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A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Sun Dec 02, 2012 11:11 pm
by Chris Bradley
Nothing new here, but I liked the gentle, non-partisan discussion into the topic which might be illumination to 'new-comers' to 'the biz': ... ar-fusion/

I liked that he put forward that working fusion-tech would be 'the "arrival" of the human species'; without it there is a pretty clear maximum time-line for technologically based mankind's survival, and it ain't that long!!

I also like that he reflects on one simple, rather obvious, fact - no-one, ever, has taken so long to figure something out and, even, take so long about it! Does that mean it *isn't* 'doable', or does it simply highlight that we've never crunched through such a difficult challenge before? Of course, it means neither, but what it does mean is that no-one can claim any real authority about fusion power's future, in any way... we're on uncharted ground, not simply because of the difficulty of the technology, but because no challenge has ever found mankind so wanting in the same way before.

Embedded in that challenge are not only technical ones, but political and cultural ones too.


"Fusion Prospects

"No one can truly say whether we will achieve fusion in a way that is commercially practical. If teams of PhDs have spent over 60 years wailing on the problem while spending tens of billions of dollars, I think it’s safe to use our fusion quest as the definition of hard. It’s a much larger challenge than sending men to the Moon. We have no historical precedent for an arduous technological problem on this scale that ultimately succeeded to become a ho-hum commercial reality. But for that matter, I don’t think we have any precedent for something on this scale that has failed. In short, we’re out of our depths and can’t be cocky about predictions in either direction."

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 12:19 am
by kcdodd
I don't really agree that there is a time limit for technology (well, short of universal heat death), or, even if that were true, that technologically based fusion would extend it indefinitely. Not to knock fusion, I just don't want to oversell it.

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 8:50 am
by Chris Bradley
Unfortunately, many others don't agree either. I think [IMHO, and with due regard to your own opinion] that is a myopic view of human's future.

The problem is that it is unclear where the next 300 years of energy is going to come from, let alone the next 10,000 years. People don't even begin to contemplate 1,000,000 years future!

I'm not saying there aren't other options that may come along, but whatever it is, it is a world that doesn't look like the one today, especially population-wise, unless we can sustain equally high energy-density sources as we have now.

I'm lead to believe over 50% of the world's population now reside in urban areas. I don't see that this is at all sustainable without very high density power sources, such as fossil-fuel, or fission, powered stations.

If there is any sort of financial, climatic and/or conflict-based interruptions to the industrial infrastructure, I have to wonder whether that will be a very sudden end to what we think of as a modern life, because it just doesn't seem possible to me to re-manufacture, e.g., an oil-rig without an initial input of energy to do it, and without the oil-rigs we'd not be able to drill down 5 miles under the sea where the oil is these days. It was easy when humans started down this route of burning fossil fuels because the stuff was just laying there in pools on the surface! Imagine that over again, and we didn't have that to start with. How far would we have got if all the oil had been 5 miles under the seabed?

I'm no green hand-wringer environmentalist, this is just about plain adding up potential energy sources versus future demands. I can't see it balancing with what we have on the table at the moment that might deal with the issue. The old adage that humans will 'always find a solution' is demonstrably countered by the very act of fusion research itself. Yes, someone always seem to have found a way forward before, but it is an act of faith that 'someone' will come up with an alternative solution to high power density/quantity sources.

A key point of the article I am in full agreement with is the point that we're in a place we've never been before. We can't run this one into the future based on 'opinions', so future planning has to be based on objectively known extant power sources. Do we have enough for the future? I don't see it.

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 6:30 pm
by Richard Hull
I'm with Chris on this one. With current needs figured and advanced on population growth, especially in Urban areas, we just do not have future energy resources to continue on the current path.

At HEAS we had a fellow speak on future energy issues. At the end of his talk he wanted us, his fusion segmented audience, to advance a possible real solution to energy issues as they stand right now which might stave off the malthusian end of energy resources. Coldly, I replied, rapidly get rid of 2+ billion or more living people. The solution seems obvious on a coldly scientific basis and would immedaitely relieve energy concerns. Unfortunately, the process of implementing the rapid kill off of approximately half the planet's population would demand a massive upset of the entire system, politically and economically. That 2 billion wouldn't go willingly. It would take a global nuclear war, followed by a pandemic of epic proportions and scale would have to ensue.

The absolute fragility of our technological society in the face of any major upset or several co-jointly occurring minor glitches is something that the common public cannot begin to conceive of nor wish to hear of or debate. They want circus.

Musing over the future is best left to the mystics. The future will certainly look nothing like we know of modern living today.

Richard Hull

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 9:39 pm
by kcdodd
I think the only truly sustainable energy source would ultimately derive from collecting solar energy. I can't remember the source atm, but I have heard that when the total area of nuclear power stations is taken into account, the buffer zones etc, that solar power could actually deliver just as much power. If we are going to concentrate in cities and destroy all vegetation anyway, covering it all in solar panels seems reasonable to me.

My point with fusion is that you still need a source of tritium: you need lithium. Granted, there is a lot of lithium. Enough to last maybe a million of years, I'm not sure (the iter website says 1000yrs from known sources). And a million years, or even a thousand, is way better than 50 years. But it would still run out long before the sun dies. I would guess that the actual *need* for fusion technology will be in space, once you get too far out, or if it's just not practical to use solar.

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:22 pm
by Frank Sanns

I am with you entirely. All of the fossil fuels that we use to supply 90% of the world energy is from the sun. Chemical batteries that have stored up the energy of millions of year only to be used up by man in just a couple of centuries.

I am not a big fan of nuclear power even though I realize that it has to be part of the long term equation. Near real time renewables with efficiencies that make sense is where our power needs to start coming from for long term success. Equal or perhaps even more important is energy conservation and appliance efficiencies. It does not mean a change in lifestyle, it means a smarter lifestyle. In fact, the first step in going solar is using all energy efficient devices as it is far less expensive to replace a 20 year old energy hog refrigerator with a high efficiency one than buying an extra half dozen solar panels to run it.

For sure the nuclear people and the non solar people are going to trash my post as they always do but having lived solar since 1998 with no compromises, I am fully behind it and would recommend it.

Frank Sanns

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:59 pm
by Chris Bradley
Solar is a lovely idea and it can, and does indeed, work on a small scale for low-density populations.

But take a look at, e.g., the UK. I've analysed the electrical and vehicular energy consumptions in the UK at present and figured that we, here, need around 1 GW per 100,000~150,000 people. That's basically a new GW (or three) power station that needs to be built next to every medium sized town in the country because the current ~100GWe installed capacity is only enough for around 15~20% of the population if you take into account road transport too.

Now convert that 100GWe to renewables and solar, and all of a sudden every town in the country needs an additional 10,000 acres (40km^2) to install solar farms 4 times as big as the current biggest solar farm in the world (at 250MW, which tales up 2,400 acres(10 km^2)).

Work that out in solar power, and all of a sudden it is impossible. We just don't have the space.

OK, so why not site 6,000,000 acres of solar panels in the Sahara to generate all the power the UK would need to replace its 100GWe and transport fossil fuel consumption. Are you serious?!!! Who is gonna clear that lot off after a dust storm. And besides, what sort of national security does that give us if any unstable country along the route merely has to throw a switch to hold the whole country in jeopardy.

The engineering involved in building and managing a solar farm that is the size of a 160 km square can be looked upon either as 'do-able' (bit-by-bit) or you might equally say 'never been done before on that scale'. Solar on that scale is, simply, unproven as viable.

I guess the idea then would be that Germany's Sahara solar farm will be a bit bigger, and all the other countries in Europe and Africa will then proceed to fill up the whole of the Sahara with their own 'stakes'. I can't see territorial rights issues throwing up any political issues there, then! [/sarc]

Maybe we can get by with solar ... providing Richard's 'solution' above somehow materialises (and on a slightly bigger scale). However, my main concern with that particular scenario is that whatever prompts that 'solution' will also be a cause of the decimation, and ultimately cause the fatal disruption of, any viable industrial infrastructure that can carry on building solar panels or whathaveyou.

In the US, you might actually manage it with solar, with the clean air of the large high desert plains of the 4 corner states. That's pretty unique. Maybe it could be made to work out in a few other countries too, but not for most.

Fortress America! Wahey! The US better start building that billion acre solar farm before the rest of the world's industrial infrastructure collapses!

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Mon Dec 03, 2012 11:24 pm
by Chris Bradley
Carter Dodd wrote:
> I can't remember the source atm, but I have heard that when the total area of nuclear power stations is taken into account, the buffer zones etc, that solar power could actually deliver just as much power.

I've done a quick search and can't find anything that backs this up.

I put the following slide together with what I came across, by way of comparison.


Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:03 am
by Frank Sanns

No land is needed. Photovoltaics and thermal solar are installed on the roofs of existing houses and buildings. Energy is generated onsite so there are no transmission loses and by spreading them out everywhere, security is the finest it can be. For larger generation, there are huge areas along the easements of major highways that is now just left unused.

Transportation is THE most inefficient use of energy on the planet right now as a whole. While this is bad for now, it is the number one place for major efficiency and better ways to move people improvements for the coming years.

You do not need to think out of the box for these solutions, You just need to quit listening to people who learned energy management when energy was so cheap that it didn't matter. They are the ones with the blinders on.

Frank Sanns

Re: A discussion on fusion future. - A 'gentle' primer.

Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:03 am
by Chris Bradley
There are arguments for and against. Again, it can be countered that there just isn't this sort of land available in high density cities. Have you seen our terraced houses!! How can a block of flats have a foot print big enough to generate enough for all tenants, or a factory to drive its machinery? Houses are packed all together like rabbit hutches, and right up to the roads.

We run diesel cars that are hitting nearly 50% thermal efficiency, about their theoretical limit. There are hydrogen fuel cells that can hit 60% but then you have the losses in generation and storage that makes them much the same. EV/Battery cars are still very intensive in fuel consumption when they are made.

Whatever the 'arguments', the reality is 'The Reality', which is that there is scant evidence this is possible. It'd be the biggest gamble of humanity to presume we'll be able to run smoothly from fossil fuels straight to solar. I'm not saying it is impossible, but we really have never been in this position before and if that transition doesn't go to plan, then that'll be that if there are no 'fall-back' plans already proven and in place.