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Energy Generation


2013   2012



Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States (2012)


Biofuels made from algae are gaining attention as a domestic source of renewable fuel. However, with current technologies, scaling up production of algal biofuels to meet even 5 percent of U.S. transportation fuel needs could create unsustainable demands for energy, water, and nutrient resources. Continued research and development could yield innovations to address these challenges, but determining if algal biofuel is a viable fuel alternative will involve comparing the environmental, economic and social impacts of algal biofuel production and use to those associated with petroleum-based fuels and other fuel sources. Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels was produced at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Report in Brief and the full NRC report are available for free online. Visit the project page for details on the study.


With the recent release of Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States, the NRC hosted a webinar on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 1 p.m. EST. Committee chair Jennie Hunter-Cevera and Mark Jones, member of the report-authoring committee, presented a brief overview of the report and take questions from webinar participants. The event was open to the public.



Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for our Nation (2012)


Optics and photonics technologies are ubiquitous: They are responsible for the displays on smart phones and computing devices, optical fiber that carries the information in the Internet, advanced precision manufacturing, enhanced defense capabilities, and a plethora of medical diagnostics tools. The opportunities arising from optics and photonics offer the potential for even greater societal impact in the next few decades. These include solar power generation and new efficient lighting that could transform the nation’s energy landscape as well as new optical capabilities that will be essential to support the continued exponential growth of the Internet.

As described in the color brochure and the full NRC report, it is critical for the United States to take advantage of these emerging optical technologies for creating new industries and generating job growth.

The report assesses the current state of optical science and engineering in the United States and abroad—including market trends, workforce needs, and the impact of photonics on the national economy. It identifies the technological opportunities that have arisen from recent advances in, and applications of, optical science and engineering.


It also calls for improved management of U.S. public and private research and development resources, emphasizing the need for public policy that encourages adoption of a portfolio approach to investing in the wide and diverse opportunities now available within photonics.




Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter(2012)


Nuclear physics today is a diverse field, encompassing research that spans dimensions from a tiny fraction of the volume of neutrons and protons to the enormous scales of astrophysical objects in the cosmos. As described in this decadal survey from the National Research Council of the National Academies, nuclear science is a thriving enterprise; its accomplishments and major discoveries since the last decadal survey are causing a revision of our view of the cosmos, its beginnings, and the structure of matter within it.


This report describes how techniques and instruments in nuclear science are being used to address major societal issues in a number of areas—including medicine, national security, energy technology, and climate research—and concludes by presenting a global context for the field and proposing a framework for progress though 2020 and beyond.


Visit the project page for details. The full report is also available for free, as well as the Report in Brief, and the videos.


Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies (2012)


In the past several years, some energy technologies that inject or extract fluid from the Earth, such as oil and gas development and geothermal energy development, have been found or suspected to cause seismic events, drawing heightened public attention.


Although only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public, understanding the potential for inducing felt seismic events and for limiting their occurrence and impacts is desirable for state and federal agencies, industry, and the public at large. To better understand, limit, and respond to induced seismic events, work is needed to build robust prediction models, to assess potential hazards, and to help relevant agencies coordinate to address them.


Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies identifies gaps in knowledge and research needed to advance the understanding of induced seismicity; identify gaps in induced seismic hazard assessment methodologies and the research to close those gaps; and assess options for steps toward best practices with regard to energy development and induced seismicity potential.


Report in Brief (PDF)


Interim Report-Status of the Study "An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy" (2012)


The scientific and technological progress in inertial confinement fusion has been substantial during the past decade. However, many of the technologies needed for an integrated inertial fusion energy system are still at an early stage of technological maturity. For all approaches to inertial fusion energy there remain critical scientific and engineering challenges.


In this interim report of the study An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy, the Committee on the Prospects for Inertial Confinement Fusion Energy Systems outlines their preliminary conclusions and recommendations of the feasibility of inertial fusion energy. The committee also describes its anticipated next steps as it prepares its final report.


The Role of the Chemical Sciences in Finding Alternatives to Critical Resources: A Workshop Summary(2012)

The Chemical Sciences Roundtable (CSR) was established in 1997 by the National Research Council (NRC). It provides a science oriented apolitical forum for leaders in the chemical sciences to discuss chemistry-related issues affecting government, industry, and universities. Organized by the National Research Council's Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, the CSR aims to strengthen the chemical sciences by fostering communication among the people and organizations - spanning industry, government, universities, and professional associations - involved with the chemical enterprise. One way it does this is by organizing workshops that address issues in chemical science and technology that require national attention.


In September 2011, the CSR organized a workshop on the topic, "The Role of Chemical Sciences in Finding Alternatives to Critical Resources." The one-and-a-half-day workshop addressed key topics, including the economic and political matrix, the history of societal responses to key mineral and material shortages, the applications for and properties of existing minerals and materials, and the chemistry of possible replacements. The workshop featured several presentations highlighting the importance of critical nonfuel mineral and material resources in history, catalysis, agriculture, and electronic, magnetic, and optical applications.


The Role of the Chemical Sciences in Finding Alternatives to Critical Resources: A Workshop Summary explains the presentations and discussions that took place at the workshop. In accordance with the policies of the NRC, the workshop did not attempt to establish any conclusions or recommendations about needs and future directions, focusing instead on issues identified by the speakers. Workshop multimedia and presentations


Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities for Converting U.S. and Russian Research Reactors: A Workshop (2012)


Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is used for two major civilian purposes: as fuel for research reactors and as targets for medical isotope production. This material can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Stolen or diverted HEU can be used-in conjunction with some knowledge of physics-to build nuclear explosive devices. Thus, the continued civilian use of HEU is of concern particularly because this material may not be uniformly well-protected. To address these concerns, the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) held a joint symposium on June 8-10, 2011.


Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities for Converting U.S. and Russian Research Reactors summarizes the proceedings of this joint symposium. This report addresses: (1) recent progress on conversion of research reactors, with a focus on U.S.- and R.F.-origin reactors; (2) lessons learned for overcoming conversion challenges, increasing the effectiveness of research reactor use, and enabling new reactor missions; (3) future research reactor conversion plans, challenges, and opportunities; and (4) actions that could be taken by U.S. and Russian organizations to promote conversion. The agenda for the symposium is provided in Appendix A, biographical sketches of the committee members are provided in Appendix B, and the report concludes with the statement of task in Appendix C.


Research Frontiers in Bioinspired Energy: Molecular-Level Learning from Natural Systems: A Workshop (2012)


In May 2007, the National Academies Chemical Sciences Roundtable held a public workshop on the topic of Bioinspired Chemistry for Energy, where government, academic, and industry representatives discussed promising research developments in solar-generated fuels, hydrogen-processing enzymes, artificial photosynthetic systems, and biological-based fuel cells. Workshop participants identified the need for a follow-up activity that would explore bioinspired energy processes in more depth and involve a wider array of disciplines as speakers and participants. Particularly, workshop participants stressed the importance of holding a workshop that would include more researchers from the biological sciences and engineering, as well as those involved in technological advances that enable progress in understanding these systems.

Building upon the 2007 workshop, the National Academies Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology convened the Committee on Research Frontiers in Bioinspired Energy to organize a second workshop in 2011 which, according to the statement of task, would explore the molecular-level frontiers of energy processes in nature through an interactive, multidisciplinary, and public format. Specifically, the committee was charged to feature invited presentations and include discussion of key biological energy capture, storage, and transformation processes; gaps in knowledge and barriers to transitioning the current state of knowledge into applications; and underdeveloped research opportunities that might exist beyond disciplinary boundaries.


Research Frontiers in Bioinspired Energy is an account of what occurred at the 2011 workshop, and does not attempt to present any consensus findings or recommendations of the workshop participants. It summarizes the views expressed by workshop participants, and while the committee is responsible for the overall quality and accuracy of the report as a record of what transpired at the workshop, the views contained in the report are not necessarily those of the committee.


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