Friday, December 26, 2008

Fusion of cheapness and power

As regular readers will know, your humble Devil has been following the progress of the current experiments, being undertaken by the Emc2 Corporation, with the Polywell Fusor fusion reactor.

Last time that I reported on this, we were waiting to hear on the latest round of experimental results from the WB7 reactor which was reported to be running "like a top".

As reported by the IEC Fusion Technology blog, the current results appear to be encouraging.
Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log announces the results of the WB-7 Bussard Fusion Reactor (BFR) experiments. And the results? No show stoppers so far.
An EMC2 team headed by Los Alamos researcher Richard Nebel (who's on leave from his federal lab job) picked up the baton from Bussard and tried to duplicate the results. The team has turned in its final report, and it's been double-checked by a peer-review panel, Nebel told me today. Although he couldn't go into the details, he said the verdict was positive.

"There's nothing in there that suggests this will not work," Nebel said. "That's a very different statement from saying that it will work."

By and large, the EMC2 results fit Bussard's theoretical predictions, Nebel said. That could mean Polywell fusion would actually lead to a power-generating reaction. But based on the 10-month, shoestring-budget experiment, the team can't rule out the possibility that a different phenomenon is causing the observed effects.

"If you want to say something absolutely, you have to say there's no other explanation," Nebel said. The review board agreed with that conservative assessment, he said.

The good news, from Nebel's standpoint, is that the WB-7 experiment hasn't ruled out the possibility that Polywell fusion could actually serve as a low-cost, long-term energy solution. "If this thing was absolutely dead in the water, we would have found out," he said.

If Polywell pans out, nuclear fusion could be done more cheaply and more safely than it could ever be done in a tokamak or a laser blaster. The process might be able to produce power without throwing off loads of radioactive byproducts. It might even use helium-3 mined from the moon. "We don't want to oversell this," Nebel said, "but this is pretty interesting stuff, and if it works, it's huge."

Further, the results have been peer-reviewed (in that that means anything).
First of all, our work has been peer reviewed. An independent panel of experts has looked at these results. I don’t believe that there was anyone on the panel who has less than 40 years experience working with magnetic confinement. It included senior professors and people who have managed the fusion program. We asked them for their honest opinions and that’s exactly what we got. We are proceeding with our program in line with their recommendations.

Secondly, the talk-polywell blog has a large variety of people who post there. There are Phd plasma physicists as well people from the general public. I think that’s a good thing. Science needs to be accessible to people.

Rick Nebel (Sent Saturday, December 20, 2008 12:08 PM)

Yes, there are neutrons and the numbers are consistent with the plasmas we are measuring. However, neutrons can be deceptive. A lot of fusion researchers have gotten in trouble in the past by relying on these types of measurements. You need to know where they come from and that's difficult to measure.

R Nebel (Sent Saturday, December 20, 2008 4:31 PM)

Discussed at Talk Polywell.

So, the next step, as far as I can tell, is a slightly larger version of the WB7 to see if the results can be replicated (or bettered) on a larger scale. As has been pointed out before, the Fusors are very cheap and easy to build, so we should see the next version up and running before too long. For more on the whole process, and links to both technical and non-technical explanations and expansions, do visit the IEC Fusion Technology post.

As I have said before, cheap fusion reactors are the Holy Grail of energy generation: if Emc2 can stick to their schedule, then life could get very exciting, very soon.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the government are still pissing our money up the wall on massively expensive, useless, pointless, piece-of-shit windmills...

UPDATE: and as if by magic, Bishop Hill went for a little walk on Boxing Day...
Fifteen turbines I counted, and guess how many were actually operational, at this, the peak time of year for electricity demand? Well, when we arrived, none of the windmills were actually operating at all. After about half an hour, one of them ground into action, so it's not like there wasn't enough wind, although it was a still day. A little later a second one started to rotate a little hesitantly. It didn't last though. A few minutes later, first one and then the other ground to a halt again and it was all still. None had moved again by the time we left.

It's been said again and again that wind farms don't produce power when it's needed and that they can never produce enough, and here is real world evidence of just that. Wind farms are a means for politicians to divert funds to their client companies in the renewables business (in the shape of subsidies), from where it is diverted back to the politicians by means of political donations.

Corruption, pure and simple. And it spoiled my walk.

And that's in Scotland, for fuck's sake, where strong wind is near to being part of the culture...


Michael Heaver said...

I've never met anyone that supports windmills, wind turbines or anything wind related outside of the sport arena.

Anyway, this stuff all sounds far too innovative to interest our ruling political class.

Old Holborn said...

Me. I support windmills. Build more of them.

I'm making a fucking fortune. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

The Greenies will HATE this. They'll have nothing left to protest about.

Anonymous said...

Vestas....mmmm, that's the company that made windmills in Denmark,until Denmark got wise and stopped supporting windmill power. The grants and subsidies dried up. Vestas then expanded operations to the UK.....where they do get grants and subsidies....something to do with inward investment, sustainable technology, creation of long term manufacturing jobs....except the high paid, high tech jobs stay with the Danes, and the low tech, minimum wage jobs ( subsidised) don't last ...well don't last any longer than the grants.....time to up sticks and move to where the grants are greener.


muddypaws said...

The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same colour. He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me "to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers." I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.

Trixy said...

Anyone who supports the EU is, in their way, giving their support to all these fucking windmills. Including, alas, the Tories.

Does fusion count as renewable in the eyes of our grand masters, or is it not as good a way of their pals making money? I know they fucking hate nuclear power also. Well, it might work and leave less of a roll for a supranational government to interfere and grant themselves more power.

Trixy said...

Roll? Roll? What are you talking about, woman.

Forgive me: that'll teach me ti type comments at the same time as trying to make amusing shadow puppets.

M. Simon said...

Thanks for the links.

Anonymous said...

Standing under a wind turbine is an interesting experience. When I lived in Spain I made a journey up a mountain just to take a look at a turbine close up. It's eerie standing under such a huge structure watching those massive blades go round.

I was half tempted to break into the thing and climb up it, but the Guardia Civil aren't noted for their sense of humour, so I didn't.

Interestingly the turbines spend a lot of their time not turning, because there is either not enough wind, too much wind, or...the wrong kind of wind.

Anonymous said...

Windmills are follies and eyesores. We will all (well, most of us) eventually realise they are yet another example of the complete uselessness of government and its inability to select any productive investments.

Unfortunately they will cost even more to dismantle, especially at sea. The taxpayer pays at both ends of this disastrous policy.

Roger Thornhill said...

IIRC this stage of the polywell testing cost around £10m.

I mean, that would hardly cover the cost of organising the meetings to discuss the corruption that will occur in a renewables strategy.

As mentioned above, the Econazis will HATE Fusion. It would not surprise me if they went on a luddite spree if they we produced. Remember, the eco trick is on the activist side all about control, religion and anti-progress. For the politicos, they see useful subsidies, Corporate Welfare, bungs, scams (carbon trading) and most of all CONTROL over every minutae of our lives.

Well, if they want to cut down on CO2 and methane, the best thing they can do is shoot themselves in the face and be done with it.

WV: linch (I kid you not)

Me said...

Are the polywell people mad? Don't they know that to get their "science" taken seriously it must never allow peer review unless the "peers" are fully bought, fully on-side and incapable of gainsaying any of the conclusions. Open science is laughable as it could end up with developments in consistent with "The Truth". Don't know the provenance of your neutron? No, no, no! Say you do know, accept no doubt, riducule those who ask for anything as trivial as "evidence".

And above all, get Peston to write about it in his papal bull, sorry "Blog".

Anonymous said...

Things are certainly moving on the fusion front, bet the econazis are shitting themselves over this.

Anonymous said...

I should imagine that everyone (on here at least) has made the connection between fusion and the welcome destruction of Islam as a political force. Once we don't need oil, grovelling to the Stone Agers in Riyadh can stop. Of course, we have to do something about the Quislings they've already bought.

I've got 400 feet of climbing rope to make a start with.

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