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Power The Almighty Buck

Fusion Power By 2020? Researchers Say Yes and Turn To Crowdfunding. 280

Luminary Crush (109477) writes "To date, the bulk of fusion research has been channelled towards a plasma containment and stabilization method. This is the approach used by ITER's tokamak reactor, the cost of which could exceed US$13.7 billion before it's online in the year 2027 (barring further delays). Researchers at LPP Fusion, in a project partially financed by NASA-JPL, are working in a different direction: focus fusion, which focuses the plasma in a very small area to produce fusion and an ion beam which could then be harnessed to produce electricity. It is small enough to fit in a shipping container, can double as a rocket engine, and would cost US$50 million to produce the working 5 MW prototype. To reach the next hurdle and demonstrate feasibility, LPP Fusion has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $200K."
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Fusion Power By 2020? Researchers Say Yes and Turn To Crowdfunding.

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  • FIRST! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @05:16AM (#47044615)

    ..also, here's a TED talk about fusion power https://www.ted.com/talks/michel_laberge_how_synchronized_hammer_strikes_could_generate_nuclear_fusion

  • Re:Bad move (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @06:00AM (#47044733)

    But for 300 bucks you can get a copy of his 1991 book refuting the Big Bang.
    I'll let the rest of you fund this maverick grad-skool dropout and his wacky ideas about standard fysix. I'd love for him finally to prove the world wrong in their assessment.

  • by InterGuru ( 50986 ) <jhd.interguru@com> on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @07:29AM (#47044977) Homepage

    This was tried as the Trisops Project [wikipedia.org] 35 years ago but lost funding because all of the fusion energy project's focus was on the Tokamak.

    Trisops was an experimental machine for the study of magnetic confinement of plasmas with the ultimate goal of producing fusion power. The configuration was a variation of a compact toroid, a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) structure of plasma and magnetic fields with no coils penetrating the center. It lost funding in its original form in 1978.
    The configuration was produced by combining two individual toroids produced by two conical pinch guns, located at either end of a length of Pyrex pipe with a constant magnetic guide field. The toroidal currents in the toroids were in opposite directions, so that they repelled each other. After coming to an equilibrium, they were adiabatically compressed by increasing the external field.

    Disclosure: I was an author on the paper and of the referenced Wikipedia article;

  • Re:Bad move (Score:4, Informative)

    by afxgrin ( 208686 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @09:27AM (#47045553)

    Some criticism of Mr. Lerner's DPF fusion approach by a person who seems to know what they're talking about. http://mikebhopkins.wordpress.... [wordpress.com]

    It really does look like he's just rebuilt a standard pinch device.

  • Re:Oh, sure (Score:5, Informative)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:05AM (#47046437)

    Not until they had an imminent commercial product they wouldn't. VC's tend to want you to have proven technology, scalable production options, and a solid business plan. Meanwhile it sounds like these folks are at the point of being ready to build the proof of concept prototype to show that they can actually accomplish the 10,000x increase in plasma density necessary to achieve fusion. If they can do so *then * the VCs may start jumping out of the woodwork. Maybe. If they also have the production options and business plan worked out.

    From the article: "Lerner says his team can obtain a crucial electrode for $200,000, demonstrate net power gain with $1 million, and solve the final engineering problems, leading to a functioning fusion reactor with just $50 million in funding."

    Considering that there are several different approaches that have already achieved fusion (heck, anyone can build a Farnsworth Fusor for $500 - they make an excellent neutron source if you need such a thing), I suspect that actually demonstrating net power gain will be the keystone that gets investors seriously interested, so I'd say these folks need to manage $1.2M in crowd-funding before anyone even looks at them seriously. Then it will come down to the viability of their business plan as to whether they can attract VCs for the first $50M reactor. But frankly $1.2M seems to be eminently doable for a good crowdfunding campaign, so the question is if enough people think this is cool enough to throw some money their way to find out if they've actually got the problem licked, without expectation of any kind of direct return on investment.

  • Re:Bad move (Score:4, Informative)

    by afxgrin ( 208686 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:56AM (#47046961)

    Well this Mike Hopkins guy is mostly comparing neutron yields from the D-T reaction LPP were testing with. Lerner inevitably wants to use the p-B reaction which produces no neutrons (aside from residual gas sources), however to test his pinch device using D-T is much easier as the fusion temperature is lower. It also makes for a good comparison to other pinch devices. Since the p-B reaction yields mostly photons they seek to make a fusion device from the charged particles (a stream of electrons and ions) and the photon energy collected via photoelectric current. Some of those gammas are uncapturable but the energy still captured is supposedly a net gain once they can get a high enough plasma temperature.

    Engineering the Photon Capture Sphere Thing (PCST) to capture photons and electrons while not activating all the material with a 100-year half-life used in its construction, nor having it rip itself apart from dissimilar metals and thermal gradients, not having an unacceptably high rate of particles sputter the crap out of inside, is all non-trivial and would require significant trial-and-error builds. This is of course assuming they manage to make a working p-B reaction with their pinch. Best of luck to Lerner, but I'm not counting on seeing any significant results unless some billionaire type takes a risk on him.

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @01:49PM (#47048323) Homepage

    I'm passingly familiar with the compact toroid concept, having written *that* article on the Wiki.

    Generally speaking it appears the approach is unworkable. In spite of great interest in self-stable configurations, confinement time remained on the order of nano-to-micro seconds, and energy losses were higher than expected. It was not clear whether these could be solved, but it was clear that finding out would cost a lot more money. The apparent low-cost path to fusion did not appear to be so low-cost, and that seems to be the reason the funding was cut.

    In the case of DPS it's not clear to me that anything new has been demonstrated. A quick look over the cites on various wiki pages show a very low level of development and nothing that could be considered any sort of non-linear progress. In the case of LPP, their announcement of a 1.8 billion degree plasma after 30 years is hardly encouraging, given how quickly progress had been prior to then.

    More controversially, many of the claimed benefits of the design are supposed to come out of a never-before-seen interaction which remains undemonstrated. I remain skeptical that such a thing even exists, and certainly don't take Mr. Lerner's computer models as a reasonable argument - consider LASNEX.

    It is worth mentioning that CT's form the basis of at least some MTF systems, and these *are* seeing a significant amount of development today. Whether this is the path to the moon or simply another finite tree remains to be seen. Some consider spherical tokamaks to be CT's (I am *not* one of those) so they add MAST and similar to the list, but these projects have also apparently hit their brick walls.

Loose bits sink chips.