Bold Business Logo

Momentum Is Increasing for Nuclear Fusion Energy

Countries throughout the world are in search of solutions to address the threats of climate change. Industrialized nations are trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adopt clean energy as major strategies. (Dive deeper into the development of clean energy technology in this Bold story.) But scientists and experts fear these efforts may be too little, too late. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be aggressively pursued. But additional investments into alternative energy sources are needed to truly save the planet and humankind in the long run. Among the most viable solutions in this regard is nuclear fusion energy. Unlike other clean energy sources, the energy produced by nuclear fusion offers a tremendous payoff. And because of this, a number of government and private sector projects have begun.

In a nutshell, nuclear fusion energy is the same energy that fuels the sun and the stars. And unlike fossil fuels, the energy produced by nuclear fusion doesn’t have harmful byproducts to the environment. Naturally, the potential for such massive amounts of clean energy has been attractive to all sectors. But only recently does it look like endeavors in this area may have viable commercial offerings. There is still much work to be done, and it will be likely decades before nuclear fusion energy is broadly accessible. But progress is already being made, attracting the attention of a growing number of investors.

“The investment and the human ingenuity that’s been put into fusion is starting to demonstrate some really interesting breakthroughs recently. The biggest of those has been the emergence of a private sector in fusion, which suggests that there’s some market confidence.” – Arthur Turrell, Deputy Director, Data Science Campus, Office for National Statistics, UK

The Promise of Nuclear Fusion Energy

When many people think about the energy produced by nuclear fusion, they mistake it for nuclear fission. Nuclear fission, which is creates energy from the splitting of atoms, represents the science behind nuclear power plants today. Of course, this approach has a variety of disadvantages. Two of the most notable concerns of nuclear fission involve nuclear waste and the potential for reactor meltdowns. These significantly limit their use on a larger scale without increasing the risk of harm. Fortunately, nuclear fusion has neither of these risks, which makes it immediately more attractive.

But this is not the only major advantages when considering nuclear fusion energy. Nuclear fusion refers to the process where two hydrogen atoms combine. Under intense heat, in the realm of 100 degrees Celsius, hydrogen atoms combine to form a plasma that releases helium. In the process, massive amounts of energy are released. For comparison purposes, the energy produced by nuclear fusion creates 4 times the amount of nuclear fission. It also produces 4 million times the amount of energy created by burning coal. Plus, hydrogen is readily available, and the process creates no greenhouse gas emissions. It’s therefore obvious why nuclear fusion energy has such an appeal.

“People have been working at this for decades trying to achieve this. I think [recent breakthroughs have] extremely energized the whole community.” – Annie Kritcher, Physicist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Overcoming the Challenges of Nuclear Fusion

Of course, collecting energy produced by nuclear fusion is not that easy. For one, hydrogen atoms must be heated to 100-150 million degrees Celsius before fusion occurs. There is nothing currently available, however, to contain and control the energy from such heating should it occur. Because of this, governments, consortiums, and even private industries are experimenting with possible solutions. The primary one involves massive, powerful magnets that can perform such a purpose. Likewise, feasible approaches, such as laser fusion, must be developed to create such intense heat. These along with the sheer costs of developing these solutions have been the major obstacles to date.

While these remain formidable barriers, breakthroughs are being made. ITER, a consortium involving 7 nations, have begin construction of a 100-foot diameter device in Southern France. The international megaproject has already collected $25 billion in government funding to support its work. Over 80 percent complete currently, the device requires over 100 acres of land. Neither the cost nor size offers feasible commercial solutions. However, the energy produced by nuclear fusion with such a device will prove its viability as a future solution. Thus, while these projects strive to overcome hurdles, it will be other projects that advance these breakthroughs further.

“We have moved out of theory and into demonstration that it can be done. There’s still a lot of work to do to make it a reproducible process, but it’s moved out of the realm of science fiction.” – Mike Farrell, VP, Inertial Fusion Technology, General Atomics

Private-Public Partnerships the Likely Future for Nuclear Fusion

Without question, nuclear fusion energy requires big money. Surprisingly, however, private startups have already acquired significant funding from private investors. In total, the private sector involved in the energy produced by nuclear fusion has received nearly $2 billion. Many investors are billionaires like BillGates, Elon Musk, and others. But increasingly, other venture capital firms are starting to show interest as well. As science comes closer to validating the feasibility of nuclear fusion energy, investments will grow. Most believe it will be these private enterprises that will combine the science with technologies to create commercial products.

A bunch of atoms getting together to party
Unlike with fission reactions, nuclear fusion energy has long been tougher to pull off, making it economically unappealing. But that may soon change.

Several such startups are already involved in the energy produced by nuclear fusion. Tokamak Energy was founded in Britain in 2009. It is planning on piloting a $1 billion machine in the future for commercial nuclear fusion energy. Another company involved in these projects is Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which evolved out of M.I.T. Other startups also include General Atomics as well as TAE Technologies. Both are based in California despite taking different approaches regarding energy produced by nuclear fusion. Momentum is therefore clearly increasing. Since the 1990s, over 35 startups have entered into this field.

Bridging the Gap Before Nuclear Fusion Realities

Scientists and startups are both quick to admit that nuclear fusion energy is not right around the corner. Much works needs to be done to make these solutions smaller in scale and size and lower in cost. But the promise of the energy produced by nuclear fusion and the threats of climate change are fueling progress. And this progress is definitely accelerating. This is why other efforts at clean energy must be pursued in the meantime. But in terms of the long game, nuclear fusion energy looks to be a clear favorite.

 

The official Bold Business survey results are clear: most favor work-from-home over going back to the office. Read more in this important Bold story!

The Gap Between Science and Best Choices – Knowing When to Ignore the Facts

Scientific discovery has allowed societies throughout time to advance and excel. Proven facts and findings support many good decisions because they have been proven reliable. Even today, science and objective data are considered the gold standard when it comes justifications for good decision-making. But is science always correct, and should we always choose our actions based on science? Absolutely not. But the tough part is knowing when we should stick to science and when we should ignore the facts. Navigating this gap where scientific errors and mistakes in science abound can be quite challenging.

At one time, science supported the notion that the world was flat. Those who opposed such views, including explorers and astronomers, were ostracized for their anti-science views. But time proved them to be correct in suggesting scientific errors existed. And the same is true today when it comes to mistakes in science. This is not to suggest that science is not essential in helping us understand the world we live in. Science can also help increase our longevity. But science is not the end-all, be-all upon which all decisions should be based. In fact, there are several reasons why this is the case. (Curious about the developments in reversing the aging process and extending life? Check out this Bold story.)

“Science does not give us absolute and final certainty. It only gives us assurance within the limits of our mental abilities and the prevailing state of scientific thought.” – Ludwig von Mises

Scientific Errors – The Foundation of Study

When it comes to the scientific method, one thing has to be clearly understood. Scientists do not set out to prove a theory is right. They actually try to prove that something is not true. In other words, by ruling out what isn’t accurate, they eventually get closer to what is correct. In research, scientists call this the null hypothesis, or the hypothesis that they hope to prove invalid. If their experiments are correct, they move one step closer to the truth. But the process must be repeated several times and refined before clear evidence is revealed. This is why mistakes in science are actually more common than one might think. Science can certainly get us closer to the real answers, which helps in making the best decisions. But scientific errors in interpretation are not uncommon. This must be appreciated when using science as the basis for the choices to be made.

“I think mistakes are the essence of science and law. It’s impossible to conceive of either scientific progress or legal progress without understanding the important role of being wrong and of mistakes.” – Alan Dershowitz

The Human Factor – Scientists Make Mistakes Too

To err is human, so the idiom goes. Each of us have our own set of biases, prejudices, assumptions, and motivations, and this includes scientists and researchers. There have been many instances where an investigator fudged data in an effort to prove what he or she thought was valid. It is even more common for scientists to overlook important facts because they are inconsistent with what they believe. This has been called an escalation of commitment to something that isn’t true simply because it’s contrary to one’s beliefs. The scientific method is designed to help avoid these types of scientific errors. But even so, mistakes in science occur all the time simply because human fallacies exist. If we’re to make our best decisions, we must acknowledge mistakes in science sometimes occur because scientists themselves are human.

“Do I know I’m right? Judgments aren’t the same as facts. Instinct is not science. I’m like any other human being, as fallible and as capable of being wrong. I only know what I believe.” – Tony Blair

Instinct and Intuition – A Vacuum in Science

Science is grounded in facts, reason and rational thought. In order to determine something is valid, objective evidence must be found. No matter how much past experiences or gut feelings suggest an answer, science will refrain from judgment until there’s proof. But when it comes to good decision-making, we must use both evidence and intuition. Noble Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes reason as our slow-thinking system and intuition as our fast-thinking one. Both have developed over the course of human evolution, and both are required to make accurate judgments. Science, however, tends to ignore gut instincts except when developing hypotheses. And because of this, scientific errors and mistakes in science can occur as well. Today, we are seeing artificial intelligence being used increasingly for sole decision-making. While AI is changing many industries in positive ways, this must be pursued with some level of caution.

“If speculative ideas cannot be tested, they’re not science; they don’t even rise to the level of being wrong.” – Wolfgang Pauli

Science and Praxeology

Praxeology is the study of human choices and actions. Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises was among one of the most reputable individuals interested in this field. Particularly from an economic perspective, he believed human behavior to be both intentional and purposeful. Understanding this, Ludwig was supportive of a free-market system and critical of a sociologist one. But it also highlighted why he felt science could not alone guide decision-making. In his view, human behaviors were unique and unable to be reproduced. Science was by nature empirical and relied on reproducibility of results to verify facts. Thus, scientific errors were inevitable when science attempted to guide human choices and actions. From his perspective, mistakes in science were common when it came to the field of sociology and praxeology.

A destructive wrecking ball of truth
Scientific errors can occur, sometimes making the line between fact and fiction hard to discern.

Balancing the Known with the Unknown

Knowing what each of us should do in the moment certainly requires a weighing of the facts. The more information we have, the better decision-making ability our will be. But rarely are all the facts available, even when science is at its very best. In these instances, we must balance the known with the unknown. We have to use not only reason and science but also our gut instincts and intuitions. In fact, this type of approach to decision-making is one that supports ethical choices. Ethical conflicts frequently arise, and science can only help us in these situations some of the time. In the vast majority, we must allow our conscience and past experiences guide us in making the right choice. This becomes easier once we appreciate mistakes in science are common and that scientific errors have led us astray previously.

 

The official Bold Business survey results are clear: most favor work-from-home over going back to the office. Read more in this important Bold story!

Air Taxis Will Soon Be Ready for Cities – Will Cities Be Ready?

It wasn’t that long ago that many cities were taken by surprise with the introduction of e-bikes and e-scooters. Uber, Lyft, and other companies introduced these new forms of end-of-trip transportation in major cities throughout the country. Being unprepared, however, many urban areas struggled with how to best manage these vehicles. Not only did e-bikes and scooters pose new challenges in sharing roadways and sidewalks. But they also created problems with parking and storage. As a result, cities vowed to never again be caught so off-guard should new transportation infrastructure be needed. And now that time has once again come in the form of air taxis.

Several companies are on the verge of introducing air taxi transportation into major metropolitan areas. (Read more about the rise of air taxi transportation–no pun intended–in this Bold story.) Once they receive approval from the FAA, cities will need to decide how to best deal with them. Unlike e-bikes and e-scooters, air taxis demand much greater attention in terms of new transportation infrastructure. That’s why some cities are already beginning the planning process. But while some anticipate what’s to come, others have yet to even consider such changes. Thus, for many cities, the chaos and confusion experienced with past forms of new transportation may resurface. Understanding this, it would be wise for urban planners to act now before they find themselves behind the curve.

“If you want to build new infrastructure on the ground [for air taxis], this is obviously a municipal and a city question. The way you want to use that, the access to that, the permitting, those are all municipal [issues].” – Greg Bowles, Head of Government Affairs, Joby Aviation

Air Taxis and New Transportation Infrastructure

When it comes to air taxis, their presence in major cities will represent a notable shift in transportation options. These vehicles will require a completely new transportation infrastructure in order to function. This not only includes vertiports, where air taxis will take-off and land. But it will include many other considerations as well. Unlike e-bikes and scooters which utilized roads and sidewalks, these new vehicles will take to the air. And without proper municipal planning, this could quickly become a nightmare. With this in mind, the following are major areas that some cities are already evaluating.

  • Placement of Vertiports – Notably, air taxis will require specific sites where passengers will board, take-off, and land. Many current air taxi companies are working with REEF Technologies to secure such sites on top of existing parking garages. But for cities, this isn’t necessarily a solution without issues. Traffic to and from these areas, accessibility, and parking must be evaluated as well. Without new transportation infrastructure considerations, air taxis could worsen traffic rather than improve it.
  • Noise Control – While air taxis are generally quieter than cars or jets, they nonetheless do have some associated noise. Because they are airborne, this noise also has a greater propensity to travel. Therefore, any new transportation infrastructure for these vehicles must take this into consideration. Choosing routes and vertiports accordingly will play a major role in planning efforts as well.
  • Zoning Issues – For municipalities, zoning issues are common whenever a new transportation infrastructure is proposed. In the case of air taxis, decisions must be made about zoning in relation to other transportation options. Do cities mirror current usage for other ride-sharing services? Or do they develop a more comprehensive regional network to complement other forms of transportation in place? These decisions as well as the impact air taxis have on residential areas are important aspects to consider.
  • Air Traffic and Route Planning – Lastly, any new transportation infrastructure involving air taxis must address air traffic. Routes must be determined for these vehicles along with their impact on airplane travel. This could also affect other choices such as those related to drones and unmanned aerial vehicles. While some of this will fall on the FAA, cities will also need to be involved in these determinations.

 

“When we think about vertiports in the future, it’s going to be really a combination of who provides the capital to build and operate that vertiport, and a conversation with the city as far as who can access those vertiports and what the pros and cons might be to a community, of having open-access vertiports versus not open access.” – Andrew Cummins, Head of Business Development, Archer Aviation

Equity and Accessibility Issues to Consider

In addition to new transportation infrastructure issues, cities are also thinking about access and equity related to air taxis. Different options exist with some suggesting individual private vertiports for each air taxi carrier. Others believe a shared vertiport among all air taxi carriers would be more ideal. The underlying concern is that the new transportation infrastructure should accommodate all residents and offer easy access. Ultimately, this comes down to funding issues of vertiports and related infrastructures. Depending on whether private or public funding is used, or both, different preferences might exist.

An air taxi making a descent in a city
A new transportation infrastructure is needed if air taxis are going to be flying around cities.

For companies on the forefront of air taxi transportation, the general consensus is that shared vertiports are preferred. These companies believes this is not only advantageous from a cost perspective. But likewise, they feel this will advance the technology more rapidly. If this approach is pursued, it will be much easier for cities to create broad accessibility to air taxis. And as a result, this could benefit entire municipal transportation networks more completely. But unless these issues are addressed up front, these types of benefits may be poorly realized.

“I think the reality is that these vehicles are coming, and we really want to do everything we can to plan for it but stay out of the hype cycle.” – Sam Morrissey, Executive Director, Urban Movement Labs, Los Angeles

Pursuing a Collaboration Among Stakeholders

While only a handful of cities are planning for the future of air taxis, their approach is worth noting. In Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization named Urban Movement Labs was formed to address new transportation infrastructure issues. They have since worked with private, government, and resident groups in an effort to plan for the future more effectively. This type of proactive approach has helped raise awareness about key transportation concerns. And it has also encouraged collaborative solutions in the process. While the reality of air taxis are still a few years away, cities like Los Angeles see the writing on the wall. In this regard, other municipalities should take notice and perhaps begin their own planning process as well.

 

The official Bold Business survey results are clear: most favor work-from-home over going back to the office. Read more in this important Bold story!