Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power Science

Focus Fusion On Google Tech Talks 141

Posted by kdawson
from the sounds-good-on-paper dept.
Henning Burdack writes "Eric Lerner talks on Google Tech Talks about Focus Fusion, which would be a much cheaper and more feasible technology as a fusion energy source than any other current approach, based upon the dense plasma focus device. The technology will use hydrogen-boron fusion with direct induction of ion energy and photovoltaic conversion of x-ray emission, obviating the need of a steam-cycle and thus resulting in higher efficiencies. High temperatures of 1 billion Kelvin (100 keV) have been reached years ago. It only needs $2 million in funding and two years of research for a proof of concept, and maybe four more years for a prototype with positive energy output. In contrast to other fusion efforts it utilizes the natural instabilities of plasma instead of fighting them. Focus Fusion has been discussed on Slashdot before, and a patent application is also available, going a bit more into detail."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Focus Fusion On Google Tech Talks

Comments Filter:
  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Saturday October 27, 2007 @04:17PM (#21142861) Homepage Journal
    I looked at the wiki history page on aneuronic fusion, and found that wiki poster 'elerner' had been banned from further edits.
    Now here he is introducing a project that requires millions of dollars in funding.

    Ok, I'm a bit cynical, but this does look like a possible conflict of interest to me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by miletus (552448)
      What, because being banned from Wikipedia edits is the best criteria for judging someone's scientific credentials?
      • by S3D (745318) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @04:43PM (#21143061)

        What, because being banned from Wikipedia edits is the best criteria for judging someone's scientific credentials?

        By itself no, however his wiki entry [wikipedia.org] create strong suspicion of crackpottery:
        -graduate without completing a degree
        -author of alternative cosmology theory denying Big Bang
        -denial of quasar as blackholes
        -life-long political activist
        • So he's a proponent of aneuronic fusion? No, that's mean, I shouldn't say that.
        • by Bloater (12932) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @05:18PM (#21143343) Homepage Journal
          He's doing experiments on this now half funded by a university and has had funding from JPL for developing this as an energy source for propulsion until NASAs alternative propulsion budget was cut to zero.

          BTW he was banned for reverting libellous material and attempts to imply that things like joining a political organisation make him untrustworthy (well, I suppose he was technically a politician, so maybe he was) and for bigging himself up too persistently - the latter only proves he's a self-righteous arse - so often a problem for scientists.

          > author of alternative cosmology theory denying Big Bang

          No he's not, the cosmology theory is by a nobel prize winning cosmologist. He wrote a book to publicise the theory.

          > denial of quasar as blackholes

          There is no evidence that they are black holes. They a big and dense. It is not known whether or not they have a large mass behind an event horizon entirely separated from the rest of the universe - we merely have no popular theory to establish that they are not black holes but that doesn't make them so. Assertions that they are and must be black holes and that alternative theories makes you a "DENIER" is far more crackpottish.

          > life-long political activist

          What does that have to do with his theories on the use of established fundamental quantum limits on bremsstrahlung and synchrotron radiation for sustaining plasma energy in a DPF plasmoid?

          Yes, lets all stop doing science... Damn that science.
        • It only needs $2 million in funding

          Low enough that someone might come up with the amount and a "hey, what if it works?...". If he had asked for $2 billion, the financiers would insist on a very tightly controlled cash management. $2 million is low enough that he might be left controlling the purse strings.

          If a proof of concept can be done with $2 million, then he should do first a basic prototype in his hobby shop. After all, people have built Farnsworth fusors [wikipedia.org] for decades, and still no one would claim the

          • There are picture of these "contraptions" er prototypes all over the site

            Billion Degree Breakthrough at Texas A&M [focusfusion.org]
            In May of 2001, Experiments at Texas A&M University confirmed predictions from Lerner theory that energies above 100 keV (equivalent to 1.1 billion degrees) can be achieved with the plasma focus. This was a big step taken towards environmentally safe, cheap, and unlimited energy.

            Seems like if that was bullshit someone would call him on it, rather than invite him over for a Google tech t

            • by Bloater (12932)
              Before the Texas A&M experiments he, apparently, had funding through the NASA advanced propulsion budget, it was actually being funded as an impulse engine :)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      That's not a conflict of interest.

      It would be a conflict of interest if he were investing in a company developing the technology, while simultaneously sitting as part of a committee deciding whether or not to give funding for such research.

      This is just a case of somebody advocating an idea, and advocating the funding of further research. Sure, he may benefit from such funding, but that in itself shows no conflict of interest.

      The wiki banning you mention is irrelevant. It's probably just stupid wiki politics
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      • No. I was referring to this page ( I said 'history' earlier. I meant to say 'discussion'. ): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Aneutronic_fusion [wikipedia.org]

        which says ( for those who don't RTFA ) :

        Notice: Elerner is banned from editing this article. The user specified has been banned by the Arbitration committee from editing this article indefinitely. The user is not prevented from discussing or proposing changes on this talk page. Posted by Thatcher131 03:01, 3 December 2006 (UTC) for the Arbitration committee. See Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Pseudoscience.

        The bolding is mine.

        Gawd!!! I must be bored today. I'm replying to an AC!

    • by Quixote (154172) *
      Mr. Burdack has been pushing Focus Fusion for some time. For example, his letter to the German Chancellor [google.com] (translated by Google), saying basically the same thing as the intro to the story.
    • by creativeHavoc (1052138) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @05:16PM (#21143325) Homepage
      Whether this comment has merit right now doesn't matter to me right now. THIS is the reason I love reading slashdot. What other news aggregation site has members who can find stuff like that. First post no less. There is a very distinct intelligence difference here. On the topic itself: It seems energy research has started getting a lot more attention than even cancer research now. Cancer research reports have gotten to the point where you now only hear about it when they have actually done somthing. Energy research postings are still at the stage where they only need to talk about maybe being able to do somthing for it to be newsworthy. I wonder when this will change again, and what it will change to.
      • by Joebert (946227)
        Cancer research is still active, it's just that now there's alot of organizations setup to collect money for it & they stick to the smaller channels.

        Cheap energy on the other hand, is the next best thing to curing cancer & not as many organizations are setup asking for money to research it yet.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "I looked at the wiki history page on aneuronic fusion, and found that wiki poster 'elerner' had been banned from further edits. Now here he is introducing a project that requires millions of dollars in funding. "

      I looked at the talk page for it also, the ban is related to the guideline http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest#Self-promotion [wikipedia.org]

      Here are the findings of fact,

      "Eric Lerner

      7) Elerner (talk contribs deleted contribs logs block user block log) is Eric Lerner, an advocate of th
    • Notice the ppl who are trying to control this article. They are not even physicists. One of them is a software engineer (and in this day and age, everybody who is in the software world claims to be a software engineer, even though the majority have CIS degrees).

      Personally, I am starting to think that he is getting a bit of a bum rap on this. It makes me wonder what is true on wiki. While I like that wiki is taking time to check things, perhaps, it is time for wiki to have subject matter experts do the rev
      • Ok, this is waaay off topic, and just shows how ignorant I am, but what the heck is a software engineer, and how do they differ from us plain old programmers? Personally, I choose the title of "God Emperor" whenever I'm allowed to choose a title :-) I even occasionally get junk mail directed towards "God Emperor".
        • Well, first, I my degree is in Computer Science Degree (well, one of them).
          • A Software Engineer has more of an engineering background. That is they spend more of their education background learning about methodologies according to Engineers (i.e. they write to a spec). They spend their time debating UML design vs. Waterfall.
          • A CSers was taught how to get the most efficient code, and how to jump all over. Roughly, the vast majority of new ideas in computers come from the CS world. Generally, this background
          • Thanks for that breakdown... makes sense. The Triangle is ok, but I suspect I would have enjoyed living in Boulder CO more. I started a small company here, and was looking for a good place to raise kids. I think this area is great for raising kids, which has to be it's defining trait. It's not a great place to start a company. I've been here 7 years, and still think the move was the best decision for my kids. For us parents... well the weather sucks, and I can't get use to it. I can't see anything ca
            • I have 2 small kids here. Good schools (1 will go to Cherry Creek, my other is in douglas county; both good districts). Good area. Very family friendly. One good place is Ft. Collins (great town, family friendly, college town, but with bad police, though most college towns have that issue).
    • by vyrus128 (747164)
      As a Googler who was present at the talk, I did get the distinct feeling that the guy is just this side of crackpot, and is a little too slick for his own good.

      That said, the science sounds mildly promising, and I don't get the impression he's a scammer -- I think he genuinely believes in a fusion method that may have promise, but is probably a dead end. And I think trying it out just to be sure is probably not an awful idea. The fact that he got himself banned from Wikipedia means he is dangerously close t
  • This has got to be one of the first times I have seen a fusion energy prediction that was estimated to be less than 10-20+ years from being practical.
    • by Joebert (946227)
      You haven't been watching for 4 years by any chance have you ?
  • is doing a demonstration project, but $2 million doesn't by crap these days. It takes more than $2million just for the power supplies.

    Google for "Tri-Alpha Energy"
    • by bombastinator (812664) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @05:00PM (#21143205)
      agreed. The number is suspiciously low. It is small enough for private funding, however, which puts it deep into possible scam territory. If this has been around for a while and the guy is publicly looking for money it implies he has already been refused for a bunch of grants. If there are no refused grant applications, then it gets more creepy. The patent may be another sign.

      IMHO anyone interested in investing in this guy who is not a university or reserch institute should be extremely careful. Like put a radio ankle bracelet on him careful.
  • So far not so crazy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2007 @04:55PM (#21143149)

    I don't know about this guy's background, but so far (still watching) he hasn't said anything crazy that signifies obvious crack-pottery. There's been o zero-point energy nonsense, and he's using standard terminology to explain things in a way that would make sense to someone with a little background in the subject. The new bit seems to be clever use of plasma instability to get the energy density required to initiate fusion. I'm not a plasma physicist (just particle physics), so I can't critically evaluate the details of the method. So far I'd believe this is plausible, but I don't know enough to be willing to give this guy any money.

    And for gosh-sakes, fix the article summary. keV = kilo electron volts, not Kelvin!

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Oh, and other signs the physics is probably legit:
      • Actual experiments at various scales
      • Multiple institutions testing these ideas (I don't mean the 3 companies he lists at the beginning, but rather the various researchers working on dense plasma focusing.)
      • Acknowledgment of challenges, and explanation of how they were overcome.
      That still doesn't say whether it's a practical power source, but at least he is starting with reasonable science.
      • I'd say do be careful. If the guy is a flake (and I have no knowledge either way) then is it possible he's keeping something alive that should be kept alive despite this? If there's value in the science and he's just doing a cut & paste plus control & money trip, it could sink the idea as surely as linking it to Atlantis.

        However the percentage of nice people vs egregiously annoying people among good scientists probably correlates well with the population at large, so it's important to discriminate

    • Why are the majority of Eric Lerner's supporters posting as ACs?

      Is that you, Eric?
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @04:59PM (#21143197) Homepage

    This is one of a number of devices that can produce some fusion, but don't put out more energy than is put in. Forty years ago, this idea looked more promising. There was a fusion demo of a "plasma pinch" fusion system at the General Electric pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair. So far, no variation on this scheme has come even close to breakeven.

    • by BlackGriffen (521856) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @05:41PM (#21143503)
      He said it was crackpot. I didn't try to get him to go into details, but he basically mentioned the same stuff you did - stellarators, etc. What's more, there is the crack-pottery in the clip about how all the people in the field are in a conspiracy to deny his idea funding. I know these people - you might find some or even a majority who would be so unscrupulous, but nowhere near enough to maintain such a conspiracy. So, I would tend to think that you're right.

      Basically, this guy is probably guilty of exactly what he accuses the rest of the fusion community of - he's fixated on his idea. He apparently won funding from the navy [slashdot.org], so there's a chance his group could prove me wrong, and I hope that they do, but I doubt it.
      • by Zouden (232738) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @06:51PM (#21143937)
        That last link is to a different project: Bussard's Polywell fusor. That one is scientifically sound and is currently the most hopeful method of energy-positive fusion. Bussard built several working models before he died earlier this year.
        • by delt0r (999393) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @04:17AM (#21146721)
          As far as sound physics are concerned, neither is to be given much weight. Both require non equilibrium plasmas to work as advertised and that just does not work (The ions collide with electrons far more often than they fuse). In fact unless they can find a massive flaw in our current understanding of plasma physic thermodynamics neither can break even. Well the Bussard one defiantly, since its constant state. At least this one is a pulse device (aka not in equilibrium).

          Pretending that this is a non issue without backing up with some calculations/data is bad science. Especially when there is quite a lot of analysis indicating that at best they get around 3-5% of the power out as they put in (real devices less than 0.001% or worse). Thus without some high efficiency (>>90%) power recirculation method they can't work as a power production device.

          This view is the general consensus of held by physicist, not just my view.
          • by BCGlorfindel (256775) <klassenk@@@brandonu...ca> on Sunday October 28, 2007 @09:09AM (#21147891) Journal
            Both require non equilibrium plasmas to work as advertised and that just does not work (The ions collide with electrons far more often than they fuse). In fact unless they can find a massive flaw in our current understanding of plasma physic thermodynamics neither can break even. Well the Bussard one defiantly, since its constant state.

            And Bussard had responded directly to that issue:

            Ions spend less than 1/1000 of their lifetime in the dense, high energy but low cross-section core region, and the ratio of Coulomb energy exchange cross-section to fusion cross-section is much less than this, thus thermalization (Maxwellianization) can not occur during a single pass of ions through the core. While some up- and down- scattering does occur in such a single pass, this is so small that edge region collisionality (where the ions are dense and "cold") anneals this out at each pass through the system, thus avoiding buildup of energy spreading in the ion population (Ref. 14).

            In layman's terms, the Polywell design fuses ions faster than they maxwellianize, thanks to the ratio of time in core to time in edge. The full high level paper from Bussard can be found here [askmar.com].

            You only need to maintain the non-maxwellian distribution long enough for the ions to fuse before they maxwellianize. Thermalization in the outer edge dominates the coulomb interactions from the core more than the collisions dominate the fusion rates. Those are the conditions that allow fusion to occur faster than maxwellianization. No magic, no violation of physics, just a beneficial design that Rider and Nevins both overlooked in their assumptions.

            This view is the general consensus of held by physicist, not just my view.
            And it's a very good thing that science isn't a democracy. There are many researchers who do not agree with the consensus. Some from MIT [mit.edu] and University of Wisconsin-Madison [wisc.edu].
            • by delt0r (999393) on Sunday October 28, 2007 @10:14AM (#21148287)
              First of all I am not a layman. I am a physicist, and electrostatic fusion has been a hobby of mine for some time. There is a link you didn't specify I think too. Also the link to the other /. article is in fact to this guys work, not Bussards, also the guy in question even posts.

              Anyway I have read all the stuff I could find on his device and other ES confinment devices. I think the paper you want to ref is:
              "The Advent of Clean Nuclear Fusion: Superperformance Space Power and Propulsion", Bussard, Robert W.,57th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2006).

              This and all other "publications" of his do not explain anything. They just assert that some fact is correct, often in the face of other facts. No math, no explanation on other experiments, no justifications at all. Example in the above he claims the following: "giving DD fusions at over 100,000x higher output (at 1E9 fus/sec) than all prior similar work at comparable drive conditions (Ref. 3)." yet normal commercial neutron source fusors get 1e9 events per second wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and 1e8 are achieved at lower voltages and don't need high B fields, and also where are the error bars? Then there are scaling laws which are simply not backed up. In fact with everything I have read it appears that its made up.

              And for the ions to fuse faster than they thermalise would require some black magic in terms of plasma density and thermodynamics and charge distributions, or he thought everyones data on fusion reaction cross sections is completely wrong (and thats arguing against a lot of experimental data from a lot of different places). And I'm assuming D T reactions. P B are 1000's of times worse.

              You can't do physics without some theroy to back you up. You can't answer critics that use theroy that has shown to be a good model in similar situations without justifying why the model is not good in your case. Bussards work does not have or do that. Plain and simple.

              his view is the general consensus of held by physicist, not just my view.
              And it's a very good thing that science isn't a democracy. There are many researchers who do not agree with the consensus. Some from MIT and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
              Funny how this view changes with the Global warming debate when someone points out flaws in current models.

              Electrostatic fusion is viewed as a black horse, but if you have a good paper on it, it will get published. We want to believe that it can be done. But you must back up your position and at least address known issues with proper exploration of the appropriate models. Just claiming your right and they are wrong is not science.
              • First of all I am not a layman. I am a physicist, and electrostatic fusion has been a hobby of mine for some time.

                I think your lying, here's why:
                yet normal commercial neutron source fusors get 1e9 events per second wikipedia and 1e8 are achieved at lower voltages and don't need high B fields
                And then you link to a wiki article on FISSION neutron sources. Sure they don't require any voltages be input, but they aren't DD fusion based either now are they? Bussard was extremely familiar with fusion research and
                • by delt0r (999393)
                  From the wiki article:

                  Commercial fusor devices can generate on the order of 109 neutrons per second

                  whos not reading the links?

                  As for the other comments. Where is the math? The charge density in the core can't be significantly far from equilibrium. There are a lot of electrons in there. Just saying they will fuse faster. Based on WHAT, oh yea a reference to his own paper that again just writes down a formula and asserts its correctness in this case. Other people in the field who have done the same math come up with a no go answer. If his math is correct we would get much larger

                  • Commercial fusor devices can generate on the order of 109 neutrons per second ...
                    whos not reading the links?


                    And Bussard's claim:

                    These four definitive tests showed true Polywell potential well trapping of ions at ca. 10 kV well depth (with a 12.5 kV drive), with total DD fusion neutron output of ca. 2E5 nts over a period of about 0.4 msec; giving an average fusion rate of about 1E9 fus/sec - over 100,000 times higher than the results achieved by Farnsworth/Hirsch for DD at such low energies, and 100x higher
                    • by delt0r (999393)
                      You can't change the laws of physics. Its the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Anything not in equilibrium (in this case Maxwellian velocity distribution) then is relaxes to this state. In this case it relaxes really fast. Electric fields change nothing. Magnetic fields change nothing.

                      But i went through other posts of yours. You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. What is your academic background? Do you even have one?

                      I already know that you won't listen. Dam enough folk have said the same thing

                    • You can't change the laws of physics. Its the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Anything not in equilibrium (in this case Maxwellian velocity distribution) then is relaxes to this state. ...
                      You clearly have no idea what you are talking about. What is your academic background?


                      I'm just a comp sci grad with a physics minor. If it's as fundamental as the 2nd law of thermodynamics then help me by pointing out what I'm missing.
                      Take 1 ion and introduce it at a given electric potential, it just orbits in and out between ~
                • He then states that since electrons are thermalizing in the outer edges for >999/1000 of the time, they will fuse before core collisions maxwellianize them.

                  This is obviously nonsense. A single of-centre collision in the core is enough to give the ions involved dramatically different energies ( and keep in mind, you will have D-D and T-T side collisions as well , or B-B and p-p in the case of p-B fusion ), and they will thus obviously end up at different potential heights. Are you suggesting they would th


                  • A single of-centre collision in the core is enough to give the ions involved dramatically different energies ( and keep in mind, you will have D-D and T-T side collisions as well , or B-B and p-p in the case of p-B fusion ), and they will thus obviously end up at different potential heights. Are you suggesting they would then "thermalize" so that they all end up on the same potential height?

                    No, they won't all end up at the same potential height. Just enough to overcome the collision/fusion cross section rat
          • Both require non equilibrium plasmas to work as advertised and that just does not work (The ions collide with electrons far more often than they fuse)...Pretending that this is a non issue without backing up with some calculations/data is bad science.

            Mod parent down. Ions do not collide with electrons, they collide with each other! This is worse than the article calling KeV(Kilo electron Volts) degrees Kelvin. When spouting off about bad science and such, don't mod up posts getting particle physics 101 stuf
            • by delt0r (999393)
              What the hell are you talking about, did you even go to high school? Or do you really think drugs make you smarter.

              Its a well known fact that energy loss in high temperature plasmas is from ion electron collisions. I have no references to KeV anywhere and yes you do measure temperature in eV and KeV in plasma physics regularly. Just google it for gods sakes. Oh and I teach physics well above a 101 level.

              Please have a nice hot cup of shut the hell up.
      • What's more, there is the crack-pottery in the clip about how all the people in the field are in a conspiracy to deny his idea funding.

        I've watched the video once and skipped through a second time now...I don't see where you got this from. Can you provide a time reference?
        Also, as far as crack-pottery goes, is there anything statement from him that isn't true, or grounded in real science? In the comments here today I see a few "...sounds fishy to me..." type statements but no one points to anything

        • For the technical problems, look no further than BlueParrot's [slashdot.org] comment a little ways down thread.

          For the crackpot-esque funding claims, just look for his claims about the DOE "defending their rice bowl." If you had any idea how the funding process works you'd know that the decisions of who to give a grant to aren't directed primarily by a bunch of territorial bureaucrats, it's made by scientists, his fellow peers who would actually be able to measure the merits of what he is proposing better than anyone. Fra
          • by Bloater (12932)
            Are you talking about Lerner or Bussard? I'm confused on who this thread is on about?

            The "defending their rice bowl" comment and the Navy funding was Bussard, but the comments about "he", "him" and "his" don't indicate that the comments are about anybody but the topic of the slashdot article - ie, Lerner.
            • I had made the mistaken assumption that /. was repeating itself and that Lerner was just Bussard's replacement at the head of his project.

              Lerner doesn't go into as great a detail about the DOE denying funding as Bussard, but he does definitely accuse them of only being interested in few huge projects.

              So, basically, the same criticism applies to Bussard and Lerner with the same punch-line: I really hope they're right, but I really doubt it.
        • In both Bussard and Lerner's talks, it does come off as a bit crack-potish when they complain about lack of funding. However, in both cases, if I remember correctly, they had military funding and that funding was cut due to the Iraq war. That isn't a conspiracy, it's consistent with my understanding of the current funding climate. The military just doesn't have the money to fight a war and do basic research on things that aren't going to be in immediately deployable products.

          I'm not sure if their claim

    • by Fred_A (10934)

      This is one of a number of devices that can produce some fusion, but don't put out more energy than is put in. Forty years ago, this idea looked more promising. There was a fusion demo of a "plasma pinch" fusion system at the General Electric pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair. So far, no variation on this scheme has come even close to breakeven.

      Of course fifty years ago we didn't know about the time cube so it's no wonder it didn't work...

      (haven't read TFA, so don't really have an opinion on focus fusion anyway)

  • by Braintrust (449843) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @05:11PM (#21143281)
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1996321846673788606 [google.com]

    In a proper and decent world, men like Robert Bussard would be heroes to our children, and household names that have high schools named after them... his concept of a fusion ramjet, the Bussard Ramjet, from Known Space and other places... is still the only realistically viable idea for intersteller travel...

    IANANP... would love someone who is to break this video and it's ideas down... would it work?

    peace
    • by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Saturday October 27, 2007 @06:51PM (#21143935) Homepage
      While I have no problem with Bussard as an interesting engineer the fusion ramjet is (sadly) not even a little bit viable.

      Briefly there are two problems:

      1. ordinary hydrogen is very hard to fuse. Even at the centre of the sun the average proton takes about 10^10 years to fuse.
      Since the comrpressed interstellar gas is streaming through your ship at roughly lightspeed, even if "pinch" in your magnetic fields is 1km long, you have to get a decent proportion of it to fuse in 3 microseconds, so you need to achieve, in your pinch, temperature and density far far higher than at the centre of the sun. This seems difficult at best.

      2. the interstellar medium (we now know) is best thought of as more like a froth than a uniform gas. Supernova shocks and other upsets clear "bubbles" and after a while almost all the gas ends up packed into relatively thin "bubble walls". Incoveniently, the Sun is sitting in the middle of a bubble several light-years across, so the interstellar gas is a very very thin round here.

            Steve
    • Don't forget to mention when he had power at the AEC how he fucked with funding decisions to favor tokamak and thereby left us with the ITER project to the exclusion of all other avenues. Bussard should never have been given any more government money after that little stunt. In fact locking him up for mis-appropriation would have been the correct thing to do.

      Also, the most impressive result from the polywells was the last one and was not discovered until they had dis-mantled the machine. I want a repeata
    • by Teancum (67324)
      I would have to agree... although you can't forget people like Philo Farnsworth [wikipedia.org] either. Fortunately he has had some high schools named after him, but he still isn't as well regarded as he should be. Besides inventing a common household appliance that is in nearly every home around the world, he also came up with some of the original line of research that Dr. Bussard used to follow up on when the Polywell was built.

      Farnsworth was a researcher who knew vacuum tube electronics better than nearly any other en
  • I am not a physicist, but does anyone other than myself see the next "Perpetual Motion Machine" coming to rise? If $2M isn't enough to buy even the cheapest of power supply plants, then I highly doubt that you can build yourself a plasma-generating machine on that money alone.

    Hell, if that were possible, it would have definintely been done already. Some executives in this world can shake that much pocket change out of their pants. Daily.

    • Why even now, there are companies that are trying to produce jets that cost 1/2 of the comparable jet from the big players. And even more amazing, is that companies like Spacex is producing a rocket for about 1/3 of the launch cost of something similar by Boeing AND l-mart. And now, there is a company who is claiming to produce SPACE station at a fraction of the costs of the ISS.

      Yes, when ppl and companies come along claiming to do something at a fraction of the price, you KNOW they must be fleecing. BTW,
  • word to the wise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 27, 2007 @05:18PM (#21143345)
    These people invariably claim that their research has been suppressed. If we've learned one thing from magnetic fusion research in the 20th century, it's this: Fusion is Difficult. Believing that it's easy just leads to disappointment.

    One factor of many: plasmas are prone to a host of instabilities, and 'stability' usually involves tradeoffs between one type of instability and another. So when somebody tells you "my plasma is stable", it should set off warning bells. The honest man will tell you the limits of stability.

    As Artsimovich put it so eloquently in 1961, "Initial belief that the doors to the desired region would open smoothly at the first powerful pressure exerted by the creative energy of physicists has proved as unfounded as the sinner's hope of entering Paradise without passing through Purgatory. We do not know how long we will be in Purgatory."

    We got into the Space Age by way of the Cold War, but what will push us into the Fusion Age?
    • by miletus (552448)
      >We got into the Space Age by way of the Cold War, but what will push us into the Fusion Age?

      Peak oil?

      • Peak oil?
        Unfortunately not. While oil will run out within decades, there is still plenty of coal and gas around. Quite enough of it to cause incalculable damage to the world if we don't stop using it. Fusion will probably not get popular until it can demonstrate lower prices than fission.
      • by ivan256 (17499)
        That won't even get us to start using fission again, and we already know how to do that sufficiently well to more than supplant our oil and coal consumption...

        Energy research will be stuck with the cripplingly impractical until environmental activists drop their lifestyle agendas.
  • Elementry (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Joebert (946227)
    This article is a bit over my head, but I get the feeling it's similar to using a magnifying glass to make ants explode.
  • Here we go again. (Score:5, Informative)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @06:12PM (#21143733)
    High temperatures is not the problem, D-T fusion only requires some 16keV, and this is easily achievable using rather cheap voltage source. However, to get more energy out than you get in, you must ensure that this energy stays in the plasma and causes fusion, rather than just radiating right out of it again. In practice this means you need a high density and large confinement time ( basically a measure of how rapidly the plasma loses energy ).

    Now, the issue with fusion using fuels with higher atomic number than hydrogen is that the plasma will contain much more electrons, and this dramatically increases the amount of energy lost as bremsstrahlung when the electrons collide with the nuclei (the increased mass of the nuclei also plays a part ). Direct conversion of X-rays could theoretically help alleviate this as it would allow you to feed the lost energy back into the plasma, problem is, photo-voltaics have nowhere close to 100% efficiency.

    Aneutronic fusion has advantages. You don't have to worry about neutron damage to the reactor vessel. However, when you look a bit closer at it, this isn't such a large advantage after all, because the neutrons are actually quite useful in that they deposit the energy over a quite large volume when they are being absorbed, reducing the stress caused by heating in the device. If it wasn't for the neutrons you would see most of the heat deposited in a comparably thin layer of the plasma-facing compounds. The counter for this is that aneutronic fusion releases the energy as charged particles, potentially allowing for directly converting the energy into electricity.

    Basically, what this whole thing boils down to, is if you are able to achieve sufficiently good direct-conversion efficiency to counteract the increased X-ray losses due to the higher atomic numbers associated with aneutronic fusion. This is why you often see claims of breakthroughs in aneutronic fusion together with claims of either a non-maxwellian velocity distribution or some other remarkable way to reduce X-ray losses. A plasma with a maxwellian velocity distribution cannot sustain aneutronic fusion without being either very large and dense (to re-capture the X-rays) or by somehow capturing the lost X-rays after they leave the plasma and feeding the energy back into it.

    For a non-maxwellian velocity distribution your problem is that even at optimal energies a collision is much more likely to scatter the ions than it is to cause fusion, and restoring the non-maxwellian velocity distribution will require energy (no, you don't get to violate the second law of thermodynamics I'm afraid ). For capturing X-rays your problem is to achieve a good enough conversion efficiency to make up for the dramatically increased X-ray losses.

    With the exception of a few unconfirmed claims, nobody has been able to resolve the above problems (thou Bussard was quite vocal about his polywell device ) and this is pretty much why modern fusion power research uses D-T fusion. It gives the highest amount of energy for the lowest temperature and X-ray losses, at a maxwellian velocity distribution.
    • This cuts to the heart of why I'd always questioned the viability of small scale fusion reactors. The sun is a wonderfully efficent fusion reactor because it uses it's mass to contain the reaction and keep it self perpetuating. I've yet to see any form of reactor show the same promise for generating energy. The best so far involves unselfsustained reactions. Break even is seen as the holly grail with each method but without a self sustained reaction it's a very big expensive money pit that produces no power
      • Break even is seen as the holly grail with each method but without a self sustained reaction it's a very big expensive money pit that produces no power.

        Not true. My above post highlighted problems with using high Z number ions because the large quantity of electrons, and relatively low fusion energy gain, makes it difficult to overcome the energy losses. For D-T fusion however ( and possibly D-D fusion ) , the fusion energy is both every high, and can occur at ( relatively speaking ) lower temperatures. As

        • The tritium economy (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Latent Heat (558884)
          One of the hangups I have heard about D-T fusion (OK, OK, I heard it from those wacky The Oil Drum dudes) is that to set up a working DT fusion economy, you have to take into account the doubling time of the amount of tritium that you breed, and there is concern that the doubling time is such that we will run out of oil before the industry has enough time for one D-T reactor to breed enough T for the next pair of D-T reactors which in turn "beget" the next pair of pairs of D-T reactors.

          Is this a legitimat

          • I love TOD and read it a lot, but I don't see how that can be a concern. I don't know about the doubling time for tritium but we don't use oil to make electricity in Europe or the US, so how long it takes to ramp up fusion is more or less unrelated to oil supplies.
          • We won't have commercial fusion reactors in time for Oil if current trends continue. In a very best case scenario we have one single prototype reactor i 30 years, more likely we are talking 50 years before you see the first commercialised designs, if at all. Oil is expected to peak 2030. Basically, Fusion won't be replacing Oil any time soon.

            When it comes to tritium, you could generate the small startup amount using a fission reactor. Once you have a small quantity of tritium the reactor could breed the res
        • JET achieved break even? I thought the closest it came under operating conditions was Q=0.7 Anything else was result extrapolation?

          ITER is going to have Q=10 when they haven't even got Q=1, an order of magnitude improvement. The only thing ITER is going to do is allow the current crop of fusion experts to retire in comfort. The one thing that signals to me that ITER is flawed is that they are working on sub-systems without having proved the main idea. Wasting money on engineering when research is still
          • JET achieved break even? I thought the closest it came under operating conditions was Q=0.7 Anything else was result extrapolation?

            Sorry, my bad. I was confusing it with JT-60 which achieved D-D parameters corresponding to Q=1.25 had D-T fuel been used ( Tritium is radioactive and hence most devices use D-D for testing as the cost of tritium handling facilities can be quite large ).

            ITER is going to have Q=10 when they haven't even got Q=1, an order of magnitude improvement.

            Pretty much. The increase is

            • I rather think the order of magnitude will not be a cake walk to achieve and may well cause major design ramifications. You mention plasma shape but I think that will be just one small hurdle.

              With regards to ITER doing engineering before research, why did they not pay to run JT-60 on D-T at Q > 1. This would have been a huge breakthrough and solidified support, not to mention generated huge result sets to infer from. But instead they left that undone and pressed ahead with their own tests that are not
              • by mako1138 (837520)
                With regards to ITER doing engineering before research, why did they not pay to run JT-60 on D-T at Q > 1.
                Tritium handling is not easy. When they did DT at JET, they spent 10 years developing the tritium system (see chapter 14 of "The Science of JET" by John Wesson, available online). Also, running DT results in nuclear activation of the structure, so a robotic remote handling system needs to be in place. It may not have been feasible to run DT at JT-60 for these and other reasons.

                One idea they seem to h
        • Parent was referring to the viability of small scale fusion reactors. ITER isn't precisely small scale.

    • For a non-maxwellian velocity distribution your problem is that even at optimal energies a collision is much more likely to scatter the ions than it is to cause fusion, and restoring the non-maxwellian velocity distribution will require energy (no, you don't get to violate the second law of thermodynamics I'm afraid ). For capturing X-rays your problem is to achieve a good enough conversion efficiency to make up for the dramatically increased X-ray losses.

      With the exception of a few unconfirmed claims, nobo
      • Your comment that restoring the non-maxwellian velocity distribution will require energy is oversimplified. You only need to maintain the non-maxwellian distribution long enough for the ions to fuse before they maxwellianize. Thermalization in the outer edge dominates the coulomb interactions from the core more than the collisions dominate the fusion rates. Those are the conditions that allow fusion to occur faster than maxwellianization. No magic, no violation of physics, just a beneficial design that Ride

        • The error in Bussard's claim was the assumption that the ions, after having been scattered in the central region, all reach virtually the same potential height. This is clearly not possible as it would imply you didn't have collisions in the central region, which in turns mean you don't have any fusion.

          He assumed that they would return to different potential heights, but that thermalization would return them to a maxwellian potential energy distribution.

          In reality, fusion can only occur through high
  • A cluster (Score:2, Funny)

    by wanted (66025)
    Imagine a Beowulf cluster powered by fusion energy.
  • by CharAznable (702598) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @07:07PM (#21144019)
    In that case I'll call my own miraculous energy device the Taurus Escape.
  • High temperatures of 1 billion Kelvin (100 keV) have been reached years ago.
    I don't know about you, but I don't feel comfortable with of these on a cellphone in my pocket.
  • Here are some pictures of the focus [safercar.gov] fusion [safercar.gov] as it occurs. There is even a 2-second video [safercar.gov] of some tests.

    (It would a lot funnier without this: [safercar.gov])
  • I'm a bit confused. Is this somehow based on the polywell concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell [wikipedia.org] I heard Dr. Bussard's name floated in there but it seems like it's a somwhat different process. In any case, I was excited when I first started reading the page. Then after a few passages I wasn't so sure. Not I'm even less so.
    • No, Focus Fusion isn't based on Polywell. They are two different competing ideas. They both claim to be able to use p-B11 as fuel.

      The idea behind Polywell is to magnetically concentrate electrons at the center of a spherical vacuum chamber, so they can attract positively charged fuel ions that will fuse at the center.

      Focus Fusion also uses electric charges to create fusion butm (IIUC) the fusion supposedly takes place in zones called plasmids - tiny unstable regions of plasma.
      • A layman's explanation is that focus fusion creates a long strand of plasma via initial energy input. Then, the strand is magnetically "cracked" like a whip, initiating a collapse from one end. A wave of magnetically confined plasma moves down the strand, gaining energy and getting smaller - just like a whip. If you do it right, the confined area reaches fusion temperature and density before it gets to the end of the strand - just like a whip goes supersonic before the snap reaches the end - the "crack"
  • Big Science effect (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 5pp000 (873881) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @10:10PM (#21144991)

    I have no idea whether there's any chance focus fusion could work. But I do believe it has probably been a terrible mistake to have put all our eggs in the tokamak basket for all these years. When you don't know how to solve a problem, it's critical to keep exploring alternative approaches, especially if they're radically different. I would love to see substantially more funding for focus fusion, electrostatic confinement fusion, sonofusion, and even good old Pons and Fleischmann style cold fusion. The total would still be small compared to tokamak funding -- and who knows, maybe one of them would work out, or maybe we would learn something that turned out to be useful in the tokamak.

    While there certainly are crackpots out there, I think we're too quick to dismiss ideas outside the mainstream, too eager to congratulate ourselves for knowing the truth already when we clearly don't know all of it. We need to cultivate more humility in the face of the mystery of the unknown.

    • by StikyPad (445176)
      Diversification, as in all things, is no substitute for solid reasoning and research; it is merely a method to hedge one's bets. No one would recommend, for example, that you diversify your investment portfolio into penny stocks and junk bonds for the mere sake of diversification. Likewise, it may be counterproductive to provide research funding for avenues which show little promise. The fact that breakthroughs occasionally come from unexpected places does not negate the fact that progress comes much mor
    • by mako1138 (837520)
      Here's my ramble about fusion funding. The fusion research budget in the US has been steadily declining for decades, and pales in comparison to other 'energy' sectors like fission and coal. Even so, 'alternative' fusion devices have received funding, though most of them have been in the magnetic confinement arena, like stellarators, spheromaks, etc. Funding for IEC is also there, and one university fusion page I ran across even mentioned the Polywell.

      (It's true that we've made ITER DOE's number one priority
  • by mr squeegs (672526) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @10:46PM (#21145205)
    Ever since i saw the polywell http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell/ [wikipedia.org] 6 months ago, i have spent every waking moment researching these new approaches to fusion. Plasmas found in fusion typically display a maxwellian particle distribution. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell-Boltzmann_distribution/ [wikipedia.org] This basically states that there are different numbers of particles containing a different amount of energy. The fact there are so many particles moving at different energies gives rise to a phenomena called Bremstrahlung radiation (german for braking)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bremsstrahlung_radiation/ [wikipedia.org] this is when particles collide with electrons giving up energy. Bremstrahlung and synchrotron radiation are two main energy loss mechanisms in fusion power schemes. Focus fusion is maxwellian and suffers from the above. Sadly the inventor of the polywell Dr. Robert W Bussard passed away on the 06/10/07. He was dearly mourned by the fusion community. In many of his papers and in his final interview http://www.americanantigravity.com/graphics/interviews/Robert-Bussard-Interview.wma/ [americanantigravity.com] he stated that only non maxwellian fusion regimes can hope to achieve above break even power. Tri alpha energy recieved 40million in venture capitol for its idea. Focus fusion are rallying for support, and the polywell has finally recieved some limited investment from the navy to repeat WB 6's results of 10^9 neutrons per second. The polywell is non maxwellian fusion regime that is basically a 150kev particle accelerator utilizing a virtual cathode. It is in my opinion the only machine that will achieve beyond break even power, yet despite this it has suffered from an crippling lack of investment and interest. As we speak now WB 7 is being constucted and should have results by May next year. If all goes well in the next few months expect big things. We are about to witness another Manhattan Project !
    • by Teancum (67324)
      While I havn't been quite as fanatical as you seem to be on the idea of Polywell/IEC fusion (I know, Polywell isn't exactly the same as IEC, but they are related concepts), but I have been following this general line of research for a number of years now as well. There certainly have been some amazing advances by Dr. Bussard, and I hope that his research team can carry on his legacy as well.

      It will be very interesting if they can get the WB 7 going. It seems as though there were two huge issues with the W
  • This story makes reference to a slashdot story about Focus Fusion [slashdot.org] I submitted a couple of years ago.

    Unfortunately, the website (I'm no longer associated with it) referenced in that article is not in good shape, and that link is now dead.

    The identical story, which was composed by myself, was also published at PESN [pesn.com].

    Whoever has the necessary access might want to update the link at Slashdot.

    I might point out that the Slashdot community gernally belittled to story. I take some satisfaction in seeing tha
  • In his talk, he mentioned that the angular momentum of the final vortex was the result of the Earth's magnetic field, and that injecting a 'weak' field would increase efficiency, up to a point.


    Later in the talk, he mentioned that x-ray cooling could be limited by raising the magnetic field to around 6 gigagauss. Isn't that a contradiction?

Algol-60 surely must be regarded as the most important programming language yet developed. -- T. Cheatham

Working...