In Powering the Future, Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin transports us two centuries into the future, when we’ve ceased to use carbon from the ground. Boldly, Laughlin predicts no earth-shattering transformations will have taken place. Six generations from now, there will still be soccer moms, shopping malls, and business trips. Firesides will still be snug and warm.
How will we do it? Not by discovering a magic bullet to slay our energy problems but through a slew of fascinating technologies, drawing on wind, water, and fire. Powering the Future is an objective yet optimistic tour through alternative fuel sources, set in a world where we’ve burned every last drop of petroleum and every last shovelful of coal.
©2011 Robert B. Laughlin (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“The value of the book rests in the author’s thought-provoking assessment and his relentless faith in the earth…A work of intricate research free of hype, offering serious pros and cons with a sometimes whimsical flourish.” (Kirkus Reviews)
I discovered the author several years ago when I read "A Different Universe." I bought this book solely on how much I enjoyed his ability to tell a story and convey his ideas.
This book was not a let down. Laughlin applies his analytic mind to the many real problems that will or can occur in attempting to meet our energy needs for the rest of our time here.
Welcome to the Carbon Future, at least as far as energy for transportation is concerned. The author clearly and unequivocally sets for the case that carbon is an optimum store of chemical energy, and that we humans just better get our heads around that.
I greatly respect the author's credentials and mastery of the subject, but I would have like a good deal more detail in various points. He seems to possibly be somewhat over focused on the pure energetics and doesn't allow for the fact that fuels come from a value chain with lots of factors... aggregation, processing, distribution, etc. And it's the 'output' of this process that determines the winner, not the fundamental nature of the product itself, although this is a very important part of the story. This is manifest in his doubts about the ability of bio sourced coal proxies (he names many, algae and miscanthus being a couple of the stronger competitors) to compete in a world where coal, as abundant as it is, naturally is getting more expensive to mine and transport while the bio side is busy moving up learning curves... such as for example the development of algae that 'produce' an oily product that will separate directly, so the algae itself can be left in it's watery, sunlit soup.
All this is at the margin though, and the basic case, that we should plan to live in a world with a lot more, not less, fossil fuel burning, is compelling.
This is not a book about the greenhouse effect and it's consequences per se, but I would certainly have enjoyed more from this author on this topic, as it is fundamental to understanding how the 'externalities'.... if any other than a warmer Siberia and Canada... will affect the costs implicit to the fossil vs. bio competition.
"Fascinating, informed, objective"
Mr Laughlin's book distills a lifetime's work into a summary of the fundamentals of fuel science, the economics of the business, the human behaviours that have driven the development of the energy business to date, the landscape of available alternatives to oil and the likely development of the energy market if democratic systems and their associated market dynamics continue to operate as they have to date. You may not like the future he anticipates; he may not be too keen on it either, but this book is enormously valuable in both entertaining and informing the listener. It is also exceptionally well narrated.
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