Pathway to a future source of energy for all mankind
All energy systems in use today are based, ultimately, on the energy of the sun. This includes not only photovoltaics and solar thermal, but also wind power, hydro power and, indirectly, fossil fuels and biofuels. Even the fuel needed for nuclear fission was formed at some point in time inside a sun, if not ours.
Not surprisingly, scientists have been trying for some time to replicate the sun’s energy production by building an “artifical star” here on Earth. If this succeeds, it would solve the Earth’s energy problems for centuries to come. As fusion scientists continue to advance this field of research, recent years have seen more and more breakthroughs, adding momentum and support for this “idea for mankind”.
Various facilities have already demonstrated fusion’s feasibility, including both magnetic (TOKAMAK-ITER, Stellerator-W7X) and inertial confinement fusion (NIF, USA). But so far, research and development as focused mainly on reactor technology and construction, not on fuel production. Any of today’s fusion processes require hydrogen in the form of deuterium and tritium. While deuterium can be won from water and is available in nearly unlimited supply, tritium must be “bred” in nuclear reactors. Tritium is a radioactive beta emitter with a half life of roughly twelve years, which means that after twelve years only half of this fuel remains. The byproduct of tritium decay, helium-3, is stable, can be mined on the moon, and can likely be used in the next generation of fusion reactors.