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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Future Tech: Star Power

The quest for power has driven generation upon countless generation to do mad crazy things and even now we quest for power. Not the power over people, not the power over a nation, but the power of the universe, the power of the stars. For many years now man has sought the source of energy that fuels the heavens above, Fusion, and we are now closer than ever before. Nuclear Fusion is the process of combining two lighter elements like hydrogen and producing a heavier element such as helium. It is the opposite of Fission which is splitting an atom. Fusion is much safer than Fission as there is very little radiation produced and not enough material is used to go critical (meltdown). There is also an abundance of Fusion material throughout the universe, it can even be derived from ocean water. The downsides to Fusion is the actual reaction itself. In order to achieve a reaction there must be extreme pressure and heat to weaken the magnetic bonds between atoms and eventually smash them together. Because the earth lacks the same gravitational force as a star, extreme heat that is many times hotter than the core of our sun has to be used instead. Magnetic plates are used to contain the energy.

While many people may not know this, we have achieved a Fusion reaction. Right from that sentence one might say that is a lie because we aren't using Fusion reactors right now. The thing is, while we have achieved such a reaction, no one has been able to extract more energy than is put in. Many methods have been tested over the years from using lasers to plasma in order to super heat a small capsule of fuel. Once a sustained reaction is achieved, the reactor will be able to continuously produce power as long as fuel is being pumped in. So far the peak energy output of a fusion reaction has been a little over 16MW and was about 65% of the energy used to start the reaction. Plans are in place however to build a massive reactor that will produce more than 10 times the energy input. This project is being done by a collection of countries including the US, Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea.

Another possible method of Fusion which I just quickly wanted to talk about is Cold Fusion. Normally Fusion requires massive amounts of heat but using this method one could fuse materials at room temperature. So far this method has not had much success but will hopefully one day lead to a future of entirely renewable and clean energy.

What do you think about Fusion energy? Leave your comments down below and as always, have a great day.

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