 x 1012 air-miles), compared with the 200 x 1012 passenger-km (or 125 x 1012 passenger-miles) or 60% of the traffic anticipated in the UK Department of Transport’s projections.

Freight miles

Consumption of the 10 Gb or 1,235 million tonnes of jet fuel available for freight traffic from 2005 to 2030 would allow for 3,160 x 109 tonne-km of freight (2,000 x 109 tonne-miles) traffic compared with the 7,000 x 109 tonne-km (4,300 x 109 tonne-miles), i.e., 45% of that projected by Airbus.  


In effect this means that over the 25 years leading up to 2030, only around 60% of the passenger and 45% of the freight markets’ expectations can be fulfilled, though the fuel deficit will be most evident towards the end of the period. Well before this aircraft orders will be cancelled and the enhanced fuel efficiencies anticipated will not be realised as the proportion of old aircraft will rise, exacerbating the fuel shortages.

The UK Department of Transport and Airbus forecasts do not consider the fuel resource implications inherent in their projected expansion in air traffic. This unconsidered factor determines that the growth in traffic envisaged cannot be realised as jet fuel production will be unable to match demand. The higher the rate of depletion of limited oil reserves, the sooner the collapse of the air travel business.

The building of additional runways in order to satisfy a perceived rise in passenger air travel, raises expectations that cannot be fulfilled. The runways at Stansted and Heathrow, if they are ever built, will serve as parking lots for redundant aircraft.

The demise of the aircraft industry will be signalled by the progressive grounding of the aircraft fleets, as a reduction in the supply of jet fuel will be the first indicator of the end of the oil era.  


In recognition of this fuel problem, Airbus16 is developing a modification strategy, whereby liquid hydrogen produced by electrolysis and cryogenic liquefaction is substituted for jet fuel. This requires a hydrogen infrastructure based on the availability of large sources of electrical power. It means that only flights between airports with supplies of liquid hydrogen would be possible. Flights diverted to airports without such a facility would be stranded. Only countries with large hydro-electric or geothermal sources of power are able to support a hydrogen infrastructure for air and road transport. 


The UK government policy seems to be that of encouraging an expansion in air traffic by providing runway capacity, rather than that of conserving oil reserves, which its own energy review accepts are limited. It is ridiculous that air fares between parts of the UK are currently less expensive than rail travel. This is partly due to the absence of taxation on jet fuel. Although this is based on an international agreement not to tax aviation fuel, it is likely eventually that a tax will be levied and that this will have some effect on demand.

Investment in terminals and runways by the aviation industry is futile as there is no adequate alternative to oil-based jet fuel. The government subsidised the investment in the development and manufacture of the Airbus A380 and is considering further subsidy to aid the development of the smaller A350. It would be better to aid investment in alternative sources of jet fuel, since incentives to use limited oil resources at a greater rate will hasten the decline of the industry!  Synthesis from natural gas or liquefied coal could be a basis for the survival of the industry at a modest level of activity, whereas unlimited expansion would be disastrous.


Air travel is associated with road transport to out-of-town airports and the provision of huge metalled car parks interfering with natural drainage and soil absorption of rainwater. Rail connections are also have to be expanded, absorbing capital better employed to improve rail links between population centres.

Holidays taken abroad will be limited by rising fuel prices and the current ability to "jet" off to foreign parts at will, cannot last. Booming low-cost air travel will accelerate the decline of the industry by increasing consumption of a dwindling asset. The industry is setting its own agenda for its demise. Airbus now delivers more passenger aircraft than Boeing, but in recognition of the pending decline in air travel, Boeing has diversified into defence, space and communications, avoiding the consequences of over-production in its traditional business.

Travel by train can be based on electricity produced by alternative technologies, whereas air traffic is dependent on an oil-based fuel with fall-back on processes using gas or coal. Railway development would ensure that train services connecting cities would cater for the carrying capacity currently provided by domestic air travel. The imposition of a tax on jet fuel would give the railways a better competitive edge in order to raise the capital needed for an increase in capacity.

How many air-miles are left in the world’s fuel tank?  

10. Communications

Mobile telephones

The development of modern communications is probably proceeding as fast as is necessary to substitute for unnecessary movement. Mobile phones already save unnecessary journeys by allowing people to communicate their whereabouts after delays to flights and trains and during traffic jams.


Internet shopping should, encouraged by rising fuel costs, play an increasing role part in avoiding journeys to supermarkets. This is currently probably countered by an increase in mail order purchases leading to courier deliveries. Visual images, live or recorded of inspections of houses or goods will be performed via the Internet.

Again, this sector is already well financed and developing.

Radio links

Many control functions are already controlled remotely by radio. Already the operation of flood control sluices and switching of electrical power lines is performed in this way. More universal use of such remote control will save road transport journeys. Industrial processes can also be controlled by radio or wired links.

07 April 2014