Closing Remarks

The question for humanity, then, is not whether humans and our civilizations will

survive, but rather what kind of a planet we will inhabit.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus 2011

Science works. From initial empirical insights to theoretical explorations and finally to implemented designs we have managed to create a standard of living (for some) that was inconceivable a few decades ago. As John O’M. Bockis states in the fore­word to the book Future Energy, “we have grown fat and happy on carbon.” Process efficiencies have increased steadily; with continuing advancements in nanotechnol­ogy and analytical and computational methods. it is likely that they will continue to do so as the depth of our understanding of atomic level processes grows. We have a variety of energy options that could, potentially, reduce our dependence on carbon and begin to assuage the current assault on the environment. That is the good news. But as Bockis goes on to add “… the banquet is on its last course and there is really not much time left” (Letcher 2008).

The best solutions science has to offer cannot work without a brutally realistic perspective when it comes to sustainability. The Earth is, for all practical purposes, a closed system. In every endeavor—scientific or otherwise—our mindset must change to keep this perspective foremost. Other than energy from the Sun, there are essentially no additional material inputs on our planet. We are very much a part of this closed system and we must coexist with our outputs: what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. Aboriginal cultures were keenly aware of this reality and worked and lived with the gifts and constraints of their environment; we would be wise to embrace their wisdom.

Given this reality, it is imperative that our careless use of resources be addressed. Waste abounds in our material world: in the Bakken fields of western North Dakota, the night sky is lit up with flares from “waste” gas—enough to heat one-half million homes per day (Manning 2013). As chemists, we generate waste in abundance and toss away carbon with abandon and added expense. Although most metals are recy­clable, few are recycled to any great extent (Knowledge Transfer Network 2010). Waste heat, waste materials, waste water—we discard these resources at our own peril and recover them at great energetic and environmental costs. A serious focus on sus­tainability requires designing everything with recovery, recycling, and reuse in mind.

However, far and away the most draconian impact we are making on the planet is from our population growth. The ever-increasing number of humans shows abso­lutely no sign of waning (Figure 10.1) and is, as pointed out in the introduction to this book, an issue that has overwhelming consequences. In their book Energy for a Sustainable World, authors Armaroli and Balzani point out that to maintain the rate of our increasing energy consumption “we need to build every day about three

World population growth, 1950-2010 (thousands)

FIGURE 10.1 Global population growth, both sexes. (With permission from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2013. World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision (CD-ROM edition) 2013 [cited July 12, 2013]. Available from http://esa. un. org/unpd/wpp/Excel-Data/population. htm).

carbon-burning power plants, or two nuclear plants, or 10 km2 of photovoltaic mod­ules” (Armaroli and Balzani 2011). Our rate of population growth and the attendant rate of energy consumption is unsustainable no matter how much our efficiencies increase or what solutions scientists can provide. And of the more than 7 billion humans that now populate this planet, roughly 12% (the G8 nations of France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and Canada) consume about one-half of the world’s primary energy supply while the poorest 25% consume less than 3%, a disparity that is morally untenable (Armaroli and Balzani 2011).

We must transform how we use energy, how much, and where it comes from. It will require implementation of all of the approaches in this book—not just one or two—to begin to solve the problem of sustainable energy. But this is a social and cul­tural as well as technological problem. Ultimately, the problem of sustainable energy is immensely cross-cutting, requiring not only the input and ability of scientists, but also educators and ethicists, sociologists, politicians, and poets—all who can see, write, think, understand, communicate, and work together to face our conundrum. The issues associated with energy use and climate change provide the most interdis­ciplinary intersection of human problem solving.

Humans may not stop fighting wars, but as natural resources dwindle and climate change tightens its grip, we have an opportunity to recognize that all of us on the planet are engaged in the same struggle. Our challenges are a chance for us to come together, if we can keep them from driving us apart.

Blake 2013

[1] High selectivity for CO2 over N2 or H2 and other gaseous impurities

• High capacity

[2] You may be wondering “where did that negative sign come from?!” It all goes back to thermodynam­ics and the convention of sign, as discussed in Section 3.2. Free-energy change (AG) represents the maximum possible work that can be done. Because the work is done on the surroundings, the negative sign must appear.

[3] Upon illumination with sunlight of wavelength sufficient to meet or exceed the donor’s HOMOD – LUMOD gap (1), an exciton is generated which then must diffuse over a distance of a few nanometers to the donor-acceptor interface (2) (Carsten et al. 2011). Because of the tight binding energy of the exciton, it is crucial that the diffusion distance is very short or else recom­bination will compete and efficiency will plummet.

• At the donor-acceptor interface, the electron is transferred from the donor’s LUMO (LUMOd) to the acceptor’s LUMO (LUMOA) (3), generating a

[4] The cetane number is a parallel to the octane measurement for gasoline; the higher the cetane number, the better the engine performance. (Baig and Ng 2010; Speight 2007).

Updated: September 27, 2015 — 6:22 am