In Powering the Future, Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin transports us two centuries into the future, when we’ve ceased to use carbon from the ground. Boldly, Laughlin predicts no earth-shattering transformations will have taken place. Six generations from now, there will still be soccer moms, shopping malls, and business trips. Firesides will still be snug and warm.
How will we do it? Not by discovering a magic bullet to slay our energy problems but through a slew of fascinating technologies, drawing on wind, water, and fire. Powering the Future is an objective yet optimistic tour through alternative fuel sources, set in a world where we’ve burned every last drop of petroleum and every last shovelful of coal.
“The value of the book rests in the author’s thought-provoking assessment and his relentless faith in the earth…A work of intricate research free of hype, offering serious pros and cons with a sometimes whimsical flourish.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Prepare to have green prejudices demolished
Welcome to the Carbon Future, at least as far as energy for transportation is concerned. The author clearly and unequivocally sets for the case that carbon is an optimum store of chemical energy, and that we humans just better get our heads around that.
I greatly respect the author's credentials and mastery of the subject, but I would have like a good deal more detail in various points. He seems to possibly be somewhat over focused on the pure energetics and doesn't allow for the fact that fuels come from a value chain with lots of factors... aggregation, processing, distribution, etc. And it's the 'output' of this process that determines the winner, not the fundamental nature of the product itself, although this is a very important part of the story. This is manifest in his doubts about the ability of bio sourced coal proxies (he names many, algae and miscanthus being a couple of the stronger competitors) to compete in a world where coal, as abundant as it is, naturally is getting more expensive to mine and transport while the bio side is busy moving up learning curves... such as for example the development of algae that 'produce' an oily product that will separate directly, so the algae itself can be left in it's watery, sunlit soup.
All this is at the margin though, and the basic case, that we should plan to live in a world with a lot more, not less, fossil fuel burning, is compelling.
This is not a book about the greenhouse effect and it's consequences per se, but I would certainly have enjoyed more from this author on this topic, as it is fundamental to understanding how the 'externalities'.... if any other than a warmer Siberia and Canada... will affect the costs implicit to the fossil vs. bio competition.