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Powering the planet - science's greatest challenge

External Sites:
-The Nocera Lab, MIT
(Imperial College is not responsible for the content of these external internet sites)

Friday 27 January 2006

"The world's in big trouble," said MIT's Professor of Energy, Daniel Nocera, as a preface to his lecture at Imperial College London this week.

Rising populations and living standards will trigger a dramatic increase in global energy consumption over the next 50 years, Professor Nocera told the 320-strong audience at the Energy Futures Lab's special lecture. Because of this, science's greatest challenge is to find secure, sustainable and environmentally responsible ways to meet this demand.

Professor Daniel Nocera claims the sun could be our best source of energy

Although dismissing claims that fossil fuels will not be plentiful enough to supply our needs, he warned of the potentially catastrophic environmental consequences of relying on them too heavily.

"The people who claim CO2 in the atmosphere doesn't contribute to global warming are the biggest gamblers and risk-takers you've ever met," he declared, adding: "If I'm wrong, I'm a safe bet - just one more crazy MIT professor, and believe me there are plenty."

Professor Nocera's area of research, and one he believes holds enormous long-term potential for energy creation, is solar power. If photosynthesis can be duplicated outside the leaf, he explained, the sun's energy can be harnessed as a fuel. The combination of water and light from the sun can be used to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be combined with the oxygen in a fuel cell to give back water and energy.

There is, however, a catch. Admitting that our scientific know-how is not yet advanced enough to enable this technique, he warned his audience: "If you want to buy into me, it will be the worst investment you've ever made in your lives."

'Powering the planet: the challenge of science for the 21st century' was presented on 25 January by Imperial's Energy Futures Lab, set up to explore ways to meet the world's increasing demand for energy. It was supported by the Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences Journal, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Watch the lecture at: