There continue to be concerns about the proposed wind turbine generators that would be located off the coasts of Long Beach Island, Atlantic City, other states in the U.S. and around the world. On Dec. 5, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy announced important advancements in fusion energy research that could lead to a plentiful source of energy and clean power. This could be a game changer.
Fusion energy could become a major potential contender in the energy market, and quite possibly the most significant source of clean energy in the future.
Scientists working on fusion energy have utilized giant lasers to create conditions to briefly mimic the explosion of nuclear weapons. The successful fusion energy experiment finally delivers the ignition goal that was promised when construction of the National Ignition Facility started in 1997.
When operations began in 2009, more than 10 years later, the facility generated hardly any fusion at all. It was a disappointment after a $3.5 million investment from the federal government. Other nations also have been spending billions of dollars on fusion energy research with no apparent success. If fusion could somehow be produced in a controlled manner, it could provide an energy source with zero greenhouse gas emissions, unlike that of burning fossil fuels, or radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants.
Amazingly, fusion energy can produce more energy than the energy required to produce it. A factor of 1.5 energy gains was observed in this latest fusion shot. Fusion energy occurs when two nuclei come together to form one atom. Fusion energy powers the sun and other stars. It fuses two hydrogen atoms together to produce helium (hydrogen + hydrogen = helium + energy). Albert Einstein formulated energy as E = M x C x C, meaning energy is equal to mass multiplied to the square root of the speed of light (C). Once hydrogen + hydrogen, which has a significantly more mass (molecular weight) than helium, is transformed into helium, the molecular weight (M) difference is converted into clean energy.
We now know how to develop fusion energy. However, it is not yet as efficient as would be required for commercial use; there still are technological (not scientific) obstacles. It will need output to input gains of 30 to 100 to get more energy for a commercial energy power plant, much larger than the current 1.5 gains. We need to develop the technology to produce more powerful laser beams, hit the hydrogen atoms more directly, and bring in more hydrogen atoms quickly for new laser beam blasts. For this, we need the cooperation and input of scientists and engineers from all over the world.
Burning fossil fuels produces CO2 (carbon dioxide), which reaches the upper atmosphere and creates a “thermal blanket,” retaining heat in our planet and causing global warming. Impacts include costly climate change disasters, loss of lives and damages to our homes and communities. There are other natural phenomena such as volcanoes that cause global warming. However, we cannot control what is outside of our power; therefore our responsibility is not to add to the natural phenomena.
Since the commercial application of fusion energy is not available yet, we must continue prioritizing the use of pollution-free energy that is currently available to us such as solar energy and wind power. Most climate scientists and policymakers say that to achieve the goal of limiting the warming of the planet by 2 degrees Celsius or the even more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Global warming does not affect only humans. Warmer ocean temperatures and melting ice pose serious threats to the survival of the world’s great whales. The warming of the ice on the polar caps causes changes to the ocean water temperature and climate change, some of which are responsible for the reduced population of whales. The reduction of sea ice cover is likely to impact the beluga, narwhal and bowhead whale species for whom the Arctic provides habitat and feeding grounds. In the Antarctic, sea ice is also decreasing in certain areas, resulting in massive declines in krill, which is a primary food source for many species including whales.
The latest news on fusion energy is immensely promising. Hopefully, this source of energy will someday radically change many aspects of our lives. Scientists believe that fusion energy will eventually be a reality, but it may not come about for two to three decades. Therefore, we should be cautious and continue with a safe path to the preservation of the planet by achieving gradual independence from dirty fossil fuels, which eventually will be depleted since there is no infinite source of oil, natural gas and coal.
Mariano D. Molina of Long Beach Township is a professional engineer.
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