Wayne State University

Aim Higher

February 2011 Science Under the Dome

 

Join us Friday, February 18th at 7:00 PM as Professor Claudio Verani presents:

Lorax’s Unless:

Renewable Energy Sources

 and the

Future of Earth

 

Earth seems to be the only planet in the Solar System capable of sustaining life, as currently known. This sustainability is the result of a few cosmic coincidences such as the proximity to the Sun, liquid water, a stable magnetic field, a large satellite for rotation stabilization, and a gas giant like Jupiter to shield us from large meteorites.


      For the above reasons, humankind thrived in the last ~4-6 million years, and requires considerable amounts of fuel to meet its needs for heat, light, electricity, and motion. The use of coal and oil has spared the axing of forests for wood and the killing of whales for oil. However, we are reaching the limits of fossil fuel utilization. The dependence of our society on fossil fuels as a source of energy has been compromised by the generation of greenhouse gases and its probable future exhaustion. Nuclear fission does not seem to be a viable long-term substitute because of intrinsic low yields and environmental hazards. These observations point out to the need for alternative and renewable energy sources.


      In this talk, we visit some of these environmentally friendly approaches that take advantage of wind, hydraulic, and geothermal sources, and then focus on solar energy. We will discuss how the sun converts hydrogen into helium emitting radiant energy that reaches the Earth in form of light and heat. The harvesting of this energy and conversion into chemical energy via water splitting is the basic premise of the so-called “Hydrogen Economy.” We will discuss the triumphs and shortcomings of this approach.

Professor Verani's bio is available here.