24 October 2016
The "Stellarator" reactor invented by Germany's Max Planck Institutes may turn out to be a huge game-changer for the global energy market.
The "Stellarator" reactor invented by Germany's Max Planck Institutes may turn out to be a huge game-changer for the global energy market.

Here comes the game-changer: the Stellarator reactor

The Middle East has been witnessing dramatic changes in recent months, with Iran back in favor with the West and Saudi Arabia, a traditional US ally, on its way towards radicalization.

There are certainly multiple factors that have contributed to such changes. The reversal of equations on Tehran and Riyadh should be understood in their political, cultural and historical context.

However, among all the factors that are affecting the political landscape of the Middle East, the new-energy revolution that is now quietly underway in Europe is certainly one that counts.

A couple of months ago the Max Planck Institutes in Germany announced that it had successfully started up a “Stellarator” reactor and produced the first helium plasma through the process of nuclear fusion . According to the institute, the process continued for duration of one tenth of a second and achieved a temperature of around one million degrees Celsius.

Although I am a complete layman when it comes to physics, I can still gauge the profound implications of this successful experiment for the global energy market in the long run, since the nuclear fusion reactor is a lot safer and more controllable than the nuclear fission reactor that is now commonly used in nuclear power plants across the globe.

Once fully operational, the Stellarator reactor has enormous potential to replace conventional nuclear reactors and fossil fuel and become the major clean energy source for the next generation. Therefore, the long-term significance of the successful test of Stellarator for mankind must not be underestimated.

Even though the Stellarator reactor and the technology applied to it are still in their infancy, there is no doubt that the successful test of the reactor has put Germany back in the lead of the global new-energy race again, thereby reinforcing its status as the No.1 energy power in Europe.

Moreover, this new technology may turn out to be a real game-changer and put an end to the domination of oil in the global energy market.

The year 2015 witnessed a dramatic plunge in international oil prices, and last month crude prices even dropped to a record low of US$30 per barrel. Even though there are multiple reasons behind the continued plunge in oil prices, technological breakthroughs such as the Stellarator reactor are certainly one of the contributing factors.

Once oil falls out of favor in the world energy market, the Middle East will definitely bear the brunt of it, and as the largest oil producing countries in the region, Saudi Arabia is likely to be the hardest hit.

One should not underestimate the political and economic implications for the Middle East from major technological breakthroughs in new energy. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 4.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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