Steven Cowley, CEO of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and professor at Imperial College, spoke at THiNK 2012 about his area of expertise: fusion energy. This is a topic of immense economic interest as its success will have paramount repercussions.
Cowley commenced his talk with the statement that there is a direct relationship between wealth and energy consumption. Unfortunately, most of the world is not getting its share. By 2030 we will have tripled our energy consumption. Despite that shale gas from the USA is getting cheaper. “The big challenge is therefore to wean ourselves of fossil fuels” Cowley confessed.
The answer for the scientific community is to make a fuel that is cheaper than fossil fuels. Fusion, fission and solar are in desperate need of more research. Lithium, an element required for fusion is available in the water of the oceans. Steven Cowley’s team in the UK has made a lab with a magnetic coil allowing fusion of lithium and tritium. The research on fusion energy is a multinational project including the USA, Europe, China and India. Europe thinks it may be commercially available by 2040 at the current cost equivalent to that of nuclear energy.
Steven Cowley said “it can be done but it is incredibly difficult to do so. But we should try” as he concluded his brilliant presentation.