Nuclear fusion has long been hailed as a near-perfect solution to the burgeoning global energy crisis. Centered around the replication of reactions occurring in the sun, this process involves the fusion of two lightweight atoms like hydrogen at extremely high temperatures, resulting in the release of large amounts of energy as well as the creation of a new element altogether (in this case, helium).
Hydrogen being one of the most abundant elements on Earth, nuclear fusion could very well be the answer for unlimited clean energy, produced with almost zero carbon emissions. Despite its many advantages, this process is something that scientists have not yet been able to scale-up for it to be commercially usable.
As part of a new study, however, a team of Canadian researchers has come forward with plans to develop a functional nuclear fusion prototype plant by the year 2030. Scientists from the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Alberta, Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation and a few other companies have submitted a new report, known as Fusion 2030, which outlines the steps that need to be followed for humans to be able to harness the power of nuclear fusion sufficiently. Speaking about the findings, Michael Delage of General Fusion said:
There’s an opportunity here … we need to see an investment in research capacity and academia in order to make sure we’re producing the graduates with the skills that can contribute in this field.
If everything goes according to plan, nuclear fusion could completely replace environmentally-harmful fossil fuels in a little over a decade. Before the necessary technology can be developed, however, the government will have to invest somewhere around CA$125 million (approx. US$96 million) in the project, much of which will go towards funding various research groups, organizations and universities. Once the technology is ready, the report states, the process of commercialization could be sponsored by private enterprises. Delage added:
The technology we are using is an approach that we think has inherent cost advantages to do it. Once you build one of these and it begins to become commercially viable, we think we can be competitive with the grid.
As pointed out by Fusion 2030, nuclear fusion is one of the most valuable renewable power source available today, boasting the highest energy density, lowest carbon footprint as well as the greatest energy payback ratio (or EPR) of all sustainable resources. Delage went on to say:
The clean energy source is available just about anywhere in the world – you can extract it from water. It’s something that we can build anywhere. There is so much going on in this field across the world. We really believe by 2030 we’re going to see demonstration plants being built. We’d love to see that in Canada, and we could get there if we start to invest now.