Fusion — Alternative Energy

I think it is crazy that every year, the world uses 35 billion barrels of oil for energy. We have used 40% of the world’s oil resources. We will run out of oil and gas in the next 50 years and coal in 100 years.

How are we currently using energy?

Global energy is certainly diverse and complex. Today, the leading methods of creating energy are burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), using nuclear waste, and utilizing solar panels. Burning fossil fuels release huge amounts of Carbon Dioxide, which gets trapped in our atmosphere. This greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, one of the leading causes of global warming. Nuclear waste is toxic. And, solar-powered equipment is only beneficent when the sun is out.

Our growing population is currently at 7.8 billion people, and this number will continue to rise exponentially. The problem is we cannot sustain that population with our current methods of energy. As our population grows, so does our global energy usage. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that by 2050, world energy usage will increase by 50%.

Rapid population growth
Fossil fuel are harmful to our world

Something needs to change in how we create clean, renewable, reliable energy.

What Is The Solution?

Fusion Energy. The solution to sustainably and safely powering our Earth is fusion energy. It powers the Sun and Stars. Fusion energy is clean, unlimited energy that is regularly generated from the Sun and Stars. In just 1.5 millionths of a second, the Sun provides more energy than Earth consumes in one year.

How Does Fusion Work in the Sun?

Nuclear fusion regularly occurs in the sun and stars in a chain reaction. Nuclear fusion is a fusion or combination of nuclei.

The sun has six layers: the core, radiation zone, convection zone, photosphere, chromosphere, and corona. The core of the sun is at least 27,000,000 F / 15,000,000 C. The sun is 91% hydrogen atoms, 8.9% helium, and 0.1% heavier elements, such as carbon and nitrogen. These elements are extremely hot and are in a gas phase called plasma.

The heat and strong gravitational pull of the sun fuse hydrogen molecules to form helium. This process is called thermonuclear fusion. Thermonuclear fusion releases large amounts of energy in radiation, electricity, and solar wind.

Stars also undergo fusion. The pressure in a star’s core creates heat to merge and fuse the nuclei. This ultimately creates energy.

What happens to that heat?

The energy travels to the convection zone. Then, it goes to the photosphere, where it emits heat, charged particles, and light. And the big hydrogen ball that is the sun keeps creating more heat. That heat powers the reactions that make life on Earth possible, allow gases and liquids to exist on other planets, and creates a solar wind that results in another phenomenon, the aurora borealis. And the light that travels into the cosmos.

What if we could create a similar energy source on Earth? We could power the planet for billions of years.

How Would Nuclear Fusion Work On Earth?

Imagine burning a glass of seawater to produce as much energy as burning a barrel of oil. This can be done with the right materials.

We need hydrogen. But not just regular hydrogen, isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. Isotopes are the same chemical element with different numbers of neutrons. Hydrogen with 2 neutrons is deuterium, and 3 neutrons is tritium. Deuterium and tritium are confined in extreme heat and fuse to create nuclear fusion energy.

The challenge is that these elements need to be available. Deuterium can be found in seawater. However, tritium is harder to locate. Tritium is radioactive, and there may be only 20 kilograms of it on Earth. Because tritium is radioactive, it is mainly found in nuclear warheads and is expensive. A replacement could be helium 3. Helium 3 is also rare, but the moon might be the answer. The solar wind has come into contact with the moon and has produced an array of helium 3. We could mine it! Lithium is also used in some cases.

How Is Fusion Different Than Fission?

Fission is another kind of nuclear energy production.

How Does Fission Work?

Nuclear reactors use Uranium pellets as fuel to produce nuclear fission. The reactor separates the atoms. When the atoms split, they release particles called fission products. Fission products cause even more Uranium atoms to split.

The energy released from the chain reaction creates heat. The heat warms a cooling agent (normally water), and the cooling agent produces steam that turns turbines. The turbines drive generators, or engines, that create electricity.

Differences Between Nuclear Fusion and Fission

In nuclear fusion, atoms are joined, while in nuclear fission, atoms are separated.

Fission produces radioactive waste, while fusion does not produce radioactive waste.

Fusion needs more input for energy than fission does, but fusion produces more energy than fission does.

Different Types of Fusion and Their Applications

There are two methods to generate fusion power, magnetic confinement, and inertial confinement.

Magnetic confinement

Magnetic confinement generates thermonuclear fusion power that uses a magnetic field to confine fusion fuel in the form of plasma. The donut’s magnetic coils create a circular magnetic field that enables the particles to move at high speeds to collide and fuse.

Applications of magnetic confinement

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the biggest on-going fusion energy experiment in the world. ITER is located in southern France and is working on creating clean, unlimited energy. With over 35 countries involved in funding or support.

ITER uses a tokamak design that operates on magnetic confinement. A tokamak is a device that uses a powerful magnetic field to confine hot plasma in a torus shape (donut shape).

The stellarator is another kind of magnetic confinement fusion energy device, but the magnetic field of the plasma is twisted. The untwisted circular magnetic field of the tokamak made the atoms drift away from the magnetic field’s orbit. The twisted magnetic confinement means that the plasma travels through the structure more efficiently.

The Wendelstein 7-X is the largest stellarator experiment. The 7-X is one of the most complex engineering models devised, so far taking 1.1 million hours of assembly to withstand the high temperatures and strong forces.

Inertial confinement

Inertial confinement uses lasers to heat the surface of a pellet of fuel, which makes the fuel hot and dense enough to fuse.

Applications of inertial confinement

Demonstration on how NIF works

National Ignition Facility (NIF) is a fusion research device that uses inertial confinement to create fusion energy. First, a weak pulse is created, split, and carried to a beam, which is split into many more beams. The initial beam is 1 billionth of a joule. Each beam is amplified, in the power amplifier then in the main amplifier. Once out of the main amplifier, the beam goes through the power amplifier again. The beams’ total energy is now at 4 billion joules. The beams enter a chamber where the pulses are converted to ultraviolet light and then the laser beams travel to the center of the spherical target chamber, the hohlraum, where it hits the deuterium and tritium atoms and nuclear fusion happens. The entire journey takes about 5 microseconds.

General Fusion is a company that uses Magnetized Target Fusion, which utilizes both magnetic and inertial confinement to produce nuclear fusion. The key components used to construct a demonstration power plant are plasma, injections, pistons, and liquid metal vortex. The plasma injector forms the fuel into plasma and traps it into a magnetic field, ready for pistons to compress it. The pistons collapse the liquid metal vortex to compress the plasma.

Here’s what General Fusion is doing:

Common Wealth Fusion Systems (CFS) is a spin-off from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and is yet another company working towards fusion using tokamak. Combining proven science with revolutionary technology, CFS is working on creating a path to commercial fusion energy where a single glass of water can create enough energy for a person’s lifetime and a clean alternative to combat climate change. They have four phases. The first is already completed. The second and the most crucial change is a high-temperature superconductor (HTS) that will allow for smaller, faster, and less expensive tokamaks. The metal is rare Earth Barium Copper Oxide (REBCO).

Fusion on Earth will disrupt the entire way we view energy and how we can improve our current energy systems. The energy market needs to be changed because we cannot continue to harm our planet and ourselves from the ramifications of greenhouse gases.

What Is The Future Of Fusion?

Benefits of Fusion

  • Fusion produces clean, unlimited energy.
  • Strides to overcome climate change.
  • It replaces other dangerous methods of obtaining energy, such as burning fossil fuels. By looking to the alternative clean energy source, countless cases of cancer or lung disease would be avoided.
  • Nuclear energy reduces CO2. Since 1976, about 64 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions have not been pumped out, thanks to nuclear energy.
  • Fusion energy can also enable us to learn more about this kind of energy and improve other aspects of our lives. Fusion energy might lead to new scientific discoveries. “Are you still using fossil fuels, or have you discovered crystallic fusion?” — Buzz lightyear

Disadvantages of Fusion

  • Fusion is expensive. We do not know if fusion energy will be an option.
  • Fusion is an unproven technology. The money might be better spent on improving energy technology that already exists.
  • It is challenging to fuse two hydrogen molecules.
  • In the sun, fusion generates energy but on Earth, it might generate harmful isotopes.
  • Tritium, one of the elements needed to successfully recreate fusion, is rare. One of the only large sources is known on the moon. Over time, the solar wind from the sun has sent plasma across the solar system and a build up is on the moon.
  • Resources > results. Currently, the amount of input required is far greater than the output energy fusion produces.

Fusion provides an energy source that could sustain life on Earth for billions of years but also has disadvantages from the materials required and the possible effects of fusion in our society.

Key Takeaways

  • Nuclear fusion energy powers the sun and the stars.
  • Nuclear energy on Earth can be created by nuclear fusion and fission. Nuclear fission reactors are already functioning, but fission reactors are still under construction.
  • Nuclear fusion reactors are expensive but worthwhile because they produce tremendous clean, unlimited energy.
  • There are numerous types of nuclear fusion technologies and applications.
  • Nuclear energy reactors do not emit CO2, while other current energy productions, such as burning fossil fuels, do.

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