On average, households pay 12-18% of their income for energy like electricity, gas, fuel for cars, etc. The percentage is much higher if we factor in the energy cost of producing food and the many goods and services we use. And, of course, nations struggle – even wage war – for access to energy for their societies. Think for a moment, how would the world change if energy were essentially ‘free’? In my future world of Pelagia this is indeed the case. How might this happen?
The Power of the Sun
Many of you will be familiar with the current race to produce energy from fusion nuclear reactors (different from fission nuclear reactors, which already exist). One example is the Tokamak reactor design pictured to the left.
In nature, fusion reactors already exist, our night sky is littered with them. This is the reaction that is found in every star, including our sun. The immense gravity of the sun forces hydrogen atoms together under such pressure that two hydrogens fuse to become one helium atom, and a great deal of energy is released as – Sunshine!
That is ‘hot’ fusion. Alongside the number of groups working to produce controlled hot fusion – uncontrolled hot fusion are hydrogen bombs! – there is a quiet and curious number of people around the globe pursuing ‘cold fusion’. In Cold fusion, ways are sought to force two hydrogen atoms to fuse and become helium. In 1979 two scientists, Fleischman and Pons, were laughed out of the scientific community with the claim that they had succeeded in a cold fusion – but no other scientists could unequivocally duplicate their result. Research into cold fusion then became a ‘pariah field’ – a dead end for any science career – and any papers on the topic are systematically refused by mainstream journals.
Low Energy Nuclear Reactors (LENRs)
Still respected organisations are experimenting with Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) like NASA (to be used as a thruster, right), Google and the US Navy. Other countries like India, Japan and Italy are also pursuing LENRs. One Italian, Andrea Rossi, claims to have done it with his ‘E-Cat’; but his claim is highly controversial.
Whatever the merit of his device, Rossi’s concept inspired the LENRs of Pelagia. Instead of fusing hydrogen to become helium, Rossi clims to change one element into another by adding a hydrogen proton stripped of its electrons; this process releases energy. So, for example adding a proton (stripped hydrogen) to the nucleus of a nickel (NI) atom would change it into copper (CU). Look on a periodic table to see how this works.
Building a working LENR is seen as a kind of ‘holy grail’ in science and there is a lot of effort now to achieve it. These kinds of reactors will be far safer than current fission reactors.
In the World of Pelagia
In my story, the breakthrough has happened and LENR units are everywhere. The energy costs of production, manufacturing, transport, etc. are now dropping close to zero. No one is fighting or competing for oil, natural gas or uranium.
How would this change the world? Will it usher in a new utopia? I don’t think so; there will still be the darker side of human nature that will be motivated by the urge to accumulate power, money, status and control others. I doubt that future innovations even as revolutionary as these will end conflict or warfare.
And so my vision of the near future is neither utopian nor the now popular dystopian – but instead, a human future.