Perspective | Published:

The path towards sustainable energy

Nature Materials volume 16, pages 1622 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Civilization continues to be transformed by our ability to harness energy beyond human and animal power. A series of industrial and agricultural revolutions have allowed an increasing fraction of the world population to heat and light their homes, fertilize and irrigate their crops, connect to one another and travel around the world. All of this progress is fuelled by our ability to find, extract and use energy with ever increasing dexterity. Research in materials science is contributing to progress towards a sustainable future based on clean energy generation, transmission and distribution, the storage of electrical and chemical energy, energy efficiency, and better energy management systems.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    International Energy Outlook 2016 (US Energy Information Administration, 2016).

  2. 2.

    & The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, 2016);

  3. 3.

    et al. Unabated planetary warming and its ocean structure since 2006. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 240–245 (2015).

  4. 4.

    IPCC Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report (eds Pachauri, R. K. & Meyer, L. A.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015).

  5. 5.

    & Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable energy future. Nature 488, 294–303 (2012).

  6. 6.

    et al. Carbon capture and storage update. Energy Environ. Sci. 7, 130–189 (2014).

  7. 7.

    , & Photovoltaic concepts inspired by coherence effects in photosynthetic systems. Nat. Mater. 16, 35–44 (2017).

  8. 8.

    & Energy conversion approaches and materials for high-efficiency photovoltaics. Nat. Mater. 16, 23–34 (2017).

  9. 9.

    & Sustainability and in situ monitoring in battery development. Nat. Mater. 16, 45–56 (2017).

  10. 10.

    et al. Materials for solar fuels and chemicals. Nat. Mater. 16, 70–81 (2017).

  11. 11.

    , , & Energy and fuels from electrochemical interfaces. Nat. Mater. 16, 57–69 (2017).

  12. 12.

    PVX Spot Market Price Index Solar PV Modules (SolarServer, 2016);

  13. 13.

    Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy SunShot Vision Study (US Department of Energy, 2012);

  14. 14.

    Low solar prices scaring companies away from solar auctions. CleanTechnica (27 July 2016);

  15. 15.

    SunShot 2030 White Paper (US Department of Energy, 2016);

  16. 16.

    Photovoltaics Report (Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, 2016);

  17. 17.

    , , , & Nanodome solar cells with efficient light management and self-cleaning. Nano Lett. 10, 1979–1984 (2010).

  18. 18.

    et al. Sequential deposition as a route to high-performance perovskite-sensitized solar cells. Nature 499, 316–319 (2013).

  19. 19.

    , & Rational strategies for efficient perovskite solar cells. Acc. Chem. Res. 49, 562–572 (2016).

  20. 20.

    & Bioinspired self-cleaning surfaces with superhydrophobicity, superoleophobicity, and superhydrophilicity. RSC Adv. 3, 671–690 (2013).

  21. 21.

    & A review of the recent advances in superhydrophobic surfaces and the emerging energy-related applications. Energy 82, 1068–1087 (2015).

  22. 22.

    , & Hierarchical micro and nano structured, hydrophilic, superhydrophobic and superoleophobic surfaces incorporated in microfluidics, microarrays and lab on chip microsystems. Microelectron. Eng. 132, 135–155 (2015).

  23. 23.

    EV Everywhere Grand Challenge Blueprint (US Department of Energy, 2013);

  24. 24.

    Lithium batteries and cathode materials. Chem. Rev. 104, 4271–4301 (2004).

  25. 25.

    et al. High-performance lithium battery anodes using silicon nanowires. Nat. Nanotech. 3, 31–35 (2008).

  26. 26.

    , & A highly ordered nanostructured carbon-sulphur cathode for lithium-sulphur batteries. Nat. Mater. 8, 500–6 (2009).

  27. 27.

    et al. Layered reduced graphene oxide with nanoscale interlayer gaps as a stable host for lithium metal anodes. Nat. Nanotech. 11, 626–632 (2016).

  28. 28.

    et al. Reversible anionic redox chemistry in high-capacity layered-oxide electrodes. Nat. Mater. 12, 827–35 (2013).

  29. 29.

    , , , & Ion exchange membranes for vanadium redox flow battery (VRB) applications. Energy Environ. Sci. 4, 1147 (2011).

  30. 30.

    et al. Ambipolar zinc-polyiodide electrolyte for a high-energy density aqueous redox flow battery. Nat. Commun. 6, 6303 (2015).

  31. 31.

    , & A membrane-free lithium/polysulfide semi-liquid battery for large-scale energy storage. Energy Environ. Sci. 6, 1552–1558 (2013).

  32. 32.

    , , , & Biologically derived melanin electrodes in aqueous sodium-ion energy storage devices. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 20912–7 (2013).

  33. 33.

    , , , & Single-layer MoS2 transistors. Nat. Nanotech. 6, 147–150 (2011).

  34. 34.

    et al. Biomimetic hydrogen evolution: MoS2 nanoparticles as catalyst for hydrogen evolution. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 127, 5308–5309 (2005).

  35. 35.

    et al. Identification of active edge sites for electrochemical H2 evolution from MoS2 nanocatalysts. Science 317, 100–102 (2007).

  36. 36.

    et al. Improved oxygen reduction activity on Pt3Ni(111) via increased surface site availability. Science 315, 493–497 (2007).

  37. 37.

    et al. Highly crystalline multimetallic nanoframes with three-dimensional electrocatalytic surfaces. Science 343, 1339 LP-1343 (2014).

  38. 38.

    et al. Electrochemical tuning of vertically aligned MoS2 nanofilms and its application in improving hydrogen evolution reaction. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 19701–19706 (2013).

  39. 39.

    et al. Nanostructured transition metal dichalcogenide electrocatalysts for CO2 reduction in ionic liquid. Science 353, 467–470 (2016).

  40. 40.

    , & Highly efficient electro-reduction of CO2 to formic acid by nano-copper. J. Mater. Chem. A 4, 13786–13794 (2016).

  41. 41.

    et al. Electrocatalytic conversion of carbon dioxide to methane and methanol on transition metal surfaces. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 136, 14107–14113 (2014).

  42. 42.

    , , , & Recycling of carbon dioxide to methanol and derived products – closing the loop. Chem. Soc. Rev. 43, 7995–8048 (2014).

  43. 43.

    et al. Discovery of a Ni-Ga catalyst for carbon dioxide reduction to methanol. Nat. Chem. 6, 320–324 (2014).

  44. 44.

    et al. A review of catalysts for the electroreduction of carbon dioxide to produce low-carbon fuels. Chem. Soc. Rev. 43, 631–675 (2014).

  45. 45.

    et al. Hydrocarbon separations in a metal-organic framework with open iron(II) coordination sites. Science 335, 1606 LP-1610 (2012).

  46. 46.

    Carbon capture and sequestration. Science 325, 1599 LP-1599 (2009).

  47. 47.

    IPCC Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (eds Metz, B et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005).

  48. 48.

    Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants Volume 1: Bituminous Coal and Natural Gas to Electricity (US Department of Energy, 2013);

  49. 49.

    et al. Application of a high-throughput analyzer in evaluating solid adsorbents for post-combustion carbon capture via multicomponent adsorption of CO2, N2, and H2O. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 137, 4787–4803 (2015).

  50. 50.

    et al. High-throughput synthesis of zeolitic imidazolate frameworks and application to CO2 capture. Science 319, 939–943 (2008).

  51. 51.

    et al. In silico discovery of metal-organic frameworks for precombustion CO2 capture using a genetic algorithm. Sci. Adv. 2, e1600909 (2016).

  52. 52.

    et al. High efficiency and low cost of electricity generation from fossil fuels while eliminating atmospheric emissions, including carbon dioxide Energy Procedia 37, 1135–1149 (2013).

  53. 53.

    , & Carbon dioxide capture: prospects for new materials. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 49, 6058–6082 (2010).

  54. 54.

    & Complex thermoelectric materials. Nat. Mater. 7, 105–114 (2008).

  55. 55.

    et al. An electrochemical system for efficiently harvesting low-grade heat energy. Nat. Commun. 5, 3942 (2014).

  56. 56.

    , , , & Passive radiative cooling below ambient air temperature under direct sunlight. Nature 515, 540–544 (2014).

  57. 57.

    et al. Radiative human body cooling by nanoporous polyethylene textile. Science 353, 1019–1023 (2016).

  58. 58.

    , & Properties, requirements and possibilities of smart windows for dynamic daylight and solar energy control in buildings: a state-of-the-art review. Sol. Energ. Mat. Sol. Cells 94, 87–105 (2010).

  59. 59.

    , , & Tunable near-infrared and visible-light transmittance in nanocrystal-in-glass composites. Nature 500, 323–326 (2013).

  60. 60.

    , , & Power electronics with wide bandgap materials: toward greener, more efficient technologies. MRS Bull. 40, 390–395 (2015).

  61. 61.

    Wide Bandgap Power Electronics Technology Assessment (US Department of Energy, 2015);

  62. 62.

    , & Design and fabrication of bioelectrodes for microbial bioelectrochemical systems. Energy Environ. Sci. 8, 3418–3441 (2015).

  63. 63.

    , & Self-photosensitization of nonphotosynthetic bacteria for solar-to-chemical production. Science 351, 74 LP-77 (2015).

  64. 64.

    Current and Future Cost of Photovoltaics (Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, 2015);

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Steven Chu
    •  & Nian Liu
  2. Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Steven Chu
  3. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Yi Cui
    •  & Nian Liu
  4. Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, 2575 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA

    • Yi Cui

Authors

  1. Search for Steven Chu in:

  2. Search for Yi Cui in:

  3. Search for Nian Liu in:

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Steven Chu.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nmat4834

Further reading