Since the year 2000 the German ministry for research and education (BMBF) organizes the science years, with every year dedicated to another subject area. There was already a year of chemistry, in 2003, but 2010 promises to be at least in part about molecular sciences, since the topic this year is the future of energy. And there is a lot of chemistry in energy.
In the modern era, chemistry and energy have always been closely connected. Oil has to be refined as well as nuclear fuel, and since active desulphurization is required of all coal-fired power plants… But with the dawning age of renewable energy sources and sustainable development sophisticated chemistry will be in demand as well. A self-evident application of chemistry is, of course, the synthesis of Biodiesel and other renewable fuels, but there are less obvious places where alternative energy sources stand and fall with the availability of necessary chemicals.
One example is Lithium. With the slow phasing-out of fossil fuels, electricity will play an ever larger role in mobility. But e-mobiles need good batteries, and the best batteries contain considerable amounts of lithium. Since lithium is rare, it needs to be scavenged from old batteries or other exotic sources in the long run. By chemical means, of course.
Solar energy needs chemists not only for the production of ultra-pure silicon, but also for the technology that turns the stuff into a photoelectric device. And that’s before the next generation of photovoltaic cells (which I already mentioned here), which will entirely depend on organic light-collecting pigments.
There is even more – most designs of wind or wave-action power plants have moving parts that depend on advanced materials and modern lubricants. And even if there will ever be fusion power it still needs purified fuel. In this respect, every new year is a year of chemistry – and it has been like that for at least a century.