, Volume 45, Supplement 1, pp 1–4 | Cite as

Sustainable energy supply and consumption by 2050 and outlook towards the end of the century: Possible scientific breakthroughs

  • Lennart Bengtsson
  • Elisabeth Rachlew
  • Friedrich Wagner
Open Access


A project launched by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) in 2013 identified possible areas of scientific breakthroughs in energy supply and consumption with a long-term perspective up to and beyond 2050.

The project facilitated interactions and information sharing among scientists in Europe and worldwide through electronic communications and two dedicated workshops. A steering committee with eighteen scientists from eleven countries was appointed by the EASAC participating academies (Box 1). The first workshop concentrated on nuclear energy and explored its possible future scientific and technological developments, while the second workshop addressed renewable energies, energy systems and storage (Table 1). The papers presented in this Special Issue were written by experts who participated in the project and benefitted from the opportunities for international information sharing and discussion.
Box 1

EASAC steering committee for the Breakthrough study

Lennart Bengtsson, KVA; cochair,

Elisabeth Rachlew, KVA; cochair,

Dick Hedberg, KVA;

Sven Kullander, KVA; (deceased January 2014)

Olle Inganäs, Linköping, Sweden;

Villy Sundström, Lund, Sweden;

Eva-Mari Aro, Turku, Finland;

Ilkka Savolainen, Helsinki, Finland; (left June 2013)

Matthias Beller, Leibniz, Germany;

Thomas Hamacher, München, Germany;

Johan Carlsson, JRC, The Netherlands;

Samuele Furfari, Brussels, Belgium;

Krzysztof Zmijewski, Warsaw, Poland;

Vicente Carabias, Switzerland;

John Holmes, EASAC, United Kingdom;

Don MacElroy, Dublin, Ireland; don.macelroy@ucd.i.e.

Akos Horvath, Budapest, Hungary;

Constantino Vayenas, Patras, Greece;

Table 1

The project has included the following meetings besides the four meetings of the steering committee: Workshop on the future of nuclear energy, Greifswald, April 8–9, 2013 ( and Workshop on renewables, storage and systems, KVA, Stockholm, September 20–21, 2013 (



Title of presentation

Workshop on the future of nuclear energy

 Hamid Aït Abderrahim

MOL, Belgium

Future Advanced Nuclear Systems And Role of MYRRHA

 Hardo Bruhns

Düsseldorf, Germany

Framework aspects for the use of nuclear power in the longer-term future

 Ákos Horváth

Budapest, Hungary

New projects in Eastern Europe and the sustainability of nuclear energy

 Boris Kuteev

Moscow, Russia

Possible outcome of fusion-fission power plant by 2050 and beyond

 Alex C. Mueller

CNRS, Paris, France

Pyroprocessing and fast reactors by 2050—reflections on pros and cons

Friedrich Wagner

IPP, Greifswald, Germany

More effective energy distribution on a European scale

 Robert Wolf

IPP, Greifswald, Germany

Fusion research and Wendelstein 7-X

 Friedrich Wagner

IPP, Greifswald, Germany

Options of nuclear fusion beyond 2050

Workshop on renewables, storage and systems

 Paul Alivisatos

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA

Nanoscience and the future of the Global Carbon Cycle

 Karl Leo

Technical University Dresden, Germany

Recent progress in organic solar cells: From a lab curiosity to a serious photovoltaic technology

 Markus Antonietti

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Germany

Lactid acid, ionic liquids and energy storage materials—Perspectives of Hydrothermal Biomass Upgrade

 Eli Yablonovitch

University of California Berkeley, USA

Photovoltaics, high efficiency together with low cost

 René J. Janssen

Technical University Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Efficient polymer solar cells and first steps beyond that

 Frank Dimroth

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Germany

Photovoltaic research for the support of European energy transition

 Magnus Borgström

Lund University, Sweden

Nanowires with promise for high efficiency photovoltaics

 Anders Hagfeldt

Uppsala University, Sweden

Hybrid inorganic–organic photovoltaics—HI-OPV

 Klaas Hellingwerf

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Cyanobacteria as the ultimate photo-catalysts of the conversion of carbon dioxide into chemical commodities and liquid fuel, driven by either sunlight or electricity

 Per Gardeström

Umeå Plant Science Center, Sweden

Energy and green chemicals from forest products

 Sascha Rexroth

Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

Rational design of cyanobacteria for hydrogen production

 Vincent Artero

CEA, France

Molecular science for artificial photosynthesis: from bio-inspired catalysts to nanomaterials

 Erwin Reisner

University of Cambridge, UK

Artificial photosynthesis with enzymes and synthetic catalysts integrated in nanostructured hybrid materials

 Daniel Nocera

Harvard University, USA

The artificial leaf (was hindered to participate)

 Styrbjörn Styring

Uppsala University, Sweden

Artificial photosynthesis

 Michel Armand

The National Center for Scientific Research, France

Electrochemical energy storage, activity on all fronts

 Thomas Hamacher

Technical University Munich, Germany

Integration of renewable energies: competition between storage, the power grid and flexible demand

 Hermann-Josef Wagner

Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

Wind energy systems- present status and ecobalances

 Godfrey Boyle

The Open University, UK

Renewables-intensive Energy Systems for the United Kingdom

 Ujjval Vyas

Alberti Group, USA

The importance of failure and the future of renewable energy

 Sture Larsson

Former Technical Director and deputy Director General at Svenska Kraftnät, the Swedish Power System Operator (TSO), Sweden

Requirements for system adaptions to intermittent energies

The main sources of energy supply addressed during the project were carbon-based fossil fuels, solar photovoltaics, biofuels and nuclear. Whilst energy efficiency was an essential issue throughout the discussions and special consideration was given to the energy efficiency of engines and appliances, particular attention was given to the future of electricity grids, electricity storage and fuel cells. Lastly, concerning energy consumption, there was an important focus on energy for transport.

One important conclusion from this project is that the energy issue should not be split up into independent contributions: electricity, heat, mechanical work, etc. The transformation to a largely CO2-free energy supply requires that the chemical energy forms are replaced predominantly by electricity. Even more than in the past, an energy policy and development strategy requires keeping in mind the total picture—energy generation, energy transportation and energy usage and each area calls for increased research. Even if a timespan for this transition of more than thirty years does seem long, we nevertheless have to conclude that fossil energy will still be in the energy mix for a long time globally. Therefore, we have to accept the unavoidable need to develop carbon capture and storage techniques, even if Europe could escape to employ this technology. MacElroy (2016) points out clearly the present situation and what research is needed for the future for closing the carbon cycle. Furthermore, the technological development in nuclear energy could alleviate the question of long-term storage of high level nuclear waste. Nuclear fusion research has the chance within the next decade to demonstrate the feasibility of this concept and to demonstrate that a fusion reactor could be an option in the long-term energy mix which is highlighted in the article by Horvath and Rachlew (2016).

Wind and solar power have shown a remarkable growth in many countries inside and outside Europe. In countries like Germany, the added installed power level matches peak demand. The efficiency of the solar cells has reached levels where solar cell panels could give considerable contributions to the energy mix in most European countries. Still, new materials might emerge with even better photovoltaic properties. Several basic science research areas within the fields of solar and biofuels are highlighted. The article by Inganäs and Sundström (2016) highlights the possible development for photovoltaics to enter in a large scale with more efficient, resilient and economic solar panels and takes a look into the research development of the materials needed. The scene of the many functionalities of biofuels is painted by Aro (2016) in her article, which highlights where worldwide research is flourishing.

The introduction of intermittent electricity sources into the production requires more planning and changes to the distribution net which is modelled and discussed in the paper by Kuhn et al. (2016). In many countries most of the fossile contributions come from the transport sector which would need a transformation to electric vehicles and/or a combination with fuel cells. Both these issues are discussed in the articles by Furfari (2016) and by Niakolas et al. (2016).

Some basic science and major technology research areas have not been included, such as development of chemical and electrical storage systems, and development of new materials (for nuclear reactors, for batteries, for solar panels, for cables), in order to focus this issue more towards the generation of the energy needed for the future.

In summary, the seven papers included give an overview of fields in energy research which could promise essential progress in low-carbon energy supply and use.



The EASAC breakthroughs project has been financially supported by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences through Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation, the Nobel Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, the Swedish Natural Science Research Council, the Swedish Energy Authority, the Greifswald branch of IPP, MPG and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).


  1. Aro, E.-M. 2016. From first-generation biofuels to advanced solar biofuels. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0730-0.Google Scholar
  2. Furfari, S. 2016. Energy efficiency of engines and appliances for transport on land, water, and in air. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0734-9.
  3. Horvath, A., and E. Rachlew. 2016. Nuclear power in the 21st century: Challenges and possibilities. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0732-y.Google Scholar
  4. Inganäs, O., and V. Sundström. 2016. Solar energy for electricity and fuels. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0729-6.Google Scholar
  5. Kuhn, P., M. Huber, J. Dorfner, and T. Hamacher. 2016. Challenges and opportunities of power systems from smart homes to super-grids. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0733-x.
  6. MacElroy, J.M.D. 2016. Closing the carbon cycle through rational use of carbon-based fuels. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0728-7.Google Scholar
  7. Niakolas, D.K., M. Daletou, S.G. Neophytides, and C.G. Vayenas. 2016. Fuel cells are a commercially viable alternative for the production of “clean” energy. Ambio (Suppl. 1). doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0731-z.

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© The Author(s) 2016

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lennart Bengtsson
    • 1
  • Elisabeth Rachlew
    • 2
  • Friedrich Wagner
    • 3
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany and Environmental Systems Science CentreReadingUK
  2. 2.Department of PhysicsRoyal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden
  3. 3.IPP, Max Planck GesellschaftGreifswaldGermany

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