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back to article Fusion boffins crack shreddy eddy plasma puzzle

Physicists in the US are patting themselves on the back today as they prepare to announce that they've got a grip on a knotty problem troubling anyone designing working nuclear fusion powerplants - which could solve pretty much all of the human race's problems, but have proved very difficult to actually achieve. The idea of a …

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FAIL

There is more than one type of fusion reactor being developed!

Sustained reaction is not a requirement for energy generation in all reactor types, just net energy production.

I hope this helps Tokamak work, but there may be cheaper solutions arriving soon!

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Mushroom

"the Sun, the ultimate source of all other energy used by humanity"

Not all.

Geothermal, powered by the decay of potassium 40. This potassium didn't come from our sun, and it isn't really fission because it decays to argon 40 by electron capture or positron emission, or to calcium 40 by beta decay.

Tidal, powered by the tides generated mainly by the moon.

Do I win £5?

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Stop

not really

neither of those compare with the power of the sun. It is like comparing the national grid tap with a PD across a piezo crystal

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Trollface

All this talk of ITER

And you've never even mentioned Andrea Rossi's E-Cat LENR device. He did after all succeed in providing 478kW - a mere shortfall of 522kW - whilst it remained plugged into a generator.

Actually, it would be interesting to hear if Lewis has any opinions on the bloke and his mysterious device.

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Interesting but...

I'm watching Andrea Rossi's claims of cold fusion success with scepticism but hoping this isn't a sham...

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"but hoping this isn't a sham.."

It is

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FAIL

Rossi.....

Oh c'mon ! Buck up lad. Rossi has been staring down the barrel of investigation for fraud relating to previous businesses and given that neither he nor his collaborators can come up with a viable explanation for their current "reactor" and its workings are likely to end up doing likewise here too. It's too good to be true and coupled with his history and the goings on relating to E-Cat and pretty obvious google bombing of all related topics there is only one sensible conclusion.

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WTF?

"but hoping this isnt a sham.."

I'll tell you what is more of a sham - the promise feasible hot fusion for over 60 years without a single watt of power gain and with billions (wasted) invested.

Or, the subsidising of the nuclear arms industry by selecting enriched uranium fission reaction technology over liquid thorium fluoride.

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Now *that* is genuinely exciting.

Stable containment has always been the bugbear given the chaotic behaviour of magnetic fields under those conditions. If they really have begun to get a handle on this then we may finally actually see usable fusion power in our lifetimes.

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Joke

How old are you

Hope you are right though.

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Anyone know how much funding there is globally for fusion research, compared to the in vogue "renewable" energy generation technologies?

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Subsidies

Difficult. Wikipedia (may or may not be correct)TM reckons 15bn Euros on ITER, which is the main fusion, er, thrust. That is from all of the contributing nations, in total.

I can't [be botheredto] find data at how much we hosed on windmills and solar power, but the Grauniad says "The savings from the subsidy cuts [to renewable energy] are likely to be small – they could be as little as £400m at the lower end, and no more than £1.3bn." which implies that it's Quite a Big Sum we give to them each year.

ITER is about the same as an Olympic Games, or about one third of the subsidy we gave to the banks. That would seem to be a bargian. For the same price as a couple of hundred people poncing about in lycra, or the chief execs of one failed bank, we could have cheap, pollution free power for all.

Good to know our Masters are sorted when it comes to priorities.

Stop reading now - needless trolling follows:

PS - Apple will still claim the patent on it as and when it happens.

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Manhattan Project

We need a fusion reactor project equivalent to the Manhattan project. At today's money the spent 24bn in 4 years or 6bn a year. Afaik ITER is a 10 year project which makes it around 1.5bn a year.

If we put our minds and money to it we could have a working fusion reactor in half the time and help solve the worlds energy needs.

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Anonymous Coward

Apple patent?

Nah, they'll be fine as long as they don't have to slide to turn it on...

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@Gordon10

"We need a fusion reactor project equivalent to the Manhattan project. At today's money the spent 24bn in 4 years or 6bn a year. Afaik ITER is a 10 year project which makes it around 1.5bn a year."

That's pretty much what I thought.

Trouble is, fusion has the word "NUKELER" attached to it (yes, I know its nuclear) and therefore must be A-BAD-THING(TM).

"If we put our minds and money to it we could have a working fusion reactor in half the time and help solve the worlds energy needs."

wot 'e said...

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indeed

I am quite surprised that the oil barrons havent "clubbed together" in order to fund an ITER project, patent it then mothball it.

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Yag
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Trollface

Indeed

I am quite surprised that the oil barrons havent "clubbed together" in order to fund an ITER project, patent it then gain even more money thanks to it.

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Two roadblocks.

First, the outlays required for a fusion research reactor tend to be beyond the scope of even multinational conglomerates. The kinds of outlays needed tend to limit the potential buyers to sovereign states: and first-world ones at that.

Second, since ITER is a state-funded project and therefore a product of governments, it's not subject to patents. Any private attempt to corner the market would be immediately made redundant if ITER itself succeeds, since the state can either overrule the patentability of the.design or simply release their own design to the public domain (for some governments like the US, this is the default by law for direct government designs).

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Anonymous Coward

And all that without 4 extra limbs to contain the field...

Yes, I'm leaving.

Please don't try this at rooms with iron-lined panoramic windows.

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Heard that before

> A fusion-powered humanity would be so rich in energy that pretty much all its problems would be solved:

Is very much like the promises that were given when Calder Hall was turned on back in the 50s.

Back then they promised that electricity would be so cheap it wouldn't be worth sending out the bills.

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Those making that claim grossly underestimated the security and safety issues with fission. But those problems are actually much simpler with fusion. So this time the claim could actually come true - unless there's some other major issue that nobody can predict right now. But from what we know at the moment, it really looks like if fusion could be made to work, we could have huge amounts of energy for cheap.

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I'll believe it when I see it.

The claims are how fusion SHOULD in THEORY work. In reality some rich bastard is going to get massively richer when the coal fired plant gets replaced with a fusion plant and the electricity bill doesn't change, or possibly even goes up to cover the cost of building the plant.

Oh, and there's no such thing as an almost infinate supply of fuel here on Earth. That's what they said about oil a hundred years ago and look at where we are now.

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Unhappy

Might be too cynical but...

It'll be cheap for the producers, but they'll still screw us...

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Anonymous Coward

Cheap...

but taxed to make it more expensive than ever. Especially in the UK.

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There's a lot of D in the ocean....

Given a reasonable input element for fusion (e.g. Deuterium) its really hard to see how we could exhaust the supply.

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Too cheap to meter?

What they forgot was the cost of the transmission network to get the electricity to the consumers. That probably accounts for half the cost of our electricity bills. Neglecting the subsidies for the wind lot that is.

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Anonymous Coward

you forgot to factor in

You forgot to allow for the major sink for energy funding - greed of the CEO, BOD, and shareholders. Expect the cost of energy to increase exponentially with time and ease of production as the capital outlay is paid off.

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aye

but there is a lot more water than oil. Deuterium can be grabbed from water easier than it is to grab oil from coal (for example)

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Joke

Eddies in the space time continuum?

Where's his sofa?

(My only excuse is that it is Friday afternoon)

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Anonymous Coward

is he?

The post is required, and must contain letters.

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Gold badge

"Sadly, so far these doughnut "tokamaks" have always required more power to run than they can generate."

That is because none have been fitted with any generation equipment! Also very few (or only JET) have run with deuterium which is required for this type of fusion. Also the loses tend to increase with the surface area, but power generation increases with volume, so with ITAR being bigger, the efficiency will be higher.

I thought that JET has actually had some short periods where the power generated by fusion within the plasma was more than the input power.

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A further problem

is that D-T fusion produces energetic neutrons (~14MeV as compared to ~2MeV in a fission reactor). In a fission reactor there's lots of material around in the core (including moderator designed to capture neutrons) and most of the neutrons soon give up their thermal energy. But the plasma in which fusion reactions take place is a high-quality vacuum, so these energetic neutrons are either absorbed in the walls of the reactor or escape outside. In either case, capturing their thermal energy is problematic (science-speak for 'we have no clue how to do this').

D-3He fusion produces protons, which are controllable electromagnetically - but we don't have a good source of light helium.

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Happy

>but we don't have a good source of light helium.

Moon

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deuterium (and tritium) is a bigger problem. that as china sits on most of the lithium.

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Halfway right.

Deuterium is the easy part. You can get that simply by cracking water (and it's easy to crack water). Tritium, OTOH, you're right about. The easiest way to go about it is to hit lithium-6 with a neutron (it's doubly good--any neutron can do the job and the process releases rather than consumes energy). Other methods are either energy-intensive or low in yield. Still, it may be worth checking out used nuclear fuel and heavy-water reactors to scrape up more sources. Ontario already does this with its HWR.

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Well done

So now fusion power is only 20 years away? As ever....

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Not so sure...

...that "If ITER is successful it will generate more power than it consumes and a new era will dawn for the human race."

Fusion will only be the new dawn when

a) It works

b) It costs less per kilowatt hour to buy fusion power than power generated by other means.

I think ITER will crack (a), but the machine they're building will be one of the most complex and costly objects on the planet.

Trying to build a *CHEAP* fusion plant to follow on from success at ITER will be another massive project. I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime (though I hope I'm wrong).

I'm all for helping all alternative approaches like this too:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14842720

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Flame

Why produce Petrol?

With a cheap electricity source, producing Hydrogen will be cheap to and we will have truly clean Hydrogen powered cars.

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Alert

@Ray 11

Hydrogen is inherently less safe and more costly to store and transport. Hydrogen fires are largely invisible (it burns with and ultraviolet flame) and it storing it crogenically is rather more difficult than sticking petrol in a tank.

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Boffin

Why Petrol/diesel?

Because hydrocarbons have a better energy density and are easier to handle than hydrogen. More importantly, there are millions of cars/trucks/buses on the planet that can use it.

If energy was so cheap, CO2 could be extracted from the atmosphere and converted back to hydrocarbons so reducing global warming; the carbon particles from diesel could be collected at source and recycled into fuel too. (though there is no shortage of carbon above and below ground)

However, I don't expect any of this to happen in my rapidly diminishing lifetime. I remember cheap energy being promised when I was at school 50 years ago.

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Anonymous Coward

Less safe?

Hydrogen leaking from a tank dissipates up, into the atmosphere. Gasoline/petrol runs out onto the ground and pools, a disaster just waiting for a spark to ignite it. If the leaked hydrogen is ignited, it'll most likely burn well over your head.

The only people who died in the Hindenburg were the ones who panicked and jumped. The survivors – the majority of those on board – were the ones who waited for it to settle to the ground and walked out.

Me? I'll take the "inherently less safe" hydrogen any day.

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hydrogen is only the answer if you live in theory; in practice...

Hydrogen is an absolutely pain to handle in ways that are very hard to get around; it walks through most substances and has dire effects on most materials, because it's basically a soup of protons. It's also quite hard to use efficiently; the theoretical efficiency and the realized efficiency are not the same.

The preferable proton-storage mechanism for synthetic fuel is probably anhydrous ammonia; we're going to need the circulating-carbon for things like plastics, lubricants and road tar more than for fuel, ammonia is already an important fertilizer and we're going to need a non-fossil source _anyway_, we have tons of experience handling the stuff and it's not very difficult to handle (nor does it readily freeze), the tech (while not presently ideally efficient) already exists to make it from air and water, the vapour rises, you can readily detect a leak, and the first demonstration of running a car off of anhydrous ammonia via an alkaline fuel cell happened in 1968. (Energy density about half that of gasoline; given a fuel-cell/electric drive train, you're fine because you're not saddled with the ~25% ICE practical efficiency limit on the drive train.)

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@AC : Less safe?

"The only people who died in the Hindenburg were the ones who panicked and jumped"

Utter bollocks - and the fact that you're inevitably bad-mouthing some of those people who died in rather horrific circumstances only makes it worse. AC ? Coward doesn't even come close..

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Anonymous Coward

huh?

Gasoline itself won't ignite, only its vapors will do so. Granted, a pool of gasoline tends to give off plenty of flammable vapor, but at least it stays in one place.

Diesel is even tougher to light. Fill a small container with diesel and try to light it with a match. Then try a lighter. Then try a blowtorch (do the last one outside and away from other flammables, please). IIRC, that's one of the reasons the military likes to use Diesel (safer if your vehicles have a higher than average rate of being shot at).

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Go

"...CO2 could be extracted from the atmosphere..."

nice idea.

only i would suggest not doing it by some crazy chemical process. let's be more creative. this is 21st century, after all. so, let's create some kind of living organism, that would capture the CO2 for us. it could be kept in the places now taken by solar plants (which we won't need anymore). only you have to make it sedentary, so it cannot scamper away. the only problem would be to transport the super cheap energy there to feed it. but as the energy would be almost free...

oh, and make the little critters green, that makes good publicity. (and don't listen to the idiots who would claim the big green areas replacing solar plants would destroy the countryside. they will get used to it. eventually. they always do.)

well, i can dream.

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Produce it at home; Honda sells a unit to do just that for their Hyrdogen powered car. They have one that uses natural gas and another uses solar.

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Hydrogen is a PITA to handle though

Much better to combine it with carbon sequestered from CO2 in the atmosphere and make synthetic diesel.

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Anonymous Coward

Correct on the diesel

The famour Sherman tank was actually a deathtrap because it unfortunately used Petrol for fuel. The Germans called them "Tommy cookers" because they had a habit of exploding when hit while the German diesel tanks didn't

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Anhydrous ammonia...

It's a thought, but it has some hurdles of its own. For one thing, while detectable at first, the nose builds tolerance quickly, making it difficult to sniff out toxic concentrations if they build gradually. And you can't contain the stuff with alloys containing copper or zinc (that includes brass, which is common in gas fittings). It's also gaseous at room temperature, so you're gonna need a pressure vessel to contain it in a liquefied state--which presents puncture risks again. Speaking of which, it's also bad for the environment, since it seriously disadvantages aquatic life (which gets double-whammied; not only can't they handle high concentrations, ammonia is also quite soluble in water). Not ruling it out, mind you, but it's no panacea.

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Anonymous Coward

Optomistic at best

'A fusion-powered humanity would be so rich in energy that pretty much all its problems would be solved'

For about 20 seconds until Cameron and Co figure out how to tax us to the hilt for the privilege of using such power.

You have to understand that anything remotely useful will be controlled by these scum.

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