Humans generate a lot of waste. This was true 60 000 years ago as it is today, though admittedly the scale has increased exponentially.
The world, the universe, is made up of finite sources of energy. There is no true infinite source, eventually everything will decay as entropy increases and nothingness will exist alone. There are functionally infinite sources of energy however, such as the sun which to humans, for all intents and purposes is unending.
But still, we waste a lot.
Clean energy could be grasped within a few years and used by all if there was the collective will to do so. But instead we squabble and bicker about how to get there in three decades instead.
And yet there would still be waste.
Solar panels currently operate at an average of 15-22% efficiency. Meaning that roughly 80% of energy from the sun isn’t collected. Granted, that’s still better than not using solar at all but surely there is a way to collect that energy? Surely there’s a way to creep upwards to that one hundred percent mark?
There is, but it’s not going to happen by the use of our sun. In fact, human’s are (hopefully) only a decade away from creating their own, miniature suns.
Nuclear fusion is the science fiction holy grail. It’s what allows ships in The Expanse to travel across the solar system and it’s what powers Ironman’s suit. Clean, functionally unlimited energy at humanity’s fingertips. But how do we access it? Or is it permanently going to be the energy worlds personal Torment of Tantalus?
Nuclear weapons work on the principles of nuclear fission. Splitting atoms apart to release gargantuan amounts of energy in a split second. Fusion is the opposite of that destructive process and requires atoms to be pushed together under immense amounts of pressure– the exact same process that powers the sun.
The current atoms that are being pressed together in tests today are tritium and deuterium. These are both different forms of hydrogen and whilst they aren’t exactly common they are sustainable.
Within these fusion reactors, such as ITER in Europe, atoms are smashed and held together using extremely powerful magnetic fields. The plasma at the center of the reactor can reach temperatures almost at 150 000 000 degrees Celsius. Hotter than the core of the sun. It’s the transition that these atoms go through when they are pushed together that creates the energy output of a fusion reactor. Within the sun hydrogen atoms are smashed together, creating helium atoms. But some of the mass is lost in these fusion reactions and, when mass is loss it creates an enormous amount of energy.
But it isn’t a perfect system. Waste heat is a huge problem. Just like solar flares from the sun, miniature fusion reactors on earth give out huge amounts of heat.
The difference though, is that this waste is purely heat, harmless beyond the borders of the reactor and no, with fusion there is no radioactive waste, no chance of a meltdown. It’s just heat that can be controlled and maintained using the very energy that is producing it.
It probably still seems like science fiction and I’ll admit that it is most likely many decades away, however, I can’t help but get excited at the possibilities that functionally unlimited, clean energy would bring to the world.