Fusion: Will Humanity Ever Harness Star Power?
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Fusion: Will Humanity Ever Harness Star Power?

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Fusion is the epitome of “high risk, high reward” scientific research.

If we were to ever successfully harness the forces that power the stars, mankind could have access to power that is almost literally too cheap to meter. However, reaching that goal will be a very expensive, long-term commitment – and it’s also very possible that we may never achieve a commercially viable method of fusion power generation.

Today’s video, by the talented team at Kurzgesagt, explains how fusion works, what experiments are ongoing, and the pros and cons of pursuing fusion power generation.

How Fusion Works

Fusion involves heating nuclei of atoms – usually isotopes of hydrogen – to temperatures in the millions of degrees. At extreme temperatures, atoms are stripped of their electrons and nuclei move so quickly that they overcome their “mutual repulsion”, joining together to form a heavier nucleus. This process gives off massive amounts of energy that investors and researchers hope will propel mankind into an era of cheap and abundant electricity, but without the downsides of many other forms of energy.

I would like nuclear fusion to become a practical power source. It would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.

– Stephen Hawking, award-winning theoretical physicist

Stars are so large that fusion occurs naturally in their cores – but here on Earth, we’re trying a number of complex methods in the hopes of replicating that process to achieve positive net energy.

The Cost of Bottling a Star

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an experimental reactor currently being built in the south of France, will house the world’s largest ever tokamak – a doughnut-shaped reactor that uses a powerful magnetic field to confine plasma. Construction of the facility began in 2013 and is expected to cost €20 billion upon completion in 2021.

iter fusion reactor funding

Research organizations see ITER as a crucial step in realizing fusion. Though the facility is not designed to generate electricity, it would pave the way for functional reactors.

Competition is Heating Up

There are some who claim that the bureaucracy of government-funded labs is hampering the process. As a result, there is a pack of private companies, fueled by high-profile investors, looking to make commercially-viable fusion into a reality.

Tri Alpha, a company in southern California, is hoping their method of spinning magnetized plasma inside a containment vessel will be a lower-cost method of power generation than ITER. In 2015, they held super-heated hydrogen plasma in a stable state for 5 milliseconds, which is a huge deal in the world of fusion research. The company has attracted over $500 million in investment in the past 20 years, and has the backing of Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.

Helion Energy, located in Redmond, Washington, believes they are only a few years away from creating nuclear fusion that can be used as a source for electricity. Their reaction is created by colliding two plasma balls made of hydrogen atom cores at one million miles per hour. Helion Energy’s ongoing research is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, which the Trump administration slated for elimination. Thankfully, Helion still counts Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital and Y Combinator as supporters.

General Fusion, located in Burnaby, B.C., is taking a different approach. Their piston-based reactor is designed to create energy bursts lasting thousandths of seconds, rather than a sustained plasma reaction. Heat recovered bursts would be used to generate electricity much like nuclear power plants, minus the long-term radioactive waste. General Fusion has attracted millions of dollars in funding, including investment from Bezos Expeditions and the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Time Horizon

Though commercially viable fusion is still a long way off, each new technological breakthrough brings us one step closer. With such a massive payoff for success, research will likely only increase as we get closer to bottling a star here on Earth.

fusion timeline

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Ranked: The Largest Oil and Gas Companies in the World

Oil still makes up the largest share of the global energy mix. Here are the largest oil and gas companies by market cap in 2021.

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The Largest Oil & Gas Companies in 2021

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

The pandemic brought strong headwinds for the oil and gas industry, and oil majors felt the blow.

Global primary energy consumption fell by 4.5% relative to 2019 and oil demand declined by 9%. For a brief period in April 2020, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures went subzero, marking the largest one-day price plunge since 1983.

Some expected the demand crash to have a lasting impact on the industry, but it’s safe to say that 2021 has proved otherwise.

Oil Resurfaces as Energy Crisis Deepens

The world is facing a shortage of energy, and peak winter is yet to hit most parts of the globe.

Pandemic-induced supply restraints from producers, in addition to rising energy demand from recovering economies, have sent nations scrambling for petroleum products. Consequently, oil prices are resurfacing to pre-pandemic levels.

As of today, prices of WTI crude futures are at their highest levels in the last five years at over $80 per barrel. Furthermore, U.S. natural gas prices hit a 7-year high of $6.5 per million British thermal units (BTU) earlier this month. Elsewhere, European benchmark natural gas futures have surged 1,300% since May 2020.

Of course, the largest oil and gas companies are riding this wave of resurgence. Using data from CompaniesMarketCap.com, the above infographic ranks the top 20 oil and gas companies by market cap as of October 7, 2021.

Big Oil: The Largest Oil and Gas Companies by Market Cap

Given that we often see their logos at gas stations, the largest oil and gas companies are generally quite well-known. Here’s how they stack up by market cap:

RankCompanyMarket Cap* (US$, billions)Country
1Saudi Aramco$1,979Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦
2ExxonMobil$257.30U.S. 🇺🇸
3Chevron$205.29U.S. 🇺🇸
4Shell$175.28Netherlands 🇳🇱
5PetroChina$162.55China 🇨🇳
6TotalEnergies$130.56France 🇫🇷
7Gazprom$121.77Russia 🇷🇺
8ConocoPhillips$95.93U.S. 🇺🇸
9BP$93.97U.K. 🇬🇧
10Rosneft$84.07Russia 🇷🇺
11Equinor$83.60Norway 🇳🇴
12Enbridge$82.82Canada 🇨🇦
13Sinopec$80.48China 🇨🇳
14Novatek$79.18Russia 🇷🇺
15Duke Energy$78.08U.S. 🇺🇸
16Petrobras$69.91Brazil 🇧🇷
17Southern Company$66.64U.S. 🇺🇸
18Lukoil$64.70Russia 🇷🇺
19CNOOC$52.04China 🇨🇳
20Enterprise Products$50.37U.S. 🇺🇸

*As of October 7, 2021.

Saudi Aramco is one of the five companies in the trillion-dollar club as the world’s third-largest company by market cap. Its market cap is nearly equivalent to the combined valuation of the other 19 companies on the list. But what makes this figure even more astounding is the fact that the company went public less than two years ago in December 2019.

However, the oil giant’s valuation doesn’t come out of the blue. Aramco was the world’s most profitable company in 2019, raking in $88 billion in net income. Apple took this title in 2020, but high oil prices could propel Aramco back to the top in 2021.

Although Standard Oil was split up a century ago, its legacy lives on today in the form of Big Oil. ExxonMobil and Chevron—the second and third-largest companies on the list—are direct descendants of Standard Oil. Furthermore, Shell and BP both acquired assets from Standard Oil’s original portfolio on the road to becoming global oil giants.

The geographical distribution of the largest oil and gas companies shows how global the industry is. The top 20 oil and gas companies come from 10 different countries. The U.S. hosts six of them, while four are headquartered in Russia. The other 10 are located in one of China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, or Europe.

Big Oil, Bigger Emissions

Due to the nature of fossil fuels, the biggest oil and gas companies are also among the biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters.

In fact, Saudi Aramco is the world’s largest corporate GHG emitter and accounts for over 4% of the entire world’s emissions since 1965. Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobil, BP, and several other oil giants join Aramco on the list of top 20 GHG emitters between 1965 and 2017.

Shifting towards a low-carbon future will undoubtedly require the world to rely less on fossil fuels. But completely shunning the oil and gas industry isn’t possible at the moment, as shown by the global energy crisis.

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The Top 10 Biggest Companies in Brazil

What drives some of the world’s emerging economies? From natural resources to giant banks, here are the top 10 biggest companies in Brazil.

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The Top 10 Biggest Companies in Brazil Oct 10 Share

The Top 10 Biggest Companies in Brazil

In 2009, the at-the-time emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China held their first formal summits as members of BRIC (with South Africa joining in 2010).

Together, BRICS represents 26.7% of the world’s land surface and 41.5% of its population. By GDP ranking, they’re also some of the most powerful economies in the world.

But what drives their economies? We’re highlighting the top 10 biggest companies in each country, starting with Brazil.

What Are the Biggest Public Companies in Brazil?

Brazil isn’t just one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world, it is also an economic powerhouse.

With over 213 million people, Brazil is the sixth most populous country on Earth and the largest in Latin America. It’s also the wealthiest on the continent, with the world’s 12th-largest economy.

Once a colony focused on sugar and gold, Brazil rapidly industrialized in the 20th century. Today, it is a top 10 exporter of industrial steel, with the country’s economic strength coming chiefly from natural resources and financials.

Here are Brazil’s biggest public companies by market capitalization in October 2021:

Top 10 Companies (October 2021)CategoryMarket Cap (USD)
ValeMetals and Mining$73.03B
Petróleo BrasileiroOil and Gas$69.84B
AmbevDrinks$43.87B
Itaú UnibancoFinancial$41.65B
Banco BradescoFinancial$34.16B
WEGIndustrial Engineering$29.43B
BTG PactualFinancial$25.01B
Banco Santander BrasilFinancial$24.70B
Rede D’Or Sao LuizHospital$23.79B
XP Inc.Financial$22.45B

At the top of the ranking is Vale, a metals and mining giant that is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and nickel. Also the operator of infrastructure including hydroelectricity plants, railroads, and ports, It consistently ranks as the most valuable company in Latin America.

Vale and second-ranking company Petróleo Brasileiro, Brazil’s largest oil producer, were former state-owned corporations that became privatized in the 1990s.

Finance in Brazil’s Top 10 Biggest Companies

Other than former monopolies, the top 10 biggest companies in Brazil highlight the power of the banking sector.

Five of the 10 companies with a market cap above $20 billion are in the financial industry.

They include Itaú Unibanco, the largest bank in the Southern Hemisphere, and Banco Santander Brasil, the Brazilian subsidiary of Spanish finance corp.

Another well-known subsidiary is brewing company Ambev, which produces the majority of the country’s liquors and also bottles and distributes PepsiCo products in much of Latin America. Ambev is an important piece of Belgian drink juggernaut Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is one of the world’s largest 100 companies.

Noticeably missing from the top 10 list are companies in the agriculture sector, as Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of coffee, soybeans, beef, and ethanol. Many multinational corporations have Brazilian subsidiaries or partners for supply chain access, which has recently put a spotlight on Amazon deforestation.

What other companies or industries do you associate with Brazil?

Correction: Two companies listed had errors in their market cap calculations and have been updated. All data is as of October 11, 2021.

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