Sustainable Energy Technologies for the “Sustainocene”


Prof Doug MacFarlane

ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science

School of Chemistry, Monash University

Our developed society is heavily dependent on abundant supplies of energy – most of which are fossil fuel derived. The limited supply of these, and the heavy impact their use has on the global environment, forces us to contemplate a broad new suite of energy generating and storage technologies that will become the foundation of a more sustainable future. This talk will highlight the challenges in progressing towards implementation of some of these new technologies.

Solar energy harvesting and storage will clearly be a cornerstone of truly sustainable energy generation. New forms of photovoltaic cells are emerging that promise to make these devices even more affordable for de-centralized generation of electricity. New developments are exploring the direct conversion of nothing more than sunlight, CO2 and water into hydrogen, methanol or hydrocarbons to produce fuels for forms of transportation, such as aircraft, that intrinsically require a high energy density liquid fuel. The chemistry of these processes comes tantalisingly close to “artificial photosynthesis” and the approaches that are developing borrow heavily from an understanding of natural processes. Other forms of energy generation based on geothermal sources are emerging, including direct conversion of heat to electricity.

More controversial is the question of whether nuclear energy may continue to have a role in the “Sustainocene”. The sheer quantity of energy available form this source encourages mega-science to tackle nuclear energy’s problems. Developments in fusion, as well as new sources of “clean” fission reactions such as those based on Thorium will be discussed.

Selected references:

Artificial photosynthesis as a frontier technology for energy sustainability.

Faunce, T.; Styring, S.; Wasielewski, M. R.; Brudvig, G. W.; Rutherford, A. W.; Messinger, J.; Lee, A. F.; Hill, C. L.; deGroot, H.; Fontecave, M.; MacFarlane, D. R.; Hankamer, B.; Nocera, D. G.; Tiede, D. M.; Dau, H.; Hillier, W.; Wang, L.; Amal, R.: Energy & Environmental Science 2013, 6, 1074-1076.

Energy applications of ionic liquids.

MacFarlane, D. R.; Tachikawa, N.; Forsyth, M.; Pringle, J. M.; Howlett, P. C.; Elliott, G. D.; Davis, J. H.; Watanabe, M.; Simon, P.; Angell, C. A.: Energy & Environmental Science 2014, 7, 232-250.