Solar energy [ctd.]
2.2 Sun Vs. Two Key Challenges in Energy Sector
Energy industry has always been an evolving research field. Researchers have been extensively working to develop new alternative energy technologies and to improve the energy efficiency of electrical appliances. Both attempts are crucial to find a solution capable of solving the energy crisis in future. Among many such research interests in the energy sector, two fascinating concepts have always been mind-bending.
High-temperature superconducting materials
The electrical resistance of a superconducting material is exactly zero at any temperature lower than its critical temperature. As a result, superconducting materials conduct electricity with no energy loss as long as their temperature is maintained below their critical temperature. But no material has still been found to exhibit superconductivity at the room temperature. All known superconducting materials need to be cooled to very low temperatures which is an expensive and complicated mechanism. Any superconducting material with a higher critical temperature would certainly be able to save a substantial amount of energy which would otherwise have dissipated as Joule heating loss in transmission lines and electric circuits.
Commercial-scale fusion reactors
Fusion is simply the opposite of fission. Just like in a nuclear fission, an enormous amount of energy is released when light nuclei fuse into heavy nuclei. When lighter nuclei fuse into heavier nuclei, the sum of the nuclear mass after the fusion reaction would be less than that of resultant particles. This drop in the mass is converted into energy (kinetic energy of resultant nuclei and particles, radiation) according to the Einstein equation. Nuclear fusion is an unbeatable way of generating energy in terms of the amount of energy that could be gained per 1 kg of fuel. Further, one would be surprised to know that the amount of fusion fuels on the earth is unlimited!
Deuterium and tritium have been found to be the best nuclear fusion fuels. Deuterium can be cropped from sea water without any limit as it is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen. Abundance of deuterium is very low compared to that of Protium in naturally occurring water. But oceans are huge reservoirs holding 1.34 billion square kilometers of water . In other words, oceans contain oceans of nuclear fuels which would be enough to provide energy for more than 40 billions of years at present rate of global energy consumption . These facts have brought to light some mind-blowing information about the potential of fusion fuels contained in sea water leading many to anticipate nuclear fusion would be the most promising solution to the energy crisis in future.
Comparing potential of nuclear fusion energy to any other energy source is like trying to compare apples and oranges. But the bad story is that many technical challenges are yet to be overcome to build a commercial-scale fusion power plant. In order to build an economically/ practically feasible fusion reactor, the harvestable amount of energy must be always higher than the amount of energy needed to operate the reactor. But current technology is not capable of harvesting a reasonable amount of energy in nuclear fusion.
The idea of utilizing nuclear fusion energy was first emerged in1950s and was one of the mainstream research field in nuclear physics. Many believed that nuclear fusion was going to replace other forms of energy within next three decades. Researchers have been dreaming of self-sustaining, economically viable nuclear fusion power plants for decades and it still remains a dream, unfortunately.
We may have to wait just one more year, a decade, several decades or perhaps until 2100…
Even though we do not think of it…
We already have a massive fusion power plant in which tons of light nuclei fuse into larger nuclei generating a tremendous amount of energy each second.
Our planet is orbiting around it…
It is at the center of our orbit…
A huge natural fusion reactor…
Sun is the largest power plant in our solar system and is a huge spinning, gaseous ball.
It is a natural fusion reactor which operates 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week/ 52 weeks a year/ 1000 years a millennium, 10 millennia a hectocentennial…
And it does not shut down for maintenance in any circumstances.
Half of the earth is always receiving radiation from the Sun upon exposure to sunlight.
In order to ensure that each region on the earth receives solar energy, our planet is spinning while it is revolving about the Sun offering a golden opportunity to all the countries to harvest energy from a distant fusion reactor!
In next article, let us discuss the potential of solar energy and its capacity to quench our thirst for energy.
Eakins, B. W., & Sharman, G. F. (2010). Volumes of the World’s Oceans from ETOPO1. NOAA National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder, CO, 7.
Isaacs, J. D., & Seymour, R. J. (1973). The ocean as a power resource. international journal of environmental studies, 4(1-4), 201-205.