For many decades nuclear fusion has been the pot of gold at the end of the energy rainbow. For most of the time it has been the province of high-energy physics. One favourite strategy has been to fuse two deuterium atoms: hydrogen with a neutron. The fusion of the two creates a massive surge of energy. The reaction can create hydrogen and radioactive tritium. The latter has a half-life of 12 years and can be turned into helium by fusing it with more deuterium. Compared with nuclear fission, it is a clean technology, producing minimal amounts of waste.
The stumbling block is that, in order to overcome the repulsive forces between the nuclei within the deuterium, the deuterium has to be heated to 10,000°C, the temperature at the heart of the sun. Maintaining the stability of matter at such a temperature is extremely difficult and consumes massive amounts of energy. As yet it has proved impossible to generate more energy from the process than is required to create the reaction. The theoretical belief is that ultimately fusion will create a net surplus of energy by a factor of ten. As the international energy scene becomes increasingly volatile, a huge research effort into fusion is focused on a massive facility in Japan. It is slowly graduating from the possible to the probable.
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The solar Stirling engine is progressively becoming a viable alternative to solar panels for its higher efficiency. Stirling engines might be the best way to harvest the power provided by the sun. This is an easy-to-understand explanation of how Stirling engines work, the different types, and why they are more efficient than steam engines.