Thursday, June 26, 2008

Compare and contrast: innovation edition

Ooh, look! Found on the IEC Fusion blog, isn't this a pretty picture?

It's the discharge glow from the Polywell Fusor fusion reactor built by students at Penninsula College, in the US.
Over the summer break of 2007, I came across the following article in an edition of Popular Science: Teen Builds Basement Nuclear Reactor! This article intrigued me. If a teenager in Michigan could build one of these in his parents basement, why couldn't a group of science students build one of these in a classroom?

I started thinking seriously about this idea, and couldn't come up with any negative consequences for this project. Think about it: students do the research, design the reactor, order the parts, put them together, and hopefully achieve fusion. Along the way, they are learning about atomic physics, energy levels, binding energy, types of radiation, safety concerns and remediation, metal fabrication, machining tolerances, operations manuals, vacuum technologies, high voltage electronics, gases, plasmas, arc discharge, cross sections, the list just goes on and on.

The project cost a massive $3,000. No, that's not a misprint: that is three thousand dollars.

Meanwhile, over here in Britain, our students barely know what the fuck an atom is and our government is preparing to spunk £100 billion of our money up the wall on sodding windmills.

Fucking hellski.


chris said...

The bad thing is that when a Fusor is in Star Mode like that it means that it is actually losing a shed load of energy through 'breaking radiation' (I'm not going to attempt to spell the German word from memory lest I end up looking like DES). That is the problem with all Fusors to date, but maybe Dr Bussard solved it. Hopefully they will be able to analyse the data from WB-7 and tell us fairly soon.

Dusanne said...

Meanwhile, over here in Britain, it would cost the students of Penninsula college about £100 billion of our money for the health and safety assessment before they could spend their a few thousand dollars on their money the experiment itself.

Anonymous said...

We've got to spend £ on energy supply to make up for 20 years of cock all investment. Wind mills will go up quite quickly where as new nukes 'll take 20 years even with the IPC.

Roger Thornhill said...

Wind mills, with the emphasis on wind.

Useless. Ugly. Tokenistic. New Labour all over.

Wave power anyone? No, it does not give an excuse to create highly visible statements of "action" whilst fulfilling the other socialist wet-dream of sequestering land and dictating its use.

Anonymous said...

I love the enthusiasm for wind mills – mostly from townies who don't go to the countryside and think it is a pleasant, silent beauty to behold.

But, while these things may not generate much power (and have to be ranked as a back up rather than primary source) wind farms are going to offer jobs.

We will need people to repair them and, most importantly, people to turn them off when it gets too windy. There has been some spectacular footage of wind mills coming apart in a gale and we don't want all that investment blown away.

Not too much wind or not enough is required, so a steady breeze is fine. Once the EU issues a directive to the planet to regulate high pressure and low pressure areas we will have the perfect solution.

FlipC said...

I never did get a response back when I asked one of the big companies why they didn't fit wave-powered generators in or around all their off-shore wind-turbines; seemed a rather obvious combination to me.

Anonymous said...

Fuck off Roger - wind mills are ace.

Aside from their pleasing aesthetics and efficient conversion of solar energy to electric energy (via the wind natch) they also give farmers in (usually) severely disadvantaged areas the opportunity to free themselves from the tyranny of the CAP. Whats not to like - unless you happen to be some nimby mong of course.

flipc - wave power is 15 years away from commercial viability, thats why.

Roger Thornhill said...

pond life. Trying to move to ad-hominem shows how feeble your argument is.

Windmills solve little. They are unreliable generators. Ugly and, if some suggestions are true, require the MORE CO2 to build and operate than they will ever "save" during their lifetime. It is clear from the fact they need subsidies.

This is just robbing taxpayers to pay people to build something no one would buy on the open market cos it is so expensive. Why is it so expensive? Because of all the manpower, materials and time it takes to make one. All that manpower and material creates CO2, natch.

If Brown can stop trying to beg the Saudis to be in control of our (subsidised) renewables as well as oil, he might consider paying 0.1% of this swandering to fund an IEC Fusion programme. £100m should do it.

Windmills? Humbug!

John B said...

"if some suggestions are true"

Similarly, if my auntie had balls she'd be my uncle.

Also, you know the UK already spends £50m a year on fusion research?

Devil's Kitchen said...

John B,

That's far, far less than we spend subsidising windmills.

As a matter of interest, how much of that is our contribution to ITER?


Anonymous said...

Play the ball not the man etc sorry. Did make me snigger though.

Its a 3 to 6 month operation period for a turbine before carbon neutrality is achieved depending on site specific wind speeds.

Windmills will be part of our medium term future at least until they get fusion, tidal, wave or all the other exciting possibility's viable. They work - the other dont yet.

I was interested to see T. Boone Pickens putting in a $2.3 billion order for turbines earlier in the year - you would nt think a Texan oil man would be a natural ally for the renewable sector. Do you think he knows something we dont?

Anonymous said...

DK - Do you know how much does gov. subsidize wind power and is it more than they spend maintaining decommissioned nukes?
Only reason i ask is that my local decommissioned nuke has 240 full time staff working there (more than worked there when it was operating) along with a constant 50 mw stream of electric to keep the core cool. Scares the pants off me.

Devil's Kitchen said...

pond life,

Turbines do not work, not in any useful way. Estimates are, for instance, that 90% of the power capacity that they generate has to be underwritten by conventional powerstations.

Wave power does work very well; I have been banging on about the LIMPET installations for years, but they don't have the wow! factor for governments to fund them, i.e. they are very unobtrusive and efficient and wouldn't serve as a reminder of how scared we should all be.

There are other technologies too -- such as zinc-oxide solar powerstations which have also been successfully tested and should be online commercially within a decade.

"I was interested to see T. Boone Pickens putting in a $2.3 billion order for turbines earlier in the year - you would nt think a Texan oil man would be a natural ally for the renewable sector. Do you think he knows something we dont?"

Yes, he knows how to make money and he has looked at the massive subsidies for wind turbines and worked out that, useless though they are, he can make a quick buck.


Devil's Kitchen said...

pond life,

I can't recall, off-hand, what the subsidy is for wind-trubines, but I know that the government are planning to spend well over £100 billion over the next couple of decades on these things. The EU is also forcing power generation companies to subsidise renewable power to the tune of £6 billion per year, currently.

The estimated bill for decommissioning nukes is estimated at between £70 and £120 billion over the next century. It is unclear exactly who will be picking up the tab for that (though it will be the taxpayer, one way or another).


John B said...

I believe most of it is JET at the moment, with about £10m going to ITER.

I'm guessing you believe ITER is a white elephant and that IEC Fusion is a real thing that's going to work rather than another piece of snake oil "woo, cold fusion for free, without eeeeevil government bureaucracy" comedy. Hell, you may even be proved right, in which case all our energy security problems are over and I'll buy you a pint...

Anonymous said...

@john b: You could be right (about it being snake oil) but why not give it (and some other future-energy projects as well) a go with the money that is currently being wasted on wind turbines that as DK points out above are nigh-on useless.

Devil's Kitchen said...


I believe that the Polywell Reactor has a great deal of potential, yes. They have achieved first fusion at considerably less cost than has ever been achieved with Tokamaks, which have never actually really worked.

There is a long way to go, to be sure, but the WB7 lot seem to be pretty optimistic. And, let's face it, ITER will take 30 years and £30 billion to build; the Fusor can be done for $3,000.

Neither has actually generated more power than that put in yet, but the research costs for the Fusor are far lower...


Devil's Kitchen said...

P.S. Mine's a pint of Hobgoblin, cheers...


Anonymous said...

Sorry DK I cant accept any argument that uses Christopher Booker at its root. He is a right wing version of Polly or Johan, only more blinkered.
However i would say in winds defense NGT assess that wind can make 20 - 30% of the mix of national supply with out detriment to supply.

Just found the 'Mercin subs for 2006
fossil $6.3 billion
Nuke $1.5 billion + undisclosed decommissioning
Wind $.5 billion

One thing seems common to all forms of power generation is that the taxpayer will be screwed!

Roger Thornhill said...

pond: "Its a 3 to 6 month operation period for a turbine before carbon neutrality is achieved depending on site specific wind speeds."

Source? Seriously, I am interested to know. My rejection of windmills does not include tilting at them.

Fact is, though wind is UNRELIABLE. IMHO it should be used to crack water into hydrogen or make other hydrocarbons as a form of energy store, not power the grid, which is, frankly, impractical fantasist moonbattery. I made such a suggestion to the Orkney project but they came back with typical defeatist wibble and seem content to scar the Highlands with ugly wires. Morons.

Dave said...

I re-read your post on the LIMPET project and you wrote
"Or, more pertinently, can anyone tell me why our omniscient government is ignoring the massive potential that wave power has for meeting the generating needs of our country? Is it ignorance? Or something else?"

The people who are pulling the strings want this country to be bankrupted in the slowest, most painful, ugliest way possible so that they can watch and gloat.
We must have pissed someone off something rotten

maas101 said...

Just to nit-pick a little. The photo (and the project) are Farnsworth-Hirsch fusors which require an internal grid. This grid fries in fairly short order which is why Bussard came up with the concept of the polywell which uses a combination of magnetic and electrostatic confinement to avoid the internal grid. A Farnsworth-Hirsch has never demonstrated over-unity (net power production). Many doubt that the polywell will either but kudos to them for trying.

FlipC said...

Perhaps as well as DK's Wavegen links Pond Life might want to look up Pelamis and tell me again how "wave power is 15 years away from commercial viability"

Political Scientist said...

The picture is beautiful, and it's a real achievement for the students to have built this.

I don't want to be too sceptical,


(a) the evidence for fusion neutrons consists of "three bubbles" in the "bubble chamber" [via the link on the IEC Fusion blog to the discussion forum].
Now, for obvious reasons, you can't detect neutrons with a bubble chamber: you need a charged particle to locally
ionise the fluid to form the bubbles, and neutrons have no charge.
Now, it would be possible to detect
a neutrons decay into an electron and a proton, which happens with a half life ~20min.* Both the neutron and the
proton are oppositely charged, and you can identify two tracks going in opposite directions (in the presence of a
magnetic field, you could even see that they were oppositely charged from the curvatures of the paths).
But if this were the case, you'd need 100s-1000s bubbles to confirm the presence of both tracks: three in a
minute really won't cut it.

(b) the beautifully glow isn't due to fusion: it's electrical discharge (effectively, the same thing you get from
a florecent light). From it's colour, I'd say it's emission from the high energy lines of the Balmer series, but
I'd need to see the spectrum to be sure.

(c) Although 100milGDP does sound like a vast sum to spend on windmills (do you know what period of time this is
to be spent over?), I really don't think a Nations spending on an element of it's energy infrastructure can really
be compared to a student project to construct a hydrogen discharge tube.

* You also get an anti-(electron)neutrino, but these
are uncharged, very light, and almost impossible to detect.

Roger Thornhill said...

Any sign of those figures, pondie?

Roger Thornhill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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