Given the horrific costs of energy at the moment, you might be thinking about ways to cut your household bills. Maybe you could build your own nuclear reactor? [image by brndnprkns]
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, it’s so simple that a boy scout could do it, and sourcing your fuel materials is no more difficult than stumbling across them whichever scrapyard they’ve ended up in (if you can’t cut a deal with the whoever currently holds the post of Global Atomic Boogie-Man, that is). Try not to think about the waste problem, though; by the time your tiny reactor has produced enough to worry about, maybe someone will have decided whether storing it on the moon or an asteroid is the better option.
If you don’t have the spare real estate for a backyard nuclear fission reactor, I guess you’ll have to settle for a basement fusion reactor [via HackADay]. Impossible? Actually, no – though the “fusor” reactor type is considered to be effectively useless for large-scale commercial power generation.
However, the fusion reactor project proposed to the government by Research Councils UK would supposedly take only twenty years of R&D and construction before it could match the output of current commercial power stations [via NextBigFuture]… which is a long wait, sure, but an almost totally clean energy generation technology is surely worth it. All this assumes that the National Ignition Facility research continues to produce the expected results, of course; after all, fusion – much like AI – has been “just around the corner” ever since it was conceptualised.
Canadian 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]
Fusion power is just around the corner, it’s often said… but my father told me they told him the same thing when he was an apprentice back in the early sixties. It seems to be fusion’s destiny to have its reality date rolled back perpetually – the latest example being the announcement that the France-based ITER international experimental fusion project is being scaled down, with the prospective date for its first actual power-generating experiments delayed by a whole five years from the original schedule:
Faced with ballooning costs and growing delays, ITER’s seven partners are likely to build only a skeletal version of the device at first. The project’s governing council said last June that the machine should turn on in 2018; the stripped-down version could allow that to happen. But the first experiments capable of validating fusion for power would not come until the end of 2025, five years later than the date set when the ITER agreement was signed in 2006.
Indeed, the plan is perhaps the only way forward. Construction costs are likely to double from the €5-billion (US$7-billion) estimate provided by the project in 2006, as a result of rises in the price of raw materials, gaps in the original design, and an unanticipated increase in staffing to manage procurement. The cost of ITER’s operations phase, another €5 billion over 20 years, may also rise.
Bit of a bummer – but then maybe we’d be better off investing in energy technologies that we already have working versions of. €10 billion could probably make a huge difference to the current state of play in solar, geothermal and other sustainable energy sources , I’d have thought. [via SlashDot]
But don’t despair, fusion fans – the wonderfully-named National Ignition Facility in California is working on a laser-fusion method that comes with all the too-cheap-to-meter promise of those thast have come before. I’d love to see fusion arrive in my lifetime, and perhaps I will – but in the meantime I think I’ll stick to pragmatism. The Chinese seem to be on a similar wavelength, as they’re suddenly ploughing a whole lot of cash into developing renewable energy sources like solar power. Place your bets, ladies and gents, place your bets…
Physicist Friedwardt Winterberg has a new paper here on a possible fusion-powered spacecraft, with shades of Project Orion and Project Daedalus:
Large scale manned space flight within the solar system is still confronted with the solution of two problems: 1. A propulsion system to transport large payloads with short transit times between different planetary orbits. 2. A cost effective lifting of large payloads into earth orbit.
For the solution of the first problem a deuterium fusion bomb propulsion system is proposed where a thermonuclear detonation wave is ignited in a small cylindrical assembly of deuterium with a gigavolt-multimegampere proton beam, drawn from the magnetically insulated spacecraft acting in the ultrahigh vacuum of space as a gigavolt capacitor.
For the solution of the second problem, the ignition is done by argon ion lasers driven by high explosives, with the lasers destroyed in the fusion explosion and becoming part of the exhaust.
The key point is that it’s designed without $MAGIC_FAIRY_DUST technology and is intended to be feasible from a purely engineering standpoint.
[via Slashdot][image from SantaRosa OLD SKOOL on flickr]
We haven’t had too much luck creating energy-producing fusion reactors, but according to researchers at the University of Texas there is a possibility of creating hybrid between a traditional nuclear fission and a fusion reactor, a sort of fusion of the two ideas, to ameliorate the problems of fission:
“Most people cite nuclear waste as the main reason they oppose nuclear fission as a source of power,” says Swadesh Mahajan, senior research scientist.
The scientists propose destroying the waste using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor, the centerpiece of which is a high power Compact Fusion Neutron Source (CFNS) made possible by a crucial invention.
One hybrid would be needed to destroy the waste produced by 10 to 15 LWRs.
99% of the really dangerous transuranic waste from the first part of the cycle is consumed in the following part, so that overall the output is less harmful and remains so for less time.
[from Physorg][image from tanakawho on flickr]