Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

The Energy to Protect Domestic Tranquility

I’m Matt Hayes. I am starting an alternative energy source venture with Zachary Jacobson ’14, Zachary Sufrin 15’ in addition to a handful of other members and mentors. We live in a rapidly changing economic and political landscape. It is vital that the world change the way it produces and consumes energy. To ensure economic and political stability, we must shift away from oil and coal. Oil and coal are finite resources made millions of years ago, and we are running out. At the most, we may have up to 400 years left of oil and coal remaining. By the time we are left with 100-150 years of coal and oil, the cost of those natural resources will be astronomical. Our power grid is powered by 50% coal, 30% nuclear energy, and 20% gas. Our total energy is consumed through 40% electric power, 10% residential & commercial, 22% industrial, and 28% transportation. 93% of all transportation energy comes from oil and our electrical grid is powered by 41% coal, 24% natural gas, and 21% nuclear electric power. Only 12% of our energy grid is powered by renewable energy – 53% of renewable energy’s total output. We intend to provide 100% of electric power, 100% of industrial power, 100% of residential and commercial power, and (if everyone drives Teslas) 100% of transportation energy.

From 1870-1970, the US had complete control of the oil industry. In 1970, our oil production peaked – since then; we have been importing more and producing less of our oil supply. In 1973, an OPEC oil embargo almost crippled the nation. The United States now imports close to 700 billion dollars of oil every year, which forces us to economically support some of the most unstable regimes in the world. While many of us think American corporations control a large stake of the world’s oil supply, foreign countries own about 80% of the world’s oil reserves. If the countries we depend on for our oil supply once again decided to stop exporting oil, or our supply ran out, the United States would experience cost-push hyperinflation and a halt in the way we manufacture and transport all American goods. This would disrupt the way the people, businesses, and our government operate on an unimaginable scale. (SERIOUSLY: think of the implications)

Becoming energy independent has been a promise of every president since Richard Nixon, yet we have strayed further and further from that goal as years went on. Our generation is faced with an economic and environmental battle deferred to us by the previous. While we must thank that generation for moving us from the horse and buggy to the automobile and airplane, it is our task to move us from carbon-emitting fossil fuels to more sustainable resources. Solar and wind may be the most popular of these green technologies; however, their costs make them difficult to imagine being adopted by emerging nations. Coal and gas cost 5.6 and 4.8 cents per kWh respectively, while wind and solar cost 18.4 and 23.5 cents for the same amount of energy. As energy consumption rises across the globe, even if the U.S. could switch to completely solar or wind energy (which it cannot), the high cost would prevent countries in places like Africa, South America, South East Asia, and the Middle East from switching to these sources. Thus, the environmental problem would not be solved.

I believe the answer lies in an alternate form of nuclear technology called the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. The LFTR is a Molten Salt Reactor discovered by Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960’s. This reactor uses Thorium as a fuel to create energy. It is low-pressure and therefore possesses none of the inherent risks associated with today’s nuclear technologies. Here’s the kicker – the MSR process is approximately 200 times as efficient as today’s nuclear technologies. In addition, Thorium has not been tapped yet as a fuel source and is about 4-10 times as abundant as Uranium. What does this equate to? Estimates suggest that there may be enough Thorium within the United States alone to power the entire world’s energy supply for the next 1000 years, carbon-free. Please follow the Thorium Unlimited team and myself as we try to bring the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor to the world.