Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future

  • AuthorInterAcademies Council
  • Release Date1 October 2007
  • Copyright2007
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5.4 Conclusion

Competition for oil and natural gas supplies has the potential to become a source of growing geopolitical tension and economic vulnerability for many nations in the decades ahead.

In many developing countries, expenditures for energy imports also divert scarce resources from other urgent public health, education, and infrastructure development needs. The transport sector accounts for just 25 percent of primary energy consumption worldwide, but the lack of fuel diversity in this sector makes transport fuels especially valuable.


    Introduce policies and regulations that promote reduced energy consumption in the transport sector by (a) improving the energy efficiency of automobiles and other modes of transport and (b) improving the efficiency of transport systems (e.g., through investments in mass transit, better land-use and city planning, etc.).
    Develop alternatives to petroleum to meet the energy needs of the transport sector, including biomass fuels, plug-in hybrids, and compressed natural gas, as well as—in the longer run—advanced alternatives such as hydrogen fuel cells.
    Implement policies to ensure that the development of petroleum alternatives is pursued in a manner that is compatible with other sustainability objectives. Current methods for liquefying coal and extracting oil from unconventional sources like tar sands and shale oil generate substantially higher levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutant emissions compared to conventional petroleum consumption. Even with carbon capture and sequestration, a liquid fuel derived from coal will at best produce emissions of carbon dioxide roughly equivalent to those of conventional petroleum at the point of combustion. If carbon emissions from the conversion process are not captured and stored, total fuel-cycle emissions for this energy pathway as much as double. The conversion of natural gas to liquids is less carbon-intensive than coal to liquids, but biomass remains the only near-term feedstock that has the potential to be truly carbon-neutral and sustainable on a long-term basis. In all cases, full fuel-cycle impacts depend critically on the feedstock being used and on the specific extraction or conversion methods being employed.

Needed actions

    Governments should introduce (further) policies and regulations aimed at reducing energy consumption and developing petroleum alternatives for use in the transport sector.
    The private sector and the S&T community should continue developing technologies adequate to that end.
    The general public’s awareness of sustainability issues related to transportation energy use should be significantly increased. Again, the media can play an important role in this effort.

Document Date: October 1, 2007
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