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Andrea Frank
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Ernest J. Moniz
Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics Co-Director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment

What are you working on?

My work focuses on addressing the energy and environmental challenges for the 21st century. There are three major issues. Firstly, there is tremendous pressure to increase the energy supply. Even with substantially increased energy effi ciency, there will be a doubling of primary energy demand and perhaps a tripling of electricity use by mid- century. That is quite substantial, particularly when one understands that we currently have a completely fossil fuel dominated energy infrastructure and that, historically, the time frame for major change in the energy infrastructure has been about fi fty years.

The second major issue is energy security, especially as it relates to the supply of oil and natural gas. Not only are there complicated geopolitical issues due to the instability and unpredictability of the Middle East, but there are also geological issues, such as whether oil production is going to peak sometime in the next ten, twenty, or thirty years because of a need to access resources that are more diffi cult and expensive to produce. If it does, then there will be an exacerbation of some of the security concerns. Furthermore, let me add that the oil and natural gas supplies are by no means the only security concerns associated with energy. There are infrastructure security issues, such as protecting the distribution networks for energy. And yet another problem we face is the possibility of international development of nuclear power leading to nuclear weapons proliferation.

The third major issue is the environmental consequences of energy use. Climate change goes to the very heart of the energy infrastructure because fossil fuels account for 85% of our primary energy use. The problem with fossil fuels is that they produce carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas mitigation challenge is to control carbon dioxide emissions, while, at least today, still having fossil fuels as the dominant energy source. This is a major paradox and a major concern. If one sets a doubling of pre-industrial carbon dioxide
concentrations as a benchmark for entering into a danger zone for climate change, then we will exhaust our carbon dioxide emissions budget in approximately sixty years.

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Andrea Frank