Fusion's promise

Reflections on fusion history, current events, and predictions for the 'fusion powered future.
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Richard Hull
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Fusion's promise

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Feb 20, 2013 5:13 pm

I have always been fascinated by fusion. I suppose everyone here is fascinated in their own way. Fusion is an odd fish, to say the least.

Fusion powers the universe, at first glance.

It would seem that fusion is the final and ultimate energy source. Fortunately for us, its basic rules and tenets of operation are not easily met in useful situations between the microscopic and macroscopic extremes. If fusion is a release of potential energy at any core level, it is far beyond our kin as potential energy release kings on this planet to squeeze it out of a controlled release system or mechanism at a useful level and rate.

Man has typically blundered onto or noodled out every conceivable source of potential energy on earth and bent them to his will and net profit. It is only of late that we realize that all these little nascent potential energy sources, so cleverly handled by us, are the result of fusion in stars obtained from either current or past fusion related events.

We are getting smarter in some ways, let us posit.

Traditionally, we blundered onto energy sources by some fortunate accident and figured out improved methodolgies for their use very rapidly. Almost unerringly, we noodled out the core level principles much later. The last great blundering involved the nuclear process.

We tripped on the door sill of a great hall of energy. Armed with clever minds and advancing science, we noodled out how to extract vast amounts of energy from the atom by hunter-gathering uranium. Uranium atoms have housed vast amounts of potential energy that lay dormant for untold epochs of time, awaiting the slow, yet natural, assemblage of water filled-meat engines composed of carbon, nitrogen, calcium and a few other trace elements to unlock their stored potential energy.

As we noodled the mysteries of radioactivity it took only a few years to understand what we had stumbled onto. A few short years after this epiphany, and we were on a quest to release this "new energy". This effort culminated in the discovery of fission. So great was our cleverness that in only 20 years from fission's discovery, we knew everything about it and had already used it to snuff out about 500,00 lives in a couple of days, launch a couple of submarines totally powered by uranium and had constructed a power plant to supply megawatts of elelctrical energy to nearby homes.

It turns out that we were now starting to use science to fully understand core principles and only then put the final potential energy engines on line via technology.

About 40 years after the discovery of radiation, we discovered fusion. By 1950, we understood virtually every thing related to the theory of the fusion nuclear reactions and by 1954 had created bombs based on this now fully understood process capable of obliterating tens of millions of lives in seconds. We had the massive power of fusion in the grip of our hands!

Yet, here we are standing on an energy starved planet with no future assured path to useful, controlled fusion energy 80 years after its discovery and nearly 60 years after actually using its tremendous released power to demonstrate a willingness to destroy entire nation states.

What gives? We have conquered all potential energy forms known via our hunter-gathering efforts and energy related blunderings. We have recently refined all methods to simple engineering efforts very rapidly after fully understanding core principles. Why the stall? Is it a matter of nature keeping this one to herself? We would like to think this as being unlikely. Is it a matter of deeper core prinicples yet to be uncovered? Why hasn't engineering won this battle which now seems to be one of application engineering and technology? Science has layed out all the principles long ago. We can do fusion easily in the lab. We can release vast amounts of fusion energy in bombs. Very straight forward stuff. Engineering has proved up to the task both in the lab and on the battlefield.....just never in a way that benefited the common man in a positive way.

The fission battle was won on all fronts from discovery to a full understanding of principles, to laboratory demonstration of fission, to battlefield delivery of massive destruction and to electrically powering homes, all in 20 short years.

Do we know all we think we know about fusion? Is fusion energy a release of potential energy? If it isn't, perhaps we are bull heading a dead horse as currently practised. Remember, we are traditionally good with potential energy stuff. Why is what appears to be the "last hurdle" in a supposedly well understood process defeating us at every turn.

We have always released potential energies by pulling a trigger on a P.E. gun. Some few triggers were "hair triggers" requiring almost no trigger pull energy on the part of the shooter. Others processes required a little stiffer pull to release even greater blasts. As long as we kept the ammo supplied, the gun worked like a machine gun requiring only a single pull to supply a continuous stream of energy bullets. Unfortunately, in the energy battle just as in a real battle, ammo can run out or get in short supply. Better guns and ammo are a constant quest both on the real battlefield and the potential energy battlefield as well.

I certainly don't know what the catch in the fusion energy process is and it appears no one else knows, either.

It reminds me of the perpetual motion folks with their tedious magnets-chasing- magnets motors and other claimant mechanisms. Ask them and they respond, if only I had stronger magnets, this sucker would turn on its own forever.

So close, yet seemingly hopeless in many ways.


Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Mike Beauford
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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Mike Beauford » Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:10 pm

Hi Richard,

Another guy has his hand out at the fusion trough. Don't get me wrong, I want it to happen, but I just don't see it happening with the current ideas out there now.

http://phys.org/news/2013-02-potential- ... nergy.html

Mike Beauford
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Richard Hull
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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:24 pm

NIF has recently shut down its inertial confinement-laser blasted, fusion power quest. ( served up as a small side part of its reason for being)

It appears it is just not practical from their perspective.

This URL piece that you supplied is just another massive hunk-o-fluff shoehorned into the fusion mattress to make those already asleep even more comfortable in their slumber.

The original post in this thread is not intended as a negative one, but a questioning one designed to provoke, stimulate or jumpstart the thinking process by others who are interested in a fusion powered future.

Richard
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by JamesC » Wed Feb 20, 2013 10:44 pm

I think humans are just not that 'organisationally' smart.

I can't think of any examples of success in energy that are not iterative improvements of already net positive energy. A uranium lump is already net positive - just refine. Oil is already net positive energy - just burn. Wind, Sun, etc. All these are examples of iterative improvement. We understand iterative improvement. Although it looks impressive once scaled up its just iterative. Little wonder we 'get' iterative, that's how we evolved to be here.

When it comes to step change, its not something we know how to do. We are not organisationally prepared to take the risk. We need to see the path first and then build a super-highway along that path.

Fusion just doesn't have an iterative pathway so we won't risk the science to pursue it. Its outrageous really, we will sink a trillion dollars into a housing bubble because we know housing iterative goes up in value ( until it doesn't) but cannot justify the pure research needed to save us as a technologically advanced species once the oil dries up. And dry up it will.

The govts around the world are printing trillions.. trillions with a T just to buy a few more years of status quo before our societies are forced by simple arithmetic to spend less than they earn. Basic household finances math 101 is too much for people let alone getting them to understand the need to launching a moon mission to crack fusion to ensure the survival of future generations. Actually if they were allowed understood that need the status quo would not be the status quo..

Our one in a species gift of the landlocked energy of oil has created a precious oasis of net energy surplus of perhaps 2 centuries before its gone along with the social stability needed to develop and mature the science needed to crack fusion and distribute its benefits.

Now is by the best time. The moment is now for the lucky donkey but this juncture I am not optimistic and we don't have long.

I guess we can get pragmatic and boil water filled caverns with small fusion bombs but that sort of 'big engineering' is unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.

Does this mean we need to embrace the crackpots and frauds who want to ride audacity of the fusion hope? Well fusion is not alone in that but unfortunately the fusion dreams need to actually work. Ultimately frauds will be exposed by fact and measurement. Can the Taylors of the world do it? Maybe but probably not unless they are trying something genuinely new but based on deep thinking about the problem, a pollywell or F.I.C.S. But perhaps the social media aspect , the crowdsourcing, the crowdfunding, sharing the risk with everyone who needs to take it. Maybe there is something in that. But it needs to be organised, it needs structure and strong filters for fraud.

I just don't believe institutions are going to solve these problems. They are not organised that way but equally what talented individual is going to risk their entire career let alone find the resources to challenge what's been impossible for the greatest minds in history to solve. Yet we need them to. They must not be thought of crackpots when they take on new ideas that seem impossible based on what we think we already know, but as heros ( shout-out steven.s) yet how do you separate hero from fraud or opportunist.

We desperately need fusion. Its not even a want IMO. Its a must simply because our future net energy just cannot support our existing global population today let alone another 10 years of population growth . World War 2 was at the loss of 50-70 million lives. Can you imagine the horror of shedding 1 or perhaps 2 billion lives over a couple of decades starting in about a decade from now. If you doubt that possibility realise that energy = food and then take a very close look at the forward forecasts for oil supplies

Without solving this problem that's our future.. get to it lucky donkey and good luck! We need you.

JC

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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Dennis P Brown » Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:41 am

Thermo-nuclear fusion energy is the conversion of some atomic mass into energy (the old E = mc^2 equation.) As for potential energy release, that is true in a book keeping sense relative to all light atomic nuclei. These special nuclei have available mass which can be converted into 'extra' energy after they reform a heavier nucleus: that is why fusion energy release stops at iron (and super nova occur in stars when they reach that point in their life cycle.) For iron nuclei, fusing no longer provides net energy release. Good news for us since this then requires those stars to explode in that same super nova creating the heavier elements like Pb or U that created us to talk about this subject.)

Besides the Hydrogen Bomb (triggered by a atonic or fission bomb), most successful thermonuclear fusion experiments have created very minor energy releases compared to energy input. That may change once laser fusion (done with the correct laser and geometry - a KrF laser using direct drive!) is finally done - unlike NIF which is purely a weapons program and unlikely to ever achieve real ignition. Check out the NRL (Naval Research Laboratory) Nike Laser program (barely funded - soon to be zeroed out yet again) for an example of the correct approach to inertia based fusion.) They only have a very a tiny system compared to what would really be needed and is solely used for specialized research in laser/target interactions, not fusion.

By the way, NRL's program was eating at the "fusion trough" tens years before the worthless NIF program was given the tough, all available food, the barn, farm and local county just to waste it all on their failed system. Now, interia fusion has been dis-credit through their greed and stupidity. The article cited by Caska was an attempt to point out that the interia drive system is still viable if done with the correct laser (248 nm, 20+% effiecent) and illumination geometry (4Pi sterradians). NIF was also supposed to help make new bombs (besides their utter lie to do breakeven fusion) but that, too, has bombed ... .

Maybe, in time General Fusion will workout their issues! It is a very good and far too simple an approach (elegant) not to think it is worth trying (strangely, created at NRL but never followed up there - I guess lack of vision.)

Just a minor point – really, the fundamental source of all energy is gravity – through gravity, hydrogen (and other lower mass nuclei) are compressed and heated to nuclear temperatures that allow fusion to occur. Of course, the incorrectly named and rather completely unknown event some call the "Big Bang" (award for most incorrect and stupidly name idea ever used) could be called the source of all energy since it 'created' all matter, space, time and physical laws that make energy available.

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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:02 pm

The hard reality is economy and net returns from any fusion system or process.

Without full, self-sustaining ignition there seems to be no path to useful electrical generation from fusion at all, even with a COP of 200%! It is just not a good enough return, especially if the fusion plant is monsterous and horribly expensive.

As mentioned in this thread, probably the rapid death of 2 billion plus humans might start to solve many problems facing earth. We actually had a guy talk to us about the critical energy shortage yet to come at HEAS. He opened the floor for Q and A following his exposition. He launched a first question, asking all assembled, what would be a solution to the world's problems. I answered "the death of 2 billion human beings." He had to admit that such a draconian measure would indeed relieve a number of issues facing us, but he was looking for an answer that was more inline with reality. I replied that maybe my scenario is already in motion along several lines and perhaps just sitting and waiting would see my solution unfold. I sensed he was a bit flustered and upset with such a cold thought. He moved on to other's ideas.

We all want the world to improve with all folks in good health, happy and with incomes appropriate to survival. Right now, that is a dream as we can't hope to support the status quo as about 5 different freight trains are coming at us full tilt at 60mph as we back away from the inevitable onslaught at 10mph.

Successful fusion will stop only 1 freight train.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Mike Beauford » Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:29 pm

Well, as cold as it may sound, any system will tend to find it's equilibrium point not with standing the moral implications and consequences. Like bacterial blooms that grow uncontrollably until the food/energy/environmental supply runs out or is no longer able to sustain them. These things tend to run in cycles. I'd like to think we have more brains then bacteria and can better manage our fate more appropriately.

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Dennis P Brown
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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Dennis P Brown » Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:47 pm

Richard, the key is who dies - if two billion third world people die, that would effect things very little - they use so little in energy/resources and are, for most area's highly dense in land area and hence, have little footprint on the land area; now if instead, two billion first worlders (is that even a word?) die, now we are talking saving the world. The bad news for the world, they control the nukes (that is, a small number of that group.)

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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Chris Bradley » Thu Feb 21, 2013 7:42 pm

Ordinarily, I'd chime in to such a thread, but given some of the viewpoints here that have shot off away from fusion, I will resist, other than to make one simple point:

*Without* fusion, humans will inevitably meet their doom ....

....*With* fusion, they stand a chance to delay it for a while !!...

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Re: Fusion's promise

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Feb 21, 2013 7:54 pm

Energy, economics, world politics and population are hopelessly intertwined. It is usually tough to individualize them or isolate them from a bigger picture. I think fusion might slow down the inevitable. But it is more of a "kick the can down the road" approach. I hope we do have a fusion future. Regardless, the solution will occur because of us, in spite of us and to us.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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