With the endless glut news segments, press conferences and brutal social media comment wars related to the current state of the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that there are still other problems, like climate change, still going on in the world. Fortunately, while we’re over here getting into our yet another argument with our skeptic friends about whether the Pfizer vaccine is going to alter our DNA or plant us with a microchip that will turn us all into Bill Gates (wait, I think that’s how that one goes), there are still smart people out here trying to solve the problems we had before we replaced them in our brains with COVID, COVID and more COVID.
Enter Brandon Sorbom: the MIT alumni who is determined to make a big impact in that other somewhat important battle humanity has going on, you know, that old climate crisis thing. Sorbom is the chief scientific officer and co-founder of the company Commonwealth Fusion Systems (or CFS), which is looking to tackle climate change through the power of nuclear fusion. Now, for those of us who haven’t had a physics lesson in a while, the word ‘nuclear’ either brings to mind the image of Homer Simpson at his work desk with his feet up on his control panel, or takes you back the 80’s when our nation had one of its proudest triumphs rallying against nuclear weapons testing. Let me assure you, while the nuclear weapons controversies of the 20th century might have given the word a bad rep, what Sorbom and CFS are doing here is looking to harness the immense opportunities in nuclear energy through nuclear fusion and seeking to replace the unsustainable methods that have planted us in the middle of the global crisis of climate change.
Sorbom and CFS are looking to improve on a Russian machine known as a tokamak, which generates energy using extreme heat to create plasma from gaseous hydrogen fuel and uses magnetic fields to keep the plasma away from the machine’s walls. The company are looking to create their own version with an even stronger magnetic field, and they estimate the machine will be operating at temperatures of up to 100 million °C (so just a smidge hotter than my new air fryer).
While originally working on funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and MIT, Sorbom and CFS have moved into the commercial market and recently received funding from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund whose investors comprise of some very notable names, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos and yes, Bill Gates (the real one, not the ones morphed by the vaccine). The endgame for CFS is to eventually develop, create and commercially distribute nuclear fusion power plants worldwide. For now, the company has its sights set on building SPARC, a machine essentially designed to prove the viability of nuclear fusion as a legitimate mainstream energy source and is aiming to perform world’s first demonstration of net fusion energy by 2025. If all is successful, they have set the ambitious goal having SPARC operational and ready to produce electricity on the grid by 2030. To the outsider, nine years might seem like fair distance away. After all, this time nine years ago, Obama was still in his first term, Valerie Adams hadn’t yet been robbed by that cheating Belarussian and we hadn’t even heard Gangnam Style. Still, despite what we’ve been told this past year, I guess things take time when you’re trying to change the world.
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