Sunday, September 13, 2009

More fusion news

Test plasma inside WB7 (Polywell fusor reactor) using Helium: from the EMC2 website.

As regular readers will know, your humble Devil has been following the progress of the Polywell Fusor reactor project for some time. I happen to believe that fusion is the entirely attainable Holy Grail of power generation and that Dr Bussard's Polywell may well provide the breakthrough that we need.

I am pleased to report, via the IEC Fusion Technology blog, that sufficient progress has been made for EMC2—the company driving the research—to receive another big tranche of funding.
EMC2 has gotten almost eight million dollars to do further experimentation on the Polywell Fusion concept.
Energy Matter Conversion Corp., (EMC2)*, Santa Fe, N.M., is being awarded a $7,855,504 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for research, analysis, development, and testing in support of the Plan Plasma Fusion (Polywell) Project. Efforts under this Recovery Act award will validate the basic physics of the plasma fusion (polywell) concept, as well as provide the Navy with data for potential applications of polywell fusion. Work will be performed in Santa Fe, N.M., and is expected to be completed in April 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, Calif., is the contracting activity (N68936-09-C-0125).

I think this is the award based on the solicitation discussed here and here and here.

Evidently the $2 million promised in May was just a place holder and the actual funds are significantly greater. This means that the work on WB-8 and the engineering for WB-9 will go forward with the next milestone in April of 2011. Which is in accord with Rick Nebel's promise that We Will Know In Two Years.

This last link is a referral to another IEC Fusion post: one that discusses when we might know whether the Polywell will, indeed, deliver industrial levels of power through nuclear fusion.
Rick Nebel, the head of EMC2 Fusion (Polywell), has a few words to say in the comments at Next Big Future about the progress he is making in understanding The Polywell Fusion Reactor and its chances for power production.
I believe we will know the answer for the Polywell in ~1.5–2 years. I haven't looked at MSimon's design, but I know he has a lot of good ideas. We'll probably take a closer look at D-D reactors over the next 2 years.

I'm honored Rick thinks that I have made some useful contributions to the advance of this technology.

What most excites me is that we will probably know in two years or less if this technology is viable. That is very exciting.

So do I. Of course, we may find that it is not viable at all; but, the fact that the continuing funding is based on such strict presentations of current and extensive previous testing sounds extremely promising.

It is instructive to note, also, that even with this latest round of funding, the amount ploughed into the Polywell research numbers only a few tens of million dollars. Contrast that with ITER—based on a system (tokamak) that has never produced net energy output—which is currently estimated to cost in excess of €10 billion for what is, to say the least, an extremely uncertain result. Even if the 35 year project goes to plan, ITER's goal is...
... to produce 500 million watts of fusion power for at least 400 seconds...

... or rather less than seven minutes. Seven minutes of (admittedly, fairly high) power in return for 35 years and €10 billion—that's not what I'd call impressive.

Whether the Polywell will be successful, I don't know: you can study the latest results and conclusions in this PDF. However, for all that it is a summary, I find that I am unable to understand many of the technicalities.

What I can glean is that the system would be much more likely to work at a larger scale, since in physically small systems the fact of the tiny distances to travel has proved problematic as regards the ionisation of the particles involved (as well as with magnetic shielding of the ion guns).

The conclusion of the report, regarding costs, is quite clear however.
  1. Once again, large machines will not suffer from these problems to any significant degree, but they will cost a great deal more. Costs tend to scale as the cube of the system size and the square of the B field. Thus, full-scale machines and their development will cost in the range of ca $180–200M, depending on the fuel combination selected. These cost estimates closely reproduce those made throughout the USN program life, from its earliest work (1991) to its conclusion (mid-2006) including those made at interim reviews (1995, 1999). USNavy costs expended to date in this program have been approximately $18M over about 10 years (2/3 in last 6 years).

That is to say, to design, build and test full-size 100MW commercial reactor should cost around $180–$200 million.

The adoption of a viable fusion reactor would end our reliance on oil. Not only would this render the Green machine impotent—for there are no long-lived nuclear waste by-products either—but it would also end our dependence on innumerable unsavoury regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere—not overnight, but within a sufficiently short space of time.

There is an awful lot riding on this, and—in what I would describe as a near-criminal oversight—our government seems to be blissfully unaware of it all...


Anonymous said...

I do wish I could share your enthusiasm, however, various forms of fusion power have been promised " in 10 to 20 years " since I were a boy (call it 1962). Excuse me if I don't hold me breath; although the ideas are definately interesting

Anonymous said...

The link provided in this passage

following the progress of the Polywell Fusor reactor project for some time.

leads back to the article that contains it. I presume it was supposed to link to stuff you'd written before.

DK said...


"... leads back to the article that contains it. I presume it was supposed to link to stuff you'd written before."

It leads back to all articles that contain the word "fusion" which, of course, now includes this article. Scrolling down should reveal the others.


CountingCats said...

Not only would this render the Green machine impotent

Sorry, but this is wishful thinking. These cunts will latch onto any dishonesty or lie to further their anti tech romantic agenda.

Romanticism doesn't require facts.

M. Simon said...


Magic Word: glolit

Yes. The glow has been lit. We now wait to see if it will burn long enough to be useful.

Katabasis said...

"The adoption of a viable fusion reactor would end our reliance on oil."

Didn't you mean gas and coal?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, DK. #1) WTF does USAF know about fusion. #2) if any smart money thought it was a goer, it would be getting $8bn thrown at it from multiple directions

DK said...


"#1) WTF does USAF know about fusion."

#1) I forget how many everyday inventions came out of military research (carbon fibres is one that I can think of, just off the top of my head).

#2) The US military is backing the project, not actually doing the research.

#3) The US military seems to have funded and fired the world's most powerful railgun. Just for instance.

#4) But no doubt that's a hoax, because the US military knows absolutely nothing about science, right?

"#2) if any smart money thought it was a goer, it would be getting $8bn thrown at it from multiple directions"

Or, in reality, not. Most VCs, for instance, would be looking for a return in less than ten years, not ten to twenty.


Laser Megajoule said...

If this is our future salvation, why haven't the French built a version?

Roger Thornhill said...

My understanding is tha tit is basic physics that limits this design to needing to be at least a 3m cube.

Yes the USN wants it, for, as DK mentions, they have alot of new toys that demand enormous amounts of electrical energy and I think they'd rather not have dangerous bits of kit like Fission reactors right next to their personnel.

The real story here though is the scale of the budget and the continual milestones being achieved (and at a pace). Imagine if this was a State body building it.

Anonymous said...


#1) ergo all ideas from the military are goers ? Logic, DK.

#2) It’s very unlikely they have the expertise to accurately assess the decision to fund it.

#3) maybe the reason why the Polywell is kept in life –support. Railguns and other fun programmes periodically under threat when some asks - OK, but where is the energy going to come from ? Response – well, there are systems like the Polywell that “are showing promise”.

#4) Please. Did I say that ?

#2) As original anon said, fusion has always been 20 years away. The A-bomb was built in less than 10 years. Ditto H-bomb, ditto nuclear power, ditto fast reactors, ditto getting to the moon. 20 years is the standard bullshitter timeframe – everyone will have moved on, so you’ll never be held to account.

charles said...

Wahey, a post on the Kitchen that I actually know enough about the subject matter to perhaps make a meaningful comment. Right, let me just limber up and here we go....

All you fuckers going on about how we will know in 20 years and that is always the prediction because it will never happen (Anonymous 02:04 and Anonymous 09:13). Shut. The. Fuck. Up. We will most likely know if the Polywell is a genuine net fusion possibility within the next 18-24 MONTHS. Yes, that's right. It is quite possible that the world as we know it will change within the next year and half. OK, there are some major hurdles to overcome. Will the level of bremsstrahlung radiation be too great for net energy production? Will M Simon be correct about the possibility of DD reactions (cos it certainly looks like a PB11 reaction WILL create too much in the way of bremsstrahlung).
My major interests are will the WB8 be built using a truncube (like WB7) or a dodecahedron configuration (Bussard claimed that a dodec configuration would see a 3-5x improvement over the truncube design). Is Bussards scaling correct?

A lot of "if's". But there were also a lot of "if's" surrounding the first attempts at genuine sustainable fission, and look how well that turned out.

PS, Anonymous 04:53. You shut the fuck up aswell. It is the United States Navy, not the fuckin Air Force. Check your facts you freak.

The world is a changing people. The tech is there, it just depends upon the science.

DK, keep up the good work spreading the message, don't know how the hell I missed this post by you and am amazed that you have even heard of it. Yo uhave just leapt up a million points in my opinion (and I held you pretty high already).

Anyone wanna argue the science then please please please bring it on. Especially you, anonycunt 09:13.

Anonymous said...

So -you think there will be a definitive answer within 24 months ? Dead in the water or the basis for finding of a full scale reactor. “ The world is changing” .. etc.

My prediction. Ambiguous results. With bits and pieces that can be talked up to request further funding for an incremental scale up.

Neither of us has the code to model this, or the experimental figure to input, so we cannot “ argue the science”. But – we shall see. 16/9/11. On my action list. If DK will be so kind as to open a thread on that date ?

Anonymous said...

“there were also a lot of "if's" surrounding the first attempts at genuine sustainable fission”

Resolved in a few months by the Chicago squash court pile.

Golitopia said...

While the magic 18-24 months seems to be drifting, I feel I do know enough about this subject to say that it should make a big difference. The plan that Dr Buzzard talked about in 2006 is still on track.

Now to that time frame. Most things take 30 years to go from the lab to the discount store. This project is still in the lab, and nowhere near ready. By 2040, I can see this power source being used for specialist power needs, such as hospitals and the military, but I can't see it getting into the mains. However, it does lead to electric cars making sense!

The political will of the likes that run the current power grids of the world don't want to loose their monopoly. While they will grant that there is a benefit to this technology, mark my words that they will find some danger to it - just like mobiles cause cancer - fusion will cause premature old age or something equally ridiculous!

Politics and technology - what an odd couple!

Anonymous said...

"I feel I do know enough about this subject to say that it should make a big difference"

Do share.

"but I can't see it getting into the mains. However, it does lead to electric cars making sense"

No - on second thoughts...

Martin Meenagh said...

Isn't it a good thing that the political class in Britain or Europe seems to be unaware of this? Research like this is best sprung on them after it's up, and running, and unstoppable, while they're taking the time to furrow their brows.

charles said...

Anonycunt said "Neither of us has the code to model this, or the experimental figure to input, so we cannot “ argue the science”."

Arrrggghhh, you are so fucking retarded it makes my head hurt. Tell me how Polywell won't work (believe me, if you know anything at all about it then you could probably come up with a few suggestions) and I will debate with you. But you don't know anything do you? You are just some retard who likes to sound all big and clever by going "seen it all before" to everything that you read.

Maybe if you actually bothered to study something worthwhile at uni instead of media or some other useless crap then you would have the brain cells necessary to give me reasons why it won't work rather than basing your argument on the idea that "it won't work because it just won't". Dickhead.

Anonymous said...

If you are getting wildly excited about this, and DK is accusing the UK government of “criminal negligence”, then the onus of proof is the other way around. If not to prove it will work, then at least to argue that there are grounds for optimism. It is the oldest trick in the book to take some incompletely understood complex system - claim it is going to change the world – challenge others to disprove it – then say “how can you afford to risk not funding it”. In fairness to Dr. Nebel, he is explicitly flagging the possibility that it may be illusionary. [ DK’s Next Big Future link ]

You seem anxious to demonstrate that you understand bremsstrahlung etc. But it’s not just the algebra that matters, it’s the numbers – what is the cross section for the fission collisions at the energies achieved, etc. From wiki : Buzzard “detected 9 neutrons”, in how many runs ? If that’s all, then it is potentially very flakey indeed. Enthusiasts/obsessives can easily fail to be 100% meticulous in their signal conditioning – a few random noise spikes is all that is needed to get these “results”.

Nebel again

“If we get super excited about this, than we will lose perspective, and that is deadly for science projects. People who lose perspective tend to start misinterpreting the data to meet their expectations “

Not difficult to read between those lines, is it ?

Anonymous said...

Correction - fusion x-section, not fission

Anonymous said...

Cost of Polywell demonstrator

- $200M

Lectures in science from someone whose sole argument is ‘ STFU cnt ‘

- priceless

charles said...

I am not getting wildly excited about something that I accept could well be a road to nowhere, as I mentioned in all my other comments (though obviously not explicitly enough for you). But with all the money being poured into other road-to-nowhere energy "solutions", including the billions of OUR money that the EU is pouring into ITER as well as wave/wind/fart power surely it is worth chucking a few million into the Polywell on the chance that it may, just may, have a chance.

Your whole argument seems to be based on the idea that if there is a chance it won't work it's not worth the money. We are talking about just a few million here, not a billion, certainly not 20 billion like the ITER.

As I said, in the next 24 months we will know if it is a viable solution or not, but at least Nebel and EMC2 are trying and not just sitting there going "nope, never work, not worth having a closer look at" which is essentially what you are doing.

Have you ever tried lighting a fire through friction? It takes a lot of time and effort, you have to stick at it. Of course, if people with your mindset gave it a go you would probably look at it and go "oooh, way too much effort, I tried it for a minute, it didn't work ergo it will never work".

My argument is not STFU cunt, it is explain your conclusions OR STFU cunt.

Anonymous said...

My argument Charles

1. You can’t assess this by armchair science. Devil is in the detail – the numbers and the exact experimental conditions that gave those numbers. Not possible unless you a plasma physicists, or the like, and close to the actual work.

2. So like it or not, you have to try to read the runes. Prior to any definitive result, opinion is subjective.

Polywell small beer compared with fart power spend – yes. But there is a danger that talking up Polywell, and the like, serves an escapist function of not confronting the upcoming disaster of a fart-power economy.

Incidentally, disagree with DK that 7 minutes at ½ GW would be unimpressive for ITER. Irrespective of the gazillions and decades spent, it would means that fusion power was one step away. Depends if this is the objective scientists/technologists projection, or what was the minimum credible target needed to get ITER funded. If the former, spend 10 gazillions to make it happen faster.

charles said...


"Incidentally, disagree with DK that 7 minutes at ½ GW would be unimpressive for ITER."

I agree with you on this point.

"If the former, spend 10 gazillions to make it happen faster."

I agree with you here as well, and feel the same logic should be applied to the Polywell and other promising fusion concepts too.

"Polywell small beer compared with fart power spend – yes. But there is a danger that talking up Polywell, and the like, serves an escapist function of not confronting the upcoming disaster of a fart-power economy."

Once again I agree with you. I am happy to talk up the possibilities of Polywell, though I don't talk it up in the same way that all those dickless wonders talk up whatever happens to be the renewable energy d'jour. With less of that crap the government might have had the balls to build new fission reactors instead of useless wind farms and we wouldn't be in the position we are now in where we are facing massive energy shortfalls within the next few years.

The only problem I had with any of your posts was that it seemed your attitude was "it's not going to work so why bother" when the results of experiments so far (albeit small scale and very ambiguous) appear to point towards something very promising, at least as promising as the Tokamak concept.

Give it two years and we will know. Maybe it won't work but at least we will have broadened our understanding of the realities of cusp containment etc.

Ultimately, this is all in the future. The only way to solve the upcoming energy crisis is building more fission reactors and this is one thing, probably the only thing, that makes me rabidly anti-the green movement. If they want to live in caves huddled around a fire, then let them. The only truly major fission related accident to have happened took place in the Soviet Union and anyone who ever bought anything from the former USSR knows how shite their general craftsmanship was.

charles said...

PS I'm a Particle Theorist, not an armchair scientist. Although I guess that they are one and the same thing.

good grief said...


The Devil seems to have strong opinions on things he knows nothing about...

...what to make of every other post?

Anonymous said...

OK, Charles - we're really not that much in disagrement. Agree with you on building fission now.

And I take my hat off to particle physists.

Anonymous said...

OK, Charles. We don;t seem to be that much in disagrement. I agree opn building fission now.

And I take my hat of to particle physists.

Anonymous said...

OK, Charles. We don’t disagree that much. Also agree on fission now.

And I take my hat off to particle physicists.