ENERGY, energy, energy… this generation is being instilled with guilt for using it up.
We are told to save rather than splurge, to turn off our heating when we don’t need it, to only take necessary trips out of concern that resources will be depleted.
The planet “suffers” when we use energy. This mindset is being taught to our generation. This is where the “combustion” energy has led us.
And then there is nuclear fusion. People are probably thinking that this could just be another clean energy source or something besides sun and wind that could contribute to “net zero”. This is a misunderstanding.
Nuclear fusion has the potential to become the dominant source of energy on this planet. One gram of fusion fuel is equivalent to 50,000 barrels of oil. It is millions of times more powerful than combustion or chemical reaction.
We have this fuel in abundance in our oceans. We have enough fusion fuel to last our civilization indefinitely. For this reason, fusion has often been referred to as the Holy Grail, the “end game” of energy.
If this technology can be used properly, our children would not worry about how much energy they use – because they will have energy in abundance.
You will have the problem of designing new innovations that have not yet been conceived because we did not have an energy source powerful enough to exist. Fusion is a concept of “more energy than we can use”.
More than a pipe dream
Now comes the “ifs”… if, if, if. That makes me smile. I’ve talked about fusion for the last 10 years of my life. I’ve been to universities, I’ve been to conferences, I’ve been with governments, with students, with investors.
And for me, fusion breakeven — the moment plasmas in a fusion device release at least as much energy as is needed to heat them — was a certainty. It’s never a question of if, always a question of when.
I remember just last month I was at a space investor conference in Switzerland. When I mentioned nuclear fusion, someone in the audience actually laughed.
Such was the cynicism surrounding this technology. People thought that would just never happen – “a pipe dream”. Well, they could revise their paradigms now.
Because it was done. This week, physicists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced that they have broken even for fusion.
And it’s done again and again. More efficient and powerful every time. NIF, the American machine in charge, is a giant laser facility that uses these lasers to crush a small pellet of fusion fuel, thus achieving fusion.
This is called “inertial confinement”. Personally, I don’t think this is the method humans will use to generate energy. I believe that will be the “Magnetic Confinement Fusion” that will eventually power the grid.
It’s trying to do essentially the same thing, bringing heavy hydrogen ions close enough together for them to fuse together, but in a way that’s far better suited to trapping the resulting neutrons as heat, powering a turbine, and ultimately generating electricity.
This is the technology of ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a $30 billion tokamak machine in Provence, France, funded by 35 nations.
Scientists can often get distracted by asking, “How can we do fusion?” And lose sight of, ‘how are we going to do fusion?’ It has to be practical. You have to follow the money, because without the money, science cannot go on.
The next thing that will happen is a fusion breakthrough using magnetic confinement, most likely at ITER.
Then, if governments have their way, they will turn on the world’s first fusion power plant, known as DEMO, in 2055. However, there are now companies aiming to bring that date forward as we need fusion power sooner.
I believe there are times when investing with the Fed is best. There are several large merger companies working with governments to make these power plants a reality before 2055, and I believe that the big tokamak model will be the reactor design that governments will eventually adopt.
Other machines, such as stellarators, while ingenious, are too complex to be efficiently maintained.
Inertial confinement involves too many heavy and large laser systems that would simply be impractical for power plants to adapt to. ITER is Latin for “The Way” and I suspect that although huge, it is the right launch prototype for a future workable fusion power plant.
There is one more thing to note. Fusion offers us two groundbreaking abilities, not one. It’s not just the ability to power our civilization indefinitely. It also gives us the potential to exit our solar system.
The same reaction achieved last week is capable of producing a fusion rocket engine that would have exhaust velocities 1,000 times faster than existing ION thrusters currently in use in orbit.
Imagine 217 miles per second with rockets that can take astronauts to Mars in just two weeks, versus the current nine months.
Yes, it looks like our kids really are destined for the stars. So, I’ll say it again, welcome to the Fusion Age!
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6930538/nuclear-fusion-holy-grail-of-energy/ Cynics dismissed fusion as a pipe dream — but it could be the holy grail of energy, helping ordinary families