Energy is an inevitable requirement for growth. The more energy a society consumers per capita, the better is its quality of life. Whenever in the history of mankind we have made a breakthrough in our lifestyle, our energy consumption has also significantly increased.
As a developing country India is in a state of transition of energy usage and has rapidly increasing energy demands to support its growth. Growing energy demands and concerns for energy security are now spurring us to look for alternative energy sources.
India has abundant reserves of coal so more than 50 per cent of our energy needs are met by coal. Since we don’t have enough petroleum reserves, so we import more than 70 per cent of our petroleum needs. Reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil and gradual depletion of non-renewable resources is one of the major reasons why we are exploring new avenues of energy. This is where we want the renewable and non-conventional energy resources. Though it is difficult to estimate when the world will run out of fossil fuel, but it is certain that soon we will run out of them. For dependable sources of energy in future we will have to look beyond coal and petroleum and explore energy sources that might be entirely new.
India has a well-developed, indigenous nuclear power programme and considerable amount of fuel in the form of thorium sands for breeder reactors. Though the power production part of a nuclear plant’s life cycle does not emit any pollutants the problem starts with the spent nuclear fuel rods. Even though they can no longer be used for power production, these fuel rods are still considerably radioactive which makes their disposal a problem.
India has limited potential in the field of hydroelectricity and much of it has been fulfilled. Currently there is much stress and interest regarding micro-hydroelectric projects. These would require small hydro-turbines running on small or large rivers without needing gigantic dams and aiming to satisfy the energy needs of a single village on a river bank.
Most of our country’s renewable energy potential lies in the development of wind energy. Wind energy surveys of large parts of the country are still in progress. Till mid 2012, more than 17 GW wind energy production capacity has been installed.
Being located near the Tropics India does receive plenty of sunlight. Places like Gujarat and Rajasthan have uninterrupted sunshine to generate electricity using sunlight. Currently all solar power projects are photovoltaic in nature while small-scale solar thermal installations are operational in cities like Chennai and Bengaluru.
Another viable means of energy production is conversion of organic waste into energy. We have had some success in this regard by pilot biogas projects in several villages. Research is leading to more and new ways of making energy form organic matters, waste or otherwise. One of the ways is production of Syngas, which can be used to produce hydrocarbons and synthetic petroleum in the long run.
One vital aspect of energy use, apart form power generation, is in transportation. This sector has also seen the growth of many new fuels that could end our dependence on imported petrol. Amongst alternative fuels, we now use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Future plans include use of hydrogen in petrol-burning engines too. Biodiesels-derived from oil of plants like jatropha, karanja and even from algae are currently in limited use by mixing with diesel in a 20:80 ratio. Development of alternative fuels is such that they can be used in the current vehicles with minimal or no changes. And most importantly these alternative fuels have minimal adverse effects on atmosphere compared to fossil fuels.
Parallel to developing and exploring new energy sources, another priority for us should be economic use of the resources we have. With a growing population, our energy demands are increasing much faster than even before in history. The need of the hour is efficient use of energy and end of all wasteful usage. —Aniket Raja
India’s fourth scientist to win Nobel Prize
Venkataraman Ramakrishnan was born at Chidambaram, a small town in Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu in 1952. His parents CV Ramakrishnan and Rajlakshmi were lecturers of biochemistry at Maharaj Sayajirao University in Baroda, Gujarat.
Venky, as he is popularly known, did his schooling form the Convent of Jesus and Marry in Baroda. He migrated to America to do his higher studies in physics. He then changed his field to biology at the University of California.
He moved to MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambride. It was there he cracked the complex functions and structures of Ribosome, which fetched him Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009, along with Thomas E. Steitz and Ada E Yonath. He became the fourth scientist of Indian origin to win a Nobel Prize after Sir CV Raman, Har Gobind Khurana and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.
Venkataraman Ramakrishnan began his career as a Post Doctoral Fellow with Peter Moore at Yale University, where he worked on Ribosome. After completing this research, he applied to nearly 50 universities in the US for a faculty position. But he was unsuccessful. As a result of this, Venkataraman continued to work on Ribosomes from 1983 to 1995 in Brookhaven National Laboratory.
In 1995, he got an offer from University of Utah to work as a professor of Biochemistry. He worked there for almost four years and then moved to England where he started working in Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology. There, he began a detailed research on Ribosome.
In 1999, along with his fellow mates, he published a 5.5 angstrom resolution structure of 30s subunit of Ribosome. In the subsequent year, Venkataraman submitted a complete structure of 30s subunit of Ribosome and it created a sensation in structural biology.
Venkatarman earned a fellowship form the Trinity College, Cambridge and the Royal Society. He is also an honorary member of the US National Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was awarded with the Louis-Jeantet prize for his contribution to Medicine. In 2008, he was presented with Heatley Medal of British Biochemistry Society.
For his contribution to Science, he was conferred with India’s second highest civilian award, the Padama Vibhushan in 2010.