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Energy Security and the Future: A Perspective

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay
Bombay, India

Monday, March 27, 2006

To understand adequately the meaning of the term "energy security", it is worth taking a snapshot of a few of the trends that have shaped human existence in the past half century. From 1950 to 2000, the world population rose from 2.5 billion to 6 billion people. The world economy expanded by a factor of seven. Water use tripled — as did grain production. The demand for seafood increased fivefold. The number of automobiles globally grew from 53 million in 1950 to 539 million in 2003. And with the introduction of commercial jet aircraft in the late 1950s, air travel volume ballooned, from about 28 billion passenger-kilometers at mid-century to more than 2.9 trillion in 2002.

Each of these trends — not only the growth in auto and aircraft use, but also the increase in water and grain consumption, and the sheer growth in the number of consumers — can be measured in terms of energy consumption. Energy has become a critical variable in the world economy. Naturally, with explosive growth in demand, the competition for energy resources is becoming increasingly intense. This competition lies at the root of energy security concerns.

The Challenges of Energy Security

Before I try to offer my perspective on strategies for achieving energy security, let me describe a few of the conditions that make the present picture so challenging.

The Global Dependency on Oil

The first condition is the disproportionate global reliance on oil. In an energy-hungry society, oil makes up around 37 percent of the global energy diet, to the tune of about 85 million barrels per day. Oil dominates the transportation sector, and oil combustion accounts for more than two-fifths of all carbon dioxide emissions.

And yet oil is a finite resource. We may discover more oilfields, but no amount of "resource management" will enable nature to replenish its oil deposits. In fact, oil production has already leveled off or declined in 33 of the 48 largest producers, including 6 of the 11 members of OPEC. And this tapering off in production, coupled with the continuing growth in demand, has resulted naturally in a smaller margin of spare capacity. As recently as 2002, spare oil production capacity exceeded global consumption by about 10 percent. In four short years, that margin has declined to less than 2 percent.

The result has been evident to consumers everywhere, in a sustained leap in the price per barrel of oil. Americans spent 17 percent more for energy in 2005 than the year before — an increase that accounted for more than 40 percent of the rise in the U.S. consumer price index. If oil remains at $60 per barrel through the end of this year, the U.S. will spend $320 billion on oil imports for 2006.

The Global Energy Imbalance

To broaden this perspective somewhat, consider how increases in energy consumption have corresponded directly to industrialization and enhanced living standards. A brief history of western nations' energy consumption illustrates this point. Before the Industrial Revolution in the West, energy consumption consisted largely of muscle-power (both animal and human) and wood. But as fossil fuels became more available (first coal, then oil and natural gas), and as energy intensive machines became more ubiquitous, energy consumption skyrocketed. Per capita energy consumption worldwide is now roughly 13 times higher than in pre-industrial times, despite a tenfold increase in the population in the past 300 years.

A parallel is to be found in the current global energy imbalance. Some analysts see a single defining factor as separating the high living standards of industrialized nations and regions from populations that subsist on more traditional lifestyles: namely, the abundance of low-cost, readily accessible energy.

The differences are stark. The wealthiest 20 percent of the world consumes 80 percent of the resources, while about 1.6 billion people lack access to modern energy services. As the economist Jeffrey Sachs notes, more than 20,000 people die every day simply because "they are too poor to stay alive" — meaning that they die from malnutrition, contaminated water, or diseases that would be easily preventable or treatable if their living standards were on a par with the developed world. As India well knows, development cannot occur without the energy infrastructure to provide the necessary support.

The Arrival of Giants: India and China

But as more developing countries industrialize, working to provide the infrastructure and services for their citizens to correct these inequities, the competition for energy resources could further intensify. China and India alone have a combined population of 2.5 billion, and proven formulas for sustaining high economic growth rates. As these two countries move into energy-intensive stages of development, claiming a proportionate share of oil and natural gas reserves, it is easy to see how prices would soar still higher.

Consider a simple projection, based only on India, China, Germany, Japan, and the United States. In 2005, U.S. oil consumption per capita was about twice as much as that of Germany or Japan, 15 times as much per person as in China, and 28 times as much per person as in India. If India and China, over the next decade or more, were to increase consumption to just half the U.S. rate — matching the consumption of Germany or Japan — the result would be an increase of 100 million barrels per day, more than double current production levels. Few experts would find such an output to be realistic.

Many industry experts believe that the increase in oil prices will lead to self-correction in supply, because it will provide a market for extracting oil from less accessible reservoirs, as well as from unconventional oil shale and tar sands, processes which, up to this point, have been too costly. But even should this prove true, it is instructive to note the severe impact of rising prices on poor countries — many of whom import virtually all of their oil. According to the World Bank, a sustained increase of $10 per barrel in oil would reduce the GDP by an average of 1.5 percent in countries with a per capita income of less than $300 per year. For countries like Nepal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the amount lost through such an increase would equal twice the amount of foreign assistance they receive from the U.S.

Energy as Political Currency

With more intense competition also comes greater vulnerability to the use of oil and similar resources as a political tool. On this front, energy security demonstrates its direct relevance — not only to economic security, but also to civil security. An importing country, sensing its vulnerability to the loss of oil or natural gas imports, may feel pressure in its relations in areas other than energy with a supplier country. As margins of production have narrowed, the markets have already become more volatile — and supplier countries have great sway over the economics of importer nations. This could have political effects. As the German minister for foreign affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, wrote recently in the International Herald Tribune, (week of March 20) "We must not allow energy to become the currency of power in international relations."

The recent Russian decision to temporarily close off the flow of natural gas to Ukraine reverberated through Europe, which also gets half of its natural gas from Russia. The journalist Thomas Friedman has reported increasing concern among Chinese strategic planners regarding the military vulnerability of the Straits of Malacca — the narrow passage through which all oil tankers pass en route from the Middle East to China and Japan. And earlier this month, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar cited the threat made by Iran's Interior Minister to use oil as a weapon if needed in the stand-off over Iran's nuclear program. As Lugar put it, "Oil and natural gas are the currency through which energy-rich countries leverage their interests against import-dependent nations such as ours."

What happens if we reach the point where supply simply cannot keep pace with demand? Or if prices take another sharp rise — impacting most the countries that can least afford to pay? In my view, it is urgent that we begin working cooperatively on strategies to avoid, rather than heighten, an intensified competition. As Tom Friedman says, there is great risk involved "if the Great American Dream and the Great Chinese Dream and the Great Indian Dream and the Great Russian Dream come to be seen as mutually exclusive in energy terms." And let us not forget the dreams (and needs) of the rest of the world — Africa, South America, ASEAN, and so on.

A Planet of Limited Resources

And there is still another consideration. Whatever we think of the past half century of explosive growth in human population and consumption, we cannot ignore a simple fact. Throughout this period of human expansion, the natural capacities of the Earth remained the same. The capacity of the water tables or ocean fisheries or atmosphere of the planet to absorb the impact of human activity in a sustainable fashion has not changed. Eecologists are beginning to ask a sobering question: if current trends continue, at what point might human demands surpass the natural capacity of the environment? Is there a limit to how many people the planet can sustain? At what level of consumption per capita? At what living standard?

As the largest populations of the world achieve the highest economic growth rates, the results can be astounding, particularly when visualized in concrete terms. It is one thing to say that the Chinese economy has averaged a 9.5 percent growth rate over two decades. It is quite another to picture new automobiles being added to the streets of Beijing at a rate of 30,000 per month — one thousand new cars every day!

Indian growth rates have been somewhat lower than those of China. The Indian annual income of roughly $2500 per person compares with an average of about $4600 per person in China. But a 2003 study by Deutsche Bank in Germany suggests that, the combination of ongoing economic reforms and a growing work force is likely to lead India to overtake China in the next 15 years, as the fastest growing economy in the world — over roughly the same period that India becomes the most populous nation.

The Indian economy has doubled in the past 15 years. Direct foreign investment is 40 times what it was in 1991. The stock index has tripled in just three years; in fact, the BSE Sensex just crossed the 11,000 mark for the first time last Tuesday (March 21). And at the same time, in just over two decades (from 1980 to 2001), India managed to reduce the percentage of its people living at subsistence level poverty — less than $1 per day — from over 50 percent to 35 percent. That is a clear success; it is a trend that must be continued.

But the enormous scale of these efforts naturally leaves a trail. Efforts to increase grain production have led to falling water tables. Urban migration — with now more than 35 Indian cities with populations over 1 million — adds strain to sewage systems that were already severely overtaxed. The state of rivers in the Noyyal basin of Tamil Nadu — too contaminated to be used even for irrigation — reflect the effects of years of textile factory emissions. And India's carbon emissions have increased by 88 percent from 1990 to 2004.

These challenges illustrate a simple truth. Given the size and growth rate of the world population, the overwhelming development needs in many regions, and the resultant resource demands, we need new, innovative approaches to energy security. Even assuming that the competition for energy resources is overcome, if China, India and other nations succeed in raising the living standards of their billions of citizens to join the global middle class — but do so in a manner that copies models of industrial development used over much of the past century by North America and Europe — the environmental repercussions will be felt worldwide.

Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC, paints a gloomy picture: "Humanity is now on a collision course with the world's ecosystems and resources. In the coming decades, we will either find ways of meeting human needs based on new technologies, policies, and cultural values, or the global economy will collapse."

Environmentally responsible growth is not a task for India alone. This is a responsibility shared by every nation (and corporation) with the means to make a difference. But given the size and impact of countries like India, China, and the U.S., their participation and leadership will be essential.

Seeking Innovative Solutions: the Benefits of Collaboration

This overview of challenges helps to clarify the meaning, and the objectives, of energy security. Energy security must be seen as a national priority, but to be responsible, decisions must be undertaken with a sense of their global impact. Energy security also implies a diversity of supply — an avoidance of depending too heavily on any one energy source. It encourages maximizing self-sufficiency through the use of indigenous resources, while pursuing the contracts and alliances that will help to secure reliable imports. And energy security is enhanced by employing measures to increase the efficiency of consumption.

Technological innovation will be a key driver of success in achieving each of these energy security objectives. The capacity for innovation, in turn, is greatly enhanced by multi-sector, multi-national cooperation.

Our two countries, India and the United States, stand on the cusp of a new epoch of technological cooperation. The agreement recently signed by Prime Minister Singh and President Bush is hugely controversial in both countries — primarily on the issue of nuclear technology exchange. There are still hurdles to be overcome, minor adjustments that could wield considerable influence over how this agreement is implemented. But one thing seems certain. US-India cooperation has been growing at a furious rate in recent years, and — regardless of specific outcomes tied to the new agreement — our scale of interaction is poised for explosive growth.

A host of U.S. and Indian analysts have been offering their insights on how we should or should not go about this partnership. In my view, much of this rhetoric can be encapsulated under the rubric of "mutual benefit, coupled with mutual respect".

Identifying Strengths and Challenges

First, we must proceed with an understanding of the strengths each country brings to the table, as well as the challenges each country faces. India offers a large and growing pool of scientists, engineers, and technologists, a proven track record of innovation in business process outsourcing (BPO), a reputation for quality business practices and strong work ethics, and low operational costs. The strengths of the United States rest in its cutting-edge technology, design, and product development sectors, its financial resources, its market-based economy, its history of entrepreneursip, its risk tolerance, its industrial support for R&D, and its huge consumer market. Depending on the field of technology, the degree and relevance of these strengths vary; but just as in BPO exercises, the point, in each area of cooperation, will be to evaluate how to make our strengths complement each other, so that they are multiplied for mutual benefit.

Fifteen years of economic reforms in India have achieved remarkable success, but a stiff set of challenges remain. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who has worked closely over the years with the Indian Government, summarizes these challenges in four points (while noting that progress has been ongoing for a decade on each). (1) Market reforms must be extended to all sections of the Indian economy; (2) Solid investments must be made in basic infrastructure — roads, ports, water and sanitation, and energy; (3) Even larger investments must be made in health and education, particularly for the lower castes and outcastes; and (4) The budget must be found to pay for these infrastructure improvements and social investments.

The United States, for all its technological and economic dominance, is not without its own set of challenges. Much of the discussion that has gained the headlines in recent years has related to national security: the war on terrorism, the need to heighten controls at ports and other potential targets, and the effect of new domestic security restrictions on civil liberties.

But for some years, I have been urging a national dialogue to stimulate new policies to address other threats: namely, threats to American intellectual security. I have referred to these threats collectively as the "Quiet Crisis" — the risk to our national capacity to innovate, due to a looming shortage in the U.S. science engineering workforce, and under-investment in research and development. The dimensions of the "Quiet Crisis" are embodied in a number of elements:

  • The imminent retirements of today's American scientists and engineers — the generation inspired by the "space race" and the call by President John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon.

  • The flagging mathematics and science test scores of U.S. students on international examinations, and the fact that fewer American young people are pursuing science and engineering degrees than 15 or 20 years ago.

  • The changing demographics of the U.S. student population, which has created a "new majority" of young women and ethnic and minority youths — a population that traditionally has been severely underrepresented in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology fields.

  • A decrease in the number of international scientists and students coming to American shores to work and to study — or to remain if they do — as globalization "flattens" the planet and provides new opportunities for these individuals to study and work in their countries of origin, or elsewhere.

  • The decreased investment by the U.S. Government in basic research — which has declined by half, as a percentage of GDP, since 1970.

The U.S. and India also share many challenges — including those I have outlined related to energy security. Given the growth in demand, there is unlikely to be a single "fix-all" solution to provide clean, abundant, inexpensive energy. There will be, rather, a mix of solutions, each of which will depend heavily on scientific and technological innovation: innovative conservation technologies; innovative discovery, extraction, transportation, and emission control technologies for fossil fuels; and innovative alternative fuel technologies.

Multi-Sector Cooperation

Innovation on this scale requires the cooperation of multiple societal sectors. Each sector of a democratic society — government, industry, and academia — will naturally have different perspectives and points of emphasis. Government may be concerned first and foremost with issues of security, protection, and social services. The industrial sector, motivated by profit and productivity, may be focused on applications and bringing products to market.

Universities are about two things: first, the development of human capital; and second, the development of new knowledge, and the innovative diffusion or exploitation of that knowledge, for commercial and societal benefit. These are the currencies in which universities trade: human capital and knowledge.

The potential of India for investing in human capital may be richer than that of any other nation. The number of Indian young people under the age of 25 is nearly double the entire population of the United States. Even with 10 million students enrolled in Indian universities, the proportion remains small.

In the foreseen expansion of U.S.-India technology cooperation, the roles available for universities of both countries are exciting. In recent years, with the advent of fiber optics, PCs, cell phones, and wireless broadband, countries, institutions, and even individuals have gained a level of access to one another that has leveled the playing field as never before. To quote Tom Friedman again, "The world is flat." The development of what I call "flat world protocols" — work flow software, digitized content, and seamlessly connected Web applications — has opened up a universe of equal opportunity in which anyone with the necessary access, ingenuity, and motivation can compete, regardless of his or her ideology, ethnicity, gender, or geographic location.

These "flat world protocols" facilitate business process outsourcing, but they also are enabling new avenues for universities and other research institutions to collaborate on R&D, product testing, and even classroom instruction. I should note, for the record, that more Indian students are enrolled in American universities already than students from any other country.

International cooperation among Indian and American government, corporate, and academic research institutions promises to bring unprecedented richness to the innovation enterprise. Interdisciplinary, inter-sector research is becoming the hallmark of innovation. Properly developed and implemented, for mutual benefit and with mutual respect, these partnerships also offer a vehicle for building cross-cultural understanding and trust.

The only remaining step is to identify the fields best suited for this collaboration.

Energy Security: Fields Ripe for Exploration

Despite the enormous amount of discussion devoted to the nuclear aspects of the proposed U.S.-India technology exchange, the joint statement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh covered a much broader range of advanced technology topics. For example, agreement was reached on a knowledge initiative on agriculture, with a 3-year financial commitment to link universities, technical institutions, and corporations to support education and joint research. The two countries promised to cooperate on topics ranging from intellectual property rights and civil space projects to maritime security, cyber-security, and disaster relief.

Time does not permit me to speculate on the opportunities for international cooperation in each of the fields covered. But I would like briefly to touch on a number of technologies related to our topic today: energy security.

The Nuclear Controversy and Beyond

I have generally avoided delving into the controversy regarding the nuclear technology exchange, but it is instructive to observe that there have been vigorous discussions in both countries on the pros and cons of this part of the agreement. It is also worth pointing out the broad variation in reasoning — from one country to the other — as to why this deal is or is not a good thing.

In the U.S., supporters of the deal say this is a way to bring India, at least in part, into the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). U.S. voices opposing the deal counter that it will allow India to divert more uranium to produce more bombs. In India, opponents insist it will emasculate the Indian nuclear weapons program, by restricting the movement of materials, equipment, and even expertise between civilian and military facilities. Indian supporters of the deal point out that India has retained the right to choose which reactors — including future reactors — will be considered civilian or military, and therefore which will come under international safeguards.

In the larger community, views are also split. Many arms control think tanks have insisted that the U.S.-India deal rewards India for developing nuclear weapons, sets a double standard, and will encourage other countries to pursue their own weapons program. Other analysts disagree, noting that India has never joined the NPT, therefore has never violated a legal commitment, and has never encouraged nuclear weapons proliferation.

What can I add to this flurry of discussion? First, I would say that many of the concerns — from all sides — are best understood in the historical contexts that have shaped the foreign policies of both countries. But that context is changing, and the pace of change is fast. Between two democracies of this size and stature, with shared interests and ever-greater technological interface, it could be argued that the question was not whether cooperation in the nuclear area would take place, but only when and on what terms.

Second, any responsible discussion of this issue must take place within the larger context of energy security. India has a staggering appetite for energy to fuel its development needs, and the fastest growing nuclear energy program of any country on earth. With eight reactors totaling 3600 megawatts under construction, plans to increase nuclear capacity tenfold by 2022, and by a factor of 90 by mid-century, it would be no small feat for India "go it alone". As a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the body that provides safety oversight to the U.S. nuclear industry, I believe it important to share insights on nuclear safety — as well as nuclear safety technology and hardware — for a program of this size, particularly when it is a program that will serve the interests of roughly one-quarter of the world's population. In fact, this kind of cooperation in nuclear safety, worldwide, was a key motivation for my spearheading the formation of the International Nuclear Regulators Association (INRA).

Third, nuclear energy in many ways satisfies the optimum requirements for enhancing India's energy security. Nuclear power produces virtually no sulfur dioxide, particulates, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, or greenhouse gases. The complete cycle, from resource extraction to waste disposal, emits only about 2-6 grams of carbon equivalent per kilowatt-hour. This is about the same as wind and solar — if one includes construction and component manufacturing — and roughly two orders of magnitude below coal, oil, and natural gas. Moreover, unlike small wind and solar facilities, nuclear can supply the large baseload capacity needed to support large urban centers.

Fourth, innovation in both technology and policy has a proven track record in the nuclear field. In the mid-1990s, not long after President Clinton appointed me to be the NRC Chairman, I shifted the agency and the U.S. nuclear industry to "risk-informed, performance-based" regulation, to sharpen and extend the use of probabilistic risk assessment and operational performance as the basis for directing the greatest resources and attention to issues and plants presenting the greatest risk. This has paid rich dividends. In 1990, the average U.S. nuclear plant produced electricity at 71.7 percent of capacity. Since 2000, unit capability has run consistently in the 90 percent range — significantly augmenting electricity production, and resulting in enormous savings in the form of reduced shutdown times and operating costs — at the same time that safety has been greatly enhanced.

Innovation in nuclear energy is a continuing process. Although no new U.S. nuclear plants have been ordered since the 1970s, U.S. nuclear vendors have continued to design advanced reactors for NRC certification, and have marketed these designs to other countries. The U.S.-led Generation IV International Nuclear Forum is moving forward toward R&D on six innovative reactor concepts, such as the "Molten Salt Reactor" and the "Supercritical Water Cooled Reactor". And other advanced and innovative concepts are moving toward implementation. Russia has licensed the KLT-40, a 60 megawatt reactor design that can be floated and transported by barge. It takes advantage of Russian experience with nuclear powered ice-breakers and submarines, and it can also be used for district heating. The Republic of Korea intends to construct by 2008 a one-fifth-scale demonstration plant of its 330 megawatt SMART pressurized water reactor, which will also include a demonstration desalination facility. And South Africa recently approved initial funding for developing a demonstration unit of the 168 megawatt gas-cooled Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), to be commissioned around 2010.

Fifth, India's ambitious "three-stage program" for nuclear energy, which began with pressurized heavy water reactors, and is progressing to fast breeder reactors, is intended to culminate in switching to the thorium fuel cycle. Such a reactor system offers significant potential for safety and non-proliferation benefits, given that thorium is not fissile, and a thorium reactor cannot go critical. And in view of the fact that India holds the world's largest thorium reserves, the continuation of R&D on the thorium fuel cycle seems an eminently sensible step toward energy security.

I am also pleased to see that India has signed on, as of last December, as a full partner to ITER — the international tokamak experiment that hopes to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of harnessing fusion as a power source. This $12 billion, 30-year project ranks as one of the largest cooperative international research ventures of all time. Alternative schemes for magnetic confinement fusion, such as spherical tokomaks and stellarators, have been making progress in terms of achieved operational parameters.

Innovation in Petroleum Fuel Technologies

Fossil fuels — primarily oil, coal, and natural gas — currently supply 85 percent of the world's energy. Despite concerns regarding greenhouse gas emissions and energy security, most analysts do not project significant reductions in fossil fuel dependency until at least 2025, and only gradually thereafter.

Currently, for every gallon of petroleum-based fuel discovered, two gallons are consumed, and estimates differ about the extent of remaining petroleum reserves. Former Amoco geologist Colin Campbell and others believe that world oil discoveries peaked in the 1960s, and that both discovery and production will continue to decline. By contrast, Dr. Steve Koonin, Chief Scientist for British Petroleum, says the world's known oil reserves will last at least 40 years and probably 20 more beyond that.

However, given that remaining reserves will be in increasingly less accessible locations and forms, what is less certain is how much it will cost to extract and deliver these fuels to users. Successful innovation will be an important factor. There is a broad range of R&D underway in nanotechnology, and India could well play a key role in the anticipated "nanotechnology revolution". My own university is exploring carbon nanotubes, nanoparticle gels, polymer nanocomposites, nanostructured biomolecule composite architectures, and other nano structured materials. In the present context, I would point out that nanotechnology research offers an array of possibilities relevant to the petroleum industry. For example:

  • Improved elastomers, critical to deep drilling, to improve high-temperature and high-pressure performance.

  • Nano-sensors for improved temperature and pressure ratings in deep wells, and unfamiliar or hostile environments.

  • Nanoparticulate wetting carried out using molecular dynamics simulations that show promise in developing solvents for heterogeneous surfaces and porous solids.

  • Small drill-hole evaluation instruments to reduce drilling costs, and to provide more environmentally benign evaluation due to less drill waste.

There are many more such examples with direct relevance to exploration, extraction, and transport of petroleum fuels — including the use of smart metals and other smart materials. But the point is that there will be great benefit in multi-sector, multinational cooperation in bringing these innovations to fruition.

Liquefied Natural Gas

Over the next 25 years, the global consumption of natural gas is expected to increase more than that of any other primary energy source — an increase driven by rising oil prices, the fact that natural gas releases somewhat less greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil, the ease of investing in combined cycle gas turbines, and, naturally, to urge to improve overall energy security by the diversity of supply.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) will be vital to this expansion. A common difficulty with natural gas has been getting the fuel from the source to the user. India is still working with Pakistan and Iran on the details of a $7 billion, 2100 kilometer pipeline that would transport natural gas from Iran. But for many countries, such pipelines are not feasible, due to distance, geographic barriers, or political instability in the intermediate regions.

LNG technology is helping to reshape that picture. Volume reduction, by a factor of about 600, enables LNG to be transported on double-hulled ships designed to provide the required pressurization and cryogenic cooling. Because the extracted gas must be liquefied, stored in specially designed export facilities, transferred to these special tankers, received at special terminals, and reconverted to a gas, the LNG production cycle requires considerable investment, and generally involves multi-decade contracts. But the LNG industry says that production and transport costs are dropping, and that the LNG industry is on the verge of a vigorous expansion.

Clean Coal

As part of the recently signed agreement, India will also participate in "FutureGen", a project to build a coal-fired plant that will produce hydrogen and electricity with zero emissions, using carbon capture and storage. Coal currently accounts for over half of India's energy. The fact that most of India's coal deposits tend to be high in either ash or sulfur would indicate that advancement in this field should be of benefit to both countries.

Deep Gas Hydrates

I am particularly pleased to note that India and the U.S. will cooperate on marine research for deep gas hydrate exploration. Methane, the chief constituent of natural gas, is locked in ice, and generally is found in hostile, remote settings, such as the Arctic permafrost or deep ocean. Once considered a nuisance, because it clogs natural gas pipelines, methane hydrate's reputation has improved as scientists have discovered that it could be an remarkably abundant new energy source. Worldwide estimates of the natural gas potential of methane hydrate approach 400 million trillion cubic feet — an astonishing figure when you consider the world's currently proven gas reserves at 5,500 trillion cubic feet. In fact, the worldwide amounts of hydrocarbons bound in gas hydrates are estimated conservatively to be twice the amount found in all known fossil fuels on Earth.

But the technology to mine these deposits has proved elusive. Gas hydrate drilling comes with its share of environmental concerns, including fears that drilling could release greenhouse gases, or trigger ocean landslides. Traditional proposals for recovering gas from hydrates usually involve dissociating or "melting" the substances on site. Marathon Oil Corporation — and in the interest of disclosure, I should say that I am a Member of the Board of Directors of Marathon Oil — is one company exploring ways to produce and to ship stable slurries of natural gas hydrate crystals. If even a small percentage of the methane hydrate resource could be made technologically and economically recoverable, in an environmentally sound manner, the rewards would be great indeed.

Innovation in Renewable Energy

The quest to enhance and diversify the range of renewable energy sources has also become a target of technological innovation. I was interested to read that India's President Kalam, in his August 2005 Independence Day speech, urged increasing the use of renewable energy from 5 to 25 percent of India's energy mix. India already ranks fourth in the world in the wind power industry. President Kalam also called for greater innovation in photovoltaic solar cells, which have obvious advantages for off-grid use in powering village homes and workshops. He encouraged basic research on a carbon-nano-tube (CNT) based photovoltaic cell, with the goal of reaching 50 percent efficiency — as well as research on organic solar cells, dye-sensitized solar cells, and next generation cells.

India also ranks fourth in the world in ethanol production, primarily from sugarcane and cassava, producing about 1.75 billion liters in 2004. It is bio-diesel refining that is seen as a possible solution for rural villages. Indian bio-diesel is produced for about one-third of the cost of bio-diesel in Europe and the U.S.. A number of villages have been successful in using bio-diesel to power a micro-grid and village irrigation pumps — and then selling the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions reductions. President Kamal, noting that India has 30 million hectares of available wasteland, called for planting the Jatropha plant for bio-fuel — and called for R&D on Jatropha strains with better production and increased oil content.

Enhancing the Efficiency of Energy Consumption

Finally, I would emphasize that there are many opportunities to enhance energy security through innovation which, on the surface, do not appear to be in an energy-related field. For example, agricultural enhancements — such as mutation breeding to improve the yield or quality of crops, or the use of nanotechnology to enhance fertilizer or pesticide delivery systems — could conceivably help India to increase the productivity of its limited farmland. But careful selection could also be used to select new plant strains that are less energy intensive to grow — requiring, for example, less irrigation, or giving a higher yield for the same amount of processing.

A similar type of energy efficiency gain can be achieved through effective water management techniques. The World Bank last year called India's water situation "extremely grave", with urban water needs expected to double (and industrial water demand expected to triple) by 2025. As with energy security, addressing India's water management challenge will no doubt require a mix of solutions. But in a highly impressive project that proved that innovation does not always have to be ultra-high-tech, the Center for Science and Environment in India (CSE) was awarded the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize for its work on rainwater harvesting. After studies showing that more than 40 percent of India's annual precipitation does not reach India's rivers and groundwater, CSE initiated a program that worked with local residents to channel rooftop rainwater to kitchens, bathrooms, and into city groundwater supplies. These rainwater harvesting techniques are now mandatory in Bangalore and Chennai. Not only is this a success in terms of water resource management, it also achieves an energy efficient method of water delivery, thereby reducing energy consumption.


What I have presented is just a sampling of the multiple areas in which technological innovation can unlock additional keys to energy security — for India, for the U.S., and for the world at large. With this brief summary, I have only scratched the surface.

Under Prime Minister Singh, the Indian Government has signaled its intention to provide the benefits of improved infrastructure and social services to rural areas — as well as "electricity for all". These are serious challenges — but, given India's proven track record of development, it is clear that these commitments are not spoken lightly. In fact, this trip has instilled in me an even greater eagerness to work in concert with you toward the achievement of some of these goals.

With Russia holding the presidency this year of the Group of Eight, President Putin declared early on that the topic of energy security would claim center stage. So when the energy ministers of the G8 countries met last week in Moscow, for a spirited round of discussions on a broad range of energy security issues — including the clear revival of interest in nuclear power, it was no coincidence that India and China were asked to join in the meeting. As with the United States, India has reached a stature where leadership is not an option; it is automatic. Your decisions — on energy security, on development, and on sustainability — will have an impact far beyond your borders. The only question is how you choose to lead. And I have every confidence you will choose wisely.

International cooperation, I am convinced, is the wave of the future for technology innovation. The era of redundant research is far from over, but it is fading. Collaboration — among disciplines, among multiple sectors of society, and among nations — holds the promise of innovation at an unprecedented pace. And given the challenges facing us, of development, of energy security, and of a planet with limited resources, it is that pace that is needed. International cooperation will enable us to multiply our strengths, with mutual respect, for mutual benefit.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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