Securing fuel demand with unconventional oils: A metabolic perspective

Michele Manfroni *, Sandra G.F. Bukkens, Mario Giampietro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


A novel methodology is presented for assessing the performance of the oil sector across multiple scales and dimensions of analysis. It focuses on the potential impact of the growing share of unconventional oils in the crude supply mix on energy security through an analysis of the societal energy metabolism. Applying our method at the global level, we find that at the current fuel consumption pattern, an increased exploitation of unconventional oils will cause relative shortages of specific refinery products. The imbalances would be more pronounced if the global fuel consumption pattern would change toward that of the US or the EU. In the former case, gasoline supply would become critical, in the latter diesel. Contrasting performances were found on the selected environmental, technical, or economic criteria for the different simulations analyzed. We conclude that it is of paramount importance to study the oil sector as an integral part of society. In the metabolic view, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ primary energy sources (taken in isolation), but a series of trade-offs among various dimensions of performance. Whether or not unconventional oils can provide energy security depends on the overall feasibility, viability, and desirability of the energy metabolic pattern of society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number125256
Number of pages16
Volume261, Part B
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2022


  • Energy security
  • Societal metabolism
  • Unconventional oils
  • Refining
  • Fossil fuels
  • Oil products


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