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Powering the Future

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  124 ratings  ·  20 reviews
In Powering the Future, Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin transports us two centuries into the future, when we've ceased to use carbon from the ground--either because humans have banned carbon burning or because fuel has simply run out. Boldly, Laughlin predicts no earth-shattering transformations will have taken place. Six generations from now, there will still be soccer ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Basic Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.63  · 
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Jason Linden
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
While there are certainly interesting bits to this book, mostly, he repeats his primary thesis (we will use fossil fuels until they run out and then use what's cheapest) over and over and over again. Perhaps most aggravating is his almost total dismissal of the implications of climate change while expecting us to take seriously some ideas about energy storage and harvesting that, at the moment seem rather far-fetched. This isn't to say we shouldn't take them seriously, but that he makes plenty o ...more
Fraser Kinnear
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Such a crazy cool book. Laughlin uses first principles thinking as well as common-sense benchmarks to describe in laymen’s terms how we are likely to create and store energy as our fossil fuels run out (in about 200 years).

For energy generation, his bet is on our creating synthetic petroleum, thanks mostly to its superior energy density and our civilization’s existing capital investments. Synthesis will require carbon sources, hydrogen sources (likely water electrolysis) as well as other energy
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is weird overall. You could skip chapters 2 and 3 entirely. Not really of much help except for the part about fast breeding nuclear reactors.
Interesting, yet partially overkill of information paired with a lack of knowledge about the future.
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Dies ist ein Buch, das verspricht, die Energieproduktion in 200 Jahren unter die Lupe zu nehmen, wenn die fossilen Brennstoffe verbraucht sind. Dafür überträgt der Autor den Lebensstil von heute unverändert in die Zukunft, und deckt uns mit Zahlen, Berechnungen und fremden Begriffen zu. Man kann ja nichts anderes von einem Physiker mit Nobelpreis erwarten oder?

Ein Beispiel wie Robert B. Laughlin mit den Zahlen umgeht: "Ist man bereit, den Speicher ganz zu leeren und nicht nur den obersten Meter,
D.L. Morrese
Jun 15, 2017 rated it liked it
The author, a professor of physics at Stanford, discusses various possible ways of obtaining and storing energy in the future. I remain skeptical about many of his forecasts, but one insight that I suspect is true is his assertion that we as a species will always opt for whatever source of energy is cheapest. For the foreseeable future, he claims this will be fossil fuels - oil, coal, and natural gas. Once these are exhausted (a couple hundred years hence), we'll probably opt for nuclear, with s ...more
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Laughlin explains that, at the rate we are using carbon-based fuels, supplies will be depleted in a couple hundred years. What will replace these fuels? Whatever is the cheapest in the future! He explains the pros and cons of alternatives, including nuclear energy, burning today's landfills, solar and wind energy, deep sea storage and the robots which will be required, converting animal waste, and more. While I found this all very interesting, most of the details were over my head! ...more
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book is only for people that know a lot about energy, and it is out of date. The author has a bias against PV solar and wind power which are rejected as expensive, but goes on to praise other expensive expensive forms that will be chosen once fossil fuels get expensive. There is good information here on energy uses and limitations, but realize this is not an evenhanded discussion.
Jul 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting ideas, but poorly written. Lots of technical terms and concepts scattered throughout a single idea makes it hard to see the point the author is trying to make. Ideas are quite scattered as well, jumping from one to the other in a train of thought that I have trouble following. Could have really been simplified and edited down by several pages, and I'm only on chapter 5 at this time.

On completing, I would say you could easily skip some of the chapters, especially the last one.
Dave Heisley
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I recently saw "Crude Awakening", a documentary on the coming oil production peak and subsequent depletion and it really captured my interest. I also recently read "Why the West Rules for Now", where Morris posits that maximum civilization levels seem to be correlated to energy consumption per capita, which was an ecological limit set by photosynthesis/solar irradiance up until the exploitation of coal started the industrial revolution. The intersection of my interests in the rise and fall of ci ...more
Gregg Sapp
I got a pre-pub copy for review in Library Journal. The following is my review (please note that LJ holds copyright):

LAUGHLIN, Robert B. Powering the Future: How We Will (Eventually) Solve the Energy Crisis and Fuel the Civilization of Tomorrow. Basic. c 212 p. notes. 978-0-465-02219-9, $26.
Whether this book is ultimately optimistic or pessimistic, or just honest is a matter of interpretation . In his “armchair journey” into the Earth’s energy future, physicist and Nobelist Laughlin transports r
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recent-favorites
Excellent book. Looking at the future of energy production through the twin lenses of physics and economics was a good mix. Even if his view of the future economics of energy production (that the lowest cost energy will ultimately win out because no one will pay for a higher cost alternative--or pay the taxes to support subsidies for a higher cost alternative) turns out to be inaccurate, it is a likely scenario and therefore worth using as a filter for presenting the options. And either way, the ...more
Edward Cramp
May 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
Laughlin’s discussion is interesting, even if not always agreeable. His talk of effects over geological time is a novel way of demonstrating that we are protecting us and the forms of life with which we are familiar, not the environment. It shows that climate change and reducible pollutants are a problem for the current dominant life, not the whole of nature.

He seems to believe strongly in the rational egoist actor of conventional economics. To him, the law of the jungle in competition for chea
Stewart Lade
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Laughlin's consideration of the economics around future alternative energy sources along with the efficacy of various technologies to deliver energy in the volume required to power the future puts practical boundaries on what is feasible. Whether we want to hear it or not, he correctly assumes that the future driver of energy sources are the same as we have today, namely what is the most profitable mix for the private enterprise suppliers. He convincingly argues that it will inevitably be carbon ...more
Brian Swain
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Prof. Laughlin explores in fascinating depth the prospects for energy discovery and usage in the far future (~200 years out), a time when he presumes that all fossil fuel options will have been exhausted and mankind has no choice but to develop and implement alternatives. He examines the future of "traditional" alternatives like nuclear, hydro, biofuel, solar, and wind, as well as tackling somewhat more hypothetical options like undersea mining, tidal, etc. It's an overview that will really make ...more
Sean Goh
Apr 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
A good look complete with numerical calculations on what the future of our power generation might look like.
Key takeaways:
that carbon is indispensable for transport fuels (read cars and planes),
that price will be the deciding factor,
that the magnitude of some sources of energy are much larger than others.
that a plutonium economy is likely to be the default in a 100 years unless some renewable source takes over.
that energy storage will be the key to making intermittent sources (wind and sun)
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Al Gore and environmental doomsayers will not like this book. But anyone that wants a comprehensive but simple explanation of energy and its associated costs and benefits will enjoy the unique non political logic employed to make critical points relevant to now and the future.

Money and politics,and much of it is based on simple energy and its uses.
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
The guy is a better speaker than writer. Interesting, but after his talk slightly disappointing.
Nov 14, 2012 added it
fairly detailed and a little tough to get through the details, but full of ideas about what happens *after* all the oil runs out.
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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Robert Betts Laughlin (born November 1, 1950) is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. Along with Horst L. Störmer of Columbia University and Daniel C. Tsui of Princeton University, he was awarded a share of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics for their explanation of the fractional quantum Hall effect.
Laughlin was born in Visalia, California.

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