Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsThere is an energy sustainable crisis. We're using an energy base that is too polluting. It's as simple as that. We need to move to a cleaner energy base. At the moment, it looks as if, you know, solar PV and wind are the two leaders in that area. And they will, I think, given the right government framework, lead to a pretty rapid transition. But taking a longer view, you know, when I look at solar PV, I think it's sort of almost like the Edison light globe of clean energy. It's the very beginning of what's going to be a long story.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds50 years from now, we will be using very high quality heat captured from the sun for industrial processes that we just haven't even thought about yet. So I think we've got to look at this as a long journey. Yeah? It needs to be done hard and fast, but it is going to take a lot more innovation to get to where we need to get to to have that clean energy future.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsWell, the truth at the moment is that no one knows how to solve that problem perfectly. Right? We can see the elements that we need to solve it. So we need some storage mechanism. And for very short term storage on, you know, nets, you can use things like flywheels for microsecond-type storage. For longer storage, you can use pump up hydro or batteries. You can use biomass, which can be accumulated and then burned when you need that energy. So there are ways forward. But it's true to say at the moment that there's no large industrialised country that has solved that problem. And that's really only the first step. Then we got to go on to transport.

Skip to 1 minute and 48 secondsHow do we create transport that is sourced sustainably if you want? So this is a long journey. It's going to take the rest of this century to get on top of these sort of problems. But we see the urgency. We know we need to keep on experimenting and not be put off by the problems we'll come across.

Possible solutions

What are the possible solutions?

At present, we have an over-reliance on fossil fuels which in turn produce high levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. There is a lack of convenient and affordable energy in underdeveloped countries.

Professor Smalley stated that we need to find the “new oil”. A material or technology that will produce energy prosperity that is as enabling as oil and gas have been but without the accompanying environmental damage.

This material or technological solution will need to produce twice as much energy as we do today. Where could that energy come from? The future solution will likely see us become less reliant on oil, hydroelectric, coal, and gas. While natural sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal become the main contributors.

Professor Tim Flannery suggests that PV (PhotoVoltaic) solar cells and wind generators are the equivalents of the Edison light bulb. The start of a century-long process to “solve” the energy problem. In terms of raw energy, the sun delivers every one and a half seconds enough potential energy to power the global demand for a year. But how can we harness this?

Could new materials offer us a global answer that is both affordable and clean?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

How to Survive on Earth: Energy Materials for a Sustainable Future

University of Wollongong

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: