How an environmentally friendly power source can solve the fossil-fuel supply-and-demand gap.
John A. Schmidt is head of the Office Site Research Department at the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The need for new, environmentally friendly energy sources accelerates as we enter the next half-century, driven by the likelihood of permanent changes in the availability and price of fossil fuels. Consensus is growing that global warming from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is real and significant. Oil supplies in the near future will not readily meet demand, and natural gas and natural-gas liquids will not easily fill this supply/demand gap. The likely results: increased reliance on coal, and an associated increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Can we find replacements for carbon-dioxide-emitting energy sources that do not place added burdens on the atmosphere?
Increased reliance on efficiency, nuclear fission, and renewables could fill the energy supply/demand gap during the first half of this century,1 but the limitations on these sources and the widening supply/demand gap especially will be challenging during the last half of the century. If properly funded, a commercial fusion reactor prototype could be available by the 2040s, and fusion power substantially deployed during the second half of this century.