Article

Vol. XLIX No. 1 & 2 2012
June 2012

Bringing Star Power to Earth

GREEN TECHNOLOGY FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

The international community is threatened by a global energy crisis, climate, and ecosystem changes due to global warming, as well as water and food contamination. The whole world faces tremendous challenges in closing the gap between projected energy demand and the supply of sustainable, carbon-free, affordable energy. Today, about 80 per cent of the world's total primary energy demand is met by fossil fuel which emits significant quantities of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. An inherently secure supply from safe, environmentally sustainable, and commercially viable sources is needed in order to meet the capacity of the global demand for baseload energy requirements -- the minimum constant demands.

As ecological destruction has a universal effect on the entire planet and requires global awareness, green technology development needs to be implemented as a global project. The development of green technology provides the way to maximize the synergistic outcome of protecting the environment and fostering global economic growth. To meet this development, the construction of a global research network has never been more important.

Mankind is now in the quest for new energy sources -- the holy grail of the ultimate, renewable, energy that can meet global baseload power requirements while addressing environmental concerns. Renewable energy sources such as solar, photovoltaic, wind, and hydropower will play an essential role in meeting this challenge, but will also require huge storage capacity or available land in order to meet the majority baseload power requirements of most countries. The conventional nuclear fission type energy offers many advantages, but it requires addressing the safety and proliferation problems associated with enrichment, reprocessing, and high-level waste storage. As a result, the majority of global baseload electricity needs are not expected to be met.

The main alternative for an energy source with zero carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel is nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is generated when two light atomic nuclei fuse together and form a heavier nucleus. The leading designs for controlled fusion research use either magnetic or laser inertial confinement of a plasma, with the heat from the fusion reactions used to operate a steam turbine which, in turn, drives electric generators.

Despite tantalizing benefits of nuclear fusion energy, the laser inertial approach was largely ignored in energy policies because the technology was viewed as too immature to affect energy projection over the next few decades, when it will be needed most. However, the success in March 2009 of the Laser Inertial Fusion Energy (LIFE) experiment conducted by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California (LLNL), provided a new paradigm in the ever changing technology for green growth and sustainable development.

GLOBAL INSTITUTE OF LASER TECHNOLOGY

In response to the need for safe, secure, environmentally sustainable energy, the Global Institute of Laser Technology (GILT) was established in May 2009 by forming a global network of universities, research institutes, and industries in the field of laser fusion energy at Handong Global University (HGU) in Pohang, Republic of Korea. On 2 December 2011, HGU signed an agreement with the LLNL to promote collaboration in the design and development of power plants based on LIFE for an abundant, inherently safe, low carbon, cost-effective, and low waste source of baseload electricity. The LIFE plant design located at LLNL builds on the geometry and performance of NIF. Completed in 2009, NIF is the largest scientific project ever built by the United States Department of Energy. NIF is designed to deliver net energy gain (more fusion energy output than input from the laser beams). NIF's 192 laser beams can direct nearly 2 Mega joules of ultraviolet laser energy in billionths of a second to a fusion target, creating a condition similar to that which exists only in the core of stars and giant planets. By demonstrating the ability to attain fusion ignition, NIF lays the groundwork for the future of laser inertial fusion's long-term potential as a safe and virtually unlimited energy source.

Design and development of power plants based on LIFE for inherently safe, low carbon, and low waste sources for baseload electrical power are now underway through the ongoing collaborative research between GILT and NIF. At the same time, GILT is also pursuing core technologies that are complementary, as well as alternatives to those currently used. As for the development of a laser technology with high powerand a high repetition rate, GILT is trying to increase power with its own technology. So far, researchers in laser fusion have not yet found a solution for a laser driver with sufficiently high energy (> 500 kJ) along with a high enough repetition rate (> 10 Hz) with a required target alignment. The solution for the high power, high rate problem can be achieved using a method in which multiple laser beams are combined, such as in the case with the Stimulated Brillouin Scattering-Phase Conjugate Mirror, researched by Professor Hong Jin Kong at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.1 In addition, in order to produce a high powered laser beam, the laser medium should not only be large, but should also have the ability to be cooled down quickly so as to achieve the high power and repetition rate needed for commercial power generation. Hybrid laser fusion power production requires a capacity for firing at a rate high enough to produce a high amount of energy. It is also a way for rapid cooling of the laser optics between laser shots.

The urgent technologies necessary at this juncture are the laser diode that is the key for the high power and high repetition rate laser, and the technology for the design and qualification of a unique and safe reactor. Fortunately, the Republic of Korea is strong both in solid-state electronics and nuclear reactor technology. Also, GILT is in partnership with the information technology industry in the Republic of Korea to develop laser diode production technology to lower the cost of laser-driven power plants.

In order to maximize the energy efficiency of current laser fusion, the excess neutrons from the fusion reaction may be utilized to induce a high yield fission reaction simultaneously in the surrounding subcritical fissionable blanket. The net yield from the hybrid fusion-fission process can provide a target gain three or four times that amount from the fusion alone. For such a technology, development of a subcritical fissional blanket that can be used within a fusion reactor is imperative. The atomic power industry in the Republic of Korea, a major product export industry, should be able to help attain that.

Education for both current and future researchers is paramount: a steady supply of experts through education, development of core technology through research, and participation of the international community, including developing countries, are essential for the success of this endeavour. In order to cultivate the emerging new fields of green science and laser technology, Handong Graduate School of Advanced Green Energy & Environment (HGS AG&E) was opened in September 2011 for master's and doctoral degrees in the fields of laser technology and green science. HGS AG&E has established partnerships with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-University Twinning and Networking Programme (UNESCO-UNITWIN), the International Centre for Global Development& Entrepreneurship at HGU, and the United Nations mandated University for Peace, Asia-Pacific Centre.

UNITED NATIONS ACADEMIC IMPACT GLOBAL HUB FOR CAPACITY BUILDING

Since its establishment in 1995, HGU has focused on global education for capacity building of sustainable development. As a result, in April 2007, UNESCO designated HGU as the UNESCO-UNITWIN International Centre for Capacity Building of Sustainable Development. In January 2011, the United Nations also designated HGU as the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) Global Hub for Capacity Building (http://outreach.un.org/UNAI) focusing on three fields:

1. Global collaborative research for green growth for sustainable development.

2. Education of global development and entrepreneurship to strengthen endogenous capacity building for sustainable development in developing countries.

3. Global partnership for prosperity by reducing the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries, in partnership with the ongoing UNESCO-UNITWIN capacity building programme for sustainable development.

BRINGING STAR POWER TO EARTH

In order to address the development of green technology, the construction of the global research network has never been more important. Through this global network, HGU will serve as the hub for green research activities, HGS AG&E will cultivate international experts, and the UNESCO/UNITWIN International Centre will network for global cooperation. The three elements of the UNAI Global Hub for Capacity Building at HGU will form the triad structure that will support GILT in its endeavours towards creating the ultimate energy source by 2030. In fact, as a frontier research programme for sourcing green energy, GILT has been focusing on the development of the high power, high repetition rate laser with a self-navigation capacity which could be a beacon leading to the holy grail of ultimate laser-driven Inertial Fusion Energy for commercial power generation. GILT, in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Korea, is aiming to construct a pilot scale stable atomic fusion energy hybrid power plant (500MW class) by 2030 through domestic and global collaboration. Due to global collaborative research between GILT and LLNL, the long sought-after dream of bringing star power to earth as the ultimate, limitless, green, clean energy source could finally be achieved.

Notes

1 Applied Physics Letters. 93, 131115, 2010.

References

The New York Times, 24 March 2011. A Nuclear Third Way.

Physics Today, Vol. 64, Issue 3, March 2011. DOE looks again at inertial fusion as a potential clean energy source.

Science & Technology Review, April/May 2009. Safe and Sustainable Energy with LIFE. Lawrence Livermore National Library.

Science & Technology Review, July/August 2011. Igniting Our Energy Future.

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