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The International Year of Chemistry Young Leaders Team
The urban habitat is the epicenter of several critical challenges encompassing urban infrastructure, mobility and consumerism.
Upwards of 3 billion additional city dwellers aspiring to a modern lifestyle are expected to emerge in the next 40 years, driving up demand for a range of resources including energy, food and water. . This soaring demand and resource usage will occur at a time when the discovery and extraction of new resource supplies will become increasingly challenging, and when mankind will have to reduce its carbon emission to maintain climate change to a sustainable level. An increase in the supply of resources will be required in addition to a step change in the productivity of the extraction, conversion and use of resources.
The scope of the challenge is enormous. Cities will have to tend towards zero carbon, and ideally, (zero?) resource footprint. In doing so, building energy efficiency and transport fuel efficiency will play a forefront role in enabling a step change in productivity gain.
First, the potential for building efficiency accounts for 30% of the total opportunity for increasing energy productivity.REF If captured in full, raising the energy efficiency of buildings would reduce energy demand by 20% more than the global use of energy by shipping and air transport combined. Chemistry will play a key role in enabling per instance:
- Advanced insulation materials such as phase change materials or energy efficient glazing materials to enable passive regulation of building indoor temperature.
- Advanced electronic materials such as the photonic chips to enable intelligent communication systems.
- Advanced materials for zero emission technologies in decentralized and renewable power generation integrated to buildings such as new type of resins and composite materials for wind turbine blades, structural and electro-active materials solar PV cells.
Second, the potential of fuel efficiency of the transport sector, particularly internal combustion engines (ICEs) is phenomenal considering that ICEs will still likely account for more than ¾ of the vehicle fleet by 2030.REF Improving fuel efficiency of these vehicles is therefore critical, and chemistry will play a key role in enabling further light weighting and scaling up the third generation of bio-fuel based on algae. Chemistry will also have a critical enabling role in the mass deployment of EV/HEV vehicles by enabling, among other, advanced materials for the next generations of batteries and energy management systems.
Chemical innovation alone will not be able to solve these challenges. Industry will drive the innovation thrust but only if governments set the appropriate framework through:
- Friendly policies to accelerate the deployment of less resource intensive innovations (e.g. solar FIT, direct capital investment in existing building refurbishment) and mitigate the negative effects of the transition process on stakeholders.
- Enforcement of a cradle to cradle lifecycle impact perspective to incumbent/existing products and technologies to take under account their full environmental cost (e.g. carbon tax, total carbon footprint)
- Long term investment in scientific education in additiona to consumer and business education to accelerate the behavioral change of society towards low resource usage models.
- Long term funding commitments towards fundamental research support where the seeds of tomorrow’s innovation will first sprout.