Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Five thermal energy grand challenges for decarbonization

Roughly 90% of the world’s energy use today involves generation or manipulation of heat over a wide range of temperatures. Here, we note five key applications of research in thermal energy that could help make significant progress towards mitigating climate change at the necessary scale and urgency.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Ziegler, M. S. et al. Joule 3, 2134–2153 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Albertus, P., Manser, J. S. & Litzelman, S. Joule 4, 21–32 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2009 (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, 2011).

  4. IPCC Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report (eds Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R. K. & Meyer L. A.) (IPCC, 2014).

  5. Laughlin, R. B. J. Renew. Sustain. Energy 9, 044103 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Amy, C., Seyf, H. R., Steiner, M. A., Friedman, D. J. & Henry, A. Energy Environ. Sci. 12, 334–343 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Amy, C. et al. Nature 550, 199–203 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Gur, I., Sawyer, K. & Prasher, R. Science 335, 1454–1455 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Heier, J., Bales, C. & Martin, V. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev 42, 1305–1325 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Nat. Energy 1, 16193 (2016).

  11. Li, B. et al. Nature 567, 506–510 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Allanore, A., Yin, L. & Sadoway, D. R. Nature 497, 353–356 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Abánades, A. et al. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 41, 8159–8167 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gabriel, P. in Hydrogen Science and Engineering : Materials, Processes, Systems and Technology (eds Stolten, D. & Emonts, B.) 1011–1032 (2016).

  15. Advanced Manufacturing Office Multi-Year Program Plan For Fiscal Years 2017 Through 2021 Draft (US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2016).

  16. Upham, D. C. et al. Science 358, 917–921 (2017).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  17. Velders, G. J. M., Fahey, D. W., Daniel, J. S., McFarland, M. & Andersen, S. O. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106, 10949–10954 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Claridge., D. E. et al. Int. J. Refrig. 101, 211–217 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ranson, M., Morris, L. & Kats-Rubin, A. Climate Change and Space Heating Energy Demand: A Review of The Literature (US EPA, 2014).

  20. Henry, A. & Chen, G. Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 235502 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dunn, R., Lovegrove, K. & Burgess, G. Proc. IEEE 100, 391–400 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Yu, P., Jain, A. & Prasher, R. S. Nanoscale Microscale Thermophys. Eng. 23, 235–246 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Wehmeyer, G., Yabuki, T., Monachon, C., Wu, J. & Dames, C. Appl. Phys. Rev. 4, 041304 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Menyhart, K. & Krarti, M. Build. Environ. 114, 203–218 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Sood, A. et al. An electrochemical thermal transistor. Nat. Commun. 9, 4510 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Asegun Henry.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Henry, A., Prasher, R. & Majumdar, A. Five thermal energy grand challenges for decarbonization. Nat Energy 5, 635–637 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing