How Close Are We to Fusion Energy?

Coal is dirty. Nuclear is scary. Solar and wind aren’t always reliable. Hydrothermal and hydroelectric aren’t widely
accessible. And we’ll eventually deplete our oil reserves. Okay, yes, this is all a bit of hyperbole,
but the bottom line is that we don’t have a perfect source of energy. But, there might be hope. Around the world people are working on fusion
energy, which might be the safe, efficient, reliable, clean energy source that could save
our planet. Okay, that’s a little bit more hyperbole,
but it would be world-changing. So, how close are we to fusion energy? This may come as a surprise to some, but fusion
is not some futuristic, sci-fi idea, it’s real. It’s happening. You’ve seen it. Fusion energy exists every time we go out
in the day and look at the sun, we see a big ball of burning hydrogen gas…If you go out
at night and look at the stars, those are also billions and billions, to quote Carl
Sagan, of burning plasma engines, fusion engines. We’ve always followed the stars for direction,
but we need to learn to emulate them The twinkle of a star and the heat from our
sun, are byproducts of fusion. Fusion is the process of two light atoms,
like hydrogen, being forced together due to immense heat and pressure to form a heavier
atom, like helium. When this merger happens, energy is released,
which creates heat and light. Fusion is the energy that makes life possible
on our planet. And many think fusion will power our cities
of the future. We’re burning things, which has got to stop. We just literally set fire to things. That is really how we power cities at the
moment. It’s very inefficient. It’s very dirty, and it’s not doing our atmosphere
any good. And our atmosphere is one of the main reasons
people are excited about fusion. Unlike fossil fuels, Nuclear fusion doesn’t
release toxins and polluting greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide. The byproduct of fusion is helium, an inert,
non toxic gas. The fuel is made of two hydrogen atoms that
can be pulled from our abundant supply of seawater. And yes, fusion does produce radioactive byproducts,
but the half-life of that waste is much shorter than in a fission reactor. It’s for all these reasons and more that
Nuclear Fusion is viewed by many to be the cleanest, greenest and most viable alternative
to fossil fuels that we have. In fact, one of the biggest advantages touted
by fusion supporters is that power plants might be able to plug right into our existing
electrical grid, meaning we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to energy
infrastructure. Essentially the basic premise of fusion is
to take the sun, a shining ball of hydrogen in the sky, and to bring it to Earth and use
the heat it produces to generate steam, and to use that steam to turn a turbine. Now, of course we can’t grab a star and
transport it to Earth, but we can replicate the conditions of a star. And we have. We currently have the technology to heat up
hydrogen atoms to well beyond the temperature of the sun, to a point where fusion can occur. We have the technology to keep that superheated
plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur. We know we can turn heat into electricity
and currently have the infrastructure to put that electricity onto the grid. So, why can’t I charge my phone with electricity
made by fusion? Well, it all comes down to Q. In the world of fusion, Q represents “energy
gain.” Basically, power plants of all kinds need
electricity to produce, well, electricity. This is only worthwhile if you make more electricity
than you consume. No one has done that yet. That isn’t to say people haven’t made
fusion reactions happen, because they do. They do more and more every year and we have
more and more knowledge of how this works every year…But that first step hasn’t
happened yet, more out than you put in. It seems like right now the marker for success
is a reactor that produces ten times more energy than it’s putting in. That’s the goal for ITER, the largest scale
fusion experiment on the planet that’s been in the works for decades. ITER represents a collaboration of something
like 30 nations on Earth to contribute to building a tokamak and demonstrating an energy
gain, a capital Q of ten. This is exciting, and many think the science
is already proven out, meaning that when it turns out in 2025, it will meet or exceed
its goal. But, ITER is experiment only to demonstrate
that fusion can produce a net energy gain. As big and expensive as it is, will not power
anyone’s home. If it’s successful, than a power station
called DEMO will be built, aiming to put fusion electricity onto the grid somewhere between
2030 and 2050. Or, maybe even a little after that. Which is one of the complaints about the world
of fusion so far; it takes time. So, one of the major issues with working in
government projects is that they are notoriously bureaucratic….We’re building parts all over
the world, I mean, it is the perfect storm for a delayed project, an over-funded, over-budgeted
delayed project. Government projects aren’t the only way
to achieve fusion. Private companies are also getting in on the
world of fusion and they’re not waiting around for ITER to prove successful. For example MIT, helped by Professor Hartwig,
recently teamed up with a private company on a plan that they think could lead to an
operational fusion power plant within the next 15 years. But it’s not just money that is key to fusion
success, it’s awareness. The more vocal the public is about wanting
fusion power plants the more governments and investors might take notice. As every politician knows, the public plays
the only role in this. And I think this is an important issue…Do
people trust whoever is building this in a way that they will accept this as a part of
their everyday life? So, for nuclear fusion to happen, it might
take you. It might take you to read about it, learn
about it, talk about it, watch videos about it. There are fusion experiments currently being
carried out all over the world and the computer models have already proved that the science
works. People want it, governments wants it, private
industry wants it and well…the environment wants it. It just needs to be tested, built, made scalable,
approved and installed. So, how close are we to fusion energy? Well, the world that we would have fusion
energy is clearly a future world. It’s 30, 50 years where it’s a dominant form
of energy if everything goes right. Fusion is the only candidate we have. It’s what the stars are doing. It’s what the universe is telling us to do,
as the right way to create energy. It’s not, do you think it’s the right way
or not? It’s coming for sure. Thanks for watching everyone. If you want to know how close we are to resurrecting the mammoth, curing AIDS, or taking pictures of blackholes, you can do that right here. Now thanks again for watching Seeker. We’ll see you next time.