Nuclear Fusion: Still a Force to be Reckoned With

As you can see from the chart, if humans can master the forces in the atomic nucleus, they and their heirs will have as much energy as they will need into the foreseeable future.

Energy Density: Nuclear vs. the Rest Fusion, Fission Orders of Magnitude Better than Chemical and Other Energy Sources

Energy Density: Nuclear vs. the Rest
Fusion, Fission Orders of Magnitude Better than Chemical and Other Energy Sources

Research into the production of affordable nuclear fusion reactors is being actively carried out by several research groups — from large government research labs to giant international research efforts to small private research companies.

If we wait for the big fusion projects to pay off, we may be waiting for a half century or longer. It is the smaller projects that hold the most excitement and potential for shorter range success.

Below are some graphic descriptions of a few approaches to small fusion, courtesy of Brian Wang — who follows this topic fairly closely.

Reaction to a recent development in the Polywell fusion project:

Nicholas Krall, a plasma physicist who has been working in the fusion field for more than a half-century and has been an adviser to EMC2 Fusion, was … enthusiastic. “I think this is the most exciting experimental advance that I’ve been involved in,” he told NBC News. ‘I’m stoked.”
__ More at NextBigFuture

The UW’s reactor, called the dynomak, started as a class project taught by Jarboe two years ago. After the class ended, Jarboe and doctoral student Derek Sutherland – who previously worked on a reactor design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – continued to develop and refine the concept.

The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur, allowing the hot plasma to react and burn. The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions. Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works.

… The UW’s design is known as a spheromak, meaning it generates the majority of magnetic fields by driving electrical currents into the plasma itself. This reduces the amount of required materials and actually allows researchers to shrink the overall size of the reactor.

Other designs, such as the experimental fusion reactor project that’s currently being built in France – called Iter – have to be much larger than the UW’s because they rely on superconducting coils that circle around the outside of the device to provide a similar magnetic field. When compared with the fusion reactor concept in France, the UW’s is much less expensive – roughly one-tenth the cost of Iter – while producing five times the amount of energy. __ UW

Update on Dynomac Fusion at NextBigFuture

The graphic above illustrates different fuels for nuclear fusion, and a few different approaches to achieving fusion.

Update from Helion Energy via NBF

Many more images of the Plasma Jet Magneto Inertial Fusion approach

And now, a blast from the past. A re-publishing of an Al Fin Energy article entitled, Gallery of Small Fusion Startups

Gallery of Small Fusion Startups

Bussard IEC Fusion
Bussard inertial electrostatic confinement fusion (EMC2 Fusion) involves an electrostatic plasma confinement to achieve fusion. The history and development of the concept is explained in a video reached via the link above. The Bussard IEC has been financed almost entirely by the US Navy. EMC2 is based near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dense Plasma Focus Fusion
Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is based in New Jersey. The dense plasma focus approach uses a special pulsing “spark plug” to ionise a gas, and to form a plasmoid “pinch,” with the emission of high energy photons, ions, and fusion neutrons.

Hyper V Technologies utilises a spherical array of mini railguns to accelerate plasma beams into a central target of deuterium or deuterium-tritium, to achieve fusion (hopefully).

TriAlpha is an Irvine, California venture, which has been fairly successful in the venture capital game. TriAlpha is a bit secretive with non-investors, but you can read their patent for yourselves. The concept seems to involve the highly sophisticated evolution from an earlier colliding beam fusion approach.

General Fusion
General Fusion is a small startup headquartered near Vancouver, BC. The compression of plasma to achieve fusion is accomplished by a coordinated spherical plasma compression, using pneumatics and advanced switching.

Helion Energy is located in Redmond, Washington. It is based on a principle of “colliding plasmas,” and like all the rest of the small fusion approaches, it is a long shot.

Fusion reactors can be prolific neutron generators, and could be utilised for the transmutation of nuclear wastes into harmless compounds. They could also generate a number of differen highly energetic particles and high energy photons, and used for a number of purposes — including as space propulsion. Another potential product of fusion reactions is heat. But what is most desired from fusion reactors is abundant, cheap, clean electrical power.

The energy from fusion is higher than the energy from fission, so that less fuel is required to generate equivalent energies. Fusion is generally safer, with less radioactive waste remaining to be disposed of.

Many billions of dollars have been spent by governments in a vain attempt to master the power of the stars on a more human scale. If one of the small startups manages to achieve with $millions what huge government budgets of $billions could not achieve, a revolution would have been ignited which would likely not stop with just cheap, clean, abundant energy.

Previously published at Al Fin Potpourri

Small Fusion Startups Aim for Breakeven

The simplicity and smaller size of fusion reactors based on the new technologies – the companies are aiming for something on the 100-megawatt scale, rather than the gigawatts that are ITER’s ultimate goal – could be their great advantage. “It’s a size that allows for factory construction of systems rather than site-specific designs,” says Delage. Wallace agrees. “ITER is not the sort of thing you could easily roll out in, say, Nigeria – but we can go anywhere,” he says.

That is for the future. Wallace thinks the new machines might take off first not for power generation, but as neutron sources that could be used to “transmute” the highly radioactive waste from today’s fission reactors into low-level isotopes and nuclear fuel. He estimates that 50 Fusion Engines of the size Helion is planning to build could within 20 years eliminate all the waste the US now has stockpiled. Once they are established as neutron sources that just happen to produce power, the small reactors could evolve into commercial power plants, he says.

More on Fusion from Brian Wang

More on IEC Fusion from Brian Wang

Al Fin Energy fusion articles

Now, take another look at the table of energy densities at the top of this article. Nuclear fission has almost as big an energy payback as nuclear fusion — and nuclear fission is available now in many forms.

Newer, safer, more reliable, more affordable, and more scalable forms of nuclear fission would be available within the next 10 years, if modern governments would abandon their corrupt green energy delusions, and focus on perfecting technologies that we know will work over the next several hundreds of centuries.

Fusion is coming, but fission is already here — and can be made infinitely better than current working fission powerplants.

We are racing against the Idiocracy.


Aerospace company Lockheed is now claiming that it should have a 100 MW fusion reactor prototype in operation by the year 2019

Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

… for the same size, the CFR generates more power than a tokamak by a factor of 10. This in turn means, for the same power output, the CFR can be 10 times smaller. The change in scale is a game-changer in terms of producibility and cost, explains McGuire. “It’s one of the reasons we think it is feasible for development and future economics,” he says. “Ten times smaller is the key. __


All of these smaller nuclear fusion projects should be seen in the light of the bigger, slower efforts in Europe, and in the US National Labs (the Business Insider article inexplicably left out Sandia Labs).

Update: Brian Wang presents an updated look at commercial prospects for the different fusion approaches

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3 Responses to Nuclear Fusion: Still a Force to be Reckoned With

  1. Abelard Lindsey says:

    I view nuclear energy (both fusion and fission like LFTR/MSR) and radical life extension (SENS, stem-cell regeneration) as the two key technologies we need within the next 20 year in order to stave off the coming ideocracy.

  2. Jason says:

    Nuclear fusion would of course be fantastic, but it seems perpetually 20 years away.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Yes, rather like artificial intelligence, working smart pills, effective longevity treatments, and the cure for cancer.

      Of course if you were the average citizen in 1949, would you have predicted that humans would walk on the moon in 20 years? Or would a typical person in 1883 predict powered human flight in 20 years?

      It all depends upon whether a plausible path to a goal can be envisioned. We may feel strongly that we can get there and imagine different approaches to take. But we can’t know where all the breakthroughs and bottlenecks will be.

      If humans would stop wasting resources on destructive and counterproductive erratic energy sources such as big wind and big solar, more resources might be available to create higher quality power sources such as safe fission and fusion.

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