Fill ‘er up — with water? DOE official cites need for major breakthroughs to cope with climate change

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2008 — Meeting the world’s growing energy needs while responding to global warming during the 21st Century will be one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced, Raymond L. Orbach, Ph.D., the U. S. Department of Energy’s Under Secretary for Science, says in the latest podcast in the American Chemical Society’s Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions series.



In a two-part podcast entitled “Confronting Climate Change,” Orbach notes that meeting this challenge will demand “transformational breakthroughs in basic science,” meaning revolutionary discoveries rather than common step-by-step scientific advances. He cites as one example the development of artificial versions of photosynthesis, the natural process that plants use to produce energy from water and sunlight. Artificial photosynthesis — “photosynthesis without the plant,” as Orbach put it — could theoretically open the door to fueling cars of the future with water rather than pricey gasoline. Artificial photosynthesis units would split water into hydrogen and oxygen, producing clean-burning hydrogen fuel, the podcast explains.

Other scientists featured in the climate-change podcasts include:

  • Harry Gray, Ph.D., of the Caltech Center for Sustainable Energy Research, who discusses the vast potential of solar energy.
  • William Morrow, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, who describes new technology that mixes switchgrass with coal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Jerald L. Schnoor, Ph.D., editor of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, and a professor at the University of Iowa, who predicts that nuclear energy may play a larger role in meeting future energy needs.
  • Michaël Grätzel, Ph.D., of the École Polytechnique FÉdÉrale de Lausanne in Switzerland, who describes achieving a record light-conversion efficiency of 8.2 percent with solar cells that in certain ways mimic plants

The “Confronting Climate Change” podcasts focus on stopgap and permanent solutions to the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Those solutions range from revolutionary scientific advances such as artificial photosynthesis to simple societal changes such as consumers foregoing red meat once a week for chicken, fish or vegetables.

The podcasts are available without charge for listening on computers and downloading to portable audio devices at iTunes (requires iTunes software) and other podcasting sites. They also can be accessed on ACS’s Global Challenges web site. The site provides audio links and full transcripts of each podcast. Additional resources on each Global Challenges topic also are available, on the site, including information for consumers, students, and educators.