Creating Abundant, Affordable, Reliable, Clean, On-Demand Energy
Nuclear fusion promises an affordable, clean, abundant, and reliable energy future beyond the time horizon.
While three other fusion devices roughly the same size as the ARC have been built over the past 35 years, they didn’t produce anywhere near its power. What sets MIT’s reactor apart is its superconductor technology, which would enable it to create 50 times the power it actually draws.
… Fusion research today is at the threshold of exploring “burning plasma,” through which the heat from the fusion reaction is confined within the plasma efficiently enough for the reaction to be sustained for long periods of time.
Nuclear fusion is a huge prize, and is being pursued like the holy grail across Europe, North America, and beyond. Governments, billionaires, and other private interests are pursuing several paths — both conventional and unconventional — to reach the goal of clean, limitless, high quality electric power and other energy forms.
General Fusion and Tri Alpha Energy have both been around for more than a decade, but they are just beginning to publish intriguing findings in peer-reviewed journals. In a pair of papers published last April and May in Nature Communications and AIP Physics of Plasmas, Tri Alpha’s researchers reported that they held 10-million-degree hydrogen plasma steady in a test reactor for 5 milliseconds.
Five milliseconds may not sound like a long time, but it marked a milestone for fusion start-ups. “If we had enough power to continually pump into it … we believe we could maintain the plasma at will,” Richard Barth, Tri Alpha’s senior vice president for government relations, said in December at a forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Security Project.
Tri Alpha says its next, bigger reactor, C-2W, should heat plasma to much higher temperatures. Within three or four years, that machine is expected to come close to sparking a sustained D-T fusion reaction. If C-2W performs as expected, Binderbauer says, he expects Tri Alpha will build an even more powerful machine and try p-B11 fusion.
… Tri Alpha has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, from backers that include Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. General Fusion has attracted $94 million in funding, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos among the investors. Last July, an investment group with connections to Canadian billionaire Jeff Skoll put money into a $10 million funding round for Helion Energy. Fellow billionaire Peter Thiel, a cofounder of PayPal, is also a Helion investor.
More from the advancing world of nuclear fusion:
Although there are about a dozen stellarator experiments around the world, including in the U.S., Japan, Australia and Europe, scientists say the Greifswald device is the first to match the performance of tokamaks.
The $30 million, three-year program that Park wants to pursue would be aimed at demonstrating a heating system that uses beams of electrons. “After 18 test devices, EMC2 is now down to one specific design of Polywell reactor,” he wrote in an email. “Either it works or it does not. We will find out in three years.”
Other recent breakthroughs in fusion could restart the atomic age, an era when nuclear progress was lauded as a pinnacle of human achievement.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is developing a compact fusion reactor small enough to fit in a truck and would generate enough electricity to power 80,000 homes.
German engineers from the Max Planck Institute successfully activated an experimental nuclear fusion reactor and managed to suspend plasma for the first time. The reactor took 19 years and cost $1.1 billion to build. It contains over 470 tons of superconducting magnets, all of which need to be cooled to absolute zero. If the reactor fulfills expectations, it could demonstrate the first stable artificial nuclear fusion reaction of 2016.
Operational fusion power would put most other forms of electricity generation permanently out of business and could occur very soon. Fusion power could be “too cheap to meter,” meaning that the cost of generating new power would be below the cost of determining how much power an individual was using, effectively making electricity generation nearly free.
Meanwhile, physicists in Japan and Europe have been able to reach the same temperature as the Chinese team, but not for longer than a minute due to concerns of provoking a reactor meltdown.
A revolutionary breakthrough like sustainable, affordable, reliable, usable nuclear fusion reactors will require all the innovation humans can give it — across a broad array of science, engineering, design, materials, and naked human creative genius. There are few parts of the world where engineers, scientists, managers, investors, technologists, and theoreticians are working on the cutting edge of all of these fields — and are allowed to freely work together to generate truly disruptive ideas and systems. Europe and the Anglosphere come to mind, with the assistance of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and a few other players of decreasing importance.
Clean, working, affordable, reliable nuclear fusion will not be the death of oil & gas — for O & G have many uses. But it is likely to mean the death of large wind farms, solar arrays, and other boondoggles of the green dieoff.orgy variety.