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There can be no doubt of the rising trends, and there are disturbing signs of systematic change in other indicators as well ( Arndt, et al., 2010 ). The short-term extension of these trends can be estimated by extrapolation. Prediction beyond thirty or so years requires developing scenarios based on assumptions about the population, social behavior, economy, energy use and technology advances that will take place during this time. Because trends in these quantities are frequently punctuated by unexpected developments such as the recession of 2008 or the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, the pace of carbon emissions, global warming and climate change over a century or more cannot be accurately predicted. To compensate for this uncertainty, predictions are normally based on a range of scenarios with aggressive and conservative assumptions about the degrees of population and economic growth, energy use patterns and technology advances. Although the hundred year predictions of such models differ in magnitude, the common theme is clear: continued reliance on fossil fuel combustion for 85 percent of global energy will accelerate global warming and increase the threat of climate change.

The present reliance on fossil fuels developed over time scales of decades to centuries. Figure Primary Energy Consumption by Source, 1775-2009 shows the pattern of fuel use in the United States since 1775.

Primary Energy Consumption by Source, 1775-2009
Primary Energy Consumption by Source, 1775-2009 Graph shows the pattern of fuel use in the United States since 1775. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Review, 2009, p. xx (Aug. 2010)

Wood was dominant for a century until the 1880s, when more plentiful, higher energy density and less expensive coal became king. It dominated until the 1950s when oil for transportation became the leading fuel, with natural gas for heating a close second. Coal is now in its second growth phase, spurred by the popularity of electricity as an energy carrier in the second half of the 20 th Century. These long time scales are built into the energy system. Uses such as oil and its gasoline derivative for personal transportation in cars or the widespread use of electricity take time to establish themselves, and once established provide social and infrastructural inertia against change.

The historical changes to the energy system have been driven by several factors, including price and supply challenges of wood, the easy availability and drop-in replaceability of coal for wood, the discovery of abundant supplies of oil that enabled widespread use of the internal combustion engine    , and the discovery of abundant natural gas that is cleaner and more transportable in pipelines than coal. These drivers of change are based on economics, convenience or new functionality; the resulting changes in our energy system provided new value to our energy mix.

The energy motivations we face now are of a different character. Instead of adding value, the motivation is to avert "doomsday" scenarios of diminishing value: increasing environmental degradation, fuel shortages, insecure supplies and climate change. The alternatives to fossil fuel are more expensive and harder to implement, not cheaper and easier than the status quo. The historical motivations for change leading to greater value and functionality are reversed. We now face the prospect that changing the energy system to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels will increase the cost and reduce the convenience of energy.


Continued use of fossil fuels that now supply 85 percent of our energy needs leads to challenges of environmental degradation, diminishing energy resources, insecure energy supply, and accelerated global warming. Changing to alternate sources of energy requires decades, to develop new technologies and, once developed, to replace the existing energy infrastructure. Unlike the historical change to fossil fuel that provided increased supply, convenience and functionality, the transition to alternative energy sources is likely to be more expensive and less convenient. In this chapter you will learn about the environmental challenges of energy use, strategies for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, electricity as a clean, efficient and versatile energy carrier, the new challenges that electricity faces in capacity, reliability and communication, the challenge of transitioning from traditional fossil to nuclear and renewable fuels for electricity production. You will also learn about the promise of biofuels from cellulose and algae as alternatives to oil, heating buildings and water with solar thermal and geothermal energy, and the efficiency advantages of combining heat and power in a single generation system. Lastly, you will learn about the benefits, challenges and outlook for electric vehicles, and the sustainable energy practices that will reduce the negative impact of energy production and use on the environment and human health.

Review questions

Fossil fuels have become a mainstay of global energy supply over the last 150 years. Why is the use of fossil fuels so widespread?

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Fossil fuels present four challenges for long-term sustainability. What are they, and how do they compare in the severity of their impact and cost of their mitigation strategies?

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The dominant global energy supply has changed from wood to coal to oil since the 1700s. How long did each of these energy transitions take to occur, and how long might a transition to alternate energy supplies require?

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Arndt, D. S., Baringer, M. O.,&Johnson, M. R. (eds.). (2010). State of the Climate in 2009. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc ., 91 , S1–S224, (External Link)

Hirsch, R.L., Bezdek, R.,&Wendling, R. (2006). Peaking of World Oil Production and Its Mitigation. AIChE Journal , 52 , 2 – 8. doi: 10.1002/aic.10747

Owen, N.A., Inderwildi, O.R.,&King, D.A. (2010). The status of conventional world oil reserves – Hype or cause for concern? Energy Policy, 38 , 4743 – 4749. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2010.02.026

Questions & Answers

how can chip be made from sand
Eke Reply
are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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