Energy for the Second Half of the 21st Century

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Energy for the Second Half of the 21st Century

Economic reality has ordained that the expanded use of fossil fuels will dominate civilization through the middle of the 21st century.  The widespread availability of methane hydrates and clean-coal technologies may mean that making this transition won't be extremely urgent.  But, at some point, it will be necessary.  In fact, it will become one of the most crucial questions for human civilization in the second half of this century.

One alternative is the resurrection of the so-called Clean Tech technologies of wind, water, and solar discussed in our trend The Green Implosion.  Inevitably, wind, water, and solar will all become more efficient, and storing intermittent power derived from those sources will become more cost-effective.

A second alternative is the implementation of so-called "Next-Generation Nuclear Technologies."  Traveling-wave and thorium-fueled fission power plants could provide clean, safe, low-cost energy solutions ideally suited to developing-world mega-cities, while conventional nuclear fusion plants would be well-suited to meeting the needs of the EU and North America.

Biomass energy technology, based on genetically modified organisms, will undoubtedly play a big role in either of these scenarios, as we create a so-called closed loop economy in which biotechnology lets us recycle carbon dioxide, water, and oxygen, while harnessing solar energy via photosynthesis.

The most likely reality is that all three of these technologies will slowly replace fossil fuels in the century ahead.  However, it is possible that all of these could be marginalized by the development of a solution that has largely been ignored by researchers because it got off to a very rocky start.  We're referring to Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR).  LENR is a phenomenon usually referred to as "cold fusion" because it was initially attributed to the fusion of deuterium nuclei under low energy conditions.

The whole area of research received a bad reputation starting in 1989 when two scientists, named Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, released their preliminary findings and other researchers scrambled to reproduce them.  Unfortunately, because they raised hopes so high and the science turned out to be hard to repeat, the whole field of LENR was discredited and termed a "pseudoscience."

Nevertheless, some curious scientists and companies, largely outside the United States, kept pursuing it...

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