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Goddard Space Flight Center Engineering Colloquium

Date: Monday, October 6, 1997

Pathways to a Sustainable Global Energy System

Speaker: Henry Linden


Political forces are again mobilizing to interfere with the rational development of the U.S. and global energy systems. This time the nominal justification is anthropogenic climate change, but the ideological drivers are the same as those which generated the fictitious "energy crisis" of the 1970s and early 1980s. Poverty is the most pernicious environmental and social pollutant. Yet, energy abundance and the resulting economic, social, and environmental benefits and physical mobility seem to offend certain intellectual and political elites. In this presentation, it will be shown that the global energy system is moving steadily towards sustainability through electrification, decarbonization, and efficiency improvements, thanks to cost-effective technological advances driven by market forces. The outcome of these developments is now quite well defined -- electrification of most stationary energy uses with high-tech renewable or essentially inexhaustible primary energy sources and the use of non-fossil hydrogen as the dominant transportation fuel. During what is likely to be the 100-year transition, abundant global natural gas supplies and ever more efficient power generation and end-use technologies will play an important role in reducing the environmental impact of fossil fuel consumption. As a result of these parallel developments, atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations are unlikely to reach levels that even under the questionable climate sensitivity assumptions used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will cause mean global surface temperature increases in excess of 1.5 degrees C. The major challenge will be to prevent interference by governments of the industrialized world or intergovernmental bodies with the technical and economic drivers that will ensure evolution to sustainability along least-cost pathways without impairment of human social and economic well-being so closely related to adequate and affordable energy services. Another challenge will be to assist the developing world, which is projected to be responsible for 66 percent of the increase in carbon dioxide emission between 1995 and 2015, in adopting the more advanced energy supply, conversion, and end-use technologies that often require larger hard-currency investments.


Henry Linden is Max McGraw Professor of Energy and Power Engineering and Management at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and director of IIT's interdisciplinary Energy and Power Center. He served several years as a member of the Energy Engineering board of the National Research Council. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and, in Britain, a chartered engineer and Fellow of the Institute of Energy. He has served on many federal advisory bodies dealing with energy policy, technology, and regulation beginning with the Kennedy Administration and held a Presidential appointment during the Ford Administration. He has written and lectured extensively on U.S. and world energy issues and has authored or coauthored more than 200 publications and codeveloped 27 patents. His honors include the Homer H. Lowry Award for Excellence in Fossil Energy Research from the U.S. Department of Energy in 1991, the 1993 United States Energy Award from the United States Energy Association, and the 1996 Lifetime Achievement Award of The Energy Daily. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1952, and in 1996 he was inducted into Georgia Institute of Technology's Engineering Hall of Fame.

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