Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Focus Fusion Status

This piece by Next Big Future is a great workup on the numbers related to the focus fusion work and aids us in understanding results.  It is still a long way from success, but the path is clear and so far the behavior is following the simulations.  It will likely get dice before we are close to been finished but so far so good.

The good news is that they will update us cheerleaders every month.  Thus as a sniff of success arises we will surely encourage the tidal wave of funding this project richly deserves.

As I have posted, this looks like the device that we can stuff in a spacecraft someday.  If the ultracapacitor energy storage proves out then we have all we need to get serious even if it is too soon for a magnetic field exclusion vessel (MFEV) and must instead rely on ion propulsion.

In short, this can bring on the real space age.

JUNE 13, 2010

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) has a goal of generating 30,000 joules with each nuclear fusion pulse. This would be net energy with conversion to elecricity. So if 100,000 joules was put in from the capacitors then they would need say 200,000 joules back and convert that to 130,000 joules. 100,000 joules for the next shot and 30,000 as excess energy. they are currently only around the 1 joule level. In April it was 0.1 joule, but in May the current increased to 1 megaamp which suggests about 1 joule output. 

LPP plans to then increase the pulse rate to 60 pulses per seconds. It would be producing 1.8 million joules per second.

A one megawatt generator produces one million joules per second. (a watt is a joule/ second)

LPP was also trying to get up to 100,000 joules in each pulse. 60 such pulses would be 6 million joules per second, which if converted at with only about 20% loss would be equal to a 5 megawatt generator. 

31.536 million seconds per year * 30,000 joules * 60 pulses per second / 3600 seconds =
8760 hours * 60 * 30,000 watt hours = 15.768 million Kilowatt hours

Phase 1 is where we attempt to demonstrate at least as much fusion energy production than electrical energy input, or breakeven. We hope to reach this point by the end of the year.

Phase 2 is where we do the engineering to capture that output energy in the most efficient way possible to reach positive net energy. This is where we will work on the “onion” to capture X-rays and the ion-beam capture coil and switch. We will also work on rapid firing of the device using the captured energy from the last shot. The subsystems to remove waste heat, injecting new fuel, etc, will be attached at that point. The goal of Phase 2 is positive net energy output, which is a form of breakeven after taking into account subsystem losses.

Phase 3 then turns these laboratory-based systems into refined, customer-ready, prepackaged, deliverable, commercial fusion generators. The goal of Phase 3 is positive net cash flow, which is yet another form of breakeven 

The FF-1 capacitor bank holds about 100,000 joules. 

Milestone 8: Achieve positive net energy 

Obviously, the goal of this work is to create more energy than we consume. Here’s how we plan to do this. The capacitor bank in FF1 holds about 100,000 Joules of energy. When we flip the switch that energy goes in to the electric currents and magnetic fields in the plasma. The energy isn’t gone, it’s just in a different form. Then fusion reactions add energy to the plasma. For this milestone we hope to create 33,000 Joules of fusion energy with each shot. Then that 133,000 Joules of energy has to be converted back to electricity. But it can’t be converted with perfect efficiency. There will be some losses. If we can get 80% of that 133,000 Joules back into electricity then we will have 106,400 Joules of electricity. That’s more than we started with. 100,000 Joules can be sent to the capacitors for the next shot, and 6,400 Joules can be siphoned off as power output. This experiment won’t actually convert the plasma energy back into electricity, but by measuring the plasma energy we can show that we could create a power producing reactor. That is what we mean by the term “demonstrate scientific feasibility” and that’s the goal of this milestone.

JUNE 14, 2010

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) has a mid-term goal of generating 30,000 joules (30 kJ of NET power) with each nuclear fusion pulse. An output of 30 kJ of elecricity would be "NET output power". 

If 100 kJ of capacitively stored energy is required for each test pulse, then the total output power needs to be ((100,000 + 30,000) divided by conversion efficiency). An efficiency of 67% would convert 200 kJ of reaction power to 130 kJ of electrical power, of which 100 kJ would feed back to the capacitors, leving 30 kJ as "NET output power".

In June 2010 LPP has an estimated raw fusion output power of about 1 Joule (0.001 kJ). This does not include electrical conversion. In April 2010 LPP cited about 0.1 joule, and in May they indicated that increasing pulse current to 1 megaamp yielded about 1 joule of fusion product energy. 

LPP plans to increase pulse current further (enhancing the per-pulse raw fusion product energy), as well as increasing the pulse-repetition rate to 60 pulses per sec. At 30 kJ/pulse NET output, this would be 1800 kJ/sec output which is also 1,800 kilowatts or 1.8 megawatts of NET electrical power. 

LPP also states that it is trying to attain 100 kJ yield per pulse, though it is not clear whether they're referring to the raw energy-of-fusion product, or NET electrical energy. 

FYI, at 8760 hours/year, each kilowatt of produced power is 8,760 kilowatt-hours per year. Hence, a power plant continuously producing 1.8 megawatts would produce 15.8 gigawatt-hours of power a year.

The upcoming phases of LPP research are discussed.

Phase 1 attempts to demonstrate fusion energy production equal to electrical energy input. (This is RAW fusion energy production, unconverted to electrical) It is hoped to be at this point by the end of 2010. 

Phase 2 advances research to capture fusion-product energy efficiently so as to realized positive NET energy. Critical is the ability to efficiently convert X-rays and direct ion-beam capture. Work on rapid firing will also proceed apace. Subsystems to remove waste heat to inject fuel and so on will be part of this phase. The goal is to produce positive net energy output, in excess of pulse-regeneration, system losses, conversion losses and thermal losses. This can be thought of as "output" from a consumer's point of view. 

Phase 3 moves the technology to customer-ready, prepackaged, deliverable, commercial fusion generators. The goal of Phase 3 is positive net cash flow, which is yet another form of breakeven. The cost per megawatt, or per gigawatt-hour has not been set, but must either be competitive with efficient commercial supplies, or have cost-scaling advantages for remote locations, inhospitable environments, or specialized power production situations. Characterization of the cost-structure is also part of Phase 3. 

[notes from LPP documents regarding Milestone 8]

The goal is to create more energy than consumed. The capacitors hold 100 kJ which become electric currents and magnetic fields in the plasma during the pulse. Fusion reactions add energy to the plasma. We hope that 33,000 Joules of fusion energy can be achieved with each pulse. The sum (133,000 Joules) must be converted back to electricity. If we can get 80% of that 133,000 Joules back then 106,400 Joules of electricity will be available after each shot. 

100 kJ of the 133 kJ recharge the capacitors for the subsequent shot, and 6,400 Joules is NET power output. We do not envision that Milestone 8 will convert the plasma energy into electricity, but we will measure the plasma energy to show power production feasibility.

Critical Assumptions

A critical assumption is that as the current level is increased from one megaamp to 2 or 3 megaamps that the amount of energy will increase by 4 to 5 orders of magnitude. This is based upon the theoretical analysis and is supported by previous dense plasma focus experiments. The methods used by LPP give them encouragement that they are able to generate ten times the amount of neutrons and energy return for the same current level as past dense plasma focus experiments. 

The confidence that LPP has in eventually increasing the pulse rate after bnet energy return is achieved is that some of the critical components are analogous to spark plugs in cars. Spark plugs can fire many times per second.

Some have noted that the slope of the improvement in results published for april indicate a leveling off. There will be results for May, June and future months. Those will indicate whether energy return improves as the current levels are increased and other modifications are made.

LPP has funding through September and likely will have funding through the end of the year. Experimental work is showing interesting results for about one million dollars of cost for the work in 2010 and $2.1 million for 2009 and 2010.

The chart of projected progress on energy return is what the LPP team estimates can be achieved. LPP is producing monthly experiment reports so actual progress and how closely actual results track to the estimates will become clear over the coming months. Other dense plasma focus (DPF) experiments have achieved higher current levels, so there is reason to believe that LPP can also achieve those current levels. There will then be the experimental results of neutron and energy generated using LPP methods at higher current levels. 

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