The GCEP Research Symposium (http://gcep.stanford.edu/) held Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2009 provided a perspective on green technologies to come. Jeff Keller from GE set the stage with his talk on the future of Green Technologies,
"Three things need to happen to enable a Green Technology Future:
1) Carbon needs to be counted (policy measures needed)
2) Commercial Capacity needs to be expanded
3) Technological Advancement is needed."
Today, we are indeed far away from a sustainable way of life. Technology innovation is our fastest, and most likely, ticket there before the ocean rises, and GCEP inspires a positive outlook on such a future,
Four segments of papers were presented, they were Biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage, Solar Energy and Energy Storage. The symposium was heavily energy focused. To set the stage for these papers, GCEP's Global Exergy and Carbon Flow Charts provides a blueprint from which scientists can identify potential research areas. The flow charts map global energy and carbon flows in one large diagram. The data was extremely eye-opening and informative. The charts are publicly available at http://gcep.stanford.edu/research/exergy/flowchart.html.
A vast array of projects with a 5-10 year implementation horizon was presented. Nate Lewis of Caltech argues that Solar energy of all forms, including solar thermal, PV, solar water splitting and solar fuels is the only reliably sustainable energy on Earth, since the sun's energy is Earth's only energy external input. "We need solar technologies that can scale like paint, carpet and newspaper," said Lewis. As such, solar fuels (biofuels) were on the bottom of the list due to its lack of scalability and inefficiency at converting solar energy. PV in the long term, especially radical new thin film structures, and solar thermal in the short term remains the most viable and efficient solar harvest techniques. Solar water splitting is a radical technology for transportable fuel in the very long term horizon. Energy storage continues to be the Achilles heel of renewable energy, which is seasonal and variable and therefore unable to sustain base load needs. Many papers attempt to address this concern with experiments ranging from nano structures on battery cathodes and electrodes to catalysts for solar fuel cells. Many of these technologies will not begin to commercialize until 2015, but each holds dramatic impact to our advancement in energy technologies. One thing is clear, a lot more work is needed before we can sit back and enjoy our sustainable ocean front view on planet Earth.