Lockheed Martin's advanced development team is making the prototype for a holy grail of clean energy.
By this point everyone should be pretty familiar with the principles of global warming and greenhouse gases, specifically that there's way too much of both, and their environmental implications threaten us with disaster. It's a big problem that lots of incredibly intelligent people are working to find solutions for, ranging from increased energy efficiency to clean power sources. The holy grail of solutions would be a fusion reactor, a clean energy concept from the 1950s that turns hydrogen into helium, the same process powering our sun. The problem with fusion reactors is that the requirements to produce functioning models are immense, and were considered incredibly unlikely to be practical for another 50 years. At least that was the opinion before an announcement by Skunk Works, the advanced development center at Lockheed Martin. During a Google sponsored talk, Skunk Works' Charles Chase revealed that the team is actually putting together a prototype that's the size of a trailer and could theoretically power a small city. If successful, which he believes it will be, production of operational units could start around 2017, opening the possibility of global power demands being met by 2045.
Those interested should watch the full video to get a better idea of the technology and its implications, but there are a few key points to note. First of all, Lockheed's reactor would generate stable high-temperature plasma using a method that produces no greenhouse gases, creating immense amounts of energy that could be halted safely in the event of an accident or disaster. The unit's size is also very surprising. Initial projections suggested that fusion reactions would need to be the size of at least a city block, while Lockheed's version is practically portable by comparison. Perhaps most importantly, if fusion power works as advertised it could solve the energy crisis within a few decades, and open the door for clean transportation, large-scale water purification, and perhaps even viable space travel.
While we've still got a few years before finding out whether Chase is on the mark, the implications of such a discovery would be enormous. A transition to clean energy wouldn't happen overnight, as I'm sure there are logistics to making it commercially viable, but after decades of hearing about how doomed we all are it's a rather promising announcement. Besides, even if the prototype doesn't work, the very idea that the technology is feasible might be enough for scientists to build on Lockheed's research. After all, between air-based gasoline and tornado-based power plants, this is apparently a promising time for clean energy.