The Future of Energy
“IT BEGINS WITH ENERGY.”
This is how President Barack Obama began the segment of his Feb. 24 address to the U.S. Congress about his administration’s plans for managing the future of energy. With dwindling resources, everything from economic stability and national security to human quality of life and the health of the planet is dependent upon what industrialized nations do now to change how we fuel our way of life. In order to move into the future of energy, many are looking back, toward two fuels — nuclear power and coal — that some see as the fuels of our past.
But environmental and economic realities are now, as always, spurs to ingenuity, and researchers have long been developing ways to scrub these forms of energy of their problematic aspects. Despite the fact that the construction of nuclear power plants has slowed drastically in the last 20 years, plant designers have been learning from old designs and are developing Generation IV nuclear facilities with more standard designs, reduced fuel use and waste, and more sophisticated responses to daily energy demands. The disposal of nuclear waste continues to be a concern that will require the development of not only sound policies and containment sites, but sound standards as well.
The standards of ASTM Committee E10 on Nuclear Technology and Applications have been vital to the nuclear power industry since the committee began working with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the 1960s on standards for structural materials. Committee C26 on Nuclear Fuel Cycle has been developing standards for the reprocessing and disposal of nuclear waste since its inception in 1969. Both of these groups are keeping a close watch on changes in their industry and continue to develop and maintain relevant standards.
Cleaning up coal’s impact on the environment is within the grasp of science, and ASTM Committee D05 on Coal and Coke is developing and planning standards for the future of this energy. Their work continues to provide test methods and practices for determining carbon and natural gas content. Existing and future D05 standards can help researchers determine the suitability of types of coal for advanced technologies such as gasification and liquefaction as well as mixing with biomass materials, all of which show promise in cleaning up this fossil fuel.
To move forward, sometimes we have to look back to find the lessons and value in technologies of the past. For the future of our economic stability and the health of our planet, it all does begin with energy.