Sustainable Energy for the Future

This past Friday, Michael Campbell, the director of the energy division of Logos Technologies, a company that develops energy systems and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology, presented at Dartmouth. He discussed some recent developments in energy production from his company and his predictions for sustainable energy for the 21st century and beyond.

Campbell and his team believe that fossils fuels, coal, and other sources of energy need to be replaced with clean, alternative energy sources before emissions do further damage to the environment. Campbell’s suggested solutions include relying on energy from uranium-fueled nuclear fission reactors for heat and electricity and biofuels for transportation. In terms of nuclear energy, one uranium fuel pellet provides the same amount of energy as 200 gallons of oil or two tons of coal would provide. It is also the “greenest” in terms of emissions in that it is not as carbon intensive as fossil fuels. This fact was demonstrated in France, where a change to using nuclear energy for 70 percent of France’s electricity led to an improvement in air quality.

The major drawbacks of nuclear energy are safety and waste disposal. Campbell is working to improve nuclear energy with high temperature gas reactors to improve the versatility and safety of nuclear energy. High temperature gas reactors use nuclear reactor cores to produce energy with high output temperatures, making them more efficient.

Campbell and his team have developed fuel with a ceramic coating to power these reactors, which allows the reactor to burn its own waste. The reactors being developed by Logos Technologies also use helium as a coolant, so there are fewer environmental repercussions. Another attractive feature of these reactors is that they are passively safe, meaning that this reactor is self-limiting and if the coolant is lost there are no complications.

Campbell also discussed fusion, which occurs when light, charged particles are combined at temperatures of 100,000,000 degrees Celsius, as a possible source of sustainable energy. Fusion is a preferable energy source because it is passively safe and the reaction products are not radioactive. What makes fusion so difficult for physicists also makes it a safe energy source – it is incredibly hard to turn on but very easy to turn off. The physics of fusion is still being developed, however, and Campbell believes that we will not have large-scale deployment of fusion energy until after 2100.

The seminar ended with the discussion of biofuels as a source of energy for planes, an idea in which the Department of Defense is highly interested. There are many challenges that come with the use of biofuels. It is difficult to create biofuels at a scale and a cost that would be competitive and companies also have to worry about taking food away from people to make this fuel.

To solve these problems, Campbell believes that companies should use municipal solid waste (MSW) and wood to create biofuels, as neither of these sources is affected by drought and there is an abundance of MSW in the United States. Campbell and his associates at Logos Technologies are looking for more efficient ways to create jet fuel. In the future, Campbell will continue his study of fusion and advocate for the use of nuclear energy as a main power source.

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