August 2003. Europe experienced one of its hottest ever summers. An estimated 35000 casualties were reported. According to the projections of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, even more extreme weather events lie ahead. The disconcerting aspect of this is the overwhelming consensus among climate change scientists that human activities, particularly those producing greenhouse gases, are responsible for much of the extreme weather conditions we are experiencing.

We are responsible and aware of it. Despite a growing environmental concern and despite wondering what kind of legacy we want to leave for the future generations, we are not yet ready to give up on our lifestyles. The spiralling energy demand and the depletion of underground stocks of fossil fuel at a rate faster than Nature can replenish, require researchers to investigate alternative sources of energy. This search has been an ongoing process over the past decades. As early as 1970, John Bockris pioneered the field of ‘hydrogen economy’, which he later summarized as ‘[…] the ‘hydrogen economy’ means that hydrogen would be used to transport energy from renewables (at nuclear or solar sources) over large distances, and to store it (for supply to cities) in large amounts’.

In this issue of Materials Today, we investigate how to meet our future energy needs. Cahen and Lubomirsky set the framework by explaining the issues and illustrating the connection between materials and energy. Sandén then takes us on a journey through times, from the industrial to the solar ‘revolution’, or how to convert solar energy efficiently to fulfill our needs. Benniston and Harriman then raise a series of critical issues regarding artificial photosynthesis. Among the many issues inherent in a move toward a hydrogen economy is the reliance on fuel cells. Their cost is a major barrier towards their commercial viability. Sealy explores the alternatives. While the ultimate technological challenge should be the large scale production of hydrogen from renewable sources, the urgent issue is how to efficiently store hydrogen on-board hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. Chen and Zhu review the recent progresses in hydrogen storage. Finally, Ward and Dudarev present the enormous potential of fusion as an economically competitive way to generate power.

How we meet our future energy needs is the most pressing crisis facing the world. In order to successfully achieve our energy quest, we have to keep in mind that the links between the policy makers and the research community have to be strengthened. To help governments make the right decision, policy makers have to be educated by the research community. And for the scientific community to understand the topical needs, they have to be aware of the challenges the governments are facing.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(08)70240-2