By: Tom D. Tamarkin
March 5, 2017
Mankind thrives on Earth today with a worldwide population of over 7 billion people. Fundamental to his existence is agriculture and energy. It takes massive amounts of energy to sustain agriculture. And it takes energy to produce and transport water for man and crops.
Man has built a worldwide infrastructure of transportation, agriculture, industrial production of goods, and modern comfortable living. This is all based on and sustained by the extremely high energy flux density hydro-carbon fossil fuels produced from petroleum, natural gas, and coal.
These hydro-carbon fossil fuel resources have naturally formed on Earth over a 400 million year period of time. Through the process of photosynthesis and high geological pressure, ancient plant life has converted energy from the Sun into the potential chemical energy contained in these natural fuel sources.
The quantities of these fuels on Earth are both enormous and finite. It takes millions of years to produce useable quantities. As more and more of these fuels are extracted, the cost to extract remaining fuels increases because more expensive recovery techniques must be used to recover harder to extract resources. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and synthetic liquid pressure are examples. Even more expensive techniques are required for the extraction of oil from oil sands and the strip mining of oil shales.
Since 1850 we have extracted over 1,000 billion barrels of crude oil. Over the last ten years, worldwide demand has exceeded 95 million barrels per day.
Economically viable recoverable oil will be depleted sometime between 2050 and 2100. At the same time, we have a $70 trillion worldwide infrastructure of gasoline, kerosene, and diesel operated transportation, construction, and production machinery.
Although man has experimented with “renewable” energy sources such as solar and wind, none of these can remotely provide the massive amounts of power currently consumed by man…. let alone what will be required to power a world of 9 billion people by mid-century while addressing the energy needs of the over 3 billion people that now live in energy poverty; over 1 billion having no electricity.
As an example, once hydro-carbon fuel sources are no longer available, solar cannot be used to produce more solar cells. It takes roughly 3,000 times more power (power is energy per period time) to produce solar panels than they can produce. Wind turbine production has similar characteristics.
Burning hydro-carbon fuels liberates thermal energy or heat through a chemical reaction. As stated above, these fuels were produced through photosynthesis converting kinetic energy from the Sun into potential energy stored in the fuel source. When the fuel sources are combined with oxygen and thermally ignited, a sustainable reaction takes place until the chemicals are “burned up” leaving bi-products such as carbon, CO2, and water.
We have written an authoritative article explaining what energy is and where it comes from on Earth. The physics law of conservation of mass and energy is explained as well as the convertibility of mass to energy and energy to mass. Also included are comparative energy flux density tables.
Beyond hydro-carbon chemical reactions, the only way to produce large amounts of energy is to convert matter into energy per Dr. Albert Einstein’s famous formula E=MC2. This formula states that matter and energy are simply different manifestations of the same thing, a concept the average man finds somewhat unfamiliar as Dr. Einstein famously stated in his own voice in a lecture. Because C is the velocity of light or 299,792,458 meters per second, this formula shows that a very small amount of matter (mass) is equal to a very large amount of energy.
Today we have taken the “baby step” to convert small quantities of matter into energy through nuclear fission where we split heavy elements like uranium and plutonium into a collection of lighter elements along with a release of energy. We do this through nuclear fission.
Only nuclear fission (uranium, plutonium and thorium) can produce sustainable amounts of energy for man’s future once hydro-carbon fossil fuels are no longer economically viable. However, nuclear fission itself is not sustainable in the long term, primarily due to the radioactive waste disposal issue. Additional problematic factors include weapons proliferation and safety concerns.
Therefore, in order to provide for the safety and security of future generations, and the countries that protect and serve them, we must develop a much safer form of atomic energy. There are only three known ways to liberate energy from atomic reactions. These are nuclear fission which we have today, atomic fusion, which we believe we can demonstrate over the next few decades and harness as an energy source thereafter, and matter anti-matter annihilation reactions; something that may or may not be possible to do on Earth in sufficient amounts to harness usable energy.
The only sustainable form of material amounts of electrical energy production beyond the above comes from hydro-electric power generation. However, electricity only cannot produce large quantities of synthetic gaseous or liquid fuels which will always be required for air transportation. You cannot power a commercial airplane with solar cells! Nor can hydro-electric power produce new generation equipment and power a significant fraction of the world’s population of energy.
As can be seen from the graphic image above, there is a direct correlation to worldwide population and available energy. The worldwide population has increased by a factor of 10 since the industrial revolution and the production of abundant energy. If we cannot maintain these levels of abundant inexpensive energy, the population will quickly decline to pre-industrial revolution levels.
Therefore, it is a matter of urgent priority that we prove fusion can be harnessed. In order to do this we have to conduct much more theoretical and experimental science which is costly and time consuming. We are in a race to prove and commercialize fusion before the rarefication of hydro-carbon fuels sets off energy wars and precipitates population decline.
We first proved that man can indeed trigger fusion reactions in the early 1950s. Thermonuclear weapons such as Ivy Mike (1952) and Castle Bravo (1954) proved the fusion physics. However, these reactions were instantaneous and uncontrollable making them ideal weapons of mass destruction but wholly unsuitable for peaceful energy production.
The U.S. government, along with Russia and the U.K., spent decades studying controlled fusion as a means of energy production, but as we explain in our article “Who Killed Fusion?” , without practical results due mostly to incompetent management and politics.
Current status background:
Today, a group of private enterprise fusion companies have been started by scientists and entrepreneurs1. Additionally, we have 7 major international partners who have joined together in an International project called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France to demonstrate fusion in a “controlled environment” followed by another experimental project called DEMO to demonstrate the production of electricity from fusion and placing such power on a utility power grid.
The problem is in our judgment all of the private startup companies may have vastly underestimated the amount of scientific learning that still remains as well as the practical issues to actually demonstrate fusion. Thus, all of these companies risk “going broke” in the process of trying.
ITER has been plagued by cost overruns, management problems and scientific issues. Now, a demonstration of a fusion reaction based on deuterium and tritium leading to greater output energy than the energy inputted into the process to initiate fusion is set for 2035 and subject to further delays.
The overwhelming concern…. and the problem we have identified and propose to solve…. is that should these companies fail along with ITER, fusion will be effectively written off as the solution to solving energy and sustaining human life on Earth as we know it today.
Fusion has many detractors. These include big oil interests, the green energy industry, their respective lobbyists, the political establishment, and “elitist” authors like Charles Seife who are quick to say that over 30 billion dollars has been spent on fusion science and research over the last 60 years yet fusion is still 20 years away and always will be. Thus, no elected leaders will advocate for a strong and robust fusion science regiment leading to the knowledge to harness fusion.
Consider the above statement; over $30 billion dollars has been spent on fusion science and research over the last 60 years. That is only ½ billion per year. And the majority of this was spent decades ago before ITER became a possibility.
To put this in perspective, we spend over $5 billion annually on cancer research. And no one asks how many years away from curing cancer we are. We just know we must do it.
What we are proposing is to “crowd source” fusion science, research, and ultimately development utilizing the public through a fusion energy consortium. We propose to fund the consortium through the sale of a hit video game series as well as through revenues produced by our U.S. patented electric utility smart meter automated billing system. The video games are educational and will teach the American people the basics about energy related science and math in a fun and exciting way.
We will propose to the new administration that it enable and stimulate significant fusion energy science, R&D through new legislation, changes in the upcoming IRS tax code and a Presidential proclamation.
Once people begin to understand the science of energy and discover on their own through the games that we are wasting over $1.5 trillion dollars annually on climate change driven green energy subsidies and schemes, people will voice their concern with politicians and vote based on facts.
Our games and the associated public awareness of energy can stimulate today’s youth to become interested in science and math and to take on the challenge of solving energy for the future. Many things must be developed over the next few generations including new types of engines as chemical fuels powering internal combustion engines are no longer viable. Air transportation will require a radical “rethink” and new propulsion designs.
It must be kept in mind that the development and commercialization of fusion will take place over many decades prior to the widespread adoption through commercialized fusion based power generation devices. And those will give rise to smaller, simpler devices ultimately suitable for the transportation industry. We must begin the task now before it is too late.
In terms of our practical contribution to fusion development, we can generate annual revenues in the ≈ $300 to $500 million USD range and will distribute these funds based on scientific review as a function of private company’s achieving agreed to milestones. Thus, early investors can be assured they will receive financial returns on their investments in a fusion company irrespective of the company ever achieving the demonstration of sustained triple product Lawson criterion in a controlled environment, let alone the commercialization of a “fusion energy reactor system” capable of generating baseload electricity.
1. List of current private fusion companies, university projects and national lab opportunities. Helion Energy, General Fusion, Tri Alpha Energy, Lockheed Martin compact fusion reactor (skunk works,) MIFTI, Tokamak Energy & PPL Focus Fusion. Additional projects have been proposed at the University of Washington, the MIT ARC compact reactor program, and the PJMIF project proposed by Dr. Scott Hsu at Los Alamos National Labs in conjunction with private company partners.