While I’m quite optimistic about progress with LENR energy production, it’s great to see progress being made on more conventional fusion approaches as well. There has been a flurry of reports recently on different approaches to fusion that are far simpler and lower in cost than the ITER Tokamak-based system that is soaking up most all government fusion funding globally. At best ITER won’t reach break-even for decades and is unlikely ever to lead to a practical power generation system.
Here are updates and links on five fusion power projects:
Univ. Washington Dynomak:
Derived from the spheromak concept, a group at the University of Washington has
designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.
The team published its reactor design and cost-analysis findings last spring and will present results Oct. 17 at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fusion Energy Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Right now, this design has the greatest potential of producing economical fusion power of any current concept,” said Thomas Jarboe, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics and an adjunct professor in physics.
The UW’s reactor, called the dynomak, started as a class project taught by Jarboe two years ago. After the class ended, Jarboe and doctoral student Derek Sutherland – who previously worked on a reactor design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – continued to develop and refine the concept.
The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur, allowing the hot plasma to react and burn. The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions. Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works.
- UW fusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal – UW Today
- Cheaper Than Coal? Fusion Concept Aims to Bridge Energy Gap – NBC News.com
Helion Energy is a spinoff from another group at Univ. of Washington and they have gotten some private funding recently to pursue their colliding plasmoids approach. Their design would work with neutron-free deuterium/helium-3 fusion, so no radioactive materials would be created.
- Y Combinator And Mithril Invest In Helion, A Nuclear Fusion Startup – TechCrunch
- Fusion Energy – MSNW LLC
EMC2 Polywell Fusion
I’ve posted many times (e.g. see here and here) about the Polywell fusion system invented by the late Robert Bussard. The research team at EMC2 has made solid progress but the Navy is out of money for such research so the company is looking for private investment.
EMC2 reports experimental results validating the concept that plasma confinement is enhanced in a magnetic cusp configuration when beta (plasma pressure/magnetic field pressure) is order of unity. This enhancement is required for a fusion power reactor based on cusp confinement to be feasible. The magnetic cusp configuration possesses a critical advantage: the plasma is stable to large scale perturbations. However, early work indicated that plasma loss rates in a reactor based on a cusp configuration were too large for net power production. Grad and others theorized that at high beta a sharp boundary would form between the plasma and the magnetic field, leading to substantially smaller loss rates. The current experiment validates this theoretical conjecture for the first time and represents critical progress toward the Polywell fusion concept which combines a high beta cusp configuration with an electrostatic fusion for a compact, economical, power-producing nuclear fusion reactor.
- EMC2 Fusion Releases Results and Needs $30 million for the next phase – NextBigFuture.com
- High Energy Electron Confinement in a Magnetic Cusp Configuration – arXiv.org
Lockheed-Martin Compact Fusion:
Aviation Week gives an update this week on Lockheed-Martin’s Compact Fusion project, which was mentioned here in February 2013 :
- Skunk Works Reveals Compact Fusion Reactor Details: Lockheed Martin aims to develop compact reactor prototype in five years, production unit in 10 – Aviation Week
- High Hopes – Can Compact Fusion Unlock New Power For Space And Air Transport? – AvWeek
Here’s a promotional video from L-M:
Sandia uses its Z Machine, which can produce millions of amps of current in short bursts, to create fusion in small canisters holding deuterium:
Sandia’s technique is one of several that fall into the middle ground between the extremes of laser fusion and the magnetically confined fusion of tokamaks. It crushes fuel in a fast pulse, as in laser fusion, but not as fast and not to such high density. Known as magnetized liner inertial fusion (MagLIF), the approach involves putting some fusion fuel (a gas of the hydrogen isotope deuterium) inside a tiny metal can 5 millimeters across and 7.5 mm tall. Researchers then use the Z machine to pass a huge current pulse of 19 million amps, lasting just 100 nanoseconds, through the can from top to bottom. This creates a powerful magnetic field that crushes the can inward at a speed of 70 km/s.
While this is happening, the researchers do two other things: They preheat the fuel with a short laser pulse, and they apply a steady magnetic field, which acts as a straitjacket to hold the fusion fuel in place. Crushing the plasma also boosts the constraining magnetic field, from about 10 tesla to 10,000 tesla. This constraining field is key, because without it there is nothing to hold the superheated plasma in place other than its own inward inertia. Once the compression stops, it would fly apart before it has time to react.