Nuclear Fusion: the Future of Energy
Renewable energy technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines or biomass power stations are very often regarded as the definitive ways for harvesting energy by the general public.
The truth is, they are just a technological transition from conventional power plants, based on the burn of fossil fuels, towards what would be the ultimate energy technology (for now): one based on nuclear fusion.
Even if renewable energies were installed at a massive scale, their efficiency rates reached the theoretical maximums and the price of the electricity derived from them plunged, the energy supply, distribution and consumption chain would still face very serious challenges that would eventually threaten its viability.
In fact, the energy supply from green sources wouldn’t be enough for a growing population with higher per capita consumption.
But those problems would virtually disappear thanks to nuclear fusion. Its potential benefits? Unlimited and controllable clean (well, almost clean), renewable energy at our disposal. It may sound too good to be true, but if scientists and engineers are right about their predictions, in a few decades it will be a reality.
The Experts in Charge
The miracle that could allow this to happen are the reactions that take place at the core of the Sun. Temperature and pressure are so high that Hydrogen nuclei collide, releasing huge amounts of energy. That process cannot take place in planet Earth naturally, and the energy released by the methods we currently use in power plants is much lower than that of a hypothetical fusion nuclear plant. Here is where physicists and engineers come into play.
Since the current state of the art makes it impossible to reach pressure values similar to those under which fusion reactions take place, it’s necessary to increase temperatures to values considerably higher than those typical of the core of the Sun. Rising temperatures to those levels is achievable, but it requires that the walls of the reactor don’t melt.
Developers of nuclear fusion technology think the answer to this problem is creating a magnetic field inside the reactor that would prevent the hot plasma to touch its walls.
But the biggest challenge for nuclear fusion plants to become a reality is the instability of the process itself. The experimentation conducted so far shows that the period of time in which the fusion reaction takes place isn’t long enough to produce more energy than it consumes. Thus, there are some important improvements necessary to be made for nuclear power to be the predominant energy source.
The high investments being carried out by Japan, Europe and the US in this field, together with the confidence of developers and experts, suggest the energy of the Sun will be produced in our planet in a near future.