Volume 4, Issue 7
November 5, 2017 – October 11, 2017
Jason Mulderrig '18 | Will Atkinson '18 | Anushka Dasgupta '19 | Joe Abbate '18 | Amy Amatya '21


Energetic fusion combines small atoms (like hydrogen), whereas fission breaks apart large atoms (like uranium). Although the US induced fusion in a hydrogen bomb way back in 1952 and the USSR had controlled fusion within reactors by the 1960s, nobody has ever achieved “breakeven”: getting out more energy from the fusion reaction than we put in to start it. The temperatures required to initiate fusion are on the order of hundreds of millions of kelvin, at which point the fuel becomes ionized to the plasma state. Plasmas are notoriously difficult to manage, which has meant very slow improvement and led to the popular adage “fusion is always 30 years away”. It has led many to ask why we need this new energy source at all. Proponents of fusion argue that unlike solar it would be available in any weather condition and wouldn’t require massive land use; unlike fossil fuels it would be totally clean, and its fuel would be outrageously cheap and globally available (requiring only seawater and used batteries); and unlike fission there would be no risk of meltdown (the trouble is getting the reaction going, not stopping it), with radioactive product half lives on the order of hundred rather than million years. Still, fusion research has already taken in billions of dollars and will require billions more, not to mention the opportunity cost of generations of scientists tackling this problem; we could instead be focusing on making more efficient batteries or solar cells. Where do you stand on the issue? -JAA

Energetic fusion combines small atoms (like hydrogen), whereas fission breaks apart large atoms (like uranium). Although the US induced fusion in a hydrogen bomb way back in 1952 and the USSR had controlled fusion within reactors by the 1960s, nobody has ever achieved “breakeven”: getting out more energy from the fusion reaction than we put in to start it. The temperatures required to initiate fusion are on the order of hundreds of millions of kelvin, at which point the fuel becomes ionized to the plasma state. Plasmas are notoriously difficult to manage, which has meant very slow improvement and led to the popular adage “fusion is always 30 years away”. It has led many to ask why we need this new energy source at all. Proponents of fusion argue that unlike solar it would be available in any weather condition and wouldn’t require massive land use; unlike fossil fuels it would be totally clean, and its fuel would be outrageously cheap and globally available (requiring only seawater and used batteries); and unlike fission there would be no risk of meltdown (the trouble is getting the reaction going, not stopping it), with radioactive product half lives on the order of hundred rather than million years. Still, fusion research has already taken in billions of dollars and will require billions more, not to mention the opportunity cost of generations of scientists tackling this problem; we could instead be focusing on making more efficient batteries or solar cells. Where do you stand on the issue? -JAA

Iraqi Kurds’ Independence Vote Exposed Risks to Energy Strategy November 3, 2017 | New York Times | Stanley Reed In September, the Kurdish ethnic minority in Iraq voted for political independence from the nation. For some years now, Kurdish leaders have been working to attract the attention of companies such a Chevron and Exxon Mobil with the promise of easily extractable oil, particularly around the city of Kirkuk. Contracts in hand, they thought they had guaranteed the financial security of the new Kurdish state. Iraqi troops, however, recently seized Kirkuk, and preliminary explorations of the area have been underwhelming as oil prices continue to fall. The Kurdish state may find it difficult to love forward with its energy-centered political strategy. -AD U.S. Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials November 3, 2017 | New York Times | Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush Last Friday, 13 federal agencies released a comprehensive report that emphasized the role of humans as the dominant cause of climate change. The White House approved the report for release, despite the administration’s resistance to policies that address climate change. As part of the National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated review that involves hundreds of scientists every four years, this report represents the US’s most definitive statement on the issue. -WA

Iraqi Kurds’ Independence Vote Exposed Risks to Energy Strategy
November 3, 2017 | New York Times | Stanley Reed
In September, the Kurdish ethnic minority in Iraq voted for political independence from the nation. For some years now, Kurdish leaders have been working to attract the attention of companies such a Chevron and Exxon Mobil with the promise of easily extractable oil, particularly around the city of Kirkuk. Contracts in hand, they thought they had guaranteed the financial security of the new Kurdish state. Iraqi troops, however, recently seized Kirkuk, and preliminary explorations of the area have been underwhelming as oil prices continue to fall. The Kurdish state may find it difficult to love forward with its energy-centered political strategy. -AD

U.S. Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials
November 3, 2017 | New York Times | Lisa Friedman and Glenn Thrush
Last Friday, 13 federal agencies released a comprehensive report that emphasized the role of humans as the dominant cause of climate change. The White House approved the report for release, despite the administration’s resistance to policies that address climate change. As part of the National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated review that involves hundreds of scientists every four years, this report represents the US’s most definitive statement on the issue. -WA

Will Molten Salt Outdo Batteries for Grid-Tied Storage October 23, 2017 | GreenTechMedia | Jason Deign Lately, grid-scale battery storage projects have been garnishing much media attention. However, thermal storage projects, particularly those using molten salt, exceeds the capacity of battery storage in operation today internationally and in the United States. The hours to tens of hours of energy storage provided by thermal storage projects are more attractive to energy utilities than the minutes to tens of minutes of energy storage provided by battery storage projects. Currently, China is the most ambitious country with thermal storage projects - intending to install 5 gigawatts of capacity by 2020. -JPM

Will Molten Salt Outdo Batteries for Grid-Tied Storage
October 23, 2017 | GreenTechMedia | Jason Deign
Lately, grid-scale battery storage projects have been garnishing much media attention. However, thermal storage projects, particularly those using molten salt, exceeds the capacity of battery storage in operation today internationally and in the United States. The hours to tens of hours of energy storage provided by thermal storage projects are more attractive to energy utilities than the minutes to tens of minutes of energy storage provided by battery storage projects. Currently, China is the most ambitious country with thermal storage projects - intending to install 5 gigawatts of capacity by 2020. -JPM