Two scientist revolutionaries get their due

The dilemma of providing abundant energy to humanity while avoiding the seemingly inescapable environmental, social, economic and political pitfalls associated with energy production and distribution is arguably one of the most vexing problems of modern times. In order to encourage advancements in energy research and recognise potentially revolutionary energy advancements, a group of Russian scientists, politicians and leaders of industry established the Global Energy Prize in 2002. Widely seen as an energy research equivalent of a Nobel Prize, it has been awarded to deserving researchers annually since 2003.

Since Russia’s foreign exchange is driven predominantly by its export of oil and gas to countries both east and west, one would expect that advances in these industries would be prime candidates for the Global Energy Prize, and in fact several of the laureates over the years have been honoured for their seminal work in these areas. Yet groundbreaking research in other energy fields, such as fission, fusion and theoretical work that is critical to many areas of energy technology, have also been found to be deserving of the prize.

This year, however, marked a surprising turn of events. The 30-million-ruble prize (about one million US dollars) is normally shared between two or three honourees. This year was no exception, with one Russian and one American sharing the prize. But the research for which the two were recognised was not related to either fossil fuels or nuclear energy. They were honoured for their research into technologies that enable new levels of energy efficiency and recycling.

Russia’s energy prize has thus affirmed the importance not only of developing new energy sources but of husbanding those resources as responsibly as possible. The honours bestowed upon the two laureates this year are evidence of a global vision that transcends the mere question of profits for the companies that supply the world’s energy. Instead, Russia’s highest honour for advancements in the field of energy technology reveals a broad understanding that we’re all in this together, and that not only energy resources but the entire range of natural resources must be managed with care and resolve.

One of the award winners is an American guru of energy energy efficiency.

During the past thirty years, most areas of the United States have seen per capita electricity demand rise by about 50 per cent. The glaring exception to this statistic is California, where demand has remained stable for the last three decades. There is one man who has been recognised as the leading cause of this happy anomaly: a physicist named Arthur Rosenfeld.

The other top honouree, Russian Philipp Rutberg, wants to change the way people use and recycle resources by using plasma recycling technology to make garbage collection and recycling a profitable enterprise.

The two laureates of the 2011 Global Energy Prize are revolutionaries in the most positive sense of the word. Their technological advances are truly global in scope and promise to improve the lives of people in every nation.

This commentary is part of Eco-Business’ interactive “ask the energy experts” event being held in partnership with the Global Energy Prize. To post your tough questions to Tom and the other panelists, click here.

Tom Blees is an advanced energy systems consultant from California. He is the author of Prescription for the Planet – The Painless Remedy For Our Energy & Environmental Crises. Blees is president of The Science Council for Global Initiatives [www.thesciencecouncil.com], and is a member of the Global Energy Prize selection committee.

About The Global Energy Prize

The Global Energy Prize is one of the world’s most respected awards in energy science, awarding over US$1million every year for outstanding energy achievements and innovations.

Thus far, the Prize has been granted to 24 scientists from around the globe, including past Laureates from the US, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Ukraine, Russia, and Japan. The President of the Russian Federation participates in each year’s award ceremony held at the conclusion of a week-long celebration of the awardees’ work, Laureates’ Week.  Other world leaders who have supported the prize include the former US President George W. Bush, former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, former French President Jacques Chirac and current Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

The Global Energy Prize rewards innovation and solutions in global energy research and its concurrent environmental challenges. The degree to which a development contributes to the benefit of humanity is a key driver in deciding the recipient of the Prize.

To join the global energy debate, click here.

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