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January - March 2000 Issue

Energy Challenges and
Opportunities in the 21st Century:
Perspectives of Energy Laboratory Researchers


In this first issue of the year 2000, we present the perspectives of several Energy Laboratory researchers on key directions for future research in their areas of interest. Specifically, we asked them: "What do you think are the most important and exciting issues, challenges, and forthcoming technologies in your research area for the next 20 years? What research should be undertaken to meet those challenges and to take advantage of opportunities?" We instructed them not to constrain their responses based on the Energy Laboratory's current activities or capabilities. The titles of their pieces appear below. The first piece describes major worldwide trends that will affect how we make and use energy in the future. The final piece addresses issues relating to energy education for the 21st century.

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Setting the Stage for a Sustainable Energy Future
Jefferson W. Tester

Energy resources and the services they provide have long been critical to the world's social, economic, and environmental well-being. As shown in the figure below, we use energy to stay comfortable indoors, to move people and things, to perform industrial processes, and to support essential agricultural activities. During the next 100 years, our need for such services will remain; but the methods we use to provide energy for them will likely change dramatically as we move toward a more sustainable energy system.

Energy Services

- Heating, cooling, and comfort
- Lighting and appliances
- Pumps, fans, and motors
- Commercial and residential

- Road, rail, air, and ship
- People, freight, and post

- Chemicals and primary metals
- Construction
- Food processing
- Pulp and paper

- Irrigation and treatment
- Tillage and harvesting
- Fertilizer

Energy Supply and
Delivery Options

- Fossil, nuclear, and biomass
- Extraction and refinement
- Transportation and storage

- Fossil (coal, oil, methane)
- Renewable (hydro, wind,
  solar, geothermal, biomass)
- Nuclear

Heat/Thermal Energy
- Process use
- District heating


Climate Change
- Regional rainfall and
  temperature changes
- Disruptions, severe storms
- Endangered ecosystems
- Sea level rise

Air Quality
- Local
- Regional

Terrestrial Impacts
- Land use
- Water use and quality
- Solid waste/extraction

Health Impacts
- Morbidity and mortality
- Acute and long-term

Economic Effects
- Cost and cost-effectiveness
- Equity issues
- Balancing short- and

Jefferson W. Tester Despite the many energy-supply options available (listed above), we have come to depend more and more on one type: fossil fuels. Fossil fuels offer convenience, high performance, relatively low cost, and abundant supplies. As a result, more than 85% of the world's primary energy is now provided by coal, oil, and natural gas. Indeed, the 20th century might well be labeled the "age of hydrocarbons."

However, there is growing concern about the impacts of fossil fuel use. Burning fossil fuels generates emissions--particulates, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons--that endanger our environment and may potentially harm our health. It also emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that may cause long-term, potentially irreversible changes to our global climate. As we enter the 21st century, we must make major changes in our energy-supply and energy-use habits. We must shift to an "age of carbon management" based on energy habits that are sustainable over the long term.

Predicting the future with any certainty is nearly impossible. However, we can identify some "megatrends" that will influence the appropriateness and feasibility of energy systems in the century ahead.

  • Global demand for energy will grow substantially--at a rate exceeding the rate of population growth. As economies of developing countries mature, more energy will be needed for growing mega-cities as well as for rural and agricultural regions.
  • There will be increasing electrification in both developed and developing countries.
  • A wide range of local, regional, and global environmental and health concerns will continue to motivate most energy policy actions and technological advances.
  • Technologies for finding and extracting all forms of fossil fuels will evolve and improve. As a result, coal, liquid petroleum, and natural gas supplies will continue to be abundant and affordable commodities in world markets.
  • Climate change concerns will spur the development of alternative energy technologies based on solar, wind, and geothermal energy; hydropower; biomass-based fuels; and nuclear power.
  • High priority will be placed on developing ways to reduce or to capture and sequester greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel-using technologies.
  • Global geopolitical forces combined with national concerns about energy security and balance-of-trade issues will continue to influence energy policies. Meeting environmental objectives on all scales will be balanced against other social and economic goals.
  • The transformation of energy industries from monopolies to disaggregated markets will continue. These restructured industries for the supply and distribution of electricity and fossil fuels will grow increasingly competitive. The oil and gas industries will become more consolidated.
  • Policymakers, technology-developers, and society in general will benefit from an increased awareness and understanding of the links among energy, the environment, and economic performance.

Inevitably, these trends will evolve, as the energy-environmental arena is highly dynamic. New issues will no doubt arise, and some of those mentioned here may lose their importance. However, this list serves as a useful framework when we consider energy research needs in the coming decades.

What are those research needs? In the following articles, selected Energy Laboratory researchers present their visions of future challenges and opportunities in their areas of expertise. Again, making predictions is a risky business. Nevertheless, these researchers have agreed to take that risk, drawing on their experience, knowledge, and intuition.

MIT faculty, staff, and students have made important contributions to the energy technologies and policies that are in place today. Their future contributions will no doubt help shape the technology and policy portfolio that evolves in the 21st century. And the Energy Laboratory will continue to facilitate energy research at MIT, helping to define and implement timely research programs that are flexible and responsive to the changing energy R&D landscape.

    Jefferson W. Tester, director of the Energy Laboratory and H.P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering, leads research programs on energy engineering and environmental remediation and control technologies, chemical processes in supercritical fluids, gas hydrates, geothermal energy, and advanced rock drilling systems.

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Global Climate Change: A Formidable Research Challenge
John M. Reilly

Global climate change is one of the most important environmental issues the world will face during the next century. Quantifying the seriousness of the climate-change problem and determining what level and type of response would be appropriate and effective requires consideration of science, economics, and policy.

John W. Reilly From the scientific perspective, the challenge is to understand how we humans are affecting earth systems and to identify and quantify triggers that cause change. Of most concern is the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. One question is the extent to which the behavior of earth systems and our impacts on them are predictable. If, for example, critical systems respond in a nonlinear fashion, climate may change gradually for decades and then suddenly shift, profoundly disrupting ecosystems and the world economy. Oceans and the Antarctic ice shelves could exhibit such unpredictable behavior, and their long time scales and inertia further complicate our ability to make predictions. Such systems may be responding now to changes in climate that occurred many thousands of years ago.

From the economics point of view, the challenge is to assess and evaluate the climate-change problem, despite its inherent uncertainties and long time scales. Analysts need to identify potential impacts, determine their likelihood, and evaluate the consequences for society, using terms that are understandable to business and government leaders as well as to the general public. One difficulty is quantifying different types of impacts on the same basis. The impact of climate change on the economy can be described in traditional economic terms, but other potentially important changes cannot be easily "monetized." Another problem is understanding future technology well enough to answer key questions. For example, what will future levels of greenhouse gas emissions be? To what extent can we reduce emissions through technological change? And how does the economic and policy environment affect the evolution of technology?

The fundamental policy issue is how the world can craft a workable solution for climate change. Negotiation must involve most nations worldwide--nations with incredible disparities in power, geographic size, economic size, and per-capita wealth. Other participants include nongovernmental organizations, both business and environmental, that operate across national boundaries without allegiance to any one nation. Complex questions must be addressed. How do interests of nongovernmental organizations interact with the processes and goals of governments? How can we construct successful international policies and multinational business strategies? Finally, how do we assure that the outcomes of these complex negotiation processes represent the varied interests of people across the world?

Given the range of issues involved, tackling the global climate change problem requires an unprecedented level of cooperation among economists, policy experts, and various earth scientists and engineers. At MIT, the Energy Laboratory and others have established an innovative program that brings together the needed experts from across campus and outside MIT. At the program's intellectual center is the "Integrated Global Systems Model," which incorporates a model of economic development and associated emissions, coupled models of atmospheric chemistry and climate, and models of natural ecosystems. Deepening our knowledge of each of those systems, articulating the connections among them, and understanding the implications of those connections for the world's economy and for global policymaking will continue to be a challenge well into the next century.

    John M. Reilly, associate director for research of the Energy Laboratory, is an agricultural economist who studies global systems models with particular emphasis on the biosphere and its interaction with human activities, especially in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

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Improving Energy Infrastructures--Old and New, Supply and Demand
Stephen R. Connors

Turnover of the capital stock we use to acquire and utilize energy resources is often overlooked when considering the transition to a sustainable energy future. The world's current energy infrastructure--on both the supply side and the demand side--can be characterized as being "built too fast" rather than "built to last." Little consideration was given to how individual components would interact with one another and the environment during their decades of service and as the total infrastructure evolved.

Stephen R. Connors Those of us who look at the broader consequences of energy supply and use recognize that one of the quickest ways to clean up energy use is to get rid of less-efficient, dirtier technologies, whether they be old trucks, buses, and cars in Mexico City, antiquated coal-fired industries in China, or "grandfathered" fossil-fuel-burning power plants in the United States. In each case, newer, cleaner, and more efficient technologies can supply the same services better and with radically smaller environmental footprints. In less-industrialized countries, the rush for development provides both an opportunity and a threat to people's future livelihood and environmental security. Failure to deploy superior technologies is likely to hobble their future economic development, as population and land-use stresses combine with burdensome energy uses to reduce overall productivity and well-being. Industrialized nations need to find ways to turn over their substantial but more modestly growing energy infrastructures so that they too can adopt superior technologies.

Debates over the world's future energy options should beware of the "supply-side bias." We need coordinated turnover of both how we supply energy and how we use it in our houses, offices, factories, and transportation systems. Accomplishing that turnover will require government, financial, and industrial sector actions that foster the development, deployment, and use of environmentally responsible technologies. And new institutional structures must promote "finesse" instead of "brute force" practices.

In May 1997, John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum (now BP Amoco), stated in describing BP's then-new strategy with respect to climate change, "What gets measured, gets managed." Basic physics tells us that there are limits to energy efficiency. There is no such thing as a 100%-efficient generator or automobile engine. "What gets measured, gets managed" speaks to the convergence of efficient design and modern management practices, including those promoted by the implementation of such new concepts as competition in the electric sector. Better tracking of energy losses in the transmission and distribution of electricity can promote investment in modern high-voltage transmission equipment, increased distributed generation (including cogeneration), and price-responsive electric loads. Inherent in those changes is the synergistic application of energy efficiency and operational efficiency. The house that knows you're not home; the office light that knows the sun is shining in the window; the electric drivetrain (hybrid) automobile that knows you're waiting at a stoplight--these existing technologies save energy by means of operational sophistication as well as inherently more efficient design. Numerous "smart" retrofit applications also exist. Better understanding of the local environmental and meteorological conditions assists the introduction of renewable generation resources and leverages investments in cleaner technologies across local, regional, and global impacts such as ozone, acid rain, and climate change. Understand society's energy-service needs and potential environmental impacts. Do the life-cycle design. Make the systems smarter. Plug the leaks. Reduce the waste. A sustainable energy infrastructure is within reach in this century.

    Stephen R. Connors, director of the Analysis Group for Regional Electricity Alternatives (AGREA) at the Energy Laboratory, is using AGREA's multi-attribute trade-off analysis approach to evaluate the comparative cost and environmental performance of possible energy and environmental strategies in Shandong Province, China; Mexico City, Mexico; Switzerland; and elsewhere. Mr. Connors also works with Dr. Marija Ilic on alternative approaches in the design of competitive power systems (see section below)

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Environmental Policy: New Approaches for a New Century
A. Denny Ellerman

The interplay of public and private interests is an issue that has engaged philosophers and the practical-minded since at least the time of Aristotle. In modern guise, this engagement takes the form of research; and one area of particular interest at the start of this new century is the relationship between public and private interests with respect to the environment.

A. Denny Ellerman The last half of the 20th century has demonstrated convincingly that high-income societies value environmental amenities such as clean air and water and that economic activity in such societies will be regulated to protect those amenities. During the past thirty years, significant environmental accomplishments have been achieved through industrial regulation and government policy. Market prices have adjusted to accommodate regulatory and policy costs.

Because regulations and policies can be made by diverse groups with differing interests, debate about specific objectives to pursue will no doubt continue. But another debate is becoming more and more prominent: Is there a better way to go about regulating economic activity to achieve environmental goals? Recent proposals for achieving new environmental goals increasingly call for emissions trading. One might well ask: Why do we need emissions trading? What is wrong with the approaches that worked so well in the past?

The short answer is that times have changed, and new approaches may permit us to do even better. Specifically, two things have changed. First, the late 20th century has not been kind to those who believed in the ability of men and women of intelligence and good will to act through government to improve the lot of all. Surprisingly (at least for those believers), the failures of governmental actions have come to be seen as even greater than those of the market. As a result, there is a marked predisposition to rely less on government and more on markets where feasible.

That qualification--"where feasible"--leads to the second factor that has changed. Improvements in information technology have made decentralized solutions more feasible and thus central control and coordination less necessary. The combination of changing perception and changing technology has been fatal to the old style of regulation. One area of human endeavor after another has been restructured, and change is still occurring. Witness the evolving electric power industry. Environmental regulation will not be spared such transformation.

In general, restructuring involves constructing markets where none existed before; and constructing markets involves assigning property rights and setting up rules for exchanging and enforcing those rights. Emissions trading presumes such markets, with the concomitant rights and rules. As in all cases, the basic question will be whether the rights and rules by which the market is created will lead to the desired outcome.

The first major test of this approach involved establishing a market for trading sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions within the United States. That experience has clearly demonstrated that such a market can be constructed with good environmental and economic results. Now interest is developing in the use of global carbon-dioxide emissions trading as a means of controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Developing rights and rules for such a global market will prove especially challenging because of the involvement of complex international trade and equity issues and the need to establish new metrics.

It is already evident that markets for various environmental goods will differ, just as markets for regular goods do. Although all may have emissions trading in common, the specific characteristics of each market will be determined by the motivating environmental problem, the available technology, and the institutions in place. The interplay among those three factors will motivate our research agenda for the first decades of the 21st century--an agenda that will inevitably engage both philosophers and the practical-minded.

    A. Denny Ellerman, executive director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, is an energy economist with special interest in the coal industry, energy and emissions trading, and environmental policy. His current interests focus on the US SO2 emissions-trading program, productivity improvements in the US coal industry, and the economic aspects of global warming.

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Better Buildings: Critical Needs and Enormous Potential
Leon R. Glicksman

Finding ways to improve existing and new buildings should be a top research priority in the 21st century. Today's buildings consume more than a third of the total energy and half of the total electricity used in the United States. Moreover, they are increasingly beset by indoor air quality problems. Cost-effective and practical measures already exist that could address those problems, but few of them are carried out. Improving our buildings will thus require economic and policy studies as well as technological advances.

Leon R. Glicksman Development and demonstration of several technologies could lead to more sustainable performance of buildings. Information technology can be used to monitor and control buildings and appliances for optimal performance. Energy Laboratory researchers have demonstrated this approach in several large buildings at MIT, where they used advanced controls to halve fan energy consumption while maintaining existing ventilation and comfort standards. Advanced fault-detection systems can monitor building performance from a remote location and identify poorly performing or damaged components. In properly designed buildings, natural ventilation can provide comfortable conditions throughout much of the summer, making mechanical air conditioners unnecessary. And advanced designs for building exteriors will allow control of solar energy and insulation levels in both summer and winter.

Air quality inside buildings is a serious concern. In the United States, people typically spend 90% of their time indoors; and the incidence of "sick" buildings is increasing. The first step in dealing with indoor air quality problems is to determine pollutant emissions from building materials and equipment over their lifetime. The next step is to couple that information with simulations of ventilation system operation that can predict pollutant concentrations in an indoor space. Finally, advances in health science are needed to relate pollutant concentrations to health effects. With sufficient understanding, advanced techniques such as displacement ventilation can substantially reduce health hazards while providing a comfortable environment.

The need for better building technologies is made more critical by economic and social changes going on in developing countries--changes that could substantially increase energy consumption and pollution in coming decades. Many developing countries are undertaking massive programs of residential and commercial building. In China, for example, the average living space per person is increasing dramatically; and consumers are demanding more comfortable living conditions. Such countries need energy-efficient building designs and technologies that can be implemented using local manpower and materials and that are responsive to the desires of the local population. A major challenge is to educate developers, architects, and engineers in good sustainable practices and to provide proper incentives for their use.

Regardless of location, establishing incentives is key to getting energy-efficient measures adopted in the building sector. In the United States, businesses may begin investing in better buildings when ongoing research confirms and quantifies an expected connection: Providing adequate ventilation, natural lighting, and improved comfort can significantly increase worker productivity. In new building projects, combined planning of facilities for electricity generation and for heating and cooling can yield an optimal balance between investing in improved end-use efficiency and investing in energy supplies. In most cases, it costs less to invest in more sustainable buildings than in conventional energy supply systems. From a broader perspective, there is need for large-scale planning that integrates building design and performance with urban planning and large-scale energy systems.

Dealing with technological and policy challenges in the buildings area is complicated by the fragmented nature of the industry. Concentrated efforts are difficult to mount, and the problem is ignored at the national level due to the absence of large-scale advocates. Despite such barriers, building technologies and systems will remain important and fertile fields of study for the coming decades.

    Leon R. Glicksman, professor of building technology and mechanical engineering and director of MIT's Building Technology Program, leads research on energy use in buildings for developing countries, insulation, air circulation, indoor air quality, and new materials and systems. He is also performing studies of fluidized beds as a low-pollution source of energy from fossil fuels.

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Vehicles and Fuels for the Future
Malcolm A. Weiss
John B. Heywood

During the past century, access to personal transportation has come to be the almost-universal expectation in the developed world and the almost-universal aspiration in the developing world. We all have motor vehicles now, or want them. There seems little prospect that vehicle ownership will become less important to individuals in the foreseeable future. Therefore, there will be increasing numbers of vehicles on the roads with increasing potential for problems. Advances in fuel and vehicle technology can ease some of those problems, notably various environmental insults. Other problems, such as congestion and land use, will need other solutions.

Malcolm A. Weiss and John B. Heywood The Energy Laboratory's long-term research on vehicle and fuel technologies should have the objective of reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions while maintaining or enhancing the other attributes of vehicles desirable to customers such as economy, performance, capacity, convenience, safety, and reliability--no easy task. Some challenging but potentially fruitful long-term research objectives include:

  • reduction of vehicle weight through development of low-cost methods to manufacture and to recycle fiber-reinforced lightweight composite materials;
  • development of new storage batteries with cost and performance characteristics sufficient to make general-purpose electric cars feasible;
  • improved storage of hydrogen in fuel-cell vehicles to increase range and offer more flexibility and safety than do current high-pressure gas-storage systems;
  • identification of new approaches to converting natural gas to liquids with higher energy efficiencies, thus making clean-burning fuels available with lower greenhouse gas emissions;
  • determination of the well-to-wheels health and environmental trade-offs between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing further other contaminants that are already at low levels.

As the table above shows, new passenger cars entering the US fleet (light trucks and sport utility vehicles are excluded) have shown large improvements in fuel economy and emissions compared to the fleet in the late 1960s, before Federal controls were first imposed. The predictions for 2010 and 2020 represent further advances that we think can be reasonably achieved with new technologies in the future but at higher costs than at present.

    Malcolm A. Weiss, a senior research staff member in the Energy Laboratory, leads research on major issues of energy and the environment, including energy use and global climate change, environmental impacts of transportation, and nuclear and hazardous waste management. John B. Heywood, Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of MIT's Sloan Automotive Laboratory, conducts research on internal combustion engine processes to improve efficiency and emissions and develop new engine concepts. Dr. Weiss and Professor Heywood are now collaborating on an assessment of future road transportation options in a greenhouse-gas-constrained world.

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Information Technology for the New Competitive Electric Industry
Marija Ilic

Electric power systems are among the most complex man-made physical systems. As a result, they require extensive computational methods for planning and real-time operations. When the electric industry was a regulated monopoly, typical utility control centers had well-established methods of monitoring, decisionmaking, and system control--methods that hinged on the assumption that operators knew the characteristics of the system and could determine generation usage in a coordinated way. Under those conditions, the main objective was to generate and deliver sufficient power to meet the forecasted demand at minimum cost. The operator did not engage in real-time decisionmaking, except when the system was under stress due to equipment outages or unusual deviations in electricity demand. During such times, electricity costs went up; but typical consumers had no means of monitoring changes in price and therefore had no incentive to reduce their demand. To ensure reliability, the industry maintained extra generation reserves, resulting in more expensive electricity overall.

Marija Ilic Now the structure of the electric industry has changed. In response to new regulations, the industry is becoming competitive. Many suppliers offer power that varies in price and in the future perhaps quality (for example, ranges of voltage and rate of interruption). In response, consumers can (potentially) adjust their demand according to their needs and market prices. Such competition is expected to materialize at both the wholesale (utility-to-utility) and the retail (local utility) levels.

The restructuring process raises new questions about the technological paradigms needed to facilitate a truly competitive electric power industry. Significant breakthroughs at the individual equipment level are making competitive power supply a reality. Smaller, cost-effective power plants and systems based on various sustainable resources are coming into use. But countless market imperfections remain in the evolving industry. Notable examples include potential market domination by providers of electricity and of transmission services and a lack of choice on the consumer's side.

Many of those problems can be alleviated by providing information technology (IT) support by which individual players--competitive power suppliers, consumers, and power-delivery companies--are provided Internet-assisted on-line information tools. These tools furnish each decentralized provider and user with information on the status of delivery systems and other system characteristics and with market mechanisms for buying and selling delivery service. Only through the introduction of systematic IT support can competitive electric power systems reach their full potential.

Much research is needed to develop and implement such IT tools. Developing technologies that facilitate consumers' on-line decisionmaking is essential to keep power suppliers from controlling the competitive environment. Perhaps even more challenging is finding ways to manage the delivery system flexibly, based on the value it provides to its users. Preventing transmission congestion, for example, requires both theoretical advances that permit on-line pricing for transmission use and technological innovations that provide direct control of power flows. Implementation of those methods will require an on-line Internet-assisted information backbone.

Our Energy Laboratory research group is currently working on these problems. We are developing IT tools that will permit decentralized decision-making at the supply and demand levels, and we are formulating separate IT tools that will support power delivery. Challenges include separating those two functions yet ensuring that together they will work to maximize the performance of the industry as a whole. Complicating our endeavor is the lack of financial incentives for ensuring that the evolving electricity markets perform well. After all, markets thrive on arbitrage and uncertainties. Use of IT tools will bring electricity markets closer to "perfect" competition, a situation in which financial rewards can be reaped only by those who provide the value.

    Marija Ilic, senior research scientist in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is investigating new concepts for the operation and management of competitive power systems. Of special interest are software and hardware to accomplish the real-time operation of the industry while influencing longer-term technological and investment factors.

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Clean Energy Technologies and Global Sustainability
William A. Peters

William A. Peters Abundant, stable energy supplies at manageable prices have enabled remarkable economic and social progress in the developed world. Yet slovenly use of energy has polluted our air, water, and land, and wasted natural resources. Consequently, our global economy faces an energy-prosperity-environmental dilemma, namely, how to provide energy-derived benefits to all people and preserve the earth for future generations. Sustainable energy can be defined as new paradigms for energy supply, use, and conservation that solve this dilemma. Sustainability strategies will nimbly blend stakeholder-sensitive public policies and technologies. Clean energy technologies will catalyze global sustainability by reducing pollution, improving energy efficiency, and expanding economical use of renewable resources. Breakthrough opportunities include:

  • Biotic Oil Refineries. The astonishing progress in biotechnology suggests breeding new plants that grow rapidly, perhaps in saline or polluted waters, and that regularly secrete premium fuels or chemicals that would be tapped and collected as is sap from a maple tree. In effect, each plant would be a miniature oil well and refinery, using sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide (CO2) to useful products such as gasoline and home heating oil. This idea is not new. In the 1970s, Professor Melvin Calvin and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley studied the growth of rubber-like plants that produce hydrocarbon-like liquids.
  • The Energy Superhighway. Solar radiation is rather weak. Thus, huge remote areas are needed to collect enough energy for major urban areas. A century ago, broadbanding communication signals around the globe was unimaginable. Today we can hardly keep pace with the extraordinary progress in "info-tech" hardware and software. Scientists may someday create a worldwide energy superhighway to move energy, just as the Internet and wireless technologies move information today. Advances in materials and information technology may provide novel devices that allow large-area solar-collection farms to "rebroadcast" their energy to central "relay stations" for eventual transshipment to major user centers.
  • Electrification of the Process Industries. Electricity has flexible sources and enables useful chemistries. It rearranges chemical bonds (electrochemistry), generates high temperatures without burning fuel (hot and cold plasmas), and synergistically joins forces with light (photoelectrochemistry), as when plants convert sunlight, CO2, and water to carbohydrates (photosynthesis). In the future, we may employ artificial photosynthesis to manufacture valuable fuels and chemicals using solar and other light sources. We may also use controlled sparks (electrical discharges) and novel electrochemistries to manufacture metals more efficiently and economically and to generate clean fuels, chemical feedstocks, and molecular hydrogen (H2) from diverse raw materials, for example, biomass, coal, and heavy oil.
  • The "Just-in-Time" Global Energy Supermarket. Tomorrow's energy industry may link suppliers and customers thousands of miles apart. We may generate electricity for the United States at hydro stations in far Northern Canada, for Europe at solar photovoltaic farms in the Sahara Desert, and for the Asian Rim at geothermal energy "plantations" in Indonesia. Energy brokers may "surf" vendors to provide consumers green energy at optimal prices. Novel robotics, sensors, and information technologies will automate remote generating stations and customer service. Superconducting cables and perhaps electromagnetic waves and mechanical vibrations (sound) will efficiently transmit electricity underground and underwater.
  • Green Earth Science. We may someday process fuels, store CO2, and generate energy beneath the ground or the oceans. First we must learn how to protect those delicate ecosystems during grand-scale human interventions, that is, we must master green earth science. Then we can access a vast new energy source. Under the earth and oceans, deposits of natural gas that may exceed all the world's other fossil fuels combined are locked up in crystalline solid cages of frozen water called hydrates. We need clever ways to economically degas hydrates in situ and to harvest the gas or use it in place.
  • Converting Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels. Natural gas is abundant, but many important deposits are thousands of miles from users. New chemistries that use "designer catalysts" and smart process engineering enabled by mathematical simulation of chemical reactions, process reactors, and materials may allow us to economically convert natural gas to clean liquids equal to or better than petroleum-based gasoline and diesel fuel.
  • Energy Storage. Energy storage is crucial to expanded use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. Advances in nanotechnology and molecular design of materials may lead to robust devices that store electricity and H2 compactly and cheaply.

In summary, novel clean energy technologies are expected to help humans wisely shepherd the earth's energy and environmental resources.

    William A. Peters is associate director for fuels and environmental research in the Energy Laboratory. He leads research on applications of thermal processing and electrothermal processing to energy and environmental problems. His current interests are sustainable utilization of natural resources, for example, biomass, mineral ores, fuels, and water.

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Using Carbon Fuels Without Carbon Emissions
Howard J. Herzog

No single strategy will enable us to meet the world's growing demand for affordable energy and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide (CO2). Improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energy sources will be helpful but not sufficient, and nuclear energy is unlikely to become politically viable any time soon. Supplies of fossil fuels will remain plentiful and relatively inexpensive, so there will be pressure to use them. Therefore, another strategy should be considered for our arsenal of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: capturing CO2 emissions from electric power plants and other stationary sources and injecting it into the ocean or underground. Energy Laboratory researchers have been examining this method of carbon management for the past ten years, and international interest in this approach is now growing rapidly.

Howard J. Herzog Three key challenges must be addressed to make carbon capture and sequestration a reality in the coming decades. First, we need to show that CO2 can be sequestered underground or in the deep ocean in a safe, effective, and environmentally sound manner. Pumping CO2 into the ground is already common practice at many oil fields. Therefore, for underground storage, the primary concern is the long-term stability of any geologic formation being considered as a reservoir. For ocean disposal, the method of injection is critical. Captured CO2 can be dissolved at moderate depths to form a dilute solution or injected deeper to create a CO2 lake. Research is needed to determine which method would best sequester the CO2 while minimizing impacts on ecosystems. A primary concern is the effect on the ocean's acidity and hence on local organisms. Developing the needed knowledge will require research on multiple scales, from exploration of the basic mechanisms of sequestration in the various reservoirs up to demonstration projects--large-scale undertakings that will require industry and government leadership.

A second challenge is to reduce the cost of the capture and sequestration process. Concern focuses on the cost of capturing CO2 from exhaust gases--the most expensive step in the overall process. Current methods of separating CO2 were developed decades ago for other applications. Optimizing them for use on exhaust gases will lower costs. In the longer run, larger cost reductions are possible by redesigning electric power plants and other stationary sources and by developing novel CO2-capture technologies. The overall economics of CO2 capture and sequestration can also be improved by using the captured CO2, but current markets for CO2 are very limited. A second challenge is to reduce the cost of the capture and sequestration process. Concern focuses on the cost of capturing CO2 from exhaust gases--the most expensive step in the overall process. Current methods of separating CO2 were developed decades ago for other applications. Optimizing them for use on exhaust gases will lower costs. In the longer run, larger cost reductions are possible by redesigning electric power plants and other stationary sources and by developing novel CO2-capture technologies. The overall economics of CO2 capture and sequestration can also be improved by using the captured CO2, but current markets for CO2 are very limited.

The final challenge is to gain public acceptance of CO2 capture and sequestration. A first step is to publicize activities already under way. For example, since 1996 Statoil of Norway has been storing CO2 from the Sleipner West gas field in a sandstone aquifer beneath the North Sea. In other parts of the world, companies are now undertaking similar projects. Over time, the most effective means of building public confidence will be by consistently conducting our research and communicating the results in an objective and open manner.

    Howard J. Herzog, principal research engineer in the Energy Laboratory, leads the Laboratory's research program on CO2 capture and sequestration from large stationary sources. He also performs research on industrial energy use in energy-intensive industries, geothermal energy with an emphasis on enhanced geothermal systems, and supercritical water oxidation and other environmental remediation technologies.

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Energy Education for the 21st Century
Elisabeth M. Drake

Basic research is expanding our knowledge frontiers in many exciting areas: biosciences and engineering, nanoscale phenomena, surface sciences, communications and systems engineering, and others. At the same time, our world is moving toward a global economy and is struggling with such complex issues as global environmental management, social equity, and political stability. In the future, graduates of schools like MIT will have to function not only with a deep understanding of fundamental sciences but also with knowledge of the broad context for applying science and technology in society. Most of them will have careers that require effective interaction across disciplines and cultures as well as leadership skills to steer responsible application of science and technology to provide a better future for the world community.

Elisabeth M. Drake Nowhere today are the synergies between science and society more apparent than in the field of energy. Three years ago, Energy Laboratory colleagues began teaching a graduate course designed to strike a balance among the topics of energy, economics, society, and the environment. "Sustainable Energy" is an interdepartmental elective popular among MIT students interested in both engineering and policy. Several students from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government have also participated. In this course, a culturally diverse, multinational group of students and selected outside experts focus not only on solid technical material but also on the broad spectrum of issues surrounding energy use--economics, environmental impacts, societal impacts, mobility, urbanization, and so on. The resulting learning interactions have enriched and educated all participants far beyond original expectations.

Similar experimental courses are now springing up at MIT and elsewhere. These ventures demonstrate that meeting the educational needs of the future will require a diverse academic community, comprising both research specialists and others who are drawn to tackling complex interdisciplinary problems. But the time is ripe now for broad rethinking of graduate and undergraduate curricula relating to societal applications of technology and policy. I can see development of a graduate energy "track" that integrates and refines existing classes in technology, systems management, regional planning, and environmental economics. There are likely to be similar tracks relating to building and transportation systems, water management, etc. The academic community will need to plan and adapt and improve these curricula that cross traditional departmental lines just as carefully as departments now develop disciplinary curricula. Filtering elements of these interdepartmental curricula down to undergraduate and even high school levels is another important challenge.

Classrooms of the future will no doubt benefit from the information revolution, and I am sure the delivery of education in 2020 will be quite different from that of today. Telecommunications is already providing a hint of things to come. By participating in interactive, classroom-like discussions, business and governmental leaders as well as traditional students are attaining new skills and knowledge not provided by their conventional educational backgrounds. As we consider such methods, let us not forget the other important part of a college education--the living environment. Here is a great training ground for learning teamwork, the taking and sharing of responsibility, conflict resolution, leadership, and tolerance and respect.

The world will always need inquisitive scientists who advance the frontiers of knowledge, and MIT is preeminent in educating such leaders. Education for future practitioners of science and technology poses a greater challenge. Such practitioners must learn how to achieve a balance between providing technical depth and understanding of contextual issues; between vying competitively for personal achievement and contributing effectively as a team member; between pursuing career and corporate goals and the goals of the "community" on local, regional, and global scales. I trust that MIT will continue to apply its leadership and creativity in shaping an innovative educational agenda for the world's next generation of leaders and practitioners.

    Elisabeth M. Drake, associate director for new technologies at the Energy Laboratory, conducts research on new technology development in light of the growing importance of environmental sustainability and resource conservation in internationally competitive markets.

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From the Editors . . .

We would like to thank you for your continuing interest in e-lab, the Energy Laboratory, and energy-related research at MIT. If you would like to comment on this issue or on e-lab in general, please write to us at the address on the last page or e-mail us at <stauffer@mit.edu>.

We would like to thank Stephen R. Connors for conceiving of this issue, for helping in the editorial process, and for taking all the photos.

Nancy W. Stauffer, editor
Karen K. Luxton, associate editor
Nancy W. Stauffer and Karen K. Luxton

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