Friday, January 05, 2007

Up yours Miliband: my sun!

Via Strange Stuff, this is indeed a strange and wonderful piece of stuff.
Dr Robert Bussard has been awarded the Outstanding Technology of the Year award for is new type of Fusor, a type of simple cheap fusion reactor originally invented by Philo T. Farnsworth in the 1960's. His modifications have removed a major power drain and could well lead to a commercially generator within a decade, much sooner than Tokomacs such as Iter will be able to do.

Most of his research for the last 10 years has been paid for by the military and so not published, so as the silver lining to the cloud of that money stream drying up he has now released it. There is also a video of a talk that he gave for Google about the prospects of fusion power.

One of the really good things about the Fusor concept is that it can be used with fuels that won't burn in a Tokomac as Tokomacs cannot get hot enough, such as Hydrogen Boron fuel. Using this fuel the energy of the reaction is released in electrically charged helium nuclii and so can be converted directly to electricity without the need for turbines so allowing for much greater efficiencies.

This is, of course, extremely good news; your humble Devil must admit that he has always considered fusion power to be a distant dream, but it seems that we may be closer than we think.

If you want a quick run-down of what Farnsworth achieved, it is well worth having a look at this synopsis of the principles and events. It swiftly outlines the process involved, and points out fusions obvious benefits.
Still, the lure of fusion is unmistakable. Particularly when compared to fission, a fusion reactor would be "clean" - there are no radioactive by products that will take hundreds of thousands of years to decay, as there is with the nuclear waste from a fission plant. The only by product is helium - an inert gas. The reactors themselves would be safe; there is no danger of a "meltdown" as there is with a fission reactor because there is only a tiny amount of nuclear fuel present in the reaction chamber at any given time.

So fusion would be safe, and there is no radioactive waste as there is with fission. But the most compelling promise of fusion is in the fuel itself: fusion is produced from an isotope of hydrogen called deuterium, which exists in the Earth's oceans in sufficient abundance to supply the planet's energy needs for hundreds of millions of years - until long after the Sun itself has flamed out.

If you are still interested and wonder why the sustained and repeatable fusion reactions obtained by Farnsworth were never repeated or developed (openly at least), then this longer article is also fascinating. The short version is that Farnsworth was sttiched up and eventually bankrupted by his backers, ITT.
During his recuperative period [after a minor stroke] at home [Farnsworth] decided that the Fusor should be developed to its complete perfection. ITT had formally and publicly stated that the Fusor was a "dead­end". Farnsworth thought that since this was their attitude, he might have a try at re­obtaining his patents. He therefore contacted ITT and honestly announced his intentions. The answer was negative and impersonal ... a curious response for a device which was a "dead-end"... given to such an eminent personage whose inventions maintain the entire ITT operation to this day.


In quick successions, ITT asserted its complete ownership of all Fusor applications in the future. ITT warned Farnsworth that it would dominate all Fusor research forever ... despite its "unfeasibility". ITT then cut all formal financial ties with Farnsworth and left him virtually bankrupt. ITT now holds the Farnsworth patents ... and bears the social debt of responsibility for suppressing Fusor technology.

Indeed; corporate skullduggery: who woulda thunk it?

But the Fusor is another to add to the list of alternative energy sources being developed; as regular visitors will know, your humble Devil is extremely interested in alternative fuel sources and has a fairly broad knowledge of many of the current developments (unlike the Miliblogger, whose woeful ignorance of even some of the more accessible options is, frankly, as depressing for me as it should be embarrassing for him).

So, whilst that fuckwit Miliband continues to spend his time and our money worrying about the flatulence of cows, your humble Devil is of the opinion that we will not be burning fossil fuels in fifty years' time. And that, of course, could bring all sorts of interesting political corollaries...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And with helium as a by-product, perhaps air transport could move in this direction: