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SPECIALSECTION

CREDIT: SOLAR MILLENNIUM

Getting Better
To Get Bigger
THE END OF THE AGE OF FOSSIL FUELS MAY BE IN SIGHT, BUT WHAT COMES AFTER
is still a bit of a blur. There are numerous alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas
from electricity generated by solar farms to biofuels brewed from plants. Scaling up these alternative sources of energy, however, has proved a challenge. This
special issue explores the progress that researchers are making in developing
better alternatives, and the technical, political, and economic pitfalls associated
with scaling them up.
As Kerr (p. 780) notes in a News feature, alternative energies have big
shoes to ll. Fossil fuels are widely used in part because they have some unique
advantages over other sources of energy. A coal-red power plant, for instance,
can keep running when the Sun isnt shining or the wind dies down, and fossil
fuels typically get more energy out of a hectare of land or a liter of raw material than the alternatives. It took about a century to build the energy system
that runs on fossil fuels, though, and Kerr reports that it could take just as long
to develop alternatives. Still, both Kerr and Cho (p. 786) report that there is
potentially more than enough energy available from the Sun, wind, and other
renewable sources to replace fossil fuels. Clery (p. 782) reports on one ambitious multinational effort to harness renewable sources to generate electricity
in North Africa and then transmit the power across the Mediterranean Sea to
Europe. Service (p. 784), however, reports on how high hopes in the United
States for one emerging alternative, cellulosic biofuels, have waned because of
technical and economic setbacks. Kintisch (p. 788) notes that even a relatively
mature alternative technology, wind power, is now encountering public opposition owing to the environmental and aesthetic impacts of wind turbines.
Such grand visions rest in part on vigorous continuing research. Three
Perspectives take an in-depth look at how researchers hope to scale up biofuels
development successfully. Somerville et al. (p. 790) survey the most promising land crops for large-scale development, and Wijffels and Barbosa (p. 796)
discuss algae: a source that holds promise because of both its high content of
lipids (which more closely resemble petroleum than sugars do) and its low
land-area requirements. Richard (p. 793) considers the changes in transport
and processing infrastructure that will be necessary to ship biofuels from eld
to fueling station.
Finally, nuclear power is a perennial player in the carbon-neutral energy discussion. Grimes and Nuttall (p. 799) review a two-stage approach to the expansion of ssion-based electricity generation, with the upcoming 20 years focused
on shoring up current technology, followed in later years by the design and construction of next-generation plants that reprocess spent fuel for greater efciency
and waste minimization. Together, all of these pieces show that interest in scaling
up alternatives remains high and that many attractive new energy sources exist
despite the considerable challenges involved in their development.

Scaling Up
Alternative Energy
CONTENTS
News
780

Do We Have the Energy


For the Next Transition?

782

Sending African Sunlight to Europe,


Special Delivery
Is There a Road Ahead
For Cellulosic Ethanol?
Energys Tricky Tradeoffs
Out of Site

784
786
788

Other Siting Problems

Perspectives
790
793
796

Feedstocks for
Lignocellulosic Biofuels
C. Somerville et al.
Challenges in Scaling Up
Biofuels Infrastructure
T. L. Richard
An Outlook on Microalgal Biofuels
R. H. Wijffels and M. J. Barbosa

Review
799

Generating the Option of a


Two-Stage Nuclear Renaissance
R. W. Grimes and W. J. Nuttall

See also Editorial p. 727, Policy Forum p. 762,


Perspective p. 773, and Science Podcast.

DAVID MALAKOFF, JAKE YESTON, JESSE SMITH

www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 329 13 AUGUST 2010


Published by AAAS

779

Downloaded from www.sciencemag.org on October 8, 2014

INTRODUCTION