- Fusion energy is the process that powers the sun and now it can be created here on Earth.
- Fusion energy could revolutionise the way we produce food and drinking water and heat our homes.
- Fusion energy could also increase carbon sequestration and reduce carbon emissions.
Commercial fusion energy has been making headlines since scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California achieved what many have said was impossible: a fusion experiment that created a net energy gain.
The success at this federal lab proves what fusion pioneers have long believed is possible: the same process that powers the sun can be recreated on Earth. That’s a huge step forward for the decades-long global mission of fusion scientists, providing humanity with a cheap, limitless and carbon-free source of electricity.
This experimental milestone bolsters the vision we have pursued at TAE Technologies. We are working to shepherd fusion energy’s leap from experimental laboratories to grid-ready power plants in the 2030s.
Commercial fusion energy alone is exciting, but consider the ripple effect of how a shift in energy supply can affect industry and our environment. A number of clean and important inventions have lagged because of high energy costs. It’ll take years to get there, but at fusion’s fullest capacity, anyone will be able to use as much electricity as they need, with no environmental costs and very little expense. Fusion energy is arguably the most exciting human discovery since fire. From the way we heat our homes to more water in times of drought, here’s just a glimpse of how fusion power could help change the world.
Not a drop to drink: water
Access to fresh water is drying up around the world, focusing attention on desalination (desal) technology, which can make plentiful drinking water from the sea. But one problem that has always hampered desal remains: it requires a huge amount of energy. In 2019, a US Department of Energy report said: “The ability to bypass these energy costs could potentially be critical for development.”
That ability could come from commercial fusion energy, creating a game changer for desalination by taking the energy overhead costs of desal and cutting them to nearly zero.
Energy costs for desal are so high that plants sit idle more often than not. A desal facility built in Santa Barbara, California during a drought in the early 1990s, for example, only ran for a few months before being mothballed for over 20 years. One problem was that the process, which usually involves distilling seawater multiple times until all the salt is removed, uses an incredible amount of energy.
Even in a drought, when freshwater supplies are scarce, it’s not cost-effective to run most desal plants because of energy costs. Take the $140 million desal plant in Dana Point, California, that won approval in 2022, it could eventually cover half of the area’s water needs (with excess production sold to nearby municipalities), but the desalinated water is 20% more expensive per acre-foot than imported water, which could mean water bills running to as much as $15 a month higher for residents.
And, there are further ripples to consider when access to water improves. With energy superabundance, desal would not only be able to keep California’s desert cities hydrated, those plants would be able to supply irrigation for vast carbon sequestration projects across the arid world. We could plant vast forests where there is today only scrub, using desalinated water to power these living factories for capturing carbon. All you’d need is an energy fusion plant nearby to power it.
Made in your zip code: Manufacturing
For centuries, the location of any kind of mill or other factory in the US was predetermined: you had to build it alongside a river, with the current pushing through a water wheel. As technology developed in the early 1800s, turbine systems could power mills of all sorts. More recently, factories still need some proximity to high-wattage transmission lines that can supply large quantities of electricity. But with fusion power, industrial planning would be upended: just about anyone could have as much energy as they need, practically anywhere.
Factories could, for example, be located closer to the raw materials they rely on — or to the retail markets that goods are destined for — cutting down on transportation costs and carbon emissions. Reshoring manufacturing from Asia and overseas to the US already cuts down on emissions both from shipping and production (for example, Chinese factories often rely on coal-fired power plants). With fusion powering the factory (and the logistics infrastructure too), those reductions would be even greater.
A new cornucopia: Food and agriculture
There are two major roadblocks to innovation in the agricultural sector: one is water access (which desalination may help depending on location), and the other is electricity costs. One new way we could grow food that would be more environmentally sustainable would be hydroponic vertical farms — if the need for electricity to power the grow lights and other necessary equipment weren’t so high.
Here too, fusion can supply the solution, potentially allowing for a vast reduction in the land-use footprint of agriculture and shortening the supply chain for fruits and vegetables by growing them in indoor farms much closer to urban centres, if not within city limits.
Currently, the state of California’s temperate climate and vast agricultural areas accounts for nearly half of US fruit and nut production and many crops are harvested immaturely in the West to ripen along the way to kitchen tables back East. Under the fusion-powered grow lights, hydroponically grown strawberries or lettuce or other crops can be grown to maturity without the use of pesticides and other harsh chemicals.
Detrimental issues that come with field-grown crops, such as runoff and top-soil loss, would be eliminated too. Organic, sustainable food powered by fusion energy, harvested when it’s ripe and sold at an accessible price point, could offer another ripple effect of increased enthusiasm for eating tastier fresh foods and better health.
There’s also an entire hidden, energy-reliant infrastructure that exists between farms and your fridge — a vast expanse of refrigerated warehouses, trucks and other transportation collectively known as the coldscape. It’s because of this little-known bit of infrastructure that we can have year-round access to fresh bananas and tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that are somehow always right on the edge of ripeness when you buy them at the store.
But all that cold air takes a lot of electricity to generate, making the coldscape a significant contributor to the food sector’s carbon emissions. With fusion energy, those emissions could disappear — and the dramatic drop in cooling costs would make tropical fruits and out-of-season produce easier on your wallet too.
How we move: Transportation
The already booming electric car market is set to grow even more with the new $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit that was included in the sweeping climate measures in the US Inflation Reduction Act. And with the Biden Administration planning to build 500,000 “fast”-level charging stations (capable of topping off an electric battery in about 30 minutes) across the country by 2030, the electric vehicle revolution is finally here and fusion will only make it better by reducing emissions and costs for charging all of those new gas-free cars.
Within electric vehicles, there’s an energy ecosystem that needs improvement to make electric vehicles a more viable choice for everyone too. To help address that, TAE recently spun off a new company called TAE Power Solutions to create advanced technologies designed to deliver faster charging, stronger performance, greater range and longer battery life for e-mobility and stationary applications.
Warmth in winter: Home heating
The energy crisis in Europe (and parts of the US) is making this winter a particularly cold one for many people struggling to afford the high costs of gas and oil for home heating. But fusion power can make the prospect of electric heating via heat pumps a zero-emission future.
These are just a few of the ways affordable commercial fusion energy could reshape life on Earth as we know it, which is why it’s worth pursuing.
Republished from the World Economic Forum
Our humans need coffee too! Your support is highly appreciated, thank you!