What will be the next leading energy source in the future?

The present state of the world’s fossil resources and the potential of new energy technology

At present, the world’s energy is derived heavily from fossil resources. However, we will have to break away from using them at some point of time in the future as fossil resources are limited in amount. The real challenge is how then can we draw energy from different sources which are stable and sustainable?

Professor Yasushi Sekine
Faculty of Science and Engineering

Effective utilization of limited resources

If you look at earth from space, earth looks like a shell surrounded by a huge body of gas. Under the shell lie the fossil resources that we humans unearth and use them to generate energy. These fossil resources are predicted to run out in a hundred year or at most a few centuries. As such, there will come a day when we have break away from using fossil resources due to them being limited.

When that day comes, humans will have to resort to using solar energy as the main source of energy instead. However, solar energy utilization technology is still under development and is inefficient in converting sunlight to other forms of energy in its current state. Consequently, there is currently a need to effectively convert fossil resources into energy while we advance the development of solar energy utilization technology.

What countries around the world are doing?

Presently, countries from all over the world have different views and ways on how they utilize fossil resources. In Japan, the main source of energy is petroleum and the country imports most from it from the Middle East. Additionally, the country also imports natural gas and coals from other countries to support its energy needs. In the case of the U.S., shale gas development has been on the rise since the start of the 21st century as part of the country’s effort to reduce its excavations of crude oil. Moreover, the U.S. is now the world’s largest oil and gas producing country, capable of producing them in large quantity at low cost. China on the other hand is tapping on diverse sources of power. It has sophisticated infrastructure that helps it to import natural gas from Central Asia (west of China) and Myanmar. At the same time, it also has huge hydroelectric generators to produce power. However, it is also producing massive amount of low quality coals, which are less environmental friendly, to support power generation and manufacturing of products.

Future energy can be changed by applied knowledge

The main pillars of future energy sources will come from 1) natural gas and coals, 2) biomass and 3) direct utilization of solar energy. Japan has been efficient at utilizing natural gas and coals for energy production and new research development to further utilize them is also being studied at Waseda University. As for biomass, it is considered to be more suitable to use as a chemical when synthesizing plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc. by means of plants rather than as a source of energy. On the other hand, direct utilization of solar energy will be used to break down water with the help of photocatalyst and to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic power generation. Also, secondary energy derived from reusable energy will be used to take the form of electricity and hydrogen. There is high hope for utilizing it in efficient light-weighted rechargeable battery development, at the same time used as a reliable source for storing hydrogen in and transporting hydrogen to battery carriers. All the above research is still under development, but when succeed, will change the next generation of energy.

*This is a translated article of which its original Japanese version was written in 2016. Thus, all content in this article is based on when it was originally written.

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