There is a form of energy that will be renewable, abundant, base-load, and make all of your dreams come true, it is called nuclear fusion. So far scientists have yet to figure out a way to produce these reactions in a safe and reliable way, but we witness the power of fusion every day. The sun and all stars for that matter are giant nuclear reactors that take hydrogen atoms and merge them together to form helium atoms. This process gives off an extraordinary amount of energy that we experience as the sun’s light and heat. Scientists have been able to create nuclear fusion reactions in the past just not in a controlled way. Hydrogen bombs utilize these same reactions that I am referring to. They give off an extreme albeit uncontrolled amount of energy. If we could channel that same energy we could power the world.
Nuclear fusion is a process of taking hydrogen atoms and fusing them together so that they form helium. Normally it is very difficult to get atoms that close to each other because there are forces that repel other atoms away from them. Inside the sun there is a huge gravitational force which creates intense pressure and temperature and allows these reactions to occur. This process on earth will take some very sophisticated and expensive equipment in order to recreate that environment. So how do normal nuclear power plants work? Traditional nuclear power plants work through basically the opposite process. Nuclear power plants as we know them use nuclear fission which is a method of splitting atoms apart and harnessing the energy that is released.
The benefits of nuclear fusion are really spectacular. Nuclear fusion reactions give off about four times as much energy as nuclear fission reactions. Also the byproduct of nuclear fusion is just helium atoms and there is no nuclear waste to dispose of. Because there is so much hydrogen on earth we have basically a never ending supply of fuel. All of this energy could be produced consistently 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and there are no carbon emissions to worry about. I really hope that I can see this technology become the norm in my lifetime. The bad part is, there is a joke about fusion which says the technology is always about 40 years from being developed.
If you are interested in more renewable energy information please follow me on twitter @EvanNWarner
Lead PC: sustainablebalance.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Energy-Of-Atom-900×576.jpg
Sun PC: http://www.kaheel7.com/eng/images/stories/5(10).jpg
Several years ago my boss told me an interesting theory that he had about energy. We were on a long road trip to one of our power plants in the middle of nowhere so he had plenty of time to develop his theory with me. I’ll try to boil down the discussion to what’s relevant to you in this post. Basically he told me that all of the forms of energy that we use to generate power today have their roots in nuclear energy. He is a chemical engineer after all, so he would think this way.
When he first told this to me I didn’t really know how to react. I mean I can think of many forms of energy that are not from nuclear reactions, coal, natural gas, wind etc. But then as we were driving down the long… long highway, we started to go down the list and he systematically showed me that all of them have roots in nuclear reactions.
Let’s start with oil/ natural gas/ and coal. All of these resources are substances that store energy that we can later burn to make electricity. But where do they come from? They come from decomposing plant material that died millions of years ago and the got buried under miles of earth. Where do plants get their energy from? The sun, a giant burning ball of nuclear reactions going off in the sky. What about wind turbines? Well where does wind come from? It comes from air with different pressures that are being heated up by the sun. The different pressures of air then start to move around because they want to equalize. What about solar power? The sun. Even Hydroelectric power has its roots in the sun’s energy. If the sun didn’t heat up water and evaporate it, it would not fall on the top of mountains and then run down them in rivers to power our hydroelectric turbines. What about nuclear power? Just kidding I don’t have to explain that one. Lastly geothermal power comes from heat at the center of the earth given off by nuclear reactions.
All of this stems back to the concept that we cannot create or destroy energy we can only change the form of it. In this case some of the changing forms weren’t actually done by us, but rather by natural processes. I think this is kind of a fun twisted chemical engineery way to look at the world.
If you can think of a form of energy that doesn’t stem from a nuclear reaction please prove me wrong in the comments below.
Lead Photo Credit: http://www.ialtenergy.com/images/Massive_Power.jpg
Hydroelectric Photo Credit: https://media.licdn.com/mpr/mpr/AAEAAQAAAAAAAAefAAAAJGNhNjFhNzA1LWZmYjctNDBjMi1iNWM1LWE5M2VhZDNmYmU5Nw.jpg