Contributions of plasma physics to a sustainable development
Sustainable development (SD) is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.The acceptance of SD as a guiding principle for policy making has provided a stimulus for rethinking the justification of technology choices and options.The role of science is crucial for SD. Plasma-related research can make very substantial contributions to the implementation of SD, in particular in the fields of energy supply and waste treatment.
About 90% of our energy comes from the limited fossil fuels, stored over millions of years from the use and storage of solar radiation, and burnt at an ever increasing rate since industrialization.The continually rising consumption of fossil fuels will quickly deplete invaluable basic substances for industry and threaten our environment, and will lead to political instabilities. In the long term we need a mix of alternative energy sources (besides energy saving and new technologies). The criterion energy quality will become more and more important. Renewable energy sources have many advantages, but will cover only a part of our energy needs. More energy is needed to provide a sustainable decent future for mankind . All energy supply as well as energy saving options should be (further) developed.
Fusion has a huge potential as long term inexhaustible and safe energy source with mimimal environmental impact.The overall objectives of the next step tokamak ITER is the demonstration of the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion, and the confirmation of its favourable environmental properties. It is clear that it will take about 50 years to have the first commercial fusion reactors, but after less than 50 years of research we are beginning to have the end product in sight. This is quite a performance for one of the most ambitious scientific and technological enterprises ever. It is our responsibility to future generations to continue the fusion research efforts without delay and with full commitment.
Plasma based treatment of waste and low-grade fuels can also substantially contribute to SD. The driving force is to give priority to environmental quality at affordable cost. The concept concerns thermal plasma (plasma torches, plasma jets, plasmatrons) gasification and vitrification, i.e. a dual simultaneous desintegration (organic components) and fusion (inorganic components) process. Criteria for optimization of the quality of the syngas for optimization of the quality of the syngas can be: maximum energy content for electricity / heat production (thermal conversion), or the production or recovery of a valuable by-product such as methanol (synthetic fuels) or hydrogen (chemical conversion).