Second Fusion Test Successful – Time to Consider Cosmic Nudging; Two Ways in Which Nuclear Fusion Could Help Reverse Global Warming
Breakthrough On Fusion Energy
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 7, 2013) – The new second and improved demonstration that nuclear fusion can be used to produce energy, by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, might open the door to ways in which the virtually unlimited supply of clean energy, which fusion promises to provide, could be used to slow or perhaps even reverse global warming without the difficult task of slashing greenhouse gases.
This is especially important in light of a recent very pessimistic report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the earth’s surface temperature will increase over the current century even under all assessed emission scenarios, says Professor John Banzhaf of George Washington University, who suggests at least two ways in which fusion energy might help solve the problem.
In other words, despite valiant efforts to pressure countries to fight global warming by slashing their own greenhouse gas emissions, that plan seems not to be working, and the longer we limit our response to this unproven approach, the hotter the world is likely to become.
Fusion power generation could help reduce global warming in at least two major ways, says Banzhaf, an MIT-trained engineer with two U.S. patents.
First, fusion reactors could replace the need to use fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas, with their unavoidable emissions of greenhouse gases, to heat buildings (and even whole cities) and to power plants now used to generate electricity used in homes, factories, and other businesses.
Fusion power “has no limits if you can get it to work,” notes Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce and a major investor in Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which aims to create compact fusion power plants. The company explains that “nuclear fusion could provide limitless clean energy with almost zero pollution and no radiation or radioactive waste. ‘One glass of water will provide enough fusion fuel [hydrogen] for one person’s lifetime,’ the company predicts on its website.”
Since the feasibility of powering cars and trucks (and almost certainly also trains and large ships, and probably even airplanes) with batteries charged by electricity generated by power plants has been established, the burning of gasoline and diesel fuel for those common purposes could also be slashed if not totally eliminated.
While the physics of fusion power generation must first be proven and also be much better understood, and the enormous engineering challenges of constructing and operating efficient fusion power plants must be overcome, this approach finally seems to be possible, and could replace many sources of greenhouse gases, especially if it is backed by the hundreds of billions of dollars now being discussed for research into other possible proposals for fighting global warming such as geoengineering.
Geoengineering (defined as the large-scale manipulation of a specific process central to controlling Earth’s climate) is generally thought to include carbon dioxide removal, weather modification, and solar radiation management (e.g. by raising ground-level albedo, injecting sulfur particles into the stratosphere, whitening marine clouds, and delivering millions of tiny orbital mirrors or sunshades into space), but it might also include making a tiny change in Earth’s orbit made possible by energy from nuclear fusion, says Banzhaf.
Using Cosmic Nudging To Fight Global Warming
Thus, as a second way of using this new now-proven technology, fusion might be able to provide sufficient energy to make it possible to increase earth’s orbit by the tiny amount necessary to completely overcome global warming; an approach now being discussed and analyzed which could involve cosmic nudging.
Drawing upon the original suggestion by Matteo Ceriotti, Lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the University of Glasgow, Prof. Banzhaf has calculated that increasing Earth’s orbit by only 0.3% could completely offset global warming; thereby serving as an alternative (or as a supplemental approach) to achieving worldwide cooperation in slashing emissions of greenhouse gases by drastically modifying western lifestyles.
While even this tiny 0.3% change in Earth’s orbit would require enormous amounts of energy – energy which might be generated by large-scale nuclear fusion – the change could be achieved in a number of different proven ways: e.g., employing an electric thruster (an ion drive), constructing a huge solar sail, or utilizing a gravitational sling shot effect by changing the orbits of asteroids.
Indeed, it might even be possible to exploit so-called “Δv leveraging” in which a body such as a large asteroid can be nudged slightly out of its orbit and, as a result, years later, could swing past the Earth, providing a much larger impulse to increase Earth’s orbit by a measurable amount.
The concept of altering the orbits of asteroids to help sling shot Earth into a slightly different orbit gained traction when NASA recently reported that its test to determine whether it could accurately catch up to and then deflect an asteroid greatly surpassed expectations. Originally expected to reduce the asteroid’s orbit by only 73 seconds, the collision which NASA deliberately caused increased the asteroid’s orbital period by an astonishing period of 32 minutes.- giving it a boost more than 25 times as powerful as scientists had hoped for.
More details about how such a cosmic nudge might be accomplished can be found at Can A Change In Orbit Save Planet Earth?
Another approach to achieving a slightly larger Earth orbit was recently proposed in Can We Use a Giant Thruster to Change Earth’s Orbit?
Moreover, a recent analysis including detailed calculations by an astrophysicist, as outlined in a newly published paper, have also lent more credence to Banzhaf’s original cosmic nudge idea. Banzhaf: Fusion Power Achieved – Now, Can It Nudge Earth Into a New Orbit?
“We propose using the gravity-assist by the asteroids to increase the orbital distance of the Earth from the Sun. We can manipulate the orbit of asteroids in the asteroid belt by solar sailing and propulsion engines to guide them towards the Mars orbit and a gravitational scattering can put asteroids in a favorable direction to provide an energy loss scattering from the Earth. The result would be increasing the orbital distance of the earth and consequently cooling down the Earth’s temperature.”
More specifically, the paper shows how this could be accomplished within a reasonable time frame:
“The time scale to lower the orbit is about 70 yrs for a 1010 kg mass asteroid. Using the installed propulsion jet engines on the asteroids will decrease this time scale and enable us to do the asteroid maneuvering for a larger number of asteroids. This project can enable us to change the earth’s orbit and cool down its temperature by decreasing the energy flux of the sun received by the earth. This project could be feasible for the future technology on earth.”
In summary, if we are willing collectively to spend anything like the enormous amount of money necessary to slash greenhouse gas emissions (and put up with the huge lifestyle dislocations involved) on developing nuclear fusion as an energy source, and then on using it to deflect asteroids from their current orbits enough to enlarge Earth’s orbit by less than half of one percent, we might have a feasible alternative to overcome global warming.
Thus, at the very least, in light of these two very recent encouraging developments – net power generation from nuclear fusion plus unexpected success in asteroid deflection – and detailed calculations suggesting its feasibility, Professor Banzhaf suggests that the concept of using nuclear fusion to provide sufficient energy for another way-outside-the-box approach (cosmic nudging) likewise deserves at least some study and consideration.