Materion in the Energy Industry
It is no surprise that energy has become the hot topic in the 21st century. Based on International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) predictions, primary energy supply will need to grow 75% by 2050 to maintain pace with demand. Regardless of whether or not global warming can be attributed to human generated carbon dioxide (CO2) and green house gases, most countries have decided to enact laws to reduce CO2 emissions. These facts put mankind in a dilemma: we need more energy, yet we need to reduce emissions. For over a century now, humans have relied heavily on petroleum and coal for the generation of energy. More recently, natural gas and nuclear energy have come into play as energy demand increases. Like with any other commodity, energy prices are set by supply and demand, and thus evolution is needed if prices are to be kept under control.
Combustion processes to generate electrical energy are not 100 % efficient. Over many decades we have evolved from steam generators powered by burning wood and coal, to turbines that can use gasified coal and bio-waste. With every new technology the goal was very simple: generate energy more efficiently, at the same or lower cost. Carbon-based energy sources have become extremely efficient, but we cannot reduce carbon emissions to zero without the use of carbon dioxide sequestrators (the capture and long-term storage of CO2 ) or other techniques. Alternative energy sources like nuclear and renewable have become more and more attractive for this reason and because the breakeven price point is getting closer. Nuclear energy is far ahead compared to renewable energy sources, which still need to mature and reduce generation costs. Nevertheless, it is clear that by 2050 it is possible that humanity will have an even distribution of energy sources that will efficiently reduce carbon emissions to mid 1900s levels and at costs that allow for economic growth for the planet.
So what does Materion have to do with this? Everything! No matter what the source, energy production and efficient utilization depends in big part on the materials used. Lighting for instance has evolved from a carbon filament to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in 100 years, and in between we are using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This evolution required the development of materials never even imagined decades ago. Dr. Charles Brush made a big contribution in the early days of electrification and Materion Corporation has grown to become an important materials supplier for LED manufacturing. Petroleum extraction and refining have come a long way thanks to the use of Materion's copper-beryllium and ToughMet® alloys. The development of irradiation-resistant materials that can last 100 years would not be possible if it were not for the use of beryllium as reflectors in nuclear materials test reactors like Idaho National Lab's Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). Efficient use and reutilization of precious metals and rare earth elements are more critical than ever in the electronics world, giving us not only improved security but also the lifestyle we want. We not only innovate materials, but also in processing technologies that have enabled breakthrough materials such as Materion's DoveTail™ clad, which is very critical to solving a huge technical hurdle in electric car battery packs. And the list goes on and on.
The 21st century is already being called the "Materials Century." Today everything is about generating, storing and delivering energy. I am proud to say that Materion has placed itself at the top of the list of innovative materials companies that can deliver solutions to meet the energy demands of the world.