Nowadays, one of the greatest global challenges is definitely the one concerning the maintenance of a certain balance between the increase in energy demand for economic development & its consequent sociopolitical and environmental impact.

The Myth of Prometheus represents one of the former evidence of how man has been attempting to conserve energy and to utilise it as a mean of social development, since forever.

It would be impossible to imagine a life without electricity & gas.

Not only could not we move, work, write and eat as we are used to, but our mindsets and worries would also be far more diverse, as they still are in some of the least developed countries.

However, let’s delve into this whole issue, by taking a step backwards.

Back to 1890, one of the most brilliant scientists in the history of mankind devised a system of antennas, which should have freely & unlimitedly supplied electricity within the entire American territory. His name was Nikola Tesla, pioneer of both the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply systems & the experimental studies upon electricity.

His system would have solved the electricity supply’s issue forever, but it’s fairly inane to claim that the whole project was a technically unattainable hope. Tesla’s studies upon both magnetic field & alternating current were all but useless, as they instead contributed in the whole world’s electrification.

Nonetheless, his name is ofter and more commonly associated with the concept of free energy, rather than with his avant-garde inventions.

In Tesla’s opinion, this “new” energy not only was unlimited, but it could also be extracted at no cost from the environment. He also believed it could have been transmitted and “received” via a simple antenna. It’s no surprise that such assumptions begot interest & curiosity.

Unfortunately though, his glorious dream shall quickly fade away: initially in fact, scarce was the funding he was provided with. His chimera was permanently destroyed, as the subsequent studies upon electromagnetism demonstrated the impossibility to transfer such a quantity of energy by air.

Thus, it is absolutely paramount to apply this peculiar reflection, arisen out of this extraordinary history, to our current situation.

The truth is that there is an increasing need for energy on a global scale.

Nowadays, scientists are still searching for new alternative energy sources, which could thence be sustainable, limitless and clean, in order for them to guarantee a greener future to our planet. The traditional energy sources, in particular petroleum, coal & gas are all meant to run out very quickly, for not only are they non-renewable, but they had also been produced by the Earth itself over million of years and are being disproportionately exploited throughout this last century.

Not only are these energy resources depletable and very expensive, but they also are very polluting, as they represent the primary cause of increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Over the years, the so-called pollution issue together with the security lack in energetic supplies and the limited fossil fuels available is revealing the urgency to reconsider the current asset of the global energetic system.

A decrease in CO₂ emissions within the energetic field can occur in three different ways:

  1. By the use of low carbon emission technologies and energy resources
  2. Attempting to consume as little as possible energy
  3. Implementing reliable carbon capture and storage technologies.

It is necessary though, to consider the downside of it all.

One the one hand, renewable resources represent the best alternative to our planet’s future. On the other hand, instead, they necessitate very expensive systems to be extracted and to be made accessible to everyone.

It is often talked about the so called “gray energy”, which refers to the part of non-renewable energies utilised to assemble energetic plants, such as solar panels or geothermal systems.

Today, in fact, the available technology does not enable us to massively veer towards these new quarrying techniques. The risk is to make the whole situation far worse than it is at the moment.

The change ought to be slow and continuous, but it will surely begin as soon as the efficiency in the use of fossil fuels has implemented.

So, why are we still using fossil fuels? The answer is very plain: they are comfortable and compact. Fossil fuels represent, in fact, the best method we currently have to stock energy and to make it immediately available. As a matter of fact, using a battery to transport energy would be inconvenient for both its weight and volume.

The solution to this issue actually exists: it is nuclear energy.

The nuclear power can easily cover a significative share of the rising demand for energy. Furthermore, it can even defuse tensions, concerning both the environmental and sociopolitical fields, caused by the arising problems related to the over-use of carbon fuels.

Nonetheless, a consistent part of public opinion still reckons that risks related to nuclear energy are far more significant than its effective benefits.

The process which guarantees an elevated amount of energy is the alleged nuclear meltdown. The nuclear fusion is one of the latest frontiers related to energy, for it exploits a chemical reaction capable to produce a great amount of energy, by using little fuel. Stars, for instance, use the same combustion process, which stabilise itself thanks to the enormous forces of gravity.

Since these extreme conditions are (luckily) absent on Earth, the realisation of reactors capable of exploiting this particular type of nuclear reaction is technically very arduous.

There are several technical difficulties upon this matter and they essentially are all related to the fact that, in order for scientists to reproduce and control the deuterium-tritium reaction in a laboratory, it is essential for them to operate plasma, a very hot gas electrically energised, at 150 million degrees, which is ten times the temperature of the Centre of the Sun.

But, this particular tipe of research is even the only one which can one day lead us to “tame” a little Sun on Earth, enabling us to finally produce clean and almost unlimited energy.

Giovanni Sassano

Francesco Tomba