NEW ENERGY INSIGHT FROM CARBON ALLEY GURU
Nobel laureate physicist Steven Chu’s advice to young scientists: “The single most important problem science and technology has to solve is this energy issue. Getting carbon-neutral energy in a cost-effective way, it's really scary.”
Energy Goes High-Tech
Josh Wolfe, October 18, 2007 (Forbes)
1997 Nobel physics laureate Dr. Stephen Chu, director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and professor of physics & molecular/cellular biology, University of California at Berkeley (UCB)
Nobel laureate Dr. Steven Chu calls the energy issue "the most important problem science and technology has to solve..."
Dr. Chu offers his insights on where New Energy is and where it is going.
On energy efficiency: 1975 to 2005 California’s per capita energy consumption went up 10% while its GDP grew 90%. In the same time period the US per capita energy consumption grew 60% because the rest of the US did not stress efficiency and perhaps missed out on growth opportunities as well.
Carbon Alley is the nickname being used to describe a corridor of New Energy innovation and expansion currently developing around the UCB campus analogous to the Silicon Valley expansion around Stanford in the 1990s.
In every area of New Energy research is driving cost down. (click to enlarge)
- Chu sees energy and environmental concerns affecting 3 major considerations: (1) energy dependency is reshaping world politics, (2) energy security is affecting nations’ competitiveness and (3) companies that confront these questions (he mentions Goldman Sachs) are becoming more economically successful.
- On controlling emissions, Chu says if the world cannot keep the temperature from rising 2 degrees, it will reach a tipping point unleashing major changes. Greenland would melt and Bangladesh, New Orleans and part of Florida would be submerged.
- On solar energy, Chu sees the major breakthroughs coming from nanotechnology. Improving the costs 2-3 times would get every big business to use solar; improving it 3-4 times would make it practical for homes. He does not expect these breakthroughs in 2007-08.
- On biofuel development, Chu says the major work is in finding ways to get lignin separated from sugars in crop materials without using acids that cause nitrate problems and without depending on scarce water resources.
- Chu asserts that the $2 trillion energy industry must spend at least a fraction as much on R & D as tech companies. Just 1%, $20 billion, spent on nanotech solar and transmission technologies would create the breakthroughs necessary to keep the world’s temperature rise below the catastrophic 2 degrees.
- Chu sees nuclear fusion, nuclear fuel recycling and after burning carbon sequestration in coal plants as long term research subjects.
In the very important area of water consumption for energy generation that Dr. Chu raises, renewables perform well. (click to enlarge)
- Chu: “…cleaning up the environment weighs very heavily on my mind. The earth is warming up faster than we thought, and the ice caps are melting faster than we thought…”
- Chu: “…nearly all of our work [at LBNL] in photovoltaics is on new applications of nanotechnology. And as you look at emerging approaches like using biology to assemble or pattern nanostructures, because this area is moving so rapidly, the probability of having a big breakthrough is much higher than just trying to get silicon on a thin-film…”
- Chu: “…wind doesn't need more research; you just need mechanism for long-distance transmission lines…”