Opinion: Our Energy Future – 2050

on April 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

 Anniversary Of Nuclear Disaster At Three Mile Island Marked Near The Site

The nation that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century”… President Obama, 2010

By 2050 fusion will be the source of most of the world’s energy. This is not wishful thinking, it is simply a way of stating that all other forms of energy that are based on the use of finite fossil fuel sources must decline in the next few decades. This decline will provide a major impetus for the rapid increase in the utilization of this new form of energy.

peak oil

From Simmons & Co Powerpoint on Oil Depletion

Possible Competition from other Fusion Systems

At the present time there is no other fusion system known to be nearing the stage of potential commercialization.

Magnetic confinement fusion has been 50 years away for the past 50 years and is still 50 years away for its commercial application depends upon the creation of a ‘magic material’ that will shield it from the 14 MeV neutrons. Without this ‘magic material’ it cannot proceed to commercialization.  Lithium in either liquid or solid form cannot be used except as a blanket on the walls and this inherently destroys the vacuum necessary for the reaction.

Other forms of Inertial Coupled Fusion are known to exist. These include Laser driven fusion of the sort being studied at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Livermore, CA. Put simply, lasers just do not have the power or reliability to sustain Laser driven fusion as a commercial power source. Conversion of the pure Laser fusion to a Laser induced burn of actinide fuels (the LIFE program of LLNL) is thought to be at least 12 years away and has all the problems of laser driven fusion plus the generation of long half-life radioactive byproducts. Thus in our view, it is the worst of both worlds. Just in the last couple of weeks the LLNL program has had another set back with problems of scaling up and they too may be now 50 years away, if ever.

Another form of Inertial Coupled Fusion is the Z-pinch machine currently being studied by Sandia National Laboratories. The Z-pinch concept has been around for more than a decade and has yet to reach the temperatures necessary for fusion. As new peaks in temperature are reached, new problems are found.  This is still a research program and a long way from a practical power plant. The same is true for “Polywell”, still an interesting research process.

Finally, there are the multitude of room temperature fusion efforts from cold fusion to electrostatic fusion.  This is interesting science in some cases, and the electrostatic compression mechanisms do yield fusion-produced products, including some isotopes that are very useful in medical applications. But, it is unlikely that the techniques will produce large quantities of power for they simply do not have a mechanism that would protect them from the neutrons that would be produced.

As for our method, Single Pass Radio Frequency Accelerator Driven Heavy Ion Fusion, there are existing accelerators with adequate energy to call upon for drivers, there are known and proven methods of shielding that uses the high flux of 14 MeV neutrons to capture the heat and Tritium (a product we consume), and we have a proven means of supplying the compression and heating that is required for fusion. In fact, we can probably deliver 3 to 5 times enough energy to ignite the fusion reaction, if necessary. Moreover, all of our efforts are directed at producing practical heat – 100 GW, that can be used to produce steam for production of electricity, high quality heat to disassociate water to get hydrogen to make synthetic liquid fuels (carbon neutral liquid fuels!), power for reprocessing metals – iron and aluminum, and the waste heat to desalinate seawater – all items that are needed by society today.

Market Analysis

The global market for energy is very dependent on the state of the global economic health. The question of which is the chicken and which is the egg consumes endless hours of debate. Suffice it to say that modern society needs abundant energy at a reasonable price to retain its current standard of living. The often stated goal of bringing all societies closer to the standard of living of the United States will require substantially more energy than is now produced. Thus there is a latent market throughout the world for more energy than is now available or consumed. The US needs more energy to just hold steady.

The energy of the future must be much more green than the current mix of energy derived from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and a greater supply level than renewables such as wind, solar, bio fuels and hydropower can ever economically provide. These all have consistency and scaling problems. Moreover, all of our fossil fuels are finite resources and all must peak. Clearly the future must depend on fusion and the timing is such that it is needed in the next 10 to 15 years. For fusion to be on line then, we must start now.

Fusion energy is the only form of energy today that can meet the long-term goal of discharging virtually no unwanted byproduct, carbon dioxide or radioactive waste, while concurrently delivering energy at a cost comparable to old oil or coal – i.e. the production energy cost of a few percent of the energy produced.

Philosophy aside, the need for new energy, projected by the Energy Information Agency (EIA), is for a growth of about 2 percent per year for the rest of this century. To this one must add the energy production facilities that must be built to replace the loss of energy production by existing sources either because of the age of the production facility or its declining profitability due to the increasing price of its fuel. The current concern for the reduction of emitted CO2 will also provide an increased demand for CO2 free power sources. The accidents in Japan and the East Coast have caused great concern about expanding fission. Thus the growth in demand for power from fusion power plants could be as high as 6 percent per annum just to maintain production at the current level of global demand for energy.

A Mind Boggling thought … do the math …

14 TW, the projected additional energy needed by 2050 is about —

…. 10,000 new 1.4GW nuclear fission plants or

…. 18,667 new 750MW coal or gas fired plants or

…. 400 35GW HIF StarPower Systems

Every year, for the next 40 years, the additional need is:

250 new 1.4GW fission power plants, (about 1 per work day!) or 467 new 750 MW coal or gas powered plants, (2 per workday) or 10 new 35 GW StarPower Systems (less than 1 per month) or a combination there of!

But to bring all populations of the world the benefits of an abundant energy supply, the growth will have to be more on the order of an additional 10 percent per year. This growth in energy supply for the underdeveloped world will become a concern for all governments. The alleviation of poverty, and the seeds of terrorism that poverty plants, can only come through the supplying of adequate energy and water to underserved populations. Thus FPC believes that fusion power is an extremely well-fitted endeavor and a necessary growth industry for many decades to come in the energy field. It is certainly the only possible answer for non-proliferation concerns. When realized, it may be the major component of a formula for World Peace.

The energy production business is generally exceptionally stable, and generally enjoys increasing yearly revenues. Most of the variability in returns to energy producers comes from variation in the supply of the fuel. Fusion energy has the opportunity to not only supply a needed commodity but to also stabilize the price of energy for it is not subject to variations in fuel supply cost.

Growth in the demand for energy is likely to continue. This is simply because the world population is increasing and everyone wants to increase their standard of living. An increased standard of living requires more energy. There is a direct relationship of standard of living to the utilization of energy in the economy.  If all peoples of the world were to be brought to the standard of living of the United States, it would require more than a doubling of the energy supply. No source, other than fusion, is capable of meeting this demand without having serious consequences on the environment or food supply.

In summary, to meet the world demand for energy in the coming decades, the energy supply must not only replace the aging energy generating systems but it must also develop new “green”, i.e. non-CO2 emitting, sources. And to meet the goals of peoples around the world for a clean and green and safe source, the energy supply must nearly quadruple, or more, by the end of the century.  This presents an outstanding growth market for fusion energy suppliers.