Chemistry professor discusses alternative energy need, possibilities

By Dylan Grosser | 3/26/17 9:17pm

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GVL / Luke Holmes - Thomas Meyer held a lecture in the Loosemore Auditorium on Thursday, Mar. 23, 2016.

by Luke Holmes / Grand Valley Lanthorn

The human race has burned half of the world’s fossil fuel supply in 200 years. Eventually, fossil fuels will run out, and humanity will have to find another source of energy to provide electricity. George McBane, a chemistry professor at Grand Valley State University, said there are few sources of energy that are sustainable in that they will likely “outlive our species,” the main one being the sun.

Thomas Meyer, who works on trying to make sun-based energy applicable and a reliable alternative energy source to fossil fuels, spoke to GVSU students Thursday, March 23, about how he has tried to achieve that.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes - Thomas Meyer is introduced to speak. Thomas Meyer held a lecture in the Loosemore Auditorium on Thursday, Mar. 23, 2016.

Meyer is a distinguished professor of chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was invited to speak under the Arnold C. Ott Lectureship in Chemistry about the biggest technical problems that inhibit clean, sustainable energy sources from overtaking fossil fuels. His lecture was titled "Our Energy Future. Science and Technology Challenges of the 21st Century."

In 2017, energy continues to have a major impact on our lives. Energy makes up seven to 10 percent of the cost of living and seven percent of trade worldwide. A lot of daily activities in developed countries involve the use of energy, where most of it comes from petroleum.

Meyer’s work has mainly been concentrated on finding a way to capture solar energy and store it to be used later. Currently, solar energy that is generated by solar panels must be used right away, or else it goes away. He talked to students about his work in making solar energy practical in that way and what has come out of that. He said installing solar panels on rooftops is a great early way to start using solar energy, as the cost for having solar farms is going down.

With fossil fuels being eaten up quickly, eventually the cost of petroleum will be greater than or equal to the cost of other alternative energy sources. Meyer put an emphasis on how the world should flip the current status quo on energy, from basing all our energy needs on petroleum to basing them on sustainable energy.

In his lecture, Meyer talked about many different energy options and their pros and cons. He called on the U.S. to establish a “smart grid” that would connect all major power cores to maximize their use. He said it’s important to utilize all forms of energy but to have a focus on sustainable energy because it’s cost efficient in the long run and better for the environment.

He said the need to switch to sustainable energy resources is important for the environment. The year 2016 was declared by NASA to be the hottest year on record, and sea levels are also higher than they have ever been.

“Overwhelming evidence points to human-created climate change with significant costs and extraordinary risks to society and natural systems,” Meyer said.

Meyer held another event the following day Friday, March 24, on his research in solar energy conversion called "Making Oxygen from Sunlight and Water."

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