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The Race for New Energy

The following information about the search for new energy is excerpted from 
Chapter 16 – The Race for New Energy of AEI's award-winning book,Turning the Corner: Energy Solutions for the 21st Century.

Scientists, engineers, and professional researchers are excited about a plethora of new emerging energy systems that, with sufficient financial and government support, might be developed and brought to market in time to help society make the transition from limited and polluting fossil-fuel-dependent energy systems to a future of clean, decentralized power generation.

Forward-looking scientists and engineers see a bright future of high-power energy packages, such as advanced batteries, inexpensive fuel cells, microgenerators of cheap electricity as well as decentralized power sources that will be affordable and environmentally clean. Modular, on-site heat and electricity generators will replace our current centralized utility-based energy system. This will be especially important in developing nations that cannot afford the extensive infrastructure of high voltage wires needed to distribute electricity. In fact, there are many new technologies in the theoretical or research and development stages that have the potential to convert energy into useful work.

Funding has always been a serious problem for the men and women exploring the frontiers of science. Pioneers in the emerging new energy field are self-motivated and usually nonconforming; they prefer to learn and discover new things for themselves as opposed to being taught from the textbook. When it comes to scientific investigation into truly new energy frontiers, guidance from past records is often of little help and, in fact, may hinder efficient progress. Inventors, who work solo or in small teams, must choose a project or route of exploration that they can complete by themselves. Isolation often results as researchers seek to protect the proprietary information that gives their work commercial value and secures the inventor's share of future profits.

Research into breakthrough energy systems is challenging, expensive, time-consuming, and, since most of the new technologies will not prove successful in commercial application, often frustrating. A major problem in the alternative energy field is that most conventional physicists and academics believe this kind of research violates the laws of physics and, therefore, is a waste of time. Many individuals working on their own feel that they are a victim of a "conspiracy of suppression" when, in fact, they are only battling the inertia of the established scientific paradigm. Some men and women working at the periphery of known science have not helped their cause by making outlandish promises and overstated claims of experimental success.

The search for 21st century carbonless energy systems will continue despite political and financial obstacles. In April 1998, the United States Department of Energy issued its Comprehensive National Energy Strategy (CNES). Included among its five goals was: "Goal IV: Expand future energy choices — pursuing continued progress in science and technology to provide future generations with a robust portfolio of clean and reasonably priced energy sources." Included as two objectives are: 1) "Maintain a strong national knowledge base as the foundation for informed energy decisions, new energy systems, and enabling technologies for the future; 2) Expand long-term energy options." An independent study was performed by Alternative Energy Institute, Inc., on the DOE's progress under the CNES declaration, and it is clear that the DOE has not yet engaged in developing, much less maintaining, a robust knowledge base of future energy choices. There has been no expanded research into new energy systems or long-term energy options, mainly due to upper management decisions. Instead of investigating potential clean carbonless energy technologies, the DOE has endorsed natural gas use for future generations (it burns cleaner than coal or oil but is also a limited, nonrenewable resource), and supports using coal and nuclear energy to provide much of the nation's electricity.

Optimists claim that there is enough oil worldwide to last another 40 years. Some experts consider it to be much less. What then? Now is the time to make the decisions that will facilitate the transition from the pollution-ridden fossil fuel age to a future of clean and virtually limitless energy technologies. At this time, there is no new technology or renewable resource that can single-handedly replace oil as the energy product of choice. It will take a combination of well-designed, reliable, environmentally friendly, renewable and new energy systems to take the place of cheap petroleum. It is time to wholeheartedly support and implement renewable energies like wind, biomass gasification, and solar power, as well as the search for future power systems that will tap the sea of energy that surrounds us all. The 19th century philosopher Henry David Thoreau got it right when he said, "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."