Fusion on a budget

Tom James @ 10-08-2009

fusionreactorCanadian company General Fusion are developing a fusion reactor that is based on a process called magnetized target fusion:

The reactor consists of a metal sphere with a diameter of three meters. Inside the sphere, a liquid mixture of lithium and lead spins to create a vortex with a vertical cavity in the center. Then, the researchers inject two donut-shaped plasma rings called spheromaks into the top and bottom of the vertical cavity – like “blowing smoke rings at each other,” explains Doug Richardson, chief executive of General Fusion.

The last step is mainly well-timed brute mechanical force. 220 pneumatically controlled pistons on the outer surface of the sphere are programmed to simultaneously ram the surface of the sphere one time per second. This force sends an acoustic wave through the spinning liquid that becomes a shock wave when it reaches the spheromaks in the center, triggering a fusion burst.
General Fusion has just started developing simulations of the project, and hopes to build a test reactor and demonstrate net gain within five years. If everything goes according to plan, they will then build a 100-megawatt prototype reactor to be finished five years after that, which would cost an estimated $500 million.

Like general artificial intelligence, generative fusion power is one of those technologies that always seems to be 10-20 years in the future.

It is good to see alternative techniques to the well-known ITER project or Inertial Fusion Energy being adopted as it increases the chances that some genuinely practical approach will be found.

It’s also heartening to see (relatively) smaller operations engaging in generative fusion research.

[from Physorg][image from Physorg]

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6 Responses to “Fusion on a budget”

  1. Tony says:

    There’s a few more initiatives for non-ITER fusion on the go at the moment. Brian Wang at http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/blogspot/advancednano/~3/JmVD2-rz7aA/mr-fusion-scenario-what-if-there-is.html mentions several, some of which generate electricity directly from the reaction.

    My favourite is the IEC (Bussard Reactor), but Focus Fusion is one to watch too.

    We should know whether either of these two work in just a few years – and if they do, then they promise to be made available for relatively small sums. True game-changers.

  2. Evil Rocks says:

    The lead-lithium mix is then pumped through a heat exchanger to generate steam and drive a turbine. Keeping It Simple, Stupid.

    The problem with nuclear physicists is that they always choose the most complicated way to do things, like trying to sustain a fusion reaction with lasers/insane magnetic fields or something stupid and/or impossible along the same lines.

    pulse fusion ftw!

  3. Paul Raven says:

    The problem with nuclear physicists is that they always choose the most complicated way to do things…

    You may have a point here. But on the flipside, as you point out the final generation procedure is still a heat exchanger and a turbine; there’s an argument (with which I have a certain sympathy) that says the stupid thing about describing nuclear power as the ultimate modern energy source is that we still just use it to heat water and make steam. Maybe we should be looking at ways of improving or replacing that part of our power generation systems in order to make them more efficient?

  4. Tom James says:

    Maybe we should be looking at ways of improving or replacing that part of our power generation systems in order to make them more efficient?

    Indeed. Some of the more elegant fusion proposals, using helium-3 as a fuel source, actually include a method of generating electricity from the fusion reaction via solid-state technologies (i.e. without going through the tedious and inefficient business of boiling water).

    But of course this is even more pie-in-the-sky than yer standard fusion proposal.

    I suppose practically we’d be better off focusing on how to harness the big fusion reactor in the sky rather than reinventing the wheel. 🙂

  5. Chad says:

    Let’s just get fusion reactors to work first. Then we can worry about replacing steam.

  6. Ares Vista says:

    I agree with Tom James. Harnessing the big reactor in the sky is our best and most viable solution when it comes to power generation. How can overlook such a powerful asset?