Where is James Bond’s Q, Dr. Robotnik of Sonic the Hedgehog fame or Back to the Future’s Doc Brown when you need them? It just might take people with the determination and creativity of these famous fictional inventors to come up with the game-changing energy breakthroughs the world sorely needs right now.
World energy demand is projected to increase by a third between 2010 and 2035, and without changes to our current system we may be hard pressed to line up the energy sources we’ll need to sustain an ever growing planet.
While the future may be murky, when put into proper perspective, the situation doesn’t seem hopeless. When you think about it, the energy challenge is not unlike other formidable struggles our pioneers faced and conquered over the last century or so. When the chips were down, great men and women rose to the occasion and relentlessly pushed for improvements.
Polio, one of the most frightening illnesses in 1950s North America, has almost been eradicated worldwide, thanks in part to American doctor Jonas Edward Salk who developed the first vaccination against the disease that paralyzes children.
The rights of women have been elevated in many corners of the world, thanks to the Famous Five and other courageous groups like them. And advances in engineering and planning have made large cities cleaner and healthier places to live.
Often, the problems of our past have been overcome by an unwillingness to accept the status quo, resilience in the face of failure and collective action toward a solution. When it comes to our energy challenge, however, our debate seems to be polarized. Whether the subject is greenhouse gas emissions, pipelines or oil sands, it sometimes seems constructive, fact-based dialogue is missing in action along with cooperation and collaboration.
Despite less than fertile conditions, thought, there have been some out-of-the-box ideas for tackling aspects of our energy challenge that would make our fictional innovators proud.
From the technology community, the American Scientific magazine recently showcased seven radical and imaginative proposals aiming to use energy more efficiently and reduce emissions, among them magic air conditioners, carbon-sucking salts and solar gasoline.
There have also been some interesting though less exotic ideas put forth closer to home. International integrated energy company Sasol is looking at building a gas-to-liquids facility (PDF) in Alberta’s industrial heartland to convert natural gas into transportation fuels. An aboriginal group called G Seven Generations Ltd. is proposing a rail link to transport crude from the oil sands to the marine export terminal in Valdez, Alaska, as an alternative to a pipeline across the Rocky Mountains. And not to be outdone, the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative is exploring the field of synthetic biology through the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition to address challenges in oil sands extraction and reclamation.
Constructive contributions needed
Like any ingenuity, these ideas have their strengths and weaknesses and supporters and detractors. Some ideas may prove viable and attract the required capital and stakeholder support while others won’t even get off the drawing board. For us, passing judgment is beyond our scope. What’s significant here is that these ideas have been propsoed in the spirit of helping to solve a problem. To the proponents of such ideas, we say good work and continue to let great innovators of the world - fictional or otherwise - show you the way.