Energy Resources in the Future


Beloyarsk Breeder Reactor. Public Domain Image courtesy of Hardscarf

Ken Tomabechi, Former Research Advisor, Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industries, has published his viewpoint on the importance of sustainable and viable approaches to meeting the future energy needs of our ever growing population.  In abstract: Recent statistics indicate that in 2005 the world consumed about 0.5 ZJ (ZJ = 1021 Joules) of energy. If one assumes that the future world population stabilizes at 10 billions, and the people consume a similar amount of energy per capita to that of the people in the presently developed countries, the world will need about 2 ZJ a year. A recent survey of the available future energy resources indicates that the energies recoverable from coal, oil and gas are only 23 ZJ, 6.7 ZJ and 6.4 ZJ, respectively. Other energy resources such as solar and wind have problems of fluctuation due to the weather conditions. However, the energy expected from known Uranium resources by breeder reactors is 227 ZJ and that from Lithium by fusion reactors is more than 175 ZJ. Therefore, it is important to make efforts to develop and use breeder reactors and fusion reactors to supply a major part of the energy need in the future.

The introduction to this article reads:

It is often said that food and energy are the two essential resources to support the modern and civilized society of the mankind. However, if we look at the likely availability of these two important resources in our future world, limitations are foreseeable even for the near future. Therefore, we need to take proper action in order to mitigate these difficulties.

A simple reason for those difficulties foreseeable in the near future has arisen primarily due to the sharp increase of the world population in recent Centuries, in particular since the last Century, as it has been often called: the explosion of the population.

Namely, the world population in the first Century is estimated as about 250 millions, and it increased slowly to around 300 millions in the 12th Century. However, after it reached 550 millions in the middle of the 17th Century, it started to increase rapidly, i.e., 1.17 billions in 1850. Then the world population exploded to 1.6 billions in 1900, 2.4 billions in 1950, and 6.66 billions in 2008, with the recent annually increasing rate of more than 0.081 billions a year.

On the other hand, it is known that food production capability on the earth is rather limited. It is reported that recent cereal production in the world was 2.3 billion tons in a year. This would be able to support 6.3 billion people, if one assumes 3500 kilocalories per person per day, i.e., an average calorie intake of a person in the present developed countries. However, about a half of the cereals produced in the world are currently used for feeding domestic animals. The present average productivity of cereals on the agricultural land in the world is 2.7 tons per hectare. Even with an extremely optimistic assumption that it can be improved to a level of the present European average value of 4.7 tons per hectare, the produced cereals will not be sufficient for the future. Thus, every effort should be made by the world as a whole to stop as soon as possible the present trend of explosion of the human population.

Therefore, for discussing the future energy problems in the present paper, let us assume optimistically that the world will be successful in order to stop the increase of the human population in the near future, at a level of about 10 billions. Concerning the energy supply in the future, let us try to predict an overall picture by reviewing each of the individual energy resources likely available for our descendants, keeping in mind whether sufficient quantities of appropriate resources would be available for our future society. About 16 years ago, the author wrote a review article of energy resources for the future world based primarily on the information contained in the survey of energy resources periodically published by the world energy council every three years.

The present paper is an updated version of this paper, and will include all the conceivable energy resources with our present scientific knowledge; i.e., fossil fuels including coal, oil, natural gas, oil shale, bituminous sands, peat and natural gas hydrates; solar energy resources including solar energy, hydropower, tidal and wave energy, wind, oceanic thermal gradients and biomass; geothermal energy resources including hydro-geothermal energy and dry hot rocks; and nuclear energy resources, including fission of uranium and thorium and fusion of deuterium and tritium.

As is well known, available quantities of individual energy resources may change as the prices of the resources change, because a higher price of an energy resource will result in a larger quantity economically recoverable. However, since the present review intends to predict an overall picture of energy resources likely to be available in the future, availability of resources should be discussed based on the presently consistent statistics developed for various energy resources, rather than trying to investigate the possible future trends of individual resources. The discussions given hereunder are primarily based on the consistent statistics of energy resources that were developed and reported by the World Energy Council in 2007.

Read the full article in PDF format by clicking here


The author found three errors in this paper. The corrections are as following:

(a) 25% in the ninth line from the bottom of page 688 should be 33 %;

(b) Wm-2 in the seventh line from the bottom of page 689 should be W/m2;

(c) GW in the fifth line of page 694 should be GWe.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused to the readers.

Citation: Tomabechi, K. Energy Resources in the Future. Energies 2010, 3, 686-695.

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