Saturday, June 12, 2010

Focus Fusion Updated

The work at focus fusion continues apace.  The next stage will involve adjusting the design to accommodate heavier plasma.  This is new ground and surely cannot be expected to proceed so swimmingly.

Do not be surprised if it drags out, but so far it appears that we are well ahead of expectations and the design is working well.

We are still months away from an actual Bismuth test, but the development path is so far quite clear.

JUNE 10, 2010

The FF-1 results are as much as a factor of ten above the other results and show a sharper increase with higher current. They cannot say for sure yet if this improvement in performance is due to our use of the Axial Field Coil or to the small radius of our electrodes or both. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) is a bit less than half way to their goal of demonstrating scientific feasibility which would involve a yield of 10,000 to 100,000 joules. If they can continue at the rate of progress of the spring, they should reach demonstrating scientific feasibility by year-end.

Review of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics and Dense Plasma Fusion

Here is a link to a prior article that describes what they are trying to do in some technical detail and there is a link to an older business plan. Basically it boils down to that they look good to achieving energy breakeven this year or next. More energy out than you put into it. This has not been achieved at the large international fusion projects despite billions of dollars and thousands of PHDs working on it. 

A little less than double the experimental current (amperage) with a sufficiently strong magnetic field will achieve breakeven. 

If Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) achieves full success, then a Focus Fusion reactor would produce electricity very differently. The energy from fusion reactions is released mainly in the form of a high-energy, pulsed beam of helium nuclei. Since the nuclei are electrically charged, this beam is already an electric current. All that is needed is to capture this electric energy into an electric circuit. This can be done by allowing the pulsed beam to generate electric currents in a series of coils as it passes through them. This is much the same way that a transformer works, stepping electric power down from the high voltage of a transmission line to the low voltage used in homes and factories. It is also like a particle accelerator run in reverse. Such an electrical transformation can be highly efficient, probably around 70%. What is most important is that it is exceedingly cheap and compact. The steam turbines and electrical generators are eliminated. A 5 MW Focus Fusion reactor may cost around $300,000 and produce electricity for 1/10th of a cent per kWh. This is fifty times less than current electric costs. Fuel costs will be negligible because a 5 MW plant will require only five pounds of fuel per year. [About 40 million kWh per year from a 5 MWe plant and 5 MWe is equal to 6705 horsepower] 

LPP talked about full development for $20 million of one commercial sized and performing reactor.

Presumably after the scientific feasibility is proven and it looks clear LPP has a good chance to actually do something, they would then get some of the DOE and other money that is being sprayed around on energy tech. 

Other Nuclear Fusion Startups

A similar company, EMC Fusion, with a different nuclear fusion technlogy is funded by the US Navy and gets some DOE stimulus funds. $8 million in latest round of funding. 

General Fusion is another new fusion company. They are funded by Venture capitalists and the Canadian government (About $30 million total) 

Milestone Update

An update of progress so far along the 8 milestones.

Milestone 1: Achieve pinch on FF1 machine

This milestone was already achieved before the last milestone update in November 2009.

Milestone 2: Achieve pinch at 25kV and 1MA, determine optimum gas pressure

In April we achieved a pinch at 30kV and 1MA.  Optimizing the gas pressure is ongoing.

Milestone 3: Test theory of axial magnetic field

In March we saw clear evidence that an initial axial magnetic field increases fusion yield.

Milestone 4: Achieve pinch at 45kV and 2MA with deuterium

Milestone 5: Confirm Texas results with better instruments

Milestone 6: Optimize for heavier gasses

Deuterium has an atomic weight of 2.  A 50/50 mix of hydrogen and boron-11 has an average atomic weight of 6.  There are some plasma parameters that depend on the atomic weight of the particles in the plasma.  As we shift to heavier atomic weight we will need to adjust the length of the electrodes, the initial fill pressure, shot timing, etc. to maintain optimum plasmoid conditions.  We will do this by mixing in helium (atomic weight 4) and nitrogen (atomic weight 14) to add weight without adding the complexity of nuclear reactions.
Milestone 7: Achieve fusion with pB11

This is an important step where we switch from the nuclear-inert gasses helium and nitrogen to boron that can fuse with protons.  If we achieve our previous milestones and create plasmoids with high enough temperature and density then fusion should just happen and this milestone won’t require any additional adjustments, but it will still be nice to finally see it happen.
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.

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