Power Is Power

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

The United States’ industrial history is largely tied to the search and location of inexpensive, reliable sources of power that were harnessed to turn the wheels of industry.

In the form of waterpower — turning mill-stones at the local grist mill to the powerful flow of Brandywine Creek grinding together the explosive components of DuPont’s gun-powder — or as coal mined from deep within Pennsylvania or Virginia, energy was, and is, the life blood of industry and everyday living.

The U.S. textile industry transitioned from the dammed rivers of the North to the electrified South as hydroelectric power transformed the agrarian South into the new manufacturing frontier with open land and an approachable workforce.

Power is at the core of life in modern America.

Coal — abundant, local and inexpensive —blazed an energy trail forward complementing hydroelectric power, which soon was met with nuclear technologies.

Environmental awareness rose in the 1960s, and several accidents later — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima — the use of nuclear technology set alarm bells ringing. Mounting concerns about nuclear waste didn’t help. And for better or worse, the power industry was forced onto a new path.

Now, in the early 21st century, understanding the unintended consequences of the nation’s energy development, there is a thirst for a new source of power — clean, cheap and reliable.

The green movement has focused, in what some might characterize as a knee-jerk reaction, on an all-in renewable energy future with no time to spare. This is a lofty and virtuous goal with a heartfelt central tenet of decarbonization but, unfortunately, without existing technology to support aggressive timelines.

Fossil fuels maintain an important role in generating power and providing refined industrial components. A focus on using them efficiently with the lowest emissions possible only makes sense. Developing a portfolio of improved energy generating technologies — wind, solar, natural gas, clean coal, hydrogen, and yes, nuclear — seems to be the smart road.

The real Holy Grail, however, will be new clean technologies built around nuclear fission and more so, fusion. Though advanced small modular reactors (SMRs) based on fission are gaining in interest, the technology still faces the fuel and waste challenges. Fusion technology, however, is the real game changer. With ever abundant hydrogen as fuel with no waste, fusion technology is a remarkable answer to a historically confounding problem.

Fusion technology took a big step forward in December of 2022 when scientists at Livermore, Calif.-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility achieved fusion and generated more power than what was used to cause the reaction —net positive power production. Proof positive that fusion is possible, and with the advancements in computational power, material science and artificial intelligence — a glide path to commercialization appears to be forming.

Fusion is the transformative, clean technology that will change power generation and everyday life as we know it in unimaginable ways.

Power is power, and harnessing fusion technology completely changes the environment, economy, global fossil fuel-based power structure and everyday life.

Textiles in a fusion future — sounds amazing.

March/April 2024