This investigation refers to a new source of energy called Helium-3. Helium-3 is a rare isotope of Helium, found in very small quantities on Earth. The problem is finding an abundant source of it, which might be the moon where large quantities accumulated over billions of years. There are scientists who opine that Helium-3 could be mined and brought from the moon at a cost-effective price, given that Helium-3 can be so efficiently transformed into energy. Helium-3 is also a cleaner, or even a nuclear waste-free source of energy, depending on the fusion process chosen. What is Helium-3?
Helium-3 (He-3 or 3He) is a light, non-radioactive isotope of Helium with two protons and one neutron. Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element such that, while all isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons in each atom, they differ in neutron number. Helium-3 is emitted by the sun, and it is very rare on Earth because the atmosphere of the Earth doesn’t let a large quantity of Helium-3 pass. However, the lunar soil has been absorbing Helium-3 for billions of years, and it has significant quantities of it.
Although theoretically helium-3 could be obtained and processed efficiently to produce clean or even nuclear waste-free energy, it is not a readily available technology today. However, the future of Helium-3 is promising and so continued investigation is well warranted.
Where can we get Helium-3 from?
While it can be found on Earth in a natural state, quantities are very low, no higher than 0.000137%. The moon has large quantities of Helium-3, as current analyses indicate that there are at least 1 million metric tons embedded in the lunar surface. About half the Helium-3 is deposited in a portion of about 20% of the moon’s surface known as “Mare”. Mare means sea in Latin, and that is the name given to a region of the moon which long ago was covered by a large sea.
Is it economically viable to extract from the moon?
At 1 billion dollars a metric ton, the cost of Helium-3 in contrast to its energy potential is comparable to producing oil at $7 per barrel instead of $108 per barrel. This indicates that Helium-3 is a very effective source of energy, more than any fossil fuel used today.
Paul Spudis proposes extracting Helium-3 from the moon’s surface by means of heating lunar dust particles to around 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius). When extracted, transport would be necessary. This would cost billions of dollars but would be worth the cost, since only 40 metric tons of Helium-3 would be able to produce energy to meet the demands of the United States for one full year. Our entire world’s electricity needs would be satisfied for approximately 100 metric tons, which would take us just a few space shuttle flights to earth.
How can we transform it into energy?
There are various different ways of applying nuclear fusion. Two of them use Helium-3 in the fusion.
• The “traditional” way of using nuclear fusion to create...