Tuesday March 30, 2021

Big energy users rely on the UK’s power network to provide safe, reliable electricity for their ongoing business stability. While the use of renewable energy is reaching an all-time high, concerns linger about its reliability. Nuclear fission has been supporting the drive to lower emissions but remains controversial and recently, science has been looking to the future. Could nuclear fusion be the solution?

Every business uses electricity but smaller companies and low level energy users can often handle short outages. Unfortunately big energy users are not so lucky. While solar and wind can be powerful contributors to the grid, they can’t meet all our energy needs. To decarbonise energy-intense industries such as industry or aviation, the development of hydrogen and nuclear is essential.

How does fusion work?

Unlike nuclear fission which splits an atom to release the energy and heat we need for electricity, fusion does it by combining two atoms. Under intense heat and pressure, two positively charged hydrogen isotopes are forced together to create a heavier element.  This releases the same heat and energy we see in fission.

While the process is more complicated than fission, the end result is far safer and more sustainable. It produces almost no radioactive waste material and if the system gets overwhelmed it shuts down automatically so there’s no risk of a meltdown. Not to mention, it is 25% of the cost of nuclear and half the cost of wind energy.

Fission power is fuelled by uranium which is mined, refined and remains dangerous for thousands of years after use. The fuel for fusion power is deuterium. This is found in seawater and the earth has a near limitless supply.

Fusion power promises clean, reliable energy and a consistent output day or night whatever the weather. Renewable power will certainly remain a key part of the plan but with the help of fusion power, we could completely eliminate the use of coal, oil and natural gas.

What is the problem?

Currently, efficiency is the big issue. Existing reactor designs have struggled to produce more electricity than they require for operation. This is mostly due to the scale of the designs and the fuel used for testing. Scientists have been working on the project for decades but lately, a lot of progress has been made. Current research aims to have a functioning, economically viable fusion reactor online by 2030.

The progress of this technology is often compared to the advancements made in microchip design. The processing power of a microchip doubles every year, (following a principle called Moore’s Law). Fusion research has followed a very similar trend.

If progress continues at the current pace, scientists hope to meet their targets and bring fusion into the fight against fossil fuels.

What do we do until then?

The main problem with nuclear fission reactors is the cost. Taking an average of 6 years to build and costing billions of pounds they represent a big commitment. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait until 2030 for the next advancement in energy technology. Small modular reactors and hydrogen fuel are getting ready to bridge the gap.

Small reactor, big energy

A popular option amongst energy researchers today is the Small Modular Reactor (SMR). These portable, self-contained reactor buildings are designed to be mass produced so they can be plugged into a power facility to generate electricity. Once used up, they would be returned to the manufacturer or moved into deep storage. SMR technology has made great progress in the last year and researchers hope to have a working model online in the next 5 years.

Hydrogen fuel

Nuclear power stations can also generate the temperatures required for the production of hydrogen fuel. The market for hydrogen has been growing steadily and is likely to maintain this trajectory in years to come. While not as energy dense as most fuels, hydrogen is more efficient than current battery technology and could greatly benefit the growing electric car market.

Where does EIC come in?

EIC are passionate about cutting edge technology. We regularly explore all the latest advancements and choose the best options for our clients. While fusion power may not be an immediate solution, the future for clean energy looks bright.

At EIC, we can help you manage your energy needs and ensure you meet your emissions targets. Our bespoke services can transform your energy strategy and integrate sustainability into the foundation of your organisation.

From procurement to onsite generation, we can help you find the most efficient and cost effective green energy solutions for your business. To learn more about working towards a clean, efficient energy future, contact us at EIC.

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