Transcript

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It’s a really exciting time to be alive.
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We have a front row seat to the only known transformation of a world powered by dirty
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fossil fuels, to a planet that gets its energy from renewable, clean sources.
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It’s going to happen just once, right now.
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These are the top 10 potential energy sources of tomorrow.
0:23
Every hour, more energy from the sun reaches us than we earthlings use in an entire year.
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To try and save a lot more of it, one idea is to build giant solar farms in space that
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will collect some of the higher intensity, uninterrupted solar radiation.
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Giant mirrors would reflect huge amounts of solar rays onto smaller solar collectors.
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This energy would then be wirelessly beamed to Earth as either a microwave or laser beam.
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One of the main reasons this amazing idea is still just an idea is because it’s, big
0:55
surprise, very expensive.
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But it could become a reality in the not so distant future as our solar technology develops,
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and the cost of launching cargo into space comes way down, thanks to the work of companies
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like Space X.
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We already have human-powered devices [I’m envisioning wind-up flashlights or the like],
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but scientists are working on harvesting power generated from normal human movement.
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We’re talking about tiny electronics here, but the potential when multiplied by billions
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of people is big.
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And with developers making electronics that use less and less power, one day your phone
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may charge when it rustles around in your bag, pocket or moves in your hand, or your
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fingers move on the screen.
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At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, scientists have even demonstrated a device
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that uses viruses to translate pressure into electricity.
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Yes, it’s amazing as it sounds and no, there’s no way I’m going to try and explain how
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it works–of course it’s linked below if you want more info.
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There are even small body-worn systems that passively produce electricity when you move.
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Human power isn’t going to solve global warming, but every little bit helps.
2:03
Harnessing all the energy in the motion of the ocean could power the world several times
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over, which is why over 100 companies are trying to figure out how.
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Because of the focus on wind and solar, the tidal energy industry kind of got elbowed
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out of the early mix.
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But these systems are quickly becoming more efficient.
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For one, meet Oyster, a 2.4 megawatt producing, hinged flap that attaches to the ocean floor
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and – as it opens and closes – pumps high-pressure water onshore, where it drives a conventional
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hydroelectric turbine.
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So, one of those could power a whole housing development or a couple massive residential
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towers–roughly 2,500 homes.
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An engineer with the air force academy has created the terminator wing-shaped turbine
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that employs lift instead of drag, allowing it to theoretically harness 99% of a wave’s
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energy instead of the 50% that current tidal projects can get.
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And Perth, Australia just got the world’s first-ever wave-powered desalination plant
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that provides the city with enough drinking water for 500,000 residents.
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The element hydrogen – by far the most abundant in the universe – is very high in energy,
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but an engine that burns pure hydrogen produces almost no pollution.
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This is why NASA ‘s powered its space shuttles and parts of the International Space Station
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with the stuff for years.
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The only reason we’re not powering the entire world with hydrogen is because it only exists
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on our planet in combination with other elements like oxygen.
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You know, good old H20.
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Russia even converted a passenger jet to run on hydrogen in the late 80’s and Boeing
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recently tested small planes that fly on hydrogen.
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Once the hydrogen is separated it can be pumped into mobile fuel cells in vehicles that are
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able to directly convert it into electricity.
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These cars are now being manufactured on a fairly large scale.
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Honda’s planning on demonstrating the versatility of its new hydrogen fuel cell car by plugging
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it into a model home in Japan to power the house–instead of the car sucking electricity
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from the building like its electric-powered competitors have to do.
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Honda says one of these fully-fuelled cars could power an entire house for a whole week,
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or drive 300 miles without refuelling.
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The main obstacle right now is the relatively high cost of these vehicles and the lack of
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hydrogen stations to refuel them, although California now has plans for 70 of these stations
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across the state, South Korea’s expected to have a total of 43 soon and Germany’s
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aiming for 100 by 2017.
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The method of converting the heat rising from the depths of the molten core of the earth
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into energy – also known as geothermal – powers millions of homes around the world, including
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the electricity usage for 27% of the Philippines and 30% in Iceland.
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But an Icelandic deep drilling project may have recently discovered the holy grail when
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it hit a pocket of magma, which had only happened once before in Hawaii.
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The team pumped water down into the hole, which the scorching magma instantly vaporized
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to a record-setting 842 degrees fahrenheit.
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This highly pressurized steam increased the power output of the system tenfold, an amazing
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success that should lead to a giant leap in the energy generating capabilities of geothermal
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projects around the world.
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Nuclear fission power plants are the traditional reactors that have been in use around the
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world for decades and provide the US with about 20% of our electricity.
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They use something called light-water technology to surround the fuel rods with water, which
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slows the neutrons and allow for a sustained nuclear reaction.
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Buuuut, the system is really inefficient–only 5 percent of the uranium atoms in the rod
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get used up by the time it has to be removed.
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All that unused, highly radioactive uranium just gets added to our growing stockpile of
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nuclear waste.
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But now, finally, there appears to be another, more efficient way, called a fast reactor,
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where the rods are submerged in liquid sodium instead of water.
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This allows 95 percent of the uranium to be used, instead of the unacceptably inefficient
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5 percent.
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Adopting this method would solve the huge problem of getting rid of our 77,000 tons
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of radioactive waste because these new reactors can reuse it.
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GE Hitachi has already designed a fast reactor called PRISM and is shopping it to power companies,
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but the biggest obstacle is the high cost of building new nuclear power plants.
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Plus, you have to overcome the political stigma that nuclear is a dangerous energy source.
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Still, the benefits are huge—Its a proven technology that emits pretty much no greenhouse
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gases.
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The big success story is France, which has 75% of its electricity needs met by its 59
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nuclear power reactors.
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With production and installation costs getting cheaper by the day, solar power is taking
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off around the world.
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Europe is the best in photovoltaics and is driven by its leader, Germany.
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On an average sunny day in 2012, Deutschland got as much electricity from the sun as 20
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nuclear power stations, enough to power 50% of the country.
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Spain is now generating more than 50% of its power from renewable resources like solar.
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A California desert is home to the largest solar power station in the entire world, and
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the United States increased its solar capacity by nearly 500% from 2010 to 2014.
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And if you think that that’s as fast as solar can possibly grow, listen to this.
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Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico just made a significant breakthrough
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in quantum dot solar cell technology that will allow highly efficient solar panels to
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double as transparent windows.
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When this technology becomes cheap enough to hit the mass market in the next couple
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of years, every sun-exposed window in the world will have the potential to be converted
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into a mini power station.
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From 2002 to 2013, biofuels grew more than 500% in the U.S. as production of crop-derived
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ethanol and biodiesel became a mainstream substitute or supplement to gasoline in our
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cars.
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In fact, back in the day when Henry Ford first developed his Model T, he thought it would
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run on ethanol.
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The discovery of vast amounts of cheap oil all over the world unfortunately made it the
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go-to energy source.
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But renewable biofuels are making a strong comeback now.
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The only problem is that the currently dominant first generation of biofuels use the same
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land and resources that have traditionally been used to grow food, which is driving up
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the cost of food and causing big problems in a lot of the developing world, so something
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has to change if biofuels are going to give us a chance at replacing oil with something
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clean burning.
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That’s where a plant like switchgrass comes in.
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It’s hearty, it grows like a weed just about anywhere, and it isn’t food.
9:00
But, if we wanted to run all the world’s cars on it, we’d need to plant it on an
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amount of land equivalent to the entire countries of Russia and the U.S., combined.
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So that’s not gonna work.
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This brings us to the 3rd generation of biofuels, algae, which has all the right ingredients
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to replace oil once and for all.
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Algae’s natural oil content is greater than 50%, which means it can be easily extracted
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and processed.
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We can convert the remaining part of the plant into electricity, natural gas and even fertilizer
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to grow even more algae without chemicals.
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Algae grows quickly and doesn’t need farmland or freshwater.
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Just last month, Alabama became the world’s first algae biofuel system that can also effectively
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treat human wastewater, this actually resulted in a carbon-negative outcome.
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The 40,000 a day demonstration plant basically floated giant bags on a bay, pumped wastewater
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water into them, added a little algae, and then let the sunlight do its thing.
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Before long, algae had grown everywhere and cleaned the wastewater so well it could either
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be released back into the bay or reused by people as drinking water.
10:10
We’re already getting a lot of energy from the wind, but with the Buoyant Air Turbine
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– or BAT – that floats 1-2,000 feet above the ground where winds are stronger and more
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consistent, we could soon be getting that energy much more efficiently.
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The system is simple: a ringed blimp with a wind turbine in the middle is tethered securely
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to the ground.
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It’ll produce twice as much power as similar sized tower-mounted turbines.
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It can even handle winds of more than 100 mph and can be fitted with additional devices
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like a wifi unit, which would help bring the Internet to parts of the world that don’t
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have it yet.
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The buoyant air turbine was designed for bringing renewable wind energy to rural parts of the
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world where building a traditional wind turbine was impossible and will first be deployed
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in Alaska.
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It can even automatically detect and adjust its floating height to where the best wind
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speed is.
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When the wind speed is dangerously high, the thing will dock itself, eliminating the need
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for manual labor.
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Flying wind turbines like this should soon replace all the less efficient tower-based
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systems and could allow for the construction of offshore wind farms that have until now
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been really expensive to build.
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Unlike fission, nuclear fusion doesn’t create any deadly nuclear waste because it fuses
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atoms together instead of splitting them apart, so there’s no threat of a runaway reaction
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that could lead to a meltdown event.
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But, this is easier said than done.
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One Nobel Prize-winning physicist described fusion as trying to put “the sun into a
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box.
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The idea is pretty.
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The problem is, we don’t know how to make the box.”
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The technical issue is that fusion reactions will produce material that’s so volatile
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and hot, it will damage the reactor that created it.
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This isn’t stopping private companies and governments from spending billions to research
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the technology and solve these problems.
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And if the immense challenges can be overcome, fusion will provide virtually limitless energy
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and power the world.
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That’s why the world’s wealthiest governments are collaborating on the controversial International
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Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France, known as ITER.
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When was the last time Russia, China, Europe and the United States collaborated on anything?
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That’s how important for humanity this project is.
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And because of its revolutionary potential several powerful companies like Lockheed Martin
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are quietly working on their own fusion reactors.
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Lockheed has a very optimistic timeline for their system, projecting that they will meet
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global energy demand by 2050.
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Their optimism may be fairly justified.
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In October, 2013, in separate research, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
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in the United States achieved a huge milestone in fusion when, for the first time, a fuel
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capsule gave off more energy than was applied to it.
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Thank for watching.
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For The Daily Conversation, I’m Bryce Plank.

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