back to article POWER SOURCE that might END humanity's PROBLEMS: A step forward

Boffins have come up with a new way to bottle up the energy of a star, using an antenna to keep ultrahot plasma stable - and taking a big step towards cheap, clean, everlasting energy for the human race. Plasma ball Fusion research has been underway now for many decades, as controlled nuclear fusion offers practically …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Ben Liddicott

    You can buy fusion reactors...

    "Humanity has briefly achieved artificial fusion reactions, but sadly only in H-bombs"

    Erm, no. You can buy Farnsworth-type fusion reactors as a laboratory neutron source.

    * http://www.nsd-fusion.com/

    Some hobbyists have even achieved fusion at home (see Wikipedia for more information)....

    I think you mean "briefly achieved self-sustaining fusion reactions". Or possibly "net power producing"...

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: You can buy fusion reactors...

      "The trouble is that sustained fusion is extremely difficult to achieve* .... Humanity has briefly achieved artificial fusion reactions, but sadly only in H-bombs"

      Thankfully, H-bombs are NOT sustained

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: You can buy fusion reactors...

        Neutron tubes. I like it.

        And they add animated gifs for Blinkenlights. This is properly Mad Scientist:

        If it blinks, something is going on

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: You can buy fusion reactors...

      "Or possibly 'net power producing'"

      Yes, yes. That's what we meant but did not say. I've tweaked the footnote. Don't forget to email corrections@thereg next time you spot anything, so we can take a look immediately.

      C.

    3. Steve Knox Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: You can buy Farnsworth-type fusion reactors...

      "Good news, everybody!"

  2. MikeyD85
    Thumb Up

    Science

    Is so awesome these days. We're so close as a race to taking some massive leaps forward in terms of energy, biology and technology. It's so exciting to be alive at this time!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Science

      Unfortunately we are doing it just as cheap energy runs out, owing to our monkey brains having pissed readily available energy sources up the nearest wall, and politicians, with their half life measured in nanoseconds, having made almost zero provision for the future.

      The time (and place) when it was most exciting to be alive might well have been the US in the 1960s, when everything seemed possible.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Science

        @ ribosome

        "Unfortunately we are doing it just as cheap energy runs out, owing to our monkey brains having pissed readily available energy sources up the nearest wall, and politicians, with their half life measured in nanoseconds, having made almost zero provision for the future."

        Not quite. We are choosing the most expensive ways to produce energy due to the desire to die out and having nothing better to do. If we were fighting to survive we would have cheap energy and none of these wind/solar experiments. Simply this society has so little to care about that we are happy to make a load of poor and let some people freeze to death for the glory of feeling better.

        If this country cared we wouldnt be ramping up prices so hard to get less. Its the religion thing. It makes people abandon all reality and pursue some fantasy

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Science

          @codejunky

          And what are the cheap methods of energy generation that you propose? Do you really think that anyone is deliberately choosing the most expensive methods of obtaining energy when all factors are taken into account?

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Re: Science

            >> Do you really think that anyone is deliberately choosing the most expensive methods of obtaining energy when all factors are taken into account?

            Actually yes - the politicians, in a desire to appease the green lobbies, are doing just that. The *direct* cost of wind power is something in excess of 30p/unit - that's only what's paid to the operators in direct payments for the lecky and subsidies (called a Renewables Obligation Certificate just so it technically isn't a subsidy). Then there are significant additional costs to the rest of the network in accommodating the intermittency - but that's OK, it doesn't appear anywhere in a way you can directly pin it on the renewables.

            Meanwhile, people complain that the government looks set to guarantee new nuclear operators something like (from memory) 10.5p/unit - so as to get them to invest billions of private sector funding.

            1. BlueGreen

              Re: Science @SImon Hobson

              > cost of wind power is something in excess of 30p/unit

              ref please?

              > but that's OK, [significant additional costs to the rest of the network] doesn't appear anywhere in a way you can directly pin it on the renewables.

              Completely unlike the costs (of possible climate change, pollution (see china), very finite supplies of fossil fuels and all that implies) of the alternatives which you and so many others like you fail to pin on fossil.

              Come on, do you think the use of fossil fuels don't have consequences, side effects?

              (There's nothing wrong with fossil fuels if we used them wisely, but we've pissed away an incredible resource).

          2. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: Science

            @ribosome

            "And what are the cheap methods of energy generation that you propose? Do you really think that anyone is deliberately choosing the most expensive methods of obtaining energy when all factors are taken into account?"

            I guess you missed it but we have spent loads and got little from windfarms and solarfarms. We have fracking gas available. We have nuclear available which is expensive (still less than wind/solar) but is actually reliable and produces quantifiable power.

            This neglects coal which is still available. So when all factors are taken into account we look like idiots trying to kill ourselves off in the winter.

          3. Steve Knox Silver badge

            Re: Science

            Do you really think that anyone is deliberately choosing the most expensive methods of obtaining energy when all factors are taken into account?

            The problem is in the definition of relevant factors. Some posters in this conversation, for example, don't consider long-term environmental damage to be a relevant factor. They also avoid the political cost to decision makers as a relevant factor. This latter one I wish was not relevant, but so long as energy decisions are affected by political processes, it is definitively relevant.

            Sadly, economic markets generally do not consider long-term effects a relevant factor either, which is what has led us to this current state.

            1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

              Re: Science

              "Sadly, economic markets generally do not consider long-term effects a relevant factor either, which is what has led us to this current state."

              Ah but they do and that's precisely the problem. Any cost that can be kicked into the long grass for long enough is effectively zero because you can invest a penny today, let the interest build up and then pay the bill in a hundred years time off the interest. (The actual numbers may differ, but that's the principle.) This is perfectly valid economic reasoning, as long as you can be confident that you will still be around in a hundred years time and that the economy won't have tanked in the meantime. Historically, both of those assumptions have held good over the long term.

          4. cray74 Silver badge

            Re: Science

            @ribosome. I would. Wind and solar were being selected when they were among the most expensive options, per megawatt, out there. Economies of scale and enormous government subsidies have made them affordable, if not convenient for lack of equally-large power storage systems. Nuclear, meanwhile, would be cheap if it was rolled out on a large scale with standardized reactors, but it isn't selected because of irrational fears and obstructionism.

            So, yes, people have deliberately selected expensive (and undependable) means of power production while bypassing less expensive options.

            Not that they always bypass the cheap options. After you get done banning nuclear power because it's scary, banning wind power because it kills birds, banning solar power because it endangers the habitat of a local tortoise, banning tidal power because it messes up estuary ecosystems, and banning hydropower because it messes up river ecosystems, cheap, reliable coal is still there for us.

            Green Germany loves its dirty brown, low-grade coal. China loves its coal. Britain loves its coal. The US loves coal. Australia loves its coal. Some nations can also use natural gas for really cheap power, but coal is the big one that never gets passed up.

            1. tony2heads
              Flame

              @cray74

              Add South Africa to the list of coal addict (and still building more - look up Medupi)

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medupi_Power_Station

              Icon -people need to get over this setting stuff on fire business

          5. John Sanders
            Facepalm

            Re: Science

            """Do you really think that anyone is deliberately choosing the most expensive methods of obtaining energy when all factors are taken into account?"""

            Yes, I for one do, look at all the green-energy means of power production crap society has been spoon-feed as a viable option for power generation.

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Science

        Good point. Put aside the cold war, and it was a time of great optimism. Medical science was promising ever longer and healthier lives. Agricultural technology looked to bring a new age of plenty. Mass-manufacturing let everyone live like a king - even the poorest in society could realistically dream of soon owning a car. And there, just over the horizon, what did ever-advancing technology promise? Colonies on the moon and mars. Space travel. Mankind was going to colonise the universe - a vast space, waiting for settlement. A clear manifest destiny: Space, there for the filling.

        And what did we get? The manned space program fizzled out, mass-production turns out to screw up the environment, cars trash the climate, and longer lives just meant more people with arthritis and dementia. The stars look further away today than they ever have.

        1. Captain DaFt

          Re: Science

          Face it, The future ain't what it used to be.

          1. Yet Another Commentard

            Re: Science

            @Capt DaFt

            I thought "the future will be better tomorrow" (c) J Danforth Quayle

    2. Harry Kiri

      Re: Science

      When you say these days, the 'dream' of fusion has been going on for 50 years. Really its still no nearer being a viable power source- a shame and fantastic as it all appears.

      1. spodula

        Re: Science

        Got a book in my collection called "Science shapes tomorrow", which is 1962 vintage. It said Commercial fusion was about 30 years away.

        Wierldy enough, the BBC documentary i saw also said it was about 40 years away. What a diffference 50 years makes eh?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Science

          It just shows that, without decent and cheap scientific computing, nobody in the 60s had a clue how much things would really cost, or how difficult they would be.

          Fusion turned out to be one of those things that is really, really difficult.

          I've seen arguments recently that "hydrogen bombs" are not even really fusion bombs - they rely on making the fission explosion much more efficient with clever engineering. The Tsar Bomba might have been a real fusion bomb (three stage) but that one even managed to frighten Krushchev silly.

          Which is interesting because one "fusion reactor" design actually uses uranium to collect the neutrons from the fusion reaction - which conveniently weren't mentioned in the 60s - and also as an energy generator, so it is just as dirty as a conventional power station, and with all the benefits of complex now untested technology to go wrong.

          The universe is good at producing cheap, reliable fusion reactors in a wide variety of sizes, but the method it uses is not practical for small scale use.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: Science

            "I've seen arguments recently that "hydrogen bombs" are not even really fusion bombs - they rely on making the fission explosion much more efficient with clever engineering."

            That I doubt. Although I'm not privy to the experimental data, my understanding is that the yield depends on how much fusable material you include in the package and the fissile element (pardon the pun) is kept as small as possible. If so, that would imply that the source of (most of) the bang is indeed fusion of light nuclei rather than fission of heavy ones.

            It is of course possible that the heavy nuclei are destroyed to a greater extent during their time in the sun than would be the case if they were left to their own devices.

      2. sisk Silver badge

        Re: Science

        Really its still no nearer being a viable power source

        With the death of Bussard it's actually further off than it was a few years ago. From looking over his data (the portion thats available to the public that is -- most of it is owned by the US Navy) I firmly believe that had he had the funding he needed the first large scale fusion reactor would be running today. It fills me with a great sense of loss that the powers that be at the time decided to spend the money on a war on the other side of the planet instead.

  3. El Presidente

    Fusion & Free Clean Energy For All?

    £75 Billion spent on serious research or splurged on possibly knocking 20 minutes off the time it takes to get from Brum to that London.

    1. Yet Another Commentard

      Re: Fusion & Free Clean Energy For All?

      Indeed, especially as you can get there 20 minutes earlier by catching the previous train.

      We had JET don't forget, and there is that massive thing in France that many countries have given cash to. Sadly it's just not as "politically useful" as many things, because the commissioning politician won't be in office or possibly even alive when it's realised.

      I do wonder if calling it the "[Insert Politico of your choice] Power of the Future Research Establishment" would encourage funding purely as a massive ego stroke.

    2. Richard Gadsden

      Re: Fusion & Free Clean Energy For All?

      I just hope they remember to build the connection across North London.

      Sod going to London, I want to bypass the blasted hell-hole and get to Paris or Brussels faster.

      It's not the 30 mins you save from Brum to London, it's the hour you spend not walking from Euston to St Pancras and queueing up in St Pancras.

      Brum-Paris in under three hours; Manchester-Paris in just over; Leeds-Paris in less than three-and-a-half.

      Want to count the flights that won't happen as a result?

  4. Graham Marsden
    Mushroom

    And it will be ready...

    ... in 20 years time...

    (So no change there ;-) )

    1. Shaha Alam

      Re: And it will be ready...

      it would be nice if, in 20 yrs time, more jobs had moved out of the capital and thus reduced the need to make these journeys. reduced by 20 mins or not.

      or at least the opportunities for remote working being a bit more realistic and practical.

      1. TitterYeNot

        Re: And it will be ready...

        "it would be nice if, in 20 yrs time, more jobs had moved out of the capital and thus reduced the need to make these journeys. reduced by 20 mins or not."

        Agreed. Though we all know that what will happen in reality is that thanks to HS2, the London commuter zone will in future stretch to the Midlands, and that London foreign investment values house prices will spread accordingly.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: And it will be ready...

        " the opportunities for remote working being a bit more realistic and practical"

        Well if you have roughly £1000 per head of population to spend you could probably wire up the whole country with fibre and wireless. (Unless you let the big telcos run the project, of course.) In fact, you'd probably have enough cash left over to replace the Victorian signalling on the railways we already have.

  5. Robert Ramsay
    Happy

    "Humanity has briefly achieved artificial fusion reactions, but sadly only in H-bombs"

    The advert underneath said "Harness the power of flash"

  6. King Jack Silver badge

    Cheap energy will just be taxed to make just as expensive or more than it costs now.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Possibly true, and I'm sure Michael Faraday thanks you for re-iterating this point.

      However, do note that there are several examples of services where you pay a flat rate to be connected (which may imply a cap on your rate of consumption) but are neither charged nor even metered for actual use. In the UK, nearly all roads are provided on this basis, water still is for a significant proportion of households, and broadband can work that way if you choose. (I suppose membership of a private club often also works like this.) The phrase "too cheap to meter" is not as dumb as it is usually made out to be.

      1. Martin Budden

        When I stayed briefly in Hong Kong circa 1995 the telephone system there was line-rental only: you could make as many calls as you liked to anywhere within the colony without further charges. The high population density meant that phone calls really were too cheap to meter. I don't know if this is still the case today.

  7. The last doughnut
    Mushroom

    I fully expect lots of downvotes

    I can thoroughly recommend spending one of your working days reading up on how to build a W-88 or other thermonuclear device on Wikipedia.

  8. phil dude
    Coat

    yes but..

    aren't deuterium bullets cool....?

    P.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Correction

    As Ben points out, achieving a little fusion is nothing new - those decades of research have involved running experimental reactors that work perfectly well in that they produce fusion, but not for very long, and they require more energy to run than they produce. See also National Ignition Facility, where they zap fuel pellets with super-powerful lasers and, viola, nuclear fusion!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Correction

      "where they zap fuel pellets with super-powerful lasers and, viola"

      I for one welcome our new, super-powerful laser wielding viola playing overlords.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Correction

        It's "voilà", as in "Voilà ... another land war in AsiaThe Middle East." (puts on powdered wig and a mouche)

  10. Luke McCarthy

    ITER is rendered obsolete...

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Unless, of course, an improved understanding of plasma physics turns out to be just what we need to make ITER work. But hey, what are the chances of that happening.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    where there's a will

    The whole world is in a energy crisis, so it seems. And yet for some reason we cannot collectively get our act together and invest some serious cash into fusion for the benefit of all. If it can be made to work, energy will be a fraction of the current cost changing humanity forever. What's more, fusion energy is clean and will contribute massively to the reduction of CO2. The cynic in me can't help thinking that political short sightedness and lobbying fossil/nuclear energy companies is standing in the way of what would one of the single most important inventions in the history of the human race. Sort it out now before it's too late!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: where there's a will

      "What's more, fusion energy is clean"

      AFAIK none of the proposed fusion reactors are clean. And if it wasn't for the 140 million kilometre exclusion zone around it, our existing source of energy from fusion wouldn't be clean either.

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

        Re: where there's a will

        "AFAIK none of the proposed fusion reactors are clean"

        That's alright, no power source is clean. Those rare-earth materials you need to make wind turbines even nearly efficient aren't exactly a clean source (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/aug/07/china-rare-earth-village-pollution) and neither are the massive amounts of concrete poured across huge swathes of the countryside to keep them rooted into the ground.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: where there's a will

          On a relative scale, perhaps?

          Is the pollution from scandium and neodymium extraction comparable to the radioactive waste caused by neutron bombardment from proposed fusion reactors? And is concrete a pollutant?

          I'd also like to see the aerial views of those "huge swathes of the countryside" covered in concrete. Or are you confusing wind farms with roads?

          1. dwieske

            Re: where there's a will

            it's actually worse than the radioactive material created by nuclear power toxis stuff stays toxic pretty much forever, radioactive stuff decays (and this can be accelerated WHILE producing more energy)... we really should stop destroying the environment and people's wallet, one windmill/solar panel at a time.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where there's a will

        Will the person who downvoted me be so kind as to tell us, then, which of the proposed fusion reactor technologies are clean?

    2. DanceMan

      Re: where there's a will

      "The whole world is in a (sic) energy crisis"

      More like a population crisis. The amount of energy easily available is relative to the population needing it. Consider the Filipino mother sheltering her 8 (!) kids in the concrete roofed school from the hurricane. How long is that rate of growth sustainable?

  12. Ed 13
    Joke

    A Shoelace Antenna?

    As opposed to the Ford Escort "Bent Coat Hanger Antenna"?

  13. Nigel Whitfield.

    I recall a text book I saw at school, or perhaps it was a really old promo film, in which it was promised that we would have "electricity too cheap to meter."

    That turned out well.

  14. relpy
    Coat

    "The trouble is that sustained fusion is extremely difficult to achieve"

    Not wishing to be a pedant*, but there are a really really really large number of stars in the universe, lots of them, mind-buggeringly huge numbers of them. Each of them sustains fusion very nicely. So we can conclude that sustained fusion is not in the slightest bit hard to achieve.

    Scaling it down to a size that doesn't burn your toast from 1,000,000 miles away is the bit that's tricky.

    * This is a lie.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
      Coat

      "Each of them sustains fusion very nicely."

      Only for a few billion years. Then they're just litter.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      The trouble is that the way they work DEPENDS on their scale. It's mass and gravity that kickstart stars in the first place. Otherwise you'd just have a much larger Jupiter (too small to jumpstart itself). Much as we'd love to tap into their power, terrestrial solar collection isn't efficient enough, and space-based collection presents the problem of safely getting it back to earth.

      So the problem becomes trying to sustain a net-positive fusion reaction that doesn't rely on tremendous mass.

    3. dwieske

      prime example of trying to seem smart, but exposes your lack of knowledge on the subject

  15. Martin Budden
    Go

    There's more than one way to skin a cat.

    The shoelace antenna sounds like a very promising way to keep the plasma nicely contained.

    Someone else has found a different way to keep the plasma nicely contained and it also uses an electromagnetic field, the key difference is that this way works by fusing boron with hydrogen to make helium and energy with no pesky neutron radiation. Oh, and it's also cheap to build (no gigantic tokomak needed). It's called focus fusion.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: There's more than one way to skin a cat.

      It may interest you to know that aneutronic fusion like you describe is EVEN HARDER to pull off than deuterium-tritium fusion (in the case of hydrogen-boron, by a factor of 10 in terms of energy requirements).

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    First of all Brid-Aine Parnell,

    'This would solve an awful lot of the human race's current issues.'

    No it wouldn't.

    If I discovered a cheap and abundant energy source today and published it to the world, the entire global economy would collapse tomorrow.

    If my country discovered a cheap and abundant energy source today and sought to exploit it, my country would be bombed back to the stone age tomorrow.

    (Dollar hegemony)

    -------------

    To the poster who said that if enough money was thrown at the problem (controllable fusion) then it could be achieved in short order.

    How much money do you need ?

    Mervyn King demonstrated, with a simple keypress, that he could conjure up 375 thousand million pounds, just like that.

    Ben Bernanke creates 80 thousand million dollars every month (Janet Yellen will in all likelihood increase this rate)

    Throwing money at the problem will not help (as money is only virtual), only throwing productivity at it will help

    Average western production worker given all the tools available is probably reaching a leverage of > 4 to 1 however productivity per worker has peaked, GDP has continued to rise because this drop in per productive worker has been masked by increasing the no. of workers (the UK has been importing them), this cannot continue indefinitely.

    Peak productivity per worker is reached around 30 years old, average age of UK worker is past that.

    The question of can we achieve controllable fusion turns out to be not one of physics or even economics, it is a question of maths.

  17. Yet Another Commentard

    "If I discovered a cheap and abundant energy source today and published it to the world, the entire global economy would collapse tomorrow."

    Not too sure I follow the reasoning here - what's the chain of causation you have in mind? Not saying you are wrong I just lack the insight to tie together the idea that relatively cheap (at least it would be cheap at the margin, as in the next MWh costs next to nothing, but the first one is really quite expensive) relatively clean and almost unlimited power would destroy the world's economy within 24 hours of it being turned on.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      I don't know about a one-day collapse of civilization, but I could see high-stakes energy interest being against the idea. ANYONE with skin in a market would be against a disruptor out of their control. Kind of like people invested in aluminium as a precious metal when electric smelting of alumina was invented (transforming the metal from precious to common). Most fuel companies would not be too pleased with a fusion breakthrough since it would pretty much dry up the power plant market (though to be fair they wouldn't collapse altogether--each would still have markets fusion wouldn't challenge at that point--coke is still needed for steel, synthetic hydrocarbon fuel is still some way off, and methane/propane still has efficiency advantages in heating and flexibility advantages in power generation).

  18. annodomini2 Bronze badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    Fusion for energy

    "The trouble is that sustained fusion is extremely difficult to achieve"

    True, but at the same time it is not always necessary and is the myth perpetrated by the Tokamak supporters.

    Tokamak is a white elephant, sucking up most of the Fusion research money. There are lots of other concepts that require much less investment and offer more promising returns in a shorter space of time.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Fusion for energy

      Such as?

      NOTE: I've already noted the big problem with aneutronic fusion--higher energy requirements--so I'm honestly skeptical. Let's see some HONEST innovations, complete with their benefits and drawbacks vs. the tokamak or whatever.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019