By guest columnist Brian Quigley
One of the potential applications for Blockchain technology that excites me the most is in the Energy space. Blockchain could be used for energy supply transactions, asset management, origin guarantees, emission allowances and renewable energy certificates. Given the need for newer and cleaner forms of energy, Blockchain could be part of a solution to transforming the world’s energy industry while simultaneously contributing to climate change management.
The energy source I specifically have in mind is nuclear fusion. Yes, I’ve mentioned the word nuclear, but don’t go nuclear and stop reading. Nuclear power as we know it – with associated disasters like Sellafield and Chernobyl – is nuclear fission; fusion is a different cup of tea altogether. Whereas fission involves the breaking down of heavy atomic nuclei in reactions that produce lots of radioactive waste in reactors that can go ‘critical’, fusion involves joining together light atomic nuclei and collecting the energy given off.
Fusion isn’t yet a reality, but when it does become real – definitely by 2050, if not before – it will have the advantages over fission of being cleaner, greener and possessing ample raw-material fuel supplies. When it does come on stream take-up will be slow initially, before reaching a tipping point – a bit like electric cars, or Bitcoin.
We know fusion will be possible because it is what happens in the stars. Fusion processes require fuel and a confined environment with sufficient temperature, pressure and confinement time to create a plasma in which fusion can occur. In the stars Hydrogen is the fuel and gravity provides the temperature, pressure and confinement time. Fusion made us all; all of the elements in our bodies were fused in the atomic forge of a star that died a billion years ago.
Hydrogen is in plentiful supply on earth. Even better is its heavier isotope Deuterium, which is present in – and easily extracted from – seawater. Twelve ounces of Deuterium can release as much energy as a thousand tonnes of coal. There is enough Deuterium in the world’s oceans to power human civilization indefinitely.
The idea of achieving nuclear fusion has been around for decades. Progress has been slow in getting a workable fusion process. Part of the problem here is funding – fusion research has been exclusively funded by public money, hampering the rate of progress. Recently the game has changed with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel and Bill Gates getting into the fusion space, along with institutional investors such as Legal & General, Chevron and China’s ENN Group. This, along with expected advancements in computing and materials science, should conspire to bring forward the achievement of an economic fusion process.
The geopolitics of something that could simultaneously transform the world’s energy industry while being kinder to the environment are huge. It could really become the new space race. Blockchain technology deserves to be at the table.