“I think this issue just may very well be the most important problem facing the entire world,” Nobel Prize winning nanotechnology professor Richard Smalley said.
Smalley, a professor at Rice University, delivered a lecture yesterday concerning the future of energy in the United States.
Smalley won the prize in Chemistry in 1996 as a co-discover of Buckminsterfullerenes, commonly called buckeyballs, a new allotrope of carbon previously unknown by man.
Smalley is the founder of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, and is currently committed to applying nanotechnology towards solving the world’s upcoming energy problem in the coming decades.
Six months ago, the U. S. Congress invited Smalley to give a brief presentation to the government’s science department. During his speech, Smalley suggested the government double the Department of Energy’s budget to increase research in the area of nanotechnology.
Smalley said the world currently spends $3 trillion a year on energy, making it the most expensive necessity in the world. Also, he listed it as the top problem facing humanity in the next 50 years, ahead of water, food, the environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy and population. He added that the energy problem directly ties in with many of the other problems.
“If the energy problem was solved, at least five other problems on the list would have answers,” Smalley said.
A lot of people, Smalley said, are unaware of the energy problem and its impact on the world.
“For many of us, it’s something of a revelation to realize how important energy is,” Smalley said.
The world currently expends 14 terrawatts of energy daily, the equivalent of 210 million barrels of oil. To assist the world in the upcoming decades, mankind will need to find a way to expend 30 million terrawatts or more in the future.
Smalley said the answer is in developing the world’s solar, wind and geothermal power sources. However, Smalley said many important players in the energy field refuse to acknowledge the situation.
“In the energy business, there is currently a denial problem,” Smalley said.
Smalley said the world’s oil production would peak very soon, perhaps in the next decade. Once that occurs, the world will never be able to produce oil at the same scale as it had previously.
“Then our days of having cheap gas will be over,” Smalley said.
Hydrogen would most likely be the next fuel to replace gasoline Smalley said, but he added that it would never be able to produce the same amount of energy gas does.
As far as powering the rest of mankind’s devices, Smalley said nearly 165,000 terrawatts of light energy hit the world every single day.
“We are bathed in energy, we just need to find a practical way to get it,” Smalley said.
Smalley spoke about proposed theories to harness the solar energy, such as giant solar plants in key places on the planet, or even a large one on the moon that could send the energy back to the earth via microwave.
In order to complete the research, Smalley said he would need about 5 cents from each gallon of oil sold to fund future frontier energy research. In the end, though, Smalley said the biggest problem is getting people to seek a career in physical sciences.
The amount of American students applying for a career in the field has remained constant for the last 15 years. Smalley said more