The Energy Problem and the Interplay Between Basic and Applied Research
05/12/2009 4:00 PM 10"250
Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy
Description: The situation facing our planet could hardly be more dire: There's increasingly dangerous competition among nations for ever scarce energy resources, and climate change is racing ahead of predictions. Although Steven Chu believes "We are getting close to where it's very nervous time," he also sees "reason for hope."
Just as science in the 1970s produced a "green revolution" in agricultural productivity, preventing mass starvation in a swelling global population, Chu is counting on transformative scientific and engineering ideas to achieve sustainable energy and cap climate change.
As chief architect of new policy, and with tens of billions of dollars to pump into his vision, Chu is targeting key areas. Number one on his list: energy efficiency and conservation. Since buildings use 40% of the nation's total energy, designing more efficient homes and offices will make a big difference. There are "tune ups" possible for existing buildings, and software that can direct lighting, heating and cooling where it's needed that can achieve 50% plus energy savings, and won't break the bank. Says Chu, "This is truly low"hanging fruit, but we have to build the tools that allow architects and structural engineers to get on with it."
On the supply side, Chu has his heart set on transformative technologies such as nanotech breakthroughs in solar power. He's looking for ways to scale up biomass fuel production, now that synthetic biology can make microbes manufacture gas"like fuels. Noting in particular the work of MIT's Dan Nocera, Chu says he "wants to use nature as an inspiration, but go beyond nature," performing artificial photosynthesis to create new hydrocarbons. And as the U.S. and China continue dependence on coal, figuring out how to capture and sequester carbon from these plants figures "high on the list of things we must do." He's again hoping researchers will find some analog to nature's ability to grab and neutralize CO2.
The ideal environment for jumpstarting such urgent scientific efforts, believes Chu, is something like Bell Labs, where Chu himself worked. The Labs performed "mission"driven research" around communications and for U.S. war efforts, but along the way also developed the transistor, information theory, radio astronomy, and lasers, among many examples. These scientist"led labs emphasized exchange of ideas and rapid infusion of research funds to the most promising work. This led to inventions that in turn transformed the U.S. economy. Chu envisions energy lab equivalents that "deliver the goods" along with fundamental science, "so you can have the Nobel Prize and save the world at the same time."
About the Speaker(s): Steven Chu was sworn into office on January 21, 2009. Prior to his appointment, he was a professor of Physics and of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Chu joined the Physics Department faculty at U.C. Berkeley in 2004. He had served earlier as professor of Physics at Stanford University. Before 1987, he was at Bell Laboratories where he conducted the research that led to his 1997 Nobel Prize in physics, which he shared with Claude Cohen"Tannoudji and William D. Phillips, for methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.
Chu is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Sinica, and is a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and of the Korean Academy of Science and Engineering.
He serves on the Boards of the Hewlett Foundation, the University of Rochester, and NVIDIA. He served on the Augustine Committee that produced the report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" in 2006.
Chu received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1976 and was a post"doctoral fellow there until 1978. He got his B.S. in 1970 from the University of Rochester.
Host(s): Office of the President, Office of the President
The Role of New Technologies in a Sustainable Energy Economy
10/25/2006 6:00 PM Museum
Daniel Nocera, The Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry; ; ; ; Angela Belcher, Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Biological Engineering
Description: No single new technology can deliver limitless and clean energy, but Daniel Nocera and Angela Belcher are optimistic that they can harness the physical and natural worlds to move toward this goal. Belcher looks to ancient ocean organisms for her inspiration. The biocomposite materials that make up abalone shells or diatoms, which evolved over millions of years, are durable and exquisitely designed at the nano level. Belcher poses an -interesting question: Why didn't the organism make other materials, like solar cells, batteries, or traditional fuel cells? ....We say, they haven't had the opportunity yet, let's give them the opportunity." Her goal is to engineer these organisms so that their DNA codes for the synthesis of an efficient battery or solar cell, for instance. -It seems crazy," admits Belcher, but she points to a photo of her son, to whom she's passed on the genetic information that's given rise to his flesh and bones. Why not take the same principles and direct a microorganism to construct itself into a useful machine, Belcher suggests. -With the right ingredients, it would assemble itself," she says. Using natural materials would ensure -environment-friendly processing" that produces little waste. Indeed, the yeasts used in beer could -brew semiconductors for solar cells as well,' says Belcher. -What will be the oil of the future, my Nirvana?" asks Daniel Nocera. The answer is deceptively simple: water plus light. Nocera is trying to emulate plants, which story the energy of sunlight: -Every time you eat a green leafy vegetable, you're literally chewing photons of the sun, releasing photons of the sun." Nocera -does artificial photosynthesis", which he believes -our future has to evolve to." The challenge lies in how to capture and convert the energy created by splitting water with sunlight. Nocera says -We don't know how to make photovoltaics cheaply," but we must learn quickly. Right now humans globally require 13 trillion watts (or terawatts) of power. By 2050, we'll need 28 terawatts. Nocera pokes holes in some hypothetical scenarios offered to achieve this objective. If you gave over every square inch of cropland on the face of the earth to biomass production, you'd only get 7 additional terawatts. Plus, -you couldn't eat anymore." You'd still need to add 8,000 nuclear power plants, by building a new plant every 1.6 days for the next 45 years; put wind turbines everywhere; and dam every available river, to approach the 28 terawatt goal. These technologies don't scale up realistically, says Nocera, so we must look to the sun, which in one hour puts out as much energy as humans use during an entire year.
About the Speaker(s): In 2006, Angela Belcher was named 2006 Research Leader of the Year and a member of the Scientific American 50," the magazine's annual list of individuals, teams, companies and other organizations whose accomplishments demonstrate outstanding technological leadership. Belcher was recognized for "the use of custom-evolved viruses to advance nanotechnology," according to the magazine.
Belcher won a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 2004 and has also received the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (2000), and the Du Pont Young Investigators Award (1999).
Prior to MIT, Belcher was an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Texas, Austin. She received her B.S. in 1991 from the University of California, Santa Barbara and her Ph.D. from the same institution in 1997. In 2005, Daniel Nocera was awarded the Italgas Prize, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nocera has received the American Institute of Chemists Award, and was appointed a Presidential Young Investigator and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow.
He serves on the Editorial Boards of Accounts of Chemical Research, Inorganic Chemistry, Journal of the American Chemical Society and Comments in Inorganic Chemistry. He was the inaugural Editor of Inorganic Chemistry Communications.
Nocera received his B.S. in 1970 from Rutgers University, and his Ph.D. from CalTech in 1984. He joined MIT in 1997.
Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum
Sampling MIT at the MIT Museum: Water Splitting
MIT Professor Daniel Nocera and his research team are in a race to make inexpensive energy from the sun – and they want to do it soon. Using plant photosynthesis as their inspiration, this exhibit shows how they can now use the sun’s energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases in a safe and simple way.
Daniel Nocera describes new process for storing solar energy
Dans une avancée révolutionnaire qui pourrait transformer l'énergie solaire d'une solution de boutique marginale, une source d'énergie dominante, les chercheurs MIT ont surmonté un obstacle majeur à l'énergie solaire à grande échelle : stockage de l'énergie pour utilisation lorsque le soleil ne brille pas. Plus