Chu at COP-16: Building a Sustainable Energy Future

Uploaded by USdepartmentofenergy on 07.12.2010

SECRETARY STEVEN CHU: It’s great to be here and I apologize, we had to boot up a little
program, but we’re up and running, I hope. So I want to talk about building a sustainable
energy future and I want to say that the United States has committed – somewhere in this
we have the PowerPoint slides – can we – I’d rather see a PowerPoint slide than my face,
that’s for sure. (Chuckles, laughter.) Thank you.
The United States is committed to taking action to meet the energy and climate challenge.
And we’re working with partners around the globe to ensure that progress is being done.
But I’m going to make two predictions. But before I make the predictions, again, I have
to remind everybody that predictions are a dangerous occupation, and the great American
philosopher of the 20th century, bar none, Yogi Berra, said that predictions are hard
to make, especially about the future. But, nevertheless, I’ll make some predictions.
The price of oil will be higher in the coming decades. You know, why do I say that? This
is an EIA compilation of the world oil production assuming that all countries implement their
climate policy commitments. So these are aggressive commitments to decrease countries’ – importers’
demand on oil. And what you see in this is that the crude oil production of currently
producing fields will decline and it has already begun to decline.
What that means is the crude oil in fields yet to be developed have to be kicking in,
and then crude oil in fields yet to be discovered have to be found. And so in addition to that
there are natural gas and gas to liquids one can look at, and an increase in conventional
oil. So what this means is that you are going into newer forms of oil, new discoveries of
oil and unconventional oil. That’s if all the countries follow their policy commitments
and actually succeed.
But a business-as-usual scenario says that demand will go like so, which means that,
again, it would put more strain on the crude oil fuels yet to be found, more strain on
developing fuels and more strain on developing unconventional sources of oil. So an increasing
fraction of this oil is going to be coming from sources like deep off-shore Arctic sources
and unconventional sources, so the lifting costs are expected to be higher than demand
is expected to be, even in the most – in the more optimistic scenarios that demand
will still increase but it will – could increase even more. So that would drive the
price of oil.
Second prediction is that we will live in a carbon-constrained world. Now, there – over
the last – since several months before the Copenhagen meeting there were a lot of thing
– there was a lot of attempts to try to muddy the waters, to say that perhaps there
should be some more doubt, more discourse on whether the climate is changing and whether
humans have caused it. Quite to the contrary, over the last five or – plus years the evidence
for climate change and the understanding of the growing risks is – has actually deepened.
And so I’m going to spend just a few minutes talking about that.
First, whether the globe is changing or not is not a matter of debate. The average temperature
of the world, indeed, has been increasing. There was a lot of hullabaloo made because
in the last several years there’s been a plateauing of that temperature but 2010 appears
– it’s a plateauing, but I think people who raise the fact that it plateaued recently
– but in 2010, what probably is nearly as warm as the hottest one on record – have
loose – have lost sight of the fact that there have been times in the past where temperatures
have plateaued, they’ve gone down, but the overall trend is something different. The
50-, 100-year trend is very different from a five-year or 10-year trend.
But let’s talk about some of the things that have been happening. For example, the
sea level is rising. From indirect evidence over the last 2,000 years the difference in
land to sea has actually been fairly stable – somewhere between zero and 0.02 millimeters
a year. Now, since that time – since the time of direct measurements in the late 1800s
till now, the rate of sea level rise has increased five-fold. From the earliest time we made
direct measurements it’s now three millimeters a year. That’s a little bit disturbing because
the IPCC predictions of what would be happening about 10 years ago are slightly off now. It’s
in the upper bound of what we thought might be happening 10, 15 years ago. It’s rising
faster than we thought.
And so what’s the cause of that? Well, there’s a lot of ice masses – glaciers, especially
glaciers like in Greenland, that are losing their ice. And so how do we know this? Well,
we actually have marvelous ways of making these measurements. For example, we have two
very precise satellites that circumnavigate the globe, and by measuring the distances
between these two satellites as they orbit the earth – if there’s – for example,
these are – these two satellites – and here’s a gravitational mass and it’s changing,
the orbits of those satellites change. And by measuring the changes in the orbits of
these satellites, you can actually measure the change of mass – the local change of
mass, for example, on top of Greenland.
It’s so precise that you can measures changes in orbits of a millimeter or so. And this
is an example of some of the data that comes out. Between 2002 and 2009, now 2010, you
see that the mass – the ice mass on Greenland is decreasing. Not only is it decreasing,
it’s accelerating. So even though there’s been more snow on Greenland, the glaciers
are running off faster. The measurements are so good you can even tell the difference between
higher ice mass in the winter, lower ice mass in the summer.
So these oscillations are just through the winter/summer. But beyond the winter/summer
changes, the ice is decreasing and it’s accelerating. These satellites not only mass
– measure ice masses in Greenland, they measure ice masses in Antarctica – certain
regions of Antarctica, similar sort of behavior that things seem to be accelerating.
Now, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased roughly by 40 percent since
the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. And the next question is, is that carbon due
to humans or is it just a coincidence that about the time of the beginning of the Industrial
Revolution naturally occurring processes actually put the carbon up there? And there’s growing
evidence – more than growing evidence – but there is evidence that it’s just not a coincidence.
And so let me take you through this.
In the upper atmosphere we get bombarded by cosmic rays. These are high-energy – typically
high-energy protons. And when these cosmic rays bombard the upper atmosphere – for
example, they hit nitrogen – they will turn nitrogen into carbon-14. So once it turns
into carbon-14 – carbon-14 is radioactive; it will decay back into nitrogen. And it takes
about 5,700 years for it to turn back into nitrogen.
Meanwhile, that carbon-14 that’s made in the upper atmosphere comes down and mixes
with all the atmospheres down further below, finally the biosphere. And as it mixes, any
living plant or animal that picks up carbon actually incorporates that carbon-14 into
its being. And when it’s incorporated into the being – so these carbon-14s are always
decaying, and this is the essence of carbon-14 dating.
For example, if suppose you – you’re a living thing, you die, you’re no longer
in connection to the biosphere, you’re put in a casket, a tomb, something like that,
you’re isolated from – you have to reasonably sealed off so you’re isolated from the biosphere.
Your carbon-14 begins to decay. Nothing is replenishing it because you’re no longer
communicating with the environment.
Now, of course, eventually what happens is you get recycled and part of you becomes carbon
dioxide and methane and all these other goodies that gets recycled in the atmosphere. Over
a period of 5,000 years there’s a high probability, unless you have a very good preserver, that
you’ve been recycled. That’s also true of trees; it’s also true of virtually any
living thing.
However, suppose you’re put away for good – for real fossilized – and then you’re
no longer recycled. And so a lot of the carbon in the world gets put away and it’s fossilized
and goes underground, not in communication with the troposphere – the biosphere for
not thousands of years but not – for millions of years it’s down there. OK? So all the
carbon-14 is gone; it’s no longer radioactive. Now, you take that out, you burn it, and you’re
sticking up carbon back in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, methane, whatever.
But it’s not radioactive anymore.
So by looking at the ratio of the normal carbon – carbon-12 – with carbon-14, if this
is a significant part of human activity, burning fossil fuel, releasing non-radioactive carbon
into the world, you would expect the carbon-14 to go down. And so here’s what we see. We
see the increase in carbon dioxide from 1750, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution
where it begins to take up – beginning to accelerate more and more and more. And what
you see is this delta-carbon-14 is the ratio of carbon-14 with the normal isotope of carbon-12.
So it begins to go down.
Now, you notice the time scale here – the data seems to run out 1950. And why am I not
showing where it really counts, namely up here – and the reason I’m not, on this
graph, is because something happened in the world beginning about 1950. The world, notably
in the United States and Russia – Soviet Union – began atmospheric testing of hydrogen
bombs. And those bombs – that testing introduced a lot of carbon-14 into the upper atmosphere.
And what you see here in this green curve is a spike of the carbon-14 in the upper atmosphere,
and then it oscillates – these are yearly oscillations because the hydrogen bombs put
it up in the stratosphere and it takes a while – about a year for it to mix down into the
lower portions of the troposphere. And so you actually see the yearly mixing of the
radioactive carbon-14 put up there by hydrogen bombs. You also see – but it’s declining.
Why is it declining? Because it’s being diluted, it’s – some of its going to the
Southern hemisphere.
And so it takes about a year, year and a half for the radioactive cloud in the Northern
hemisphere to mix with the Southern hemisphere. So this actually gives us (the ?) methods
to measure all of this mixing. You see it’s declining. Then with a time delay, the surface
oceans – first, the Northern hemisphere ocean then the Southern hemisphere ocean picks
up the carbon – the radioactive carbon – so we now have a measurement of how fast it takes
the surface of the ocean to mix with the atmosphere.
And we see that’s – there’s a slight delay – again, a delay between Southern
and Northern hemisphere, OK? So this all decays and it’s all mixing down and it’s coming
down. And so you think, well, it’s still coming down so that coming down is due to
the fact that you’re still absorbing – no. By this time – by 1990, mid-1900s – you’ve
reached equilibrium with the atmosphere and the oceans and the land. And it’s still
going down too fast.
And then if you say, OK, what can explain why – what’s that other decline? It’s
the same decline I was showing you before. We’re burning fossil fuel and we’re diluting
the radioactive carbon. Without burning fossil fuel you reach a steady state. The radioactivated
carbon is in the upper atmosphere. It mixes, it decays, and it reaches an average. But
if you’re introducing non-radioactive carbon in growing and growing amount, what you see
is that it’s going to decay.
So this is evidence that this carbon is not natural. It’s not natural in the sense of
a natural circulation of the atmosphere with the land, and with the oceans because those
mixing times are hundred-years mixing times. They’re not million-year, 10 million-year;
they’re not 5,700-year mixing times. And so that’s one of the things. So this – the
fact that carbon started increasing at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is
not a coincidence. We’ve got our fingerprints all over it. It’s humans digging up fossil
fuel, burning it, releasing it into the atmosphere.
All right, so here’s some facts. The energy input is constant; again, satellite information,
I don’t have time to show you that. But there are 11-year solar cycles. If you look
at the amount of visible light hitting the earth, the infrared radiation hitting the
earth, the sunspots, the radio emissions, all of these follow an 11-year cycle. So it
oscillates up and down but over 35 years it’s been flat. During that time you’ve seen
the biggest increases in temperature.
So the input of energy onto earth is constant during that time. No one doubts the physics
– the fact that if you put carbon dioxide up there that you have increased the greenhouse
gases, and so that means that the infrared radiation doesn’t escape as easily and so
you have the same energy coming in, less energy going out.
And under those circumstances – for example, you eat the same amount of food but as you
get older and your metabolism declines but you still eat the same amount of food and
you still get old and your metabolism declines, there could be a reasonable prediction of
what might happen to your weight. OK. So we have the same situation here: energy in, same;
energy out, less. OK? That summarizes this deep thought.
So there’s no real credible argument that I know that says the earth cannot heat up
over a 50- or 100-year period. We don’t understand what’s happening over a 10-year
period because it’s very complex. It has to do with a lot of the ocean circulations,
biosphere-geochemical interactions; probably within – hopefully in five or 10 years we
will understand those so we can make these five- and 10-year predictions.
But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to make a hundred-year prediction. You know,
it’s like you eat the same amount and you exercise less. You don’t need to be a dietician
to know what will happen. OK.
So there’s one other thing, and that’s when you reach a new equilibrium – remember,
same energy in, energy out less. So what happens? Well, you heat up until there’s enough infrared
radiation coming out that finally you get a new balance.
How long will that take? It takes a while because the deep oceans are very cold. The
deep ocean mixing times are a hundred-plus years. In fact, that same radioactive data
can be now used to look at the top of the surface ocean and the bottom of the ocean
to find out what the mixing time is. And – but the estimate is it’ll take about a hundred
years. So the damage we’ve already done now won’t be known for about a hundred years.
If we wait another hundred years we will have done even more damage which won’t be known
for another hundred years and so on. So that’s the issue we face.
So what are the other predictions, again, with the caveat that they’re hard to make
and –when you’re predicting the future? Well, this is – places in the world where
it could be – where rainfall is critical, and, for example, in Africa there is a very
clean demarcation, if you will, between the desert and where there’s fertile ground.
And wherever you see red or orange is a risk that fertile agricultural land can become
desert. And these desert lines can migrate. And that would of course cause great havoc
because as these desert lines migrate they don’t recognize national boundaries.
But in addition to that, precipitation will increase because a warmer planet will mean
more water. And the water is predicted to come in – more in torrential downpours or
in snowstorms rather than in steady rain. The glacier-fed water supplies – particularly
the Tibetan Plateau is going to be at risk because that too is losing mass. A warmer
planet means expanded boundaries for malaria, dengue fever and other things. So there are
other things that can happen.
All right, so President Obama has said – (inaudible) – United States will meet our Copenhagen
commitments and build prosperity through a clean energy future. And he absolutely feels
that moving towards a clean energy economy is really about our security, about our energy
security, about our financial security; it’s about our economy; it’s about the future
of the planet. So what have we done?
In order to combat this terrible recession we’re in, the Obama administration with
Congress has made an historic recovery act investment of the billions of tens – or
hundreds of billions of dollars – about $90 billion has been invested in clean energy
initiatives – either energy efficiency or the development of newer clean energies over
the last two years. And so we did a number of things: promoting energy efficiency; supporting
renewable energy sources; large investments in carbon capture and storage; smart-grid
technologies; electric vehicles; clean energy; and also in looking at our portfolio of research
and development.
So the first of the things we need to do is we have to use energy more wisely. And so
the United States has recently improved its U.S. mileage standards now to be over 35 miles
per gallon by 2016 and looking to further improve those. We’re also heavily investing
in developing electric vehicles. We are improving and enforcing appliance standards, efficiency
standards that we’ve – since Obama’s come into office, the Department of Energy
has issued 20 appliance standard – efficiency standards in the last 22-or-so months as compared
to 1 in the last several years.
So – and we want to redouble those efforts because we – and by the way, every efficiency
standard is mandated by law to – we have to show that it’s going to save consumers
money. So this is not – you can say this is the government reaching in, but I prefer
to think of it as the government helping Americans save money. That is what it’s about. And
we are improving the way we can design buildings, the way we monitor buildings, and we have
a lot of programs to show people how – and businesses how they can save energy on buildings.
Forty percent of the energy in the United States is on buildings. We think with properly
designed buildings that our cost effective and cost – by cost effective, I mean any
investment you put into this building will pay for itself in less than a quarter of the
lifetime of the building. So the rest of it is just pure money. We think we can save at
least a factor of two, probably a factor of four in energy. So we’re doing that.
And we have started a new research institute that can help develop tools to help designers
build new buildings. The way you’d normally design a building is you have some conceptual
idea of what you want, you go into detailed design and finally you make it. But usually
when you go from the conceptual design to the detailed design and during construction,
everything gets modified and sometimes many of the energy-efficient aspects of the building
are lost.
So what – (coughs) – excuse me – what we are trying to do is develop computer-aided
tools just the same way the aerospace company uses computer aided-design to design the new
fleet of airplanes that it actually will help the architects and structural engineers design
more efficient buildings – even just laying out the duct work so you don’t make hard-angle
turns and putting it in in a more sensible way saves a lot of energy.
And then any modification you make you can immediately say what it would do to the performance
of the building, the comfort of the building and the energy use of the building. In addition
to that we can use a set of computers to actually operate the building, continually tune it
up, put the ventilation where the people are because you can then sense from carbon dioxide
– very inexpensive, little chips that can tell you how much carbon dioxide is in the
atmosphere – people aren’t here, oh they’ve come in, increase the ventilation of a big
assembly hall, they’ve gone, put it back into their offices.
This is also nothing new. Computers monitor your cars, every aspect of what your engine
is doing. They monitor the oxygen, they monitor the throttle position, they monitor the outside
temperature, the revolutions per minute – everything. And they squirt in fuel at just the right
amount and they fire the plugs at just the right time to maximize the power-per-unit
So in a certain sense we need buildings that are very easy, not sophisticated to run, just
as the drivers of these cars and even the mechanics don’t know what the computers
are doing; the computers know what they’re doing but they make – they get 20 percent
more energy out of a gallon of fuel. Similarly, a real-time monitor of the building, a very
smart building, means that the owner doesn’t have to – or the user doesn’t have to
know anything about it.
It just – they can, you know, you can sit down at a couch and tell the computer, you
know, what you like and dislike and the computer will say, OK, we’ll figure out how to make
you comfortable with the least amount of money. So that’s – so the idea here is – the
thing I want to drive home is that energy savings and cost savings are the same. Having
an energy-efficient building does not mean a more expensive building, it just means a
smarter building but also a less-expensive building, OK? Energy efficiency means money
The next thing we want to do is develop and deploy low-carbon technologies. The recovery
act has invested in clean energy manufacturing tax credits of $2.3 billion. It’s instead
of – if you build a wind farm usually you have a production tax credit which says you
operate the farm for 20 years and you get up to 30 percent of the value of your investment
back over a 20-year period or a 30-year period – let’s say a 20-year period.
But what we did in the recovery act in order to induce investments is say, you build this
wind farm, you turn it on; as soon as you turn it on and start generating electricity
you get your 30 percent back. That turned out to be very successful because companies
took that money, turned right around and built another wind farm, which is exactly what we
wanted. And so it’s a way of greasing the wheels, and that highly leveraged program
supported more than $5.2 billion of clean energy.
In terms of carbon capture and sequestration, we have a number of projects – over 10 major
demonstration projects – $4 billion of federal dollars – but the remarkable thing is that
money has been matched with about $7 billion from the private sector – of various ways
to – in high-carbon producing industries or power – to actually capture the carbon
and sequester it. And we have many experiments now starting where we’re talking about capturing
something like a million to a million and a half tons of carbon per year and starting
to use that – thank you – so this is another of the things that the administration is now
Let me go to transportation and transportation fuel. It’s one of the hardest problems to
tackle because liquid fuel is at – very – it’s ideal on a mobile platform because
you can pack a lot of amount of energy in a small volume and a small weight. And so
that’s the figure of merit of energy density of a fuel that you want to have that highest
amount of energy per unit of volume and the highest amount of energy per unit of weight.
And so up here at this end of the diagonal, this is where you have good-quality transportation
fuels. And leading the list is diesel, gasoline, kerosene and one other, body fat – you’re
a mobile platform. The reason nature stores energy in terms of body fat rather than sugars
is because it’s a higher energy density. You know, it – you know, it – they cared
less about aesthetics than, you know, the – actually, if you had to carry that much
glucose around it wouldn’t – it would look even worse. (Laughter.)
So in any case, transportation fuel – it’s really very good. It’s some of the best
things. And that’s why we gravitated for transportation. Today’s lithium-ion battery
is so close to zero on both of these; you look at this – and look at body fat and
jet fuel – kerosene fuel – and you get, for example, 38, 43 million joules per kilogram,
and here you have about half a million joule per kilogram. So can you – you can say,
is there any hope of being competitive with an internal combustion car engine?
And the answer is yes. And the reason is the following. If you look at the internal combustion
engine that works at best at 30 percent thermal efficiency and weighs a lot and compare it
to an electric motor that’s this big and works at 90 percent efficiency, you get a
lot of it back because an electric motor is so much more efficient and weighs a lot less
and has a lot higher torque.
So then the real trade-off is, you have to ask yourself, OK, here’s an internal combustion
engine and a fairly small fuel tank and the rest you use for passenger and cargo space
versus a big battery and a very small engine and some electronics that control it, and
the rest is used for passengers and cargo. And what would it take to be competitive?
And it will take a battery, first, that can last for 15 years of deep discharges. You
need about five as a minimum, but really six or seven times higher storage capacity. And
you need to bring the price down by about a factor of three. And then all of a sudden
you have a comparably performing car, let’s say a mid-sized car which has a comparable
acceleration and a comparable range.
And so if you take this number – a thousand watt-hours – you – for a, let’s say,
I don’t know, Ford Fusion or something like that, you’d get about 450 miles range in
a battery. OK, so that’s what it is. Now, how soon will that be? Well, we don’t know
but we – Department of Energy is supporting a number of very innovative approaches to
batteries, and it’s not like it’s 10 years off in the future, in my opinion. It might
be five years off in the future. It’s soon.
Meanwhile, the batteries – the ones we have now – will drop by a factor of two within
a couple of years. And they’re going to get better. But if you get to this point then
it just becomes something that’s automatic, and I think the public will really go for
that. So that’s one of the things that the Department of Energy is supporting, and this
in fact will – the first example of some of the breakthroughs we need.
Now, in looking at some of the breakthroughs we need, we step back – and I was doing
this when I was director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And I said, if you really
wanted to get something done, that there was a necessity and you wanted to do something,
or even if you’re just doing science, you have a bunch of lone geniuses working alone
– or what do you do? And usually science advances not by single geniuses like Galileo
or Darwin or Newton. They actually come together in groups – a Copenhagen School, you know,
a Bell Laboratories, a MRC’s Laboratory for Molecular Biology (ph).
And in these golden moments of space and time, like the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology
(ph) or AT&T Bell Laboratories, you got a big surge in scientific discovery, a big surges
in technological development out of the group of people that you would not have had if you
dispersed them in various places. And so one of the things we’re trying to do is to replicate
We also saw that there was advantage to doing that during times of extreme need where, for
example, if you think that the Germans are developing a nuclear weapon and we have to
race them in order to develop that, or you know that the other side is developing radar,
what can we do to do this? And the United States did that as well. OK.
So for example, at Bell Laboratories, where I worked for nine years, it was a fountain
of discovery and development – the invention of the transistor, the invention of the solar
cell, the basic laser was invented there, the CCD detector – all these things were
invented there, but it goes much deeper than that. Electronic digital switching, cellphones,
information theory, very important programing languages, digital signal processors, the
basic technology – so-called MOSFET technology that led to the very-large-scale integrated
circuits – many, many things were invented there.
So we need Bell Laboratories-like institutions to invent our – the new energy things. And,
you know, 17 Bell Laboratory scientists were awarded Nobel Prizes. And so that speaks to
that – a lot of the stuff that you see in the fine print, they don’t give Nobel Prizes
for fast Fourier transforms and Unix operating systems or digitals – well, they may give
one for a digital signal processor. But it’s an amazing thing.
So we are – have started a number of things. We have asked university teams of researchers
to come together across disciplines, across departments, across schools to solve energy
science problems – and we call these Energy Frontier Research Centers. We’ve created
Energy Innovation Hubs. These are more like what I call the little Bell Lab-lets.
Get a bunch of people, give the scientists who are going to lead these people, they have
to be expert scientists, active scientists but willing to actively manage the programs
the same way that an Oppenheimer or a Beta (ph) or a Fermi or a Sigray (ph) would actively
manage things. And so it – we want to give them – this is a five years – renewable
about five years – a longer timescale, going after really hard problems, but don’t stop
by just publishing papers. You stop by delivering something that private sector grabs up and
begins to deploy. OK?
And then finally a very novel way – another novel way of doing research is Advanced Research
Projects Agency for Energy. Like the Energy Innovation Hubs, we’re looking for high-risk
attempts to really put a new page – (inaudible) – do something disruptive; totally revolutionary
ways – approaches to energy. But these would be very short term; only two years, three
maximum years of funding. After that it should – it should get out to the marketplace.
So this is the approach we’re using. Let me give you an example. Some of the things
we’re supporting in this ARPA-E – this is the fast, revolutionary thing where we
expect maybe the majority of the projects we fund will fall flat, and they will go nowhere.
But we’re hoping if one out of 10 becomes a home run, a game changer, that would be
worth it. Just as DARPA, and the precursor ARPA, did things like the invention of global
positioning satellite, the invention of the ARPANET which became the Internet, they developed
a few game changers that really changed the world.
So here’s a biofuel mechanism; it’s called a cow. (Laughter.) It eats grasses and hays
and things like that, which gets it energy from the sun. And in its various stomach it
has a whole bunch of microbes, bacteria and thingies that chew on this stuff and turn
it into – a small fraction of that biomass into – into various things, and these organisms
produce a lot of energy. Most of the energy, unfortunately, passes out either through the
front or the back of the cow in the form of methane gas. But that’s what this energy-producing
machine does.
And so what we do is we take plants and we put these enzymes in, the same type of enzymes
these bacteria in a cow’s gut does, to break down the fuels and try to change it into simple
sugars that we can turn into ethanol. But the trouble is, the most costly part of taking
grasses or lumber waste or agricultural wastes like corn stover or wheat straw or rice straw
and turning it into simple sugars are the enzymes. The enzymes cost the most amount
of money.
So we’re funding a company that will write into the DNA of these energy crops, not – we’re
talking now about things like grasses – where in the cell wall there is the blueprint for
how to make the enzymes that will digest the cell wall. But while the plant is living,
that – those blueprints – that protein sequence doesn’t actually fold into an active
element – an active protein – and it only folds into that after the plant is harvested
and it is exposed to a condition it will never see in nature. So fundamentally we’re asking
the plant to grow the stuff that costs the most amount of money, and then we can activate
it after we harvest it. And so in that way we hope to bring down the cost greatly. That’s
just one idea. It might work; it might not.
Battery storage – big deal. Battery storage is not only a big deal for electrification
of the personal vehicle fleet, it is also a big deal for using our – the electricity
we make much more reliably. This also would be a big deal if you could store energy – renewable
energy especially. And so another idea is – it was stimulated by a wonderful idea
where if you – this professor at MIT looked at how you make aluminum. So you get this
salt – molten salt of aluminum and you pass a tremendous amount of electricity through
it and you plate out the aluminum, and some gases escape, and then you’ve got your aluminum
in a very pure form – using a tremendous amount of electricity.
So he said, well, can we reverse it? If we use a tremendous amount of electricity and
you’ve got these – now, not – just not one metal in molten salt but two metals, and
if you charge it up, all the metals come out of this – these salt solutions, then they
go into different metals.
Now, you notice they are layered. Why are they layered? Because you choose the metals
to be different specific gravities so that they have different densities. So gravity
actually separates out – the light stuff is on top, the heavy stuff is on the bottom.
This is a molten metal battery. So it’s not something you want to keep in your car,
but for industrial scale, it should work. And then when you discharge it you just plug
it into something and then the metal migrates back into the electrolyte and the metal thins
out. Now, the beauty of this is, batteries mostly fail at the interfaces between the
positive anode, the negative cathode and the electrolyte.
The old cell – you can’t make them big. The batteries that are going into the first
generation of cars, each little cell is less volume than my hand. It’s about maybe tenth
the volume of my hand. It’s about this big, but they’re little thin packets that – they’re
stacked together. This battery can scale. You can make it the size of this box; you
can make it the size of this room because it could be a swimming pool-sized hunk of
molten metal. And so with this, we’re hoping that you can decrease the costs of storage
of energy, maybe, by a factor of 10.
If you can get a factor of 10 – even a factor of five would revolutionize the way we use
electricity. Our electrical systems can be much, much more efficient and we can begin
to think of having lots of distributed floatable (tanks ?) on a building that you store the
excess energy. You don’t have to give it back to the grid – wind also. And so, again,
that will transform.
These guys have two years to make these ideas work. If they don’t, it’s so sad. Now,
so far it’s looking pretty good. Already in the first round of funding we gave $4 million
to another company we looked at. It was a new way of making silicon photovoltaics. That
funding gave – let – now enabled them to do some more experiments. The experiments
They were able to raise another $25 million from the private sector that says, this looks
pretty good. And so our 4 million (dollars) got leveraged to 25 million (dollars), and
now they’re thinking it’s looking even better. We can maybe go and start now thinking
of making a plant. And this is in the space of one and a half years. So this kind of pace
is possible.
Finally, I want to talk about one of these hubs – these little Bell Lab-lets. And the
idea here is to imitate nature. Nature takes sunlight in the form of plant or an algae
or a bacteria, and on a membrane the molecules in these organisms turn sunlight into carbohydrates.
And they do this by taking water and splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. They take
carbon dioxide – (inaudible) – which reduce the carbon dioxide, and then you have the
components. You have – you reduce carbon dioxide, you have oxygen, you have hydrogen;
you begin to form a carbohydrate.
Now, what we would like to do is use some plant-like devices – nanotechnology – to,
first of all, split water into oxygen and hydrogen, its components, and also to take
the sunlight energy and directly take the carbon dioxide and reduce it. But we’ll
skip the carbohydrate part. We’re not interested in carbohydrates.
We’re interested in hydrocarbons. And so the question is, can we develop something
that can actually make transportation fuel directly from sunlight, skipping the plant
part or the algae part or the bacteria part? And if we do this the hope – the goal would
be that this would be 10 times more efficient than what nature does.
Now, you could say how in the world do you think you have the nerve – you humans –have
the nerve to do something 10 times better than nature? Well, you know, is that just
complete chutzpah or not? Yes, at a certain level. But on the other hand, when we tried
to learn to fly, we looked by looking at how great soaring birds flew but it’s safe to
say that airplanes today work better than birds for our purposes in carrying people
and carrying cargo.
So it is actually possible to transcend nature, especially if you have access to materials
that nature doesn’t have access to. And so the question is, can we do this? It’s
a tough thing. It will – you know, this is why we’re going to invest 10 years’
worth of – to doing this. But recently in the last two or three years there has been
marked progress in this area, and so we think there’s a shot. It’s a long shot but it
can transform our choices.
So the world is on an unsustainable path. We’ve got to work together to find better
solutions. And we’re committed to working, (and ?) international colleagues in Cancun
and beyond, towards a global strategy to combat climate change. And as was mentioned, we started
the clean energy ministerial where more than 20 countries launched 11 initiatives. I should
give a shout-out to David Sandalow who was instrumental in making this a real success.
The next – and it was an amazing meeting on – July in Washington last year – this
year – where there were developed countries, there were developing countries, there was
an OPEC country. And they were there not to say, OK – to bargain about what’s going
to be done and where, but everyone was there to say, we’re going to help each other.
We need to find solutions, and the solutions that work today, we’ve got to disseminate
them and make sure they’re enacted on, and we’ve got to work together to develop solutions
for tomorrow. And it was about getting the job done.
So it was a very satisfying experience to have that at the first meeting; and the next
year we’ll be in Abu Dhabi. And so these 20 countries constitute 70 percent of the
global GDP, 80 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions and – but they also include
some countries that, while small, very proactive in trying to transition to a sustainable energy
future. And of those initiatives, they’re centered around energy efficiency, clean energy
supplies and energy access.
And so I don’t want to read them here. They can – this will be posted. But – and these
are the countries that signed up for these things. And so this is what we’ve started.
We hope that it will be having some deliverables in the near-term future. All right.
So in conclusion, science is saying we’re altering the climate of the earth. And the
question is, are we willing to make investments that will secure our economic future and protect
the environment of our children and our grandchildren? And by “secure the economic future,” I
don’t mean not only avoiding the risks of what might happen in climate change – but
the mere fact that developed countries have to rebuild their infrastructure and transition
to cleaner sources of energy creates a demand for jobs.
The mere fact that the developing countries have an opportunity as they develop their
energy resources and their new infrastructure, if they do it in an energy-efficient way,
that would be better for them and for the world. And so I mean immediate economic goals
that would be better for everybody.
So I want to leave you with this image – with an image that Carl Sagan, American astrophysicist,
convinced NASA to take. This is an image taken by Voyager. Voyager 1 was the first mission
that started to do fly-bys of the planets – Mars and beyond. And as Voyager 1 was
leaving the solar system, Carl Sagan convinced the NASA engineers to look backward and take
last pictures of these very now distant planets. And in this series of photos they took a picture
of this. This is this pale blue dot of light called Earth.
And he wrote very eloquently about it. And he said, abbreviated version: Look again at
that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you
know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives.
Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every king and peasant, every young couple
in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, every saint and sinner in the history
of our species lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Went on to say: The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There’s nowhere
else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Like it or not,
Earth is where we make our stand.
One final quote, it’s an ancient Native American saying that says: Treat the Earth
well. It was not given to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children. And
our generation better not break this trust. Thank you.