The joke is older than I am! Fusion power is 30 years away and always will be.
The joke works because, after almost a century and billions spent on government-backed megaprojects, we’ve failed. Huge, doughnut-shaped magnetic tokamaks or enormously powerful lasers suck up vast amounts of electricity to produce… no net gain.
Fusion needs a new approach, and today there’s more than one. At MIT, Oxford, and in southern California, researchers promise big things. Neutral hydrogen fuel, superconductors, and inertial-confinement, along with the latest artificial intelligence, could make a difference.
I’m jaded enough to ignore the latest claims if it weren’t for one thing:
If just one succeeds in building a reactor capable of producing electricity economically, it could fundamentally transform the course of human civilization. In a fusion reaction, a single gram of the hydrogen isotopes that are most commonly used could theoretically yield the same energy as 11 metric tons of coal, with helium as the only lasting by-product. ieee.org
That would be a mighty significant outcome, so even a small chance of success is hard to ignore.
Private investors are getting involved and that means innovative ideas are being heard. The trouble with a government project (and I was a contractor for the US Federal government for many years) is there’s no exit strategy, and no sense of how to cut loses or remove powerful individuals who have become drones. Of course, in the private world, returns often need to come swiftly, and basic research takes time. Maybe a mix of funding is best.
The world needs abundant, CO2-free energy, so this blossoming of ideas grabs my attention. What truly seems weird is, even with fusion, we’re still boiling water to drive turbines to generate electricity. But if we can do it cheaply, safely, and without frying the planet – that would transform civilization.
Thanks ieee.org for their article.