Multi-billionaire mining maverick wants to harness nuclear energy in Earth's core
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In keynote speech at London Stock Exchange, Robert Friedland hailed 'industrial magic' ultracapacitors and compared making money on oil to 'engaging in the cocaine business for a little while'
A multi-billionaire financier wants to drive hundreds of miles of tunnels into the centre of the Earth as part of a mammoth project to deliver clean energy to civilisations for all eternity.
Robert Friedland, 66, a charismatic maverick mining entrepreneur who is also chairman of specialist energy tech firm I-Pulse, said a major government was considering funding his project to harness heat generated via nuclear fission taking place deep inside the Earth.
In a keynote speech during an event at the London Stock Exchange, he told mining industry insiders: “The centre of the Earth is a nuclear reactor. We’re living on a nuclear reactor because there is enough remnant uranium in the core when it’s under that massive pressure that it stimulates a natural fission reaction. That’s what drives all the heat that causes our continents to be floating on a molten core.”
He added: “We think there is enough nuclear fuel in the planet to sustain that heat for, best guess, modern science says five billion more years. So in the scale of human affairs, there is an infinite amount of heat right inside Mother Earth, the nuclear reactor. All you have to do is tap it, and the nice thing is it’s there 24 hours a day.”
Friedland, a colourful character with an interesting past – he was once arrested and jailed for selling drugs as a teenager and lived with Steve Jobs while at university – said he had been working on the project in secret for more than a decade and had never spoken about it publicly before.
He said: “We want to drive hundreds of miles of tunnels in that hot granite and pump water into those tunnels. It turns to steam, the steam turns an electrical generator, then when the water cools off, it condenses and it goes round in a closed loop. There are no global warming effects. You get a Nobel Prize and you solve the stupid problem – for ever. And the neat thing is, it’s going to be done by people that came out of the mining industry, the stupidest business in the world. Now, any questions?”
Friedland said I-Pulse had high-tech ultracapacitors capable of creating “enormous amounts of power with very small amounts of energy”, something he described as looking like “industrial magic”.
High energy pulse electrical power provided a means of more efficiently fragmenting rock, recovering valuable material in mining applications and “making solids behave like liquids”, as well as being a non-invasive method of revealing, at the surface, the presence of mineral deposits or revitalising production at underperforming oil wells, he said.
I-Pulse is headquartered in Tolouse, France, home of ‘Aerospace Valley’, and the company uses know-how that was a spin-off of the French military nuclear programme.
Friedland told Natural Resources Forum delegates, including a former UK government minister: “We are working in the automotive market, in aerospace, in luxury packaging, in high-precision metal parts, in the battery industry, and we’re working with some of the biggest names in the world. Our automobile partner is the world’s largest manufacturer in automobiles. Our partner in luxury goods is the world’s largest luxury goods manufacturer.
“The key thing I’m trying to tell you is this is not science fiction. After 16 years of being kept top secret, this is real, this is in the industrial process. This is real and you can see it, and if we allow you to see it, I can guarantee you this is better than going to Disneyland.”
Friedland’s mining company, Ivanhoe Mines, has interests in South America and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he declared he was “willing to make money on oil and gas as a bridge cash flow” to reach his goal of “totally changing the world” by building huge zero-emissions alternative energy infrastructure including giant grid-scale batteries that would help combat climate change while preserving human civilisation.
“It’s sort of like engaging in the cocaine business for just a little while in order to build schools and hospitals,” he quipped - and he predicted new technologies were set to drive enormous demand for copper.
“We think in the early 2020s you’re going to need a telescope to see the copper price,” he said. “We’re looking at putting 100 megawatts of solar at our copper project in the Congo. We’re in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The land is flat and we’re near the equator. The sun is shining a lot. It’s extremely cool to have a solar-powered copper mine to make the copper you need to make solar-powered copper mines.
“We’re going to give everyone a hot foot, just like Elon Musk gave the big manufacturers a hot foot. He forced all the major manufacturers to move all their electric cars programme forward by, say, a generation – General Motors, everybody – because this little guy making 80,000 cars a year gave them a hot foot. We’re going to do the same thing with the major mining companies.”
During his speech, Friedland, who has the ear of senior figures in the Chinese Communist Party, also praised Beijing’s efforts to blanket large areas of Chinese desert with wind turbines and solar panels.
“They don’t care what The Donald says,” he said. “They don’t care what The Donald thinks.”
He delivered a parting broadside against London Mayor Sadiq Khan, criticising him for allowing cyclists to expose themselves to deadly air pollution when riding on bike lanes next to major roads. Electric and self-driving cars could help curb congestion and improve the air, Friedland suggested.
On the subject of autonomous vehicles, he added: “What’s a car going to be? In 10 or 12 years you won’t have to dial for a car. You won’t have to screw around with your iPhone calling Uber. You are just going to say ‘I want my car’ and that device that’s sitting somewhere is going to hear your words and your car will be there waiting for you. 90 per cent of the value of the car is going to be in the software because it will be an entertainment experience.
“You will be able to have a board meeting. You’re going to be able to watch three-dimensional hologramatic pornography in the car.
“You won’t be driving it. It’s going to be an experience… It’s going to be an entirely different entertainment and transportation experience, and it will certainly be electric unless it has a hydrogen fuel cell in a cold environment.”
Friedland's net worth has reportedly surpassed $2 billion.