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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Our Energy Challenge

I had the distinct honor of spending time with the late Dr. Richard Smalley at his office on Rice University's campus in 2004 (Bad Audio Recording of Interview). Smalley & his team are credited with discovering Bucky Balls & Nano Tubes, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The linked video is a presentation he gave which outlines his understanding of the challenges we face as humanity journeys into this strange new world of the future.

Basically he says that Man's biggest problem is our energy profile, & how we will meet the demands of future generations. He speculates that the difficulties expected as conventional oil peaks in production & begins declining could be met by harvesting the Terra watts of energy which fall on our Planet everyday... if only we understood the science behind this energy in greater detail.

His argument is that our technologies are so inefficient, that all of our planet's energy needs could be met through harvesting sunlight by reclaiming this wasted energy.

The central difficulty is our ability to control materials at the micron-level.

Without the technology to manufacture to this micron standard, we lose most of the energy we harvest to the inefficient nature of how the materials conduct & distribute this energy.

Dr. Smalley noted that we still use the same technology to transmit electricity as we have for 150 years... & it's terribly inefficient as a carrier. Around half the electric power we generate from any source is wasted in "leakage" from these poorly constructed materials. (Copper wire)

But if we could figure out how to manipulate these materials, we could build new systems which would be many times more efficient than today's materials.

There is plenty of primary science which lays ahead of such developments, with no clear guarantee of success. But this line of research may well represent our best hope of meeting our energy challenge.

So without further adieu, take a peek at Dr. Smalley as he explains his thoughts about our future.

* We miss you sir.

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