Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bussard Fusion Funding

This is welcome news. My misgivings regarding what was now obviously the initial tranche a few months back was based on the size problem. While we all know that the funding for tokomaks is out of control by its very nature it is also obvious that a too small budget makes it impossible for a principal scientist to easily dedicate full time to this project.

That is all behind us now, and this update gives us a sense of how long it may all take. Observe that a commercial product is plausible in five years. This must be progress compared to the Tokomak which has absorbed my lifetime and massive wealth without anything that could be misconstrued as success.

Both this technology and the focus fusion technology work up well in simulation and initial testing. Now we will try over the next few months to get them all over the hump. Both proponents believe it should work, but all know that it can easily fall short if some minor effect becomes dominant as has happened in fusion work before.

I want them both to work. They may even support separate applications before we are done.

I also note that an allusion is made to space travel and that surely means the use of ion impulse engines to get things going. The Bussard device is going to be a large power plant at the least in order to be viable, but a small increase in size will permit an energy output increase that will be cubic at the least.

I am much more encouraged by the focus fusion system which is tailor made for space craft. One can readily envisage a power train with that source that is naturally compact. It would simplify matters immensely if such a craft gulped air in the lower atmosphere or particles in space and in either case imparted ionizing energy and electromagnetic acceleration sufficient to produce the necessary trust. It cannot be that simple, but you get the idea. If it could be, then flying into space will be as safe and as boring as a trip to a major US city.

I am also encouraged by the prospect that this technology can be proved out inside of twenty four months. I wish we could have found a way to do that to Tokomak. Of course we still find ourselves holding a teaser in our hands. Welcome to the mining business. Sometimes, as in the mining business, success is made, not so much discovered.

September 12, 2009

IEC / Bussard Fusion has gotten $8 million in Funding

M Simon at iecfusiontech reports that IEC (inertial electrostatic) fusion has gotten $8 million in funding. IEC Fusion is one of the most promising routes to commercial nuclear fusion and a possible solution to all of our energy problems. If it works we will be able to develop over thousand times our current level of energy, cheap, clean energy and have easy access to space.

This is in a list of Department of Defence contracts listed at Global Security.

Energy Matter Conversion Corp., (EMC2)*, Santa Fe, N.M., is being awarded a $7,855,504 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for research, analysis, development, and testing in support of the Plan Plasma Fusion (Polywell) Project. Efforts under this Recovery Act award will validate the basic physics of the plasma fusion (polywell) concept, as well as provide the Navy with data for potential applications of polywell fusion. Work will be performed in Santa Fe, N.M., and is expected to be completed in April 2011.
Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, Calif., is the contracting activity (N68936-09-C-0125).

This site has an interview of Dr Richard Nebel who is leading the IEC/Bussard Fusion project.Dr. Nebel commented: I believe we will know the answer for the Polywell [commercial nuclear fusion viability] in ~ 1.5-2 years. I haven't looked at MSimons design, but I know he has a lot of good ideas. We'll probably take a closer look at D-D reactors over the next 2 years.

From the Interview: The project that we hope to have out within the next six years will probably be a demo, which won't have the attendant secondary equipment necessary for electricity generation. Hopefully the demo will demonstrate everything that is needed to put a full-scale working plant into commercial production. So if the concept works we could have a commercial plant operating as early as 2020.

18-24 months : Verification if this approach is commercially viable [boom or bust for Polywell]

6 years: a full-scale demo of IEC fusion

By 2020: A first commercial IEC Fusion plant, with an estimated cost of 2-5 cents per kilowatt hour.

We've looked at the side reaction [ 11B-4He -> 14N + n, 11B + p -> 11C+n, etc) that will produce neutrons,] and it is down 8 orders of magnitude from the P-B11 reaction. The reason for this is that the alpha particles are not well confined and leave the system very rapidly. The alpha-B11 reaction is the dominant side reaction. Note: This was a computational analysis.

This work is very important because we could have commercial fusion in as little as 5 years if the work is successful.
Success would also transform space travel. (40 to 1000 times cheaper to get into space)

The initial analysis showed that Bussard's data on energy yields were consistent with expectations, Nebel said.

He said he's hoping to find out by this spring whether or not Bussard's concept is worth pursuing with a larger demonstration project.

"We don't know for sure whether all that's right," he said, "but it'd be horrible for Mother Nature to give you what you expect to see, and have it all be bogus."

Introduction to IEC fusion

This is paraphrasing from the Tom Ligon description.

IEC fusion uses magnets to contain an electron cloud in the center. It is a variation on the electron gun and vacuum tube in television technology. Then they inject the fuel (deuterium or lithium, boron) as positive ions. The positive ions get attracted to the high negative charge at a speed sufficient for fusion.
Speed and electron volt charge can be converted over to temperature. The electrons hitting the TV screen can be converted from electron volts to 200 million degrees.

The old problem was that if you had a physical grid in the center then you could not get higher than 98% efficiency because ions would collide with the grid.

UPDATE: The problem with grids is that the very best you can do is 2% electron losses (the 98% limit). With those kinds of losses net power is impossible. Losses have to get below 1 part in 100,000 or less to get net power. (99.999% efficiency) [thanks to M Simon for the clarification]

Bussard system uses magnets on the outside to contain the electrons and have the electrons go around and around 100,000 times before being lost outside the magnetic field.

The fuel either comes in as ions from an ion gun or it comes in without a charge and some of it is ionized by collisions with the madly spinning electrons. The fuel is affected by the same forces as the electrons but a little differently because it is going much slower. About 64 times slower in the case of Deuterium fuel (a hydrogen with one neutron). Now these positively charged Deuterium ions are attracted to the virtual electrode (the electron cloud) in the center of the machine. So they come rushing in. If they come rushing in fast enough and hit each other just about dead on they join together and make a He3 nucleus (two protons and a neutron) and give off a high energy neutron.

Ions that miss will go rushing through the center and then head for one of the grids. When the voltage field they traveled through equals the energy they had at the center of the machine the ions have given up their energy to the grids (which repel the ions), they then go heading back to the center of the machine where they have another chance at hitting another ion at high enough speed and close enough to cause a fusion.

Details of the polywell fusion reactor. (Polywell fusion and Inertial Electrostatic Confinement fusion are the same thing).

UPDATE: A prediction on how this might play out if it is successful.

Oil prices can fluctuate for a lot of reasons. There is currently a $20-30 premium because of fear of more middle east conflict. The peak oil fears might also be adding $5-10 to the price per barrel. So any immediate hit to prices would be from changing the psychology around oil prices not from actual shifts in the economics of supply and demand. The supply and demand would get impacted over one to two decades. Once the full scale system is proved out then there would be a rush to build them.

I think if the prototypes pan out this spring, most people will not believe it. So I do not think the working prototypes should effect price more than $1-2 per barrel if anything. The working full scale system (in 3-8 years) $5-15 from a psychological shift. Maybe $20 with the optimism.

Just as the thermoelectrics have actual released products (car seat warmers) but most people do not believe that the better thermoelectrics in the labs are on the way starting within 5 years. However, it will take time for the thermoelectrics to be deployed.

The promise of highly successful first two prototypes WB7 and then WB8 should definitely green light the full scale positive power system. That would still take 5 years (maybe 2-3 if people got excited and accelerated development and effort with promising results and might take 8 years or more if there are unforeseen problems.)

From the descriptions it is clear that the IEC fusion devices are far simpler than the ITER tokomak fusion devices. It is also simpler than nuclear fission reactors. So success would mean faster transformation, but it would still take five to ten years for big infrastructure impact to the point that oil would start to be significantly displaced. Plus it would first hit coal for electricity. Unlike current fission reactors which take 4-6 years to build, these IEC fusion reactors might be buildable in 1-3 years. There is still the issue of licensing and regulatory approvals. It is not clear what that licensing/regulatory process would be but it should be shorter than nuclear fission licensing as the IEC fusion is easier to shutoff and does not have nuclear fuel or waste.

The full scale IEC fusion reactors would be about 4 meters in radius and weigh about 14 tons and generate 1GW and 8 meters for about 128GW. Power will be 5-20 times cheaper.

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