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Nuclear Fusion: A Step Closer to Entering the Energy Market
The intensifying and devastating impacts related to climate change have led scientists to advise a transition away from the utilization of coal, natural gas, and petroleum as energy sources. If constructed and operated properly, solar, wind, geothermal, and even nuclear energy plants are viable solutions. When considering nuclear energy, fission and fusion come to mind. This blog focuses on nuclear fusion insights.
A Technical Milestone for Nuclear Fusion
In July 2022, Google and Chevron announced their role in $250 million funding raised for TAE Technologies, an energy startup, which recently hit a technical milestone. The company “achieved temperatures greater than 75 million degrees Celsius with its current fusion reactor machine, nicknamed Norman. This accomplishment is significant because it gives TAE, “the potential to be a scalable source of no-carbon energy generation.” In addition, this breakthrough provides TAE with a strategic opportunity to revolutionize the distribution of renewable energies within the energy market. This nature-inspired technology could help reduce the lag toward a successful transition away from fossil fuel use.
What makes TAE’s accomplishment remarkable is related to its approach to nuclear fusion. Historically, nuclear fusion has utilized two forms of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—as a source of fuel. Although the former is naturally occurring, the latter must be produced. TAE’s solution to avoid extracting a raw element is to instead use hydrogen-boron for fuel. The caveat is that this energy source must be produced at high temperatures, similar to that of the sun. However, with TAE’s recent milestone, headway can be made utilizing this temperature-intensive process.
Nuclear Fusion’s Role in the Energy Market
According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear energy provided only 4.9% of the world’s total energy supply in 2018. However, it is crucial to understand that all nuclear power plants rely on nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is quite different from nuclear fusion. The nuclear fission process splits one uranium atom into two smaller ones and relies on the consumption of nonrenewable resources, such as uranium.
Although nuclear fusion has not yet taken its place in the world’s energy market, its technology appears potentially more sustainable and less hazardous than nuclear fission in the long run. The classic, non-TAE, fusion process relies on tritium. To produce tritium, the element lithium must be extracted from the earth. Lithium is nonrenewable, like uranium. However, in his Ted Talk , Fusion Is Energy’s Future, Steven Cowley denotes that, “there are 30 million years’ worth of fusion fuel in sea water.” This amount is about 6,000 times the amount of accessible uranium left on Earth.
When examining TAE’s recent achievement to nuclear fusion through its hydrogen-boron method, it is evident that the concept of nuclear fusion energy is advancing closer to being a reality. Notable investments from two prominent energy-reliant companies, Google and Chevron, make the appeal for companies looking to transition toward more sustainable fuel resources. Guidehouse Insights’ blog, “Advanced Nuclear Reactors Drive a Rebirth for Nuclear Power,” has more information on the benefits of nuclear energy and the industry’s newest solutions.