By Lethbridge Herald on April 10, 2015.
Fusion energy will be the next wave of clean energy alternatives, and Alberta is an ideal market for it, according to Allan Offenberger, a long-time researcher of the technology.
The professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alberta presented at the weekly SACPA session in Country Kitchen Catering on Thursday, and at the University of Lethbridge on Wednesday night.
Once only “an academic dream,” Offenberger said science is coming closer to making fusion energy a reality. He believes within the next 50 years it will be used around the world, but that Canada has been lagging behind.
He explained there is a huge difference between fusion and fission, which creates radioactive waste.
“Fusion works on the light nuclei. This is the process that occurs on the sun and all stars. In fact fusion is the fuel of nature universally.”
Fusion energy can be described as recreating the sun’s energy on earth in a controlled way, using hydrogen isotopes.
Everyone is aware of the importance of electricity running our homes and industry, he said. Offenberger projects we’ll need 40 terawatts or more than $100 trillion of economic business to build power plants to keep up with demand through the next century.
He said fusion energy is the best choice, as it’s sustainable and clean, and we can get processed heat and electricity, and produce hydrogen for fuel cells.
There are several promising options for creating fusion energy, he said, but it requires the proper balance of confinement and temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius.
Researchers are getting closer to hitting the right levels for magnetic confinement fusion with the Tokamak, and laser inertial fusion with the Laser Inertial Fusion Engine (LIFE), he explained.
He expects “a lot of the pressure and forward progress is going to come from China, India, Korea.”
China has magnetic fusion energy as one of their top five priorities, and they want it working by the 2030s, he said, and Korea has passed legislation to make fusion part of its national agenda.
Offenberger wants Alberta researchers and industry to get involved in fusion development. He believes Alberta could be a strong contender for the location of the world’s first fusion power demonstration plant and subsequent use for “greener” oil sands applications.
On behalf of the Alberta Council of Technologies Society, he led an assessment team on visits to major fusion programs around the world last year. He said he’s developed good working relationships with the U.S.A., Europe, and Japan to collaborate and build together.
In addition to the energy implications, he said fusion energy would make an “enormous economic impact,” creating jobs, and “bringing in research and development, technology, intellectual property and revenue.”
“Fusion is coming. We have an opportunity to participate in it or stand back and buy it from the rest of the world. In 50 years we’re not going to be selling oil and gas to the world because they’re going to have these alternative energies and be independent. In a decade or two we can have the fusion power plant demonstration. Canada so far has been the only developed country not involved, and we have to change that.”
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