Science fiction movies have the luxury of not having to explain how their cool mech suits and spaceships are powered. But once in a great while, they do. There are usually two methods of power used, nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.
Iron Man’s suit is powered with an Arc Reactor, which doesn’t really exist. The closest thing that we have in the real world is a Cold Fusion Reactor. So, what is cold fusion, and is it possible? First of all, the average person will often use the terms fission and fusion interchangeably, because they have no real idea what the two terms mean. When asking the average person off the street what power the sun uses, if using the terms fusion and fission, the answers will probably be fifty-fifty.
Nuclear fission occurs when an atom is split releasing radiation and a high amount of energy. Nuclear fusion is when two separate atoms combine together to form a new atom.
For those of you who don’t know, the sun is a giant fusion reactor.
So if the sun creates all of its energy from Fusion, how can we replicate that on Earth? Almost everything needed is easily found or built. Deuterium from saltwater out of the ocean, palladium and an electrical current make up the basic ingredients. However, there is one part of this recipe that isn’t easy to come by.
Hydrogen is positively charged and we all know what happens when you try to force two positively charged things together. The more force you apply the greater the resistance.
Our sun has a lot of mass and with a lot of mass comes a lot of gravity. At the sun’s core, it is that gravity that forces hydrogen to bond together in fusion. The bonding of those two hydrogen atoms creates one helium atom, a lot of kinetic energy and one left over neutron. That kinetic energy and the neutron leave the center of the sun and travel away in the form of radiation, one of which is light.
So this is our problem, we now need to replicate the force used by gravity at the center of the sun here on Earth.
On March 23, 1989, two chemists at the University of Utah made an amazing announcement. Professor Martin Fleischmann FRS of the University of Southampton and Professor Stanley Pons Chairman of University of Utah Chemistry Department announced that they successfully achieved a nuclear reaction at room temperature in a test tube.
Now, before I go any further, I feel the need to mention that our media is flawed. I won’t get into all the ways that it fails us, but I need to talk about one thing that is relevant to what you are currently reading. News media is sensationalized in order to grab the attention of the reader. It needs to have that wow factor. Science on the other hand, especially when done correctly is boring. The two don’t really see eye to eye. Science usually makes the news when a study is done, and then someone either from that study or in a related field makes a claim that that study is linked to something because of some reason. A good example of this is “dark chocolate is good for your heart”. There have been several studies that have shown that dark chocolate can help reduce cholesterol. But there have also been several studies that show there isn’t any statistical correlation. Also, there have been no studies to show the negative effects that would happen if a person ate the required amount of dark chocolate to have a healthy cholesterol level on a high fatty diet.
Back to 1989, when the two chemists made the announcement the media went crazy. The claims were spread around the world overnight. Everyone thought that we were on the verge of having cold fusion in our everyday lives.
When trying to replicate the study, the two chemists found that their thermometer wasn’t placed in the correct location and therefore they hadn’t reached the level of success they previously thought. They reached out to the media but found that the new story of their mistake had very little airtime. The world continued to believe that cold fusion was within reach.
Maybe it was because of all of the airtime that the initial announcement had, but when there weren’t any major advancement to follow, cold fusion became a shunned topic in the news. It was almost like the equivalent of when Geraldo found Capone’s Vault. If you don’t know what that looks it up.
So here we are more than twenty-five years later. Some people believe that cold fusion was some elaborate lie created for who knows what reason. The truth is there is a large group of scientists who still believe that cold fusion is achievable in our lifetime.
Discovering how to create cold fusion would be a break though that would change the world. First of all cold fusion energy would replace all use of fossil fuels. The collection and refinement of fossil fuels are expensive. Burning fossil fuels is inefficient and creates high amounts of pollution.
Cold fusion has little to no pollution output. It has no radioactive output and very little radioactive waste. It consumes hydrogen and creates helium as a byproduct. A car could theoretically run for a year from a spoonful of heavy water.
If the world was able to convert to cold fusion for its energy needs the first thing we would notice would be a drop in pollution worldwide. Greenhouse gasses would return to a natural level. You don’t have to believe in global warming (which you really should) to know that pollution is bad.
The next thing we would notice is that we would be saving billions of dollars every day from the conversion. Depending on our governments that money would be moved to aid in other areas. Imagine what our world would be like if we took that money and used it to make clean water and food for those areas of the world that needed it.
If food and water became readily available to everyone, and pollution was cut drastically, we would see a significant drop in diseases around the world. Speculating a bit further, there would probably be a reduction of terrorism in the world. It isn’t a secret that fossil fuels fund several terrorist groups around the world. I’m not saying it would solve the problem, but it would probably reduce it as those groups tried to adapt to other forms of funding.
A world powered by cold fusion sounds like Utopia. So how do we get there? Well, we need a government and some businesses that would be willing to use a fair amount of money in research. This has been a difficult sell because research isn’t cheap and takes a long time. Unfortunately, most governments and business look at this research as a business investment. They see a lot of money being used to produce something that won’t make them any money in return. Just about everyone wants cold fusion. They just don’t want to be the ones to fund its discovery.
That leaves us with businesses using their own money, as well as small grants and donations to businesses and schools who are pioneering this field. Because of them, we are moving in the right direction, but unfortunately, it will take longer that it should.
Sadly, I may never get my own personal Iron Man suit. Do you think cold fusion is possible? Let me know in the comments.