World Environment Day: Fusion's Part in a New Energy System
In the universe are billions of galaxies,
In our galaxy are billions of planets,
But there is #OnlyOneEarth.
Let’s take care of it.
Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and held annually on June 5th since 1974, World Environment Day is the largest global platform for environmental public outreach.
Global warming needs to be below 1.5°C by the end of this century, and annual greenhouse gas emissions need to halve by 2030. Without action, exposure to air pollution beyond safe guidelines will increase by 50 per cent within the decade and plastic waste flowing into aquatic ecosystems will nearly triple by 2040.
The 2022 World Environment Day campaign #OnlyOneEarth calls for collective, transformative action on a global scale to celebrate, protect and restore our planet.
The part fusion energy could play
Renewable energy is energy derived from natural resources that replenish themselves in less than a human lifetime without depleting the planet’s resources. Renewable energies do not emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases and include solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal.
Fusion would complement these other sources of energy.
Fusion fuels are widely available and nearly inexhaustible. Deuterium can be distilled from all forms of water, while tritium will be produced during the fusion reaction as fusion neutrons interact with lithium. Terrestrial reserves of lithium would permit the operation of fusion power plants for more than 1,000 years, while sea-based reserves of lithium would fulfil needs for millions of years.
Fusing atoms together releases nearly four million times more energy than a chemical reaction such as the burning of coal, oil or gas. Fusion has the potential to provide the kind of non-variable, baseload energy needed to provide reliable electricity to our homes and industries, working alongside renewable sources for a stable electricity grid.
In addition, fusion doesn't emit harmful toxins like carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Its major by-product is helium—an inert, non-toxic gas—and safety studies suggest that the hazards of fusion, the potential impact on the public, will be on a par with a large chemical facility (in other words, risks that we know how to handle, including the radiological ones).
Not all about the grid
Worldwide, renewables already supplied 29% of electricity in 2020. But uses of electricity (e.g. lighting and appliances) only represent 17% of the world’s energy needs. About half of the energy is used for heating and cooling and one third goes to the transport sector. So there is a huge necessity to decarbonise other sectors besides electricity generation.
Fusion energy could be used as to produce clean fuels, such as hydrogen or ammonia, for desalination to produce drinkable water from sea water, and as a heat source for industry. These are likely to be later markets for fusion than electricity, but still represent a big opportunity to fusion developers.
This year World Environment Day is hosted by Sweden, and you can visit their website to explore events being held, practical ideas and resources.
It’s worth remembering whilst we can all play our part in living sustainably, we shouldn’t let ourselves be distracted from the massive action that’s needed by thinking that 'every little helps', read more about this by Melanie Windridge in Forbes.
Let’s make game-changing technologies like fusion part of the broader conversation around climate and let’s collectively all push for more.
 Safety of fusion was discussed in the Insights Q&A with Dr Sally Forbes, UKAEA, in April 2022. Q&A replays are available to Game Changer members.
 Fusion for clean fuels was discussed in the Insights Q&A with Kirsty Gogan in April 2021.
 Markets for fusion were discussed in the Insights Q&A with Malcolm Handley in June 2021. Q&A replays are available to Game Changer members.