An opinion piece in the Washington Post features commentary and research from experts in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
The piece is a discussion of a breakthrough in fusion power achieved by the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory earlier this month. Researchers there produced a fusion reaction with a net energy gain for the first time, a scientific achievement that could potentially provide a source of unlimited carbon-free energy. The deputy director of the Livermore National Laboratory, Patricia Falcone, graduated from Princeton in 1974 with a B.S.E. in mechanical and aerospace engineering. She was one of the first women to graduate from the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The opinion piece, written by the editorial board of the Washington Post, discusses the challenges associated with harnessing this scientific breakthrough to create a new sustainable source of energy. A twitter thread by Ricks is specifically cited to explain the difficulties of using energy from a fusion reactor to create electricity:
"Harnessing electricity from the energy produced in a fusion reaction is another challenge, points out Princeton University’s Wilson Ricks. As in conventional power plants, much of the heat produced will dissipate uselessly rather than transfer to the water that turns into steam to drive a turbine. This means an economical fusion reactor would have to create a lot more energy to produce enough electricity to justify the energy cost of ignition."
A working paper by Schwartz, Ricks, Kolemen and Jenkins, "The value of fusion energy to a decarbonized United States electric grid," is cited to discuss the economic barriers associated with fusion reactors:
"Once demonstration reactors work, fusion technology will face another barrier: economics. Fusion reactors will have to compete against traditional fission facilities and increasingly cheap renewables. In the long run, fusion’s many benefits will probably make the technology a big part of the global energy mix. But that point is not likely to come soon enough for fusion to play a leading role in replacing the fossil fuels driving climate change, a transition that scientists say should happen over the first half of this century."