Fusion’s Colossal Upside

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Posted by Rezwan Razani on Apr 06, 2012 at 10:48 AM
What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments below!

Fusion is seen as the ultimate energy supply.  Is it really all that?

In “Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air”, David MacKay notes that, if we’re going to balance our energy supply with demand, we need to be able to compare options in a calibrated way. MacKay thus expresses all energy use in terms of kilowatt hours per day per person (kwh/d/p).  (See graphic at right)

With regard to fusion MacKay says:

Let’s fantasize, and assume that the ITER project is successful. What sustainable power could fusion then deliver? Power stations using the DT reaction, fuelled by lithium, will run out of juice when the lithium runs out [less than 1000 years if mined, a million if extracted from seawater]. Before that time, hopefully the second installment of the fantasy will have arrived: fusion reactors using deuterium alone.

For deuterium reactors, energy supply is considerable.  The large rectangle below represents the fusion energy supply, for a population of 60 billion people.  The small red stack on the right is the 125 kwh/d/p demand stack for the present population, shown to scale. 

And what of the third installment of the fantasy?  MacKay does not show the estimates for aneutronic proton boron fuel.  [Take Action:  help us develop a visual for pB11 supply.]

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Fusion really is the energy source of the future. I don’t see how any other technology could provide the massive amounts of base load energy that humanity needs. Sources of energy like wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, etc are all wonderful alternatives for regional use, where specific conditions make them viable augments to the base load, or as stand alone alternatives. But I just don’t see how any combination of them can completely meet the world’s power needs.

Not to mention the fact that as humanity continues to explore the solar system, sources of energy will be needed to replace solar and RTG’s. I think fusion, in a more developed form, can meet that need as well.


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Help us improve this article. 

Help us explain WHY fusion has so much power. 
(Hint, the greater power of nuclear energy compared to chemical goes back to E=mc2.  In a chemical reaction, electrons get shuffled between atoms, so the mass involved is tiny (that of electrons).  In nuclear reactions, protons and neutrons move about, releasing a lot more energy.)

Help us show why in nuclear energy, fusion has even more power than fission.  (Hint:  take a walk in the cosmic valley of iron.)

Fun Fact

If the sun were a big ball of coal, burning chemically, it could not supply the heat the sun does, and it would have burned out in a few million years.  The sun, running on fusion power, has been burning for 4.5 billion years, and has a few more billion years to go.

Speaking of the sun and energy efficiency, see also, Twinkle, Twinkle, inefficient star.

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