Energy density: the key to our no-carbon future

Your lifetime energy supply, a golf ball-sized lump of thorium or uranium – Credit Kirk Sorenson

Your personal lifetime energy supply, the golf ball-sized lump of heavy metal at left represents about 780 grams of thorium or uranium. Barry Brook recently used this to illustrate the energy density and cleanliness of fast neutron fission power relative to coal. And compared to solar or wind power options, coal is extremely energy dense. But the energy density of thorium or uranium is about 2.6 million times that of coal.

Bill Gates has described the solar/wind options as “energy farming“, which neatly captures the extraordinarily diffuse nature of these energy sources. For land use-friendly and economical energy, dense is good, diffuse is bad.

A golf ball of uranium would provide more than enough energy for your entire lifetime, including electricity for homes, vehicles and mobile devices, synthetic fuels for vehicles (including tractors to produce your food and jet fuel for your flights). Your legacy? A soda can of fission product was, that would be less radioactive than natural uranium ore in 300 years.

Tom Blees used the above graphic to illustrate the tiny volume of waste generated by fast neutron fission power: Your lifetime energy supply = 1 golf ball, your waste = 1 soda can. For more please see the conference paper Advanced Nuclear Power Systems to Mitigate Climate Change, or IFR FaD 4 – a lifetime of energy in the palm of your hand.