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.rnebel
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.
- 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...