Chapter 11. Futurepedia – A Platform for Crowd Foresight

3. Resource Technologies Overview

Main concept: Resource technology advances, aided by accelerating IT and nanotech, will perennially allow us to solve our self-induced scarcities and misuses, but if we were more foresighted, prudent, and collaborative, they would do so with far less conflict, catastrophe, and waste.

Leader’s challenge: Ensuring resource Abundance and growing Sustainability.

Summary sentence:

“Next gen tech, enterprise, & policy will solve our Grand Challenges (energy, water, food, CO2), but only under stress.”

Area topics:

Energy. We’re swimming in it, and will continue to move slowly to cleaner forms, barring climate disaster. Nat gas is cheap ($1.90 gal/equiv), and will remain so (US has 2K tcf). We’re switching out coal for nat gas. Filling stations and home NG compressors will grow. Electric-NG-Gasoline hybrids best transition solution. World has 1.2T bbls of proven oil, 38 yr supply, and 10T in shale and tar sands oil. We’ll never use most of it. Oil will stay below $200/barrel to keep alternatives from outcompeting it. “$100-200T of oil still to be sold.” Alternatives continue slow advance. Solar half as cheap every 10 yrs, doubles base every 2 yrs. Nanoengineered algal biofuels allow renewable transportation. H2 fuel cells have 10^5X further future efficiency potential (Daniel Nocera, MIT). Wind, geothermal, nuclear have 10% niches. Solar and artificial photosynthesis long term.  Just 1/10,000th of solar flux is our entire global energy use. Post 2030, Fusion could play a role.

Water. 1 billion people presently without safe, clean water, 2.5B have no sanitation. But water purification is simply a nanotech problem, and we’re rapidly learning how biology does it. Cellphones are now more prevalent than toilets. Leapfrog tech: Composting, desalinating, plumbing-free toilets. DEKA’s Slingshot water purifier.

Food. Agrobiotech, GMOs, aquaculture. Longer term: Cultured meat, vertical farming, aquaponics, aeroponics.

Population. Simon’s “Ultimate Resource.” World pop is flatlining. We reach 8.5 to 9B in 2040 (Next 30 yrs for 1.5 to 2 billion more, half in Asia, half in Africa) then we either stay flat or shrink. We’ve already hit “Peak Child” (Peak Births, 135M/yr total, in 1990 and Peak Fraction of Children, <15yrs, as % of Society, 1.9B, just 27% of population, in 2011). Better sanitation, water, and basic public health (lower infant mortality) greatly reduce birth rates in the last two growth areas (Asia, Africa). Growth of human population is almost over. Growth of robots and machine minds is just beginning.

Climate and Ecosystem Resources. We’ve overfished and acidified the oceans, overfarmed our soil, killed off and threatened many species. But deforestation isn’t accelerating, it’s saturating. CO2 will saturate as well beginning mid-century, as carbon capture and next gen energy emerge. All our raw materials supplies are greater than ever, and the smart mining and drilling robots have barely gotten started. Sustainable resources management is also emerging everywhere. Environmental issues are serious, but they are also overstated. We are innovating and legislating our way back to sustainability. Europe leads the way, the US is being dragged along, as we prioritize freedom/innovation over sustainability. Like individual vs. society, innovation vs. sustainability is our central tension. Both are key.

Books: Abundance, Diamandis etal, 2012; Power Hungry, Bryce, 2011; Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg, 2011.

Leadership Questions:

  1. What are your critical resource research, acquisition, R&D, hiring, training, measuring, & mgmt strategies?
  2. What key disruptions or threats must you anticipate in a world of regular critical resource shortages?
  3. What problems could be addressed and opportunities taken if you had more resources and sustainability?
  4. How can you get measurably more of the most valuable resource capabilities, at an efficient ROI?