5th NTT-BRL school at NTT Atsugi R&D Center
November 24-27, 2009

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Advanced Materials for Sustainable Energy
Prof. Klaus H. Ploog

     Energy and materials have a long-standing and mutually enriching relationship. In this lecture I will show that materials science offers unique possibilities to improve key properties of energy technologies to achieve sustainability and to secure future energy supplies. On the long term, materials science will help to promote the use of revolutionary new energy resources, such as hydrogen fuel and nuclear fusion, and of new energy storage technologies.

     In the introduction, I will briefly outline the correlation between energy resources, energy use and environmental impacts (greenhouse gas effect). In the main part I will discuss some currently used energy resources (coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear fission) and the material technology requirements for sustainability. Then I will move to emerging energy resources, including wind and solar energy, and discuss the materials challenges to make these resources viable. Finally, the materials challenges of some long-term opportunities (nuclear fusion and hydrogen fuel) and the requirements in materials research for electrical energy storage will be outlined.

     When we analyze the energy challenges of today, it becomes clear that running out of resources does not emerge as the major worry, as coal will last for about 150 years and oil and natural gas for about 70 years to come. However, there is another worry, namely increasing green house gas (carbon dioxide) emission that is becoming more insidious and urgent. Today, energy production from any of the available resources results in considerable carbon dioxide production. As a consequence, we must also reduce our energy consumption, e.g. by cutting the energy use in buildings, that accounts for 40% of primary energy use and 70% of electricity use in developed countries. For this purpose we must apply advanced materials for insulation, heating, cooling, and electricity supply in buildings.