Web Date: April 8, 2008
Energy Defines Sustainability
If inexpensive and nonpolluting electricity and transportation fuels were available to meet global energy demands, all other sustainability challenges—abundant food, clean water, and human health principal among them—could be achieved. That realization by scientists and engineers has had a profound influence on the selection of topics covered at the American Chemical Society???s national meetings in recent years, a trend that continued unabated this week at the national meeting being held in New Orleans.
One of the meeting's defining events, designed to make the chemistry and chemical engineering communities more aware of future needs in basic energy research, was a symposium held on April 7 hosted by American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) President Dale L. Keairns and ACS President Bruce E. Bursten.
"As a global community we have addressed many types of challenges in the past—developing nuclear power, putting a man on the moon, and many others," Keairns said in introducing the symposium. "We put the fate of those challenges into the hands of only a few. But responding to the global energy challenge is much different. It requires a broad engagement of civil society and researchers involved in leading-edge science and technology."
It was hard not to focus on energy as a central theme for the joint AIChE-ACS symposium, Bursten added. "Energy is a challenge that transcends a single scientific discipline. It's a problem that transcends national borders and ultimately affects the entire global community."
Keairns and Bursten turned over the podium to keynote speaker Raymond L. Orbach, a physicist who directs the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Orbach commented that satisfying burgeoning global energy demand and curtailing greenhouse gas emissions in the century ahead "will require more than incremental improvements in current technologies." What will be needed, he emphasized, are breakthroughs in basic science that "forever transform the way we generate, store, transmit, and use energy.???
Orbach went on to describe DOE's current research agenda, which draws upon a dozen workshops held during the past two years to identify energy research needs. Following Orbach's address, five of the workshop leaders gave overviews of the challenges facing chemists and chemical engineers in key areas: solar energy utilization, electrical energy storage, advanced nuclear energy systems, hydrogen production and storage, and catalysis for energy applications. A common problem pointed out in each of the presentations is the large gap that remains between current science and technology know-how and future energy requirements.
"We need to create awareness among the chemistry and chemical engineering communities of just how big the energy problem really is," Bursten told C&EN. "With that awareness, we can drive the changes needed for a secure energy future."
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