Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fusion, it is here (almost)

Ever since a brilliant member of the Homo Erectus produced fire for the first time nearly 2 Million years ago, their descendents have been trying to tame and use energy optimally. More recently, humans have been getting smarter with alternatives to wood burning, including fossil fuels, biofuels, nuclear energy, hydro, solar, wind and tidal. For many decades now, it has been obvious to many that most of these are inelegant solutions to the energy problem.

Burning hydrocarbons, albeit easy to do, has possible long term negative effects on the environment and biofuels take more energy than they produce. Nuclear fission, often fails to account for the costs associated with the storage of waste materials, with half lives exceeding 50,000 years. Solar, the darling of environmentalists, is not economical – in all varieties, photoelectric and concentrating-solar and it is an industry propped-up by subsidies, devised by politicians looking for brownie points. Hydro power has displaced massive populations across the world, with long term deleterious effects on the ecosystem. Finally, tidal and wind, better understood by public, show low efficiency and they are pushed by “green companies,” who make turbines for profits.

The energy problem is far from being solved. Lately, however, there are glimpses of hope – Lockheed, Alpha Energy and National Ignition Facility – to mention a few, seem to be making great strides to taming fusion. Ever since humans understood how stars worked, it should have been obvious that there is only one avenue to pursue to solve energy. Better late than never.

Fusion could lead to zero cost energy and that will make most tactical problems that consume humanity currently, utterly irrelevant.