The dream of getting free energy forever just might be close to becoming a reality. Using just one kilogram of deuterium, scientists have concluded that enough electricity can be produced to power thousands of homes.
This would be possible using a nuclear reaction that is opposite to the destructive fission, called fusion. Up till now continuing the reactions for long periods of time along with finding deuterium was an issue hindering the progress, but researchers at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab seem to have found a solution.
Although we still are talking about at least 25 more years before it becomes a reality. The potential and benefits of the technology mean that it is worth all the trouble.
Giving a quick preview, fusion involves fusing two nuclei of the hydrogen atom (deuterium and tritium isotopes), which is difficult as both of them are positively charged, and therefore repellent. These collide when moving extremely fast, releasing energy which can be harnessed to create electricity. This process happens naturally in the sun, while here on Earth, we use powerful magnets to collide a hot gas containing electrically charged deuterium and tritium nuclei and electrons together.
This hot gas is called a plasma. The plasma has a temperature of more than 100 million degrees Celsius, which gives the positively charged nuclei enough energy to move fast and overcome their electrical repulsion.
A new field of physics – plasma physics – had to be conceived to make this a possibility, where plasma was created and allowed to evolve and radiate heat.
The international scientific community has joined hands and successfully created a massive fusion research facility called ITER, in France. The plant is designed to generate about 500 megawatts of thermal fusion power, and currently, it can achieve this feat for about eight minutes at a time. To simplify the equation, if converted into electricity, it could power about 150,000 homes.
The plant gives the scientists a chance to test out possibilities and issues in preparation for full-scale fusion power plant operations in the future, and if successful will be a major step in achieving free electricity. The current process of fusion involves creating a doughnut-shaped plasma, which is enclosed and covered using a very strong magnetic field created by current flowing in the plasma.
ITER has got the support of major powers across the globe, including China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. This shows the resolve of these countries towards making a sustainable future, and they see a major part of it coming from the fusion energy.
Fusion is difficult to start as unlike other power sources like solar, natural gas and nuclear fission, it can’t be developed and modeled on a small scale, meaning even testing and trials have to be done in expensive facilities. But the advantages such as it being clean, no carbon emissions, safe to use, and having no possibilities of having a runaway reaction like in fission makes it a truly covetous prospect.