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Mobile Fusion

October 26, 2014

It has been a while since I had time to put anything up on my blog. The blog was started a few years ago for me to explore the online experience. It was interesting to put my views online but I knew there would be only a few readers.

I put a little effort into promoting the site and I was delighted when I got a few hundred readers. However, there has been a much greater than expected interest in the site. I would like more comments but I get lots of readers.

What caught my interest in the last few weeks was the announcement from Lockheed Martin about their Compact Fusion experiment. I suppose we are getting a lot of business activity around mobile devices. The thought of a mobile fusion device seems really in the realm of science fiction. I remember back to the future had a car with a fusion engine. It was a Delorean car built here in Ireland, the fusion engine was of course invented by the film makers not the Irish researchers. We have little people and fairies here in Ireland but we have not cracked fusion yet.

The Lockheed Martin team claim that a working reactor could be built to fit on a truck. I like the idea that plasma could be used to solve the worlds energy crisis. However, I am skeptical of some of the more radical claims about breakthroughs in this area. I worked in fusion for a number of years and was a member of the Scientific Committee of JET, the most successful fusion device ever built. It actually achieved a fusion power of 4MW.

Lockheed say that they have a 1/2 scale device currently and they expect five yearly cycles to a working experimental reactor and a further five years to a fully developed fusion product. Their aim is to build a 100MW device that would be mobile and could be deployed easily.

My first reaction is that a small device with a quick development cycle could allow much more rapid development than is achieved in the government funded programmes where the cycle times are many years. I have learnt this working in industry as compared to academia. Where I am, in industry, we can turn around rapid development programmes in months that would take years in a university or government lab.

But will it work? Hard to say yet. There is some indication that they have developed a flexible magnetic confinement that adjusts to the plasma to give a high beta confinement. I will wait to see the paper before I comment anymore.

Even if it does work, it will be 10 years before the power flows and the team have focused on the plasma problems, but the materials problems associated with a burning reactor are immense. I firmly believe that if a €50B reactor such as ITER is difficult to design then a smaller reactor might be nice but will be harder. Remember fusion is easier to achieve the larger the reactor. That is why the sun works so well. It is huge.

I will await the first paper to see if they really have a game changer on their hands.

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From → News, Opinion

4 Comments
  1. Bill Davis permalink

    Hi Mike, I recently discovered your site. Very nice of you to post edu materials. I have an interest in plasmas esp as relates to astrophysics. I retired from a research/manager position in US Army recently. I became interested in plasma x plo sieve ;^) initiation, which is one mechanism, not too long before retiring. A number of years back I had Eric Lerner come in to tell us about his boron-proton scheme, simply as a matter of academic interest to a few of us. I don’t have the expertise to judge, so it’s interesting to hear your take. Irrespective of his dpf approach, I think there is something to BP direct electric fusion as there is a company in CA, TriAlpha, LANL people, with a different design but same fuel. If this could be done, it sure would beat trying to mine He-3 from the moon! Which I suspect is only a century from economic feasibility if in fact it could work. As for thermonuclear fusion, my nuclear engineering professor, a fission man, the late great Ben Stevenson of NJIT used to say: the promise of the future and always will be. Cheers, Bill Davis, Roxbury NJ

    • Hi Bill, Thanks for the kind comments. The intention was to do a full plasma course but I ran out of steam. Your comments might motivate me to complete the course. I have also been surprised at the small but increasing interest.

      As for BP fusion, a small fusion reactor would be nice and I think maybe possible, but see my comment on apples and pumpkins below.

      As for mining on the moon, not really required as we have enough D in the oceans, and the reactor will breed Tritium, H-3. He-3 is not required and is a by product of fusion.

      To be fair, I am not an advocate of fusion, I prefer solar. But I like realistic debate and the web is full of opinion pretending to be fact.

  2. Hello

    One thing a man of your age should know by fact and experience (no offence):

    Bigger isn’t always better

    And this is true both for ITER and its predecessor JET. Even when JET produced 16MW, Q was at small 0.7 thus requering a 23MW input to keep the process running.

    Where you are sceptical to relatively small devices as the LM reactor and the LPP approach, I am far more sceptical and concerned regarding the oversized ITER and the the waste of money and resources used at JET and later ITER. As mentioned elsewhere, ITER is nothing but a large boiling plate for a normal teapot. A supersized steam engine to produce energy. Dangerous as well as it contains highly radioactive plasma which could at failure disintegrate the tokamak whith the result of spreading vaste amount of radioactive meterials. But you should know all about this already. I find the device even more dangerous than conventional fision reactors like the fukushima reactors. ITER has a posetive failure feedback meaning that in case of failure it might accelerate the situation by a high factor.

    Both LM and LPP’s solution however are far more safer when it comes to failure handling. Well, atleast now as they yet haven’t succided in their approach to produce energy by fusion, but you know what I mean,.

    Nevertheless, Using the size of ITER to argument against smaller devices like LPP is like using the size of a pumpkin to argument against the existence of apples.

  3. Thanks for your opinion on ITER, it is expensive and like most government research it is not likely to make commercial sense. It does have other benefits. However, your statement that the plasma could disintegrate the tokamak are new to me. Fusion reactors have no runaway scenario that I am aware of. As for small being better, the physics works against you here. If a small fusion reactor were possible the physics says that a big reactor would be easy. To use you own analogy, if an apple is possible then the universe will be full of pumpkins. That is why 99% of the visible universe is made up of burning fusion reactors called stars.

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