Charles Ebinger
Director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution

Fusion Power—Just 30 Years Away! (Again)

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Will futuristic energy solutions such as fusion and biofuels ever live up to the hype surrounding them?

Charles Ebinger

Charles Ebinger is the Director of the Energy Security Initiative and a Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington D.C. He specializes in international and domestic energy markets and the geopolitics of energy with a particular focus on the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Ebinger has served as an energy policy advisor to over 50 governments.
Question: How promising are such emerging energy technologies as fusion and biofuels?

Charles Ebinger:  Fusion is a frustrating technology because we all know that it'll work.  The problem with fusion is we haven't been able to sustain a fusion reaction long enough to generate electricity.  We've known this for 30 to 50 years.  The joke in the fusion energy community is that fusion is always 30 years away and that remains the case today barring any foreseeable new developments.  But there is research going on and one of these days I would hope that somebody has a breakthrough and that would truly be a game-changer because then we really would very likely be able to have energy so cheap that we wouldn't worry about metering it.  But I don't think we can count on that happening. 

So then you look at other alternatives like advanced biofuels.  There clearly is great interest in algae as a transportation fuel to back out petroleum, as well as some other biofuels.  Biofuels are not entirely free in the sense that you certainly want to move towards developing biofuels hopefully that don't compete with food stuffs.  And that's one of the big problems with ethanol in our country and corn.  But there are biofuels like algae and others that don't compete with foodstuffs. 

I've actually been a developer.  I'm vice chairman of a company based in Dubai that does biomass fuels in Europe mainly because we get such generous green tax credits, it's extremely attractive.  But there are different crops that can be used.  We are developing a proprietary technology that it's essentially like a bamboo-type crop.  We call it egrass, but it's essentially similar to a bamboo, virtually grows anywhere in the world that's a temperate climate.  And like bamboo, grows very prolifically and very cheaply.  One of the problems in biofuels, though, is it's very expensive to transport bio fuels to their end use.  So when you develop a biofuels plant, you want as much as possible to have your biofuels plant as close to whatever end use it's going to be used for to cut down on what are otherwise very expensive transportation costs.

Recorded on April 28th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen