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Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable energy future

Abstract

Access to clean, affordable and reliable energy has been a cornerstone of the world's increasing prosperity and economic growth since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Our use of energy in the twenty–first century must also be sustainable. Solar and water–based energy generation, and engineering of microbes to produce biofuels are a few examples of the alternatives. This Perspective puts these opportunities into a larger context by relating them to a number of aspects in the transportation and electricity generation sectors. It also provides a snapshot of the current energy landscape and discusses several research and development opportunities and pathways that could lead to a prosperous, sustainable and secure energy future for the world.

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Figure 1: Statistical review of world energy.
Figure 2: Vehicle energy losses.
Figure 3: Methods of producing alternative fuels from various feedstocks to products.
Figure 4: Alternative fuel costs.
Figure 5: Projections from the International Energy Agency for the generation of electricty until 2035.
Figure 6: Projections by the US Energy Information Administration made in 2010 of the 2016 average cost and range of the levellized cost of electricity from various sources.
Figure 7: Levellized cost of energy for quarter three, 2012.
Figure 8: Rate constant of current absorbents or adsorbents is about linearly proportional to the reaction enthalpy.
Figure 9: History of the relative mix of the main source of energy used in the United States.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to acknowledge T.J. Augustine, P. Davis, H. Gruenspecht, M. Le, P. Lyons, R. Ramamoorthy, D. Sandalow, S. Satyapal and E. Toone for suggestions.

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Correspondence to Steven Chu or Arun Majumdar.

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Chu, S., Majumdar, A. Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable energy future. Nature 488, 294–303 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11475

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