Never get too gloomy about the prospects for mankind. We’re good at stuff. Whilst most of us were wasting our lives in economics lectures and going to Happy Mondays concerts, the geeks were out there saving the future. Of course we’re going to run out of fossil fuels at some stage this century (the Peak Oil theory suggests that we’ve already gone past the hump of maximum production of oil) but the internet is getting excited about recent developments in fusion energy.
Previous attempts to create fusion energy have relied on extreme high temperature and pressure to force atomic nuclei together, thus releasing energy (cleanly, there is no harmful waste in contrast with fission); and in addition the end result has not been net gain – the output from the reaction is only 65% of the energy required to create the fusion. Recent developments (funded by the US Navy) of what is known as a polywell, which does not require extreme heat and pressure, look really promising. You can see a picture of the latest device here. The developers are currently in Phase 2 – the final phase which could end in 4 or so years time is Phase 3. In the words of a fusion research charity, EMC2: “successful Phase 3 marks the end of fossil fuels”!
We can’t get too excited, but it does feel that we humans are not too far away from virtually free, unlimited energy. Obviously the US Navy will want to develop a giant killing ray with it, and will get first dibs, but after that, the implications for everything from transport, food production, inflation and global warming are incredible, and the industrialised nations will no longer have to rely on energy supply from unstable regions of the Earth.