The Economics of Energy Options
Increasing demand for energy, diminishing stocks of oil and natural gas, and the public's desire to enhance environmental quality, particularly by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all point to the need for improved materials. For example, generating electricity from the most abundant fossil fuel, coal, efficiently and with no environmental damage, presents notable challenges to develop higher performance materials. Technologies exist to transform one fossil fuel to other uses, such as coal to a gas or liquid. New materials that increase the efficiency of the transformation and lower its cost would provide valuable flexibility. Materials should be evaluated in terms of their entire life-cycle in order to discern which will make the greatest contribution. Because society has many pressing needs, both commercial value and contribution to fundamental materials science should guide priorities in materials research.