Don’t worry about Peak Oil – fusion is coming

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.

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Discuss Article

  1. james says:

    But think of all the bonds governments will have to issue to fund the production of these machines!

    Posted on: 19/03/10 | 12:00 am
  2. Anonymous says:

    Fusion is interesting for the long term but far closer is shale gas – in the last few years the US has trippled its gas reserves to over 100 years. Both the FT and the Economist have run big pieces on this subject in the last week. Who worries about either fusion or peak oil in the new gas age of abundent, low price & clean energy!

    Posted on: 19/03/10 | 12:00 am
  3. JMD says:

    True, we are very inventive. After squeezing all the thermal efficiency we can from hydrocarbons it's wonderful to hear of the variety of alternative sources that are becoming economic. Once oil increases further in price we'll stop just burning the stuff and only use it for manufactured goods. I'm still not convinced by fusion though. On Cartalk a week or two back a caller was a fusion physicist and said in passing that it could be 2050(!) before we see commercial output. Pity.

    Posted on: 20/03/10 | 12:00 am
  4. Anonymous says:

    Pinning hopes on unlikely outcomes … are you sure you lot don't work for the Treasury?

    Posted on: 25/03/10 | 12:00 am

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