Contact

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Prof. Dr. Ferdi Schüth

Director

Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Mülheim an der Ruhr

Phone: +49 208 306-2373
Fax: +49 208 306-2995

Publications

MPR 3 /2010

Our energy needs are growing rapidly, while at the same time conventional sources of energy such as fossil fuels endanger the climate. Basic researchers are working on new concepts so that our earth will remain green. [more]

Chemistry . Climate Research . Material Sciences . Particle Physics . Plasma Physics

Options for a new energy scenario

The regular recurrence of ‘all-time high’ oil prices is clear proof of the finite nature of fossil energy sources.

April 12, 2011

Even if the finite nature of the resource stocks is not the only factor that influences oil prices, speculation also plays a role in this process: peak oil, that is the point in time when oil production cannot be increased despite maximum efforts, will be reached in the near to medium-term future – indeed, some analysts believe that it has already been reached. This development is further exacerbated by the increasing energy hunger of the emerging states, particularly in Asia, with their large populations. Moreover, the energy problem is irrevocably linked with that of global warming. All of the available data point to the fact that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, a large proportion of which are generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, contribute considerably to climate change.
Artifical nuclear fusion: researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching work on the production of clean and safe energy at the ASDEX Upgrade device. Zoom Image
Artifical nuclear fusion: researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching work on the production of clean and safe energy at the ASDEX Upgrade device. [less]

It is thus a matter of extreme urgency that the future course be set for our energy system in a way that enables us to meet these challenges effectively. Unfortunately, global and national energy systems are very sluggish, and changes to supply or consumption structures require considerable periods of time to implement. The coal-fired power plants built now will still be in operation in 2050. The effects also only make themselves felt in the long-term: our planet reacts slowly to changes in the composition of the atmosphere - which means it will take decades or even centuries for the success of our energy system’s reorientation to become evident.

What role can research play in the reorientation of our energy system, in particular basic research, which is typical of the work carried out by the Max Planck Society? It is helpful here to take a look at the structure of standard conventional ‘energy research’ and to compare it with the typical Max Planck structures. The energy sector is characterised by a strongly system-oriented approach. The development of individual components of a new energy system alone is not sufficient to bring about fundamental change to the overall system. This is illustrated by the following example: if hydrogen is to be used as a future fuel, storage materials for hydrogen, as are being developed at the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung, are also urgently required.

 
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