Climate change could be the greatest problem facing today’s world.
Consequently, technologies that could fight climate change could become some of the greatest moneymakers in coming decades. Moreover, some of those technologies could disrupt everything with or without climate change.
Some technologies could fight climate change include:
1. The Hyperloop
The Hyperloop could be one of those simple ideas that changes everything. Essentially, the Hyperloop is a giant tube or pipeline from which they pump the air.
The pumping creates a partial vacuum. The vacuum lowers air resistance and enables vehicles to move through the tube at speeds of several hundred miles or kilometers an hour.
Basically, the Hyperloop enables surface vehicles to achieve the same speeds as jets on the surface of the Earth without burning enormous amounts of jet fuel. Hyperloop could reduce climate change because it could allow people and cargo to move at high speeds without putting greenhouse gases into the air. Instead of fossil fuels, the Hyperloop runs on electricity which we can generate in many ways.
You’ve probably heard of this technology as “Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.” Musk proposed the modern Hyperloop, but I think two other companies; Virgin Hyperloop One and HyperloopTT are closer to commercializing it than Musk’s SpaceX.
My take: Hyperloop is real and possible. We have the technology to build it right here right now if somebody puts up the money. My prediction is that it is only a matter of time before somebody builds a practical Hyperloop system.
However, I think it will take decades to perfect the technology and build a practical Hyperloop system. Notably, various organizations have been working on Hyperloop for almost a decade, but the first passengers only traveled on the system on 8 November 2020.
I think Hyperloop today is where the railroad was in 1820. The basic technology is there, but enormous amounts of work will be necessary to make it a practical transportation system.
On the other hand, Hyperloop’s potential for disruption is vast because some transpiration systems including airlines and trucks could have a hard time competing with it. Hyperloop could be cheaper and faster than airlines, railroads, and trucking companies which could drive many of those entities out of business.
2. Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear fusion or hot fusion is not a new idea or a complex concept. The concept is that you can generate enormous amounts of energy by fusing atoms together, by heating them to extremely high temperatures.
Nor is it is hard to find working examples of fusion. The sun and other stars are enormous fusion reactors floating in space.
Scientists have been able to achieve fusion here on Earth for decades, but it’s far from practical. Nobody has achieved a continuous fusion reaction they can control. However, some scientists including MIT’s Dennis Whyte think recent technological advances will enable engineers to build working fusion reactors with off-the-shelf technology in a few years.
Whyte and his colleagues at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) are so convinced of fusion’s possibilities that they have formed a company to commercialize their lower-cost tokamak fusion systems and high temperature superconducting magnets. The company Commonwealth Fusion Systems will try to build the first net energy-producing fusion machine, called SPARC.
The investors in Commonwealth Fusion Systems include billionaires, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Jack Ma. The hope at Commonwealth Fusion Systems is to build a fusion reactor that will make enough electricity to power a city of around 100,000 people.
A far bigger fusion reactor, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France is attracting far more media attention. The gigantic ITER achieves fusion, by creating super hot plasma in a magnetic field.
It is unclear when they will test the ITER. The claim is that ITER will not create energy until 2035. However, they are making fuel for the ITER at the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor in the United Kingdom now. Thus they could have the ITER up and running sooner.
My take is fusion today is where steam engines were in the early 18th Century or the internal combustion engine was in the 1880s. We know it is possible, but we do not how to make it work. Thus,I think it is only a matter of time and engineering before we see a working fusion reactor.
My prediction, a private company such as Commonwealth Fusion will beat the ITER to fusion Kitty Hawk Moment. However, the ITER could create technologies others could duplicate in a smaller or cheaper manner.
Watch fusion closely because it is closer than many people think. Practical fusion could disrupt markets by destroying the demand for fossil fuels.
The hardest climate change technology to wrap my mind around is geoengineering.
The best description of this technology I could find is “geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.” The Oxford Geoengineering Program offers this description.
Oxford’s experts think there are several technologies that could be effective geoengineering. Those technologies include; Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and Green House Gas Removal (GGR).
In SRM, geoengineers will try to block sunlight from reaching the earth by making the atmosphere more reflective. Potential SRM technologies include increasing the reflective-ness of clouds or the Earth’s surface, putting reflectors in space, or spraying reflective aerosol particles into the clouds to block sunlight.
In GGR, or Carbon Geoengineering, engineers try to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Some potential GGR methods include large-tree planting, carbon capture and building machines that remove carbon dioxide from the air.
The most interesting GGR techniques involve tinkering with the chemistry with the ocean or the atmosphere. For example, ocean fertilization comprises nutrients to the oceans to increase production of carbon dioxide eating organizations.
Similarly, ocean alkalinity enhancement comprises grinding up rocks, such as limestone, and dissolving the rock in the oceans. The hope is that ocean alkalinity enhancement will increase the ocean’s ability to store carbon.
Additionally, enhanced weathering is the mass exposure of minerals that can react with carbon dioxide. The hope is the minerals will react with carbon dioxide and store it in the soil or ocean.
I don’t know if the science behind geoengineering works. However, I think geoengineering could become a political nightmare.
What happens if some government decides “we can burn all the fossil fuels we want because we’re geoengineering.” I think that horrendous thinking will appeal to politicians who want to keep votes and donations from fossil-fuel interests.
A nightmare geoengineering scenario is that another country threatened by Climate Change goes to war to stop it. For instance, some leader tells another country to “stop pumping oil or I’ll send in the troops and blow up the oil fields.”
Beyond military action, there could be sabotage, assassination, cyberwarfare, propaganda wars, and covert operations to throttle fossil-fuel use. Thus, geoengineering could become the most problematic of Climate Change solutions.
4. Next Generation Nuclear Fission
I think geoengineering is the most problematic of climate change technologies, but next generation nuclear fission is the most controversial.
History makes nuclear fission controversial. A combination of human arrogance and nuclear fission led to the Chernobyl and Fukushima catastrophes. Moreover, nuclear fission produces the components the bad guys could use to make nuclear weapons and dirty bombs.
On the other hand, hundreds of fission reactors have operated safely for generations. The US Navy, the Russian Navy, the French Navy, and the Royal Navy have been using fission reactors to power submarines, aircraft carriers, and icebreakers for generations with only a few accidents.
Thus, safe fission is possible, but human nature makes it difficult. Remember, navies are highly disciplined elite forces that operate in controlled environments. Chernobyl and Fukushima show civilian organizations have a hard time duplicating the safety and success of naval nuclear programs.
However, some smart people including Bill Gates think nuclear fission could enable us to make enormous amounts of electricity without generating greenhouse gases. Gates is the Chairman of the Board of TerraPower, which is trying to build a next-generation fission reactor.
TerraPower is working on three advanced fission reactor designs. The Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR), the Traveling Wave Reactor Technology, and the NATRIUM™ REACTOR AND INTEGRATED ENERGY STORAGE system.
The NATRIUM system combines a fast-sodium reactor and a molten-salt energy storage system. The molten storage system stores heat the reactor generates. They can use the heat to generate electricity or heat buildings.
Hence, NATIRUM could increase the amount of energy a reactor could produce. TerraPower and Hitachi Nuclear Energy claim NATRIUM could store up to 500 MegaWatts of electricity for 5.5 hours.The MCFR could be a low-cost reactor they could use for industrial purposes.
The Traveling Wave Reactor operates at atmospheric pressure, unlike today’s fission reactors. That makes accidents less probable. TerraPower claims the Traveling Wave Reactor could run on fuel made from depleted uranium. That could eliminate dangerous nuclear waste and potential materials for nuclear weapons.
I think next generation nuclear fission is a splendid solution, but its implementation could be politically impossible. I think no politician who has to face a democratic election will approve a next-generation nuclear reactor.
However, in situations where decision makers can ignore electoral politics, I think fission will work. For instance, in dictatorships, countries with Leninist systems (China), and in developing nations where populations are ignorant of nuclear fission’s dangers. Similarly, it could be possible to utilize nuclear fission at military bases, on ships, and in private industry.
Conversely, implementing new nuclear fission at North American, European, or Japanese utilities will be difficult. I think it will take a public relations genius to sell nuclear fission to the American or European public. Hopefully, that genius will soon appear.
The Real Problem with Climate Change Technology
Perhaps Bill Gates should invest part of his Breakthrough Energy Ventures money in marketing and publicity work. Breakthrough Energy Ventures is the hedge fund Gates and other billionaires organized to invest in disruptive energy technologies.
The bottom line is that technology could help us avoid Climate Change, but it will be difficult. In particular, the history of nuclear fission shows that technology without planning and leadership leads nowhere.
We could have the technology to get out of Climate Change. However, I do not know if we have the leadership or planning to implement that technology.
Originally published at https://marketmadhouse.com on March 17, 2021.