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US Department of Energy Director of Science visits campus

Brinkman discusses energy sustainability, future of renewable energy

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 9:28 pm

The world is getting hotter, and people can “decide to live with that” or “do something about it”, said Director of the Office of Science for the U.S. Department of Energy William Brinkman at the Energy, Coast and Environment Building Thursday.

Brinkman lectured to a modest crowd on energy sustainability and the challenges of finding ways to make renewable resources cost efficient, while implementing them to curtail rising CO2 levels.

“We know what we can do,” Brinkman said. “But it’s all expensive.”

Several familiar approaches are being used now, Brinkman said, such as solar power, biofuels, wind and nuclear power. The challenge is finding more efficient ways to implement these technologies to ease a dependence on fossil fuels, he said.

Brinkman predicted that fossil fuels will be needed for a long time in some way, but with an increased role for renewable sources.

“[There’s] no way we can do without fossil fuels,” he said.

Research facilities across the country have been conducting studies to make renewable energy more efficient, with progress being made in virtually every category.

According to several studies over a 10 year period, Brinkman said renewable energy is becoming more widely used in several forms.

The price of solar panels is going down and the amount installed is going up, he said. With the cheaper prices, companies are also making them more aesthetically pleasing by designing the solar cells to look like shingles to appeal to home owners, Brinkman said.

Brinkman said nuclear power has potential to grow as well.

“[The] idea would be to build small nuclear reactors,” he said.

Brinkman compared these small reactors to the ones present in submarines and air craft carriers. He said the reactors are relatively safe and could potentially be mass produced at a low cost, making them widely available as an energy source.

While describing the progress made on each form of renewable energy, Brinkman said he is pessimistic about fusion. Though fusion is a plentiful source, safe, and long lived with no waste product, he said he remains convinced that humans are years away from tapping the technology.

Fusion is “one source of energy we as human beings have not been able to tame,” he said.

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