How the laws of physics constrain our sustainable energy options

What is life going to be like after fossil fuels?

Professor David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Climate Change in the United Kingdom, takes a pro-arithmetic view of the future of sustainable energy in this very interesting and informative talk.

His message: Stop shouting, start talking, get building.

Hint: 1000 W/m2 is an important number.

5 thoughts on “How the laws of physics constrain our sustainable energy options

  1. joe

    Actually there are half a dozen projects out there to make hydrocarbons from CO2 in the air. There’s even a chemistry Nobel-winner publishing papers on it.

  2. Bruce Behrhorst

    Cute pro-arithmetica clip but reality is good ole Ingenuity. Stuff that’s not really being promoted now. My suggestion is R&D into Metallic Hydrogen (metastable fuels), “super” states of matter are superconductors, superfluid liquids and gases, and supersolids. Quantum liquids (fuels), nano fuels etc.
    Nuclear energy provides the necessary base energy and a perfect fit to generate new safe, clean fuels (H2O is the by-product).
    But these new fuels require energy to make since energy isn’t ‘really’ free.

  3. Jason vonEhr

    If you need materials like plastics and asphalt, then i would hope (long term) that these would be grown from either bio-crops (not a fan, personally) or algae-based oils (relatively promising) due to the smaller volumes required. However if you intend to use the existing oil/coal industry for these efforts you may find that the problem is the resource extraction: to get at the resources now that the easily found/extracted ones are gone, it costs a lot of money. This necessitates the price of oil in part. So the price of plastics and such will not fall dramatically except in the short term when the supply side is still greatly elevated against a reduced demand for the product. Once the drilling and mining has been scaled back to the post-transportation/electricity demand, then the prices will settle at their ‘natural’ state.

  4. Dave Hancock

    Why Not? Re-invent the steam auto? We use water to make gasoline; use water as water, save all the energerial cost and water, associated with gasoline.

  5. James Greenidge

    Near ideally or as a long-time goal, the coal and oil industry should concentrate on just producing the raw petrochemical materials which nuclear plants can’t provide instead of wasting it by burning it to make electricity. Doing this might dramatically knock down the cost of items from plastics and drugs and fertilizer and asphalt like nobody’s business and extends the time of such vital resources running out one day.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

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