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Furniss, Jon (ed.) / Wisconsin engineer
Volume 101, Number 2 (February 1997)

Pierpont, Dan
Helium three as a new source of energy for Earth,   pp. 12-13


Page 12


Helium Three as a New
Source of Energy for Earth
I. *-..
Looking into the twenty-first cen
Ltury, the need for an alternative
energy source to fuel the world's de-
mand for more power, is becoming in-
creasingly apparent. How long can
the world's oil reserves last? How
long can we use coal for combustion?
Is nuclear power a safe and endless
energy source? What happens when
the earth's natural resources finally
run dry? All of these problems could
be solved if we could find a new abun-
dant energy source. Well, it just so
happens that we have a new energy
source that we are not taking advan-
tage of. Helium three or 3He fusion
could solve the energy problems of
the world for centuries to come. 3He
is found here on earth in relatively
small amounts, which makes it very
difficult to recover. However, it is
present in large quantities other
places in the galaxy, most importantly,
the moon.
The need for more
power is enormous
and will contiunue to
get larger as the 21 st
century begins
The need for more power is enormous
and will continue to get larger as the
twenty-first century begins. It has
been estimated that by the year 2050,
the average use of electrical energy
will be five megawatt hours per per-
son per year. For the United States
alone, this number could be much
larger since in 1990 the average energy
was 11 megawatt hours per person
per year. The big question is,
where are we going to get all
of this energy? By the year
2050 we will have used ex-
tensive amounts of our natu-
ral resources in order to meet
the energy needs of the
world. In fact, it is estimated
that the oil and natural gas
reserves could be essentially
exhausted by the year 2050.
The world's energy use has
increased four- fold since
1940. Imagine the amount of
we will ineeu it I increases anotiier
four-fold in the next fifty years. As of
January 1995, the world's fossil fuel
reserves totaled around 7.5 trillion boe.
(boe = Barrels of oil equivalent) When
most of this is gone in 2050, we will
certainly need another form of energy.
It wouldn't be a bad guess to say that
the next major war fought on earth
will be related to energy and natural
resources. If a new source of energy
is discovered it will be possible to
eliminate this potentially dramatic
situation that could arise by the year
2050.
For the past couple of decades, scien-
tists and engineers having been trying
to predict where this new source of
energy will come from. Some say
nuclear power using uranium will be
the answer, others think it will be so-
lar power, but the power source which
seems to be the best answer is fusion.
We could use helium three (3He) as a
fusion energy source to power the
earth for centuries to come.
The closest large source of 3He is on
the moon. It is deposited there by so-
lar wind, which originates in the sun.
the sun's atmosphere torm ions that
get trapped in magnetic fluy lines,
which carry the ions throughout the
solar system. Solar wind contains
about four p n helmtraveling at
450 km /s. Thishelium contains both
3He and 4H  ich com  from the he-
lium that escap thne sunwit~hout un-
dergoing fusiQm So essentially, this
land the space shuttle on the moon,
then fill the cargo with canisters of 3He
mined from the sirface, and bring the
shuttle back to earth that 3He cargo
could supply thbeentire eletrical
power needs of the United States for
an entire year. That strikes me as an
awful lot of energy, for such a small
amount of 3He, and in fact the energy
WI SC ON SIN
E VENGINEER
12


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