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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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  • by lennier1 ( 264730 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @05:20AM (#47044621)

    14 billion? That's less than it costs to supply that little adventure in the Iraqi desert with toilet paper!!!

  • Bad move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Katatsumuri ( 1137173 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @05:36AM (#47044671)

    They didn't have much credibility to start with, and turning to crowdfunding only makes it worse.

    It is not a mass market product with quick deliverables, it is an industrial solution. So the natural financing source would be venture capital, rather than crowdfunding. If they have to turn to indiegogo, it can only mean they failed to convince anyone relevant and are desperately trying to ride the "fusion is cool" fans, and disappoint them in the process.

    As much as I would love to see fusion plants soon, it looks like this is not the company that will deliver them.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @05:46AM (#47044697)

    I want to believe... but seriously how many of us here are proficient enough in the physics and engineering to really have a clue.

    That's why you have Wikipedia...which will tell you [] that aneutronic fusion needs much higher temperatures, in addition, at least fifty times the density-time of D-T fusion, and generates three orders of magnitude lower power density. Which is the reason why everyone goes for D-T. Yeah, I want to believe, too, but it's like wanting to believe that the brick wall you're heading into at 60 mph in your car isn't there, you can't wish it away.

  • by allcoolnameswheretak ( 1102727 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @06:08AM (#47044751)

    Sometimes I wonder - I, or perhaps humanity as a whole, we have so much anxiety about the destruction and depletion of our natural resources, the extinction of species, the CO2 in the atmosphere, the conservation of our environment. Some of us try so hard to be environmentally conscious by recycling waste, reusing appliances, conserving water and energy.
    Then maybe 100 years from now the killer asteroid will struck Earth and obliterate everything, or the supervolcano under Yosemite will blow up. And the universe will point the finger at us and say "ha ha!"

    That would be a real bummer.

    But I suppose this is like saying, why take care of myself? Why take a shower in the morning, have a balanced died, quit smoking, if maybe tomorrow I'll be dead?
    As long as we have a chance at survival, we have to protect our heritage, which means the natural environment that spawned and hosts us.
    Who knows, maybe in 100 years, instead of being obliterated, we will take this heritage with us to the stars.

  • EROEI? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @06:13AM (#47044773) Homepage Journal

    I am sorry, that sounds like a suspiciously "pie in the sky" project to me.

    First of all, nuclear fusion is insanely difficult. OK, maybe not *that* difficult, more like: "Easiest way to get fusion is to get 1.99x10^30 Kg of hydrogen in one place" difficult.

    Now, coming out of nowhere, we have people saying: "Give us US$ 1,000,000 and we will give you portable, safe fusion within 6 years!". Sure, people, what makes you think you can do better than, say ITER? New approach, yadda yadda yadda, sure, I have heard that one before. Whatever the "new approach" was, it did not work the first time, it probably won't work now. Insanely difficult problem, overconfidence of the new kid on the block, and all that

    Second, the old "Fusion power is clean!" saw. No, it is not. Fusion generates insane temperature and neutron radiation. What makes you think you can put everything in a small container? What happens to all that energy dissipation? To the container and its surroundings? If you RTFA, these people are saying thay can generate up to 5MW in a containment chamber "small enough to fit in a garage"! Excuse me? No dangerous radiation, perfect containment in a completely secure, small package? Hmmm... The Engineering does not seem strong in this one.

    Third argument against: EROEI. Sure, you can get fusion going in a very small spot. We know this, it has been done before, using several different technologies (See Z-Machine at Sandia National Lab, for instance). BUT... (a) how much power do you have to pump into these capacitors to even *create* fusion in the first place? (b) creating fusion can be done... but what about *sustaining* a fusion reaction? In other words, if it takes you 20MW of power to sustain 5MW of power generation, where is your EROEI? Oooops... There is none.

    Final nail in the coffin: "We were financed by NASA-JPL". So what? NASA funds thousands of projects per year. JPL, probably hundreds. And don't get me started on the NSF or DARPA, (or whatever local equigvalent exist in your country), OK?They certainly fund some pretty weird things, just on the off-chance that XYZ wild theory could prove interesting. Or, even better, that XYZ wild theory will be conclusively disproved. That, in itself, does not mean anything. It certainly does not mean your project is headed by cool-headed, super-smart, seasoned engineers and scientists: just that your weird project received a bit of money from whatever popular government entity you could contact.

    As a matter of fact, if your project was so smart and so innovative, *and* headed by cool-headed, super-smart, seasoned engineers and scientists, you probably would not have to ask for money on IndieGogo or other: smart money would flow, by the millions, into your coffers, again just on the off-chance that super-duper weird idea could prove to be the real, "fusion in a box" thing that could change the world. Seriously. And don't give me that conspiracy crap that big oil does not want you to be independent yadda yadda yadda: there is so much money floating around right now, looking for ROI, and so many (rich) people ready to tweak the nose of Govt (See: The Intercept) that a serious project like this would get funded 10 times over. WhatsApp sold for *billions* of dollars for Pete sake! What makes you think portable fusion reactors could not get funded? Get Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg on the phone!

    All in all, this does not sound very serious. More like the romantic fantasy of the genius guy in a garage changing the world one micro-fusion reactor at a time. Sorry.

    Fund this? Sure, why not. But I'll pass this one, thank you very much.

  • Re:Bad move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @06:23AM (#47044801)

    This. They are asking for $200k. If that's all that is needed to make a difference they could easily get that funding if their ideas were even remotely sound. It's quite telling that people will find the ITER to the tune of $13bn but won't give these guys the left over pennies from the bottom of the jar.

  • by benjfowler ( 239527 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @06:55AM (#47044881)

    I'll take this seriously when somebody demonstrates feasibility of running aluminium smelters and other extremely high-energy processes off wind turbines and solar panels...

    This is about as dumb as an old acquaintance who wanted to convert his car to run on electricity, run by solar panels on the roof (yes, there are really people that stupid out there).

  • Re:EROEI? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @07:06AM (#47044915)

    They are claiming aneutronic fusion that converts plasma to energy directly, so shielding-wise it could well fit in a container. And the argument "if that would be possible, someone would have done it already" undermines the whole concept of scientific research.

    The problem I have with this project is that they are making extraordinarily bold claims (they even have a power rating for the product) which should require extraordinary proof, and need to be vetted by very serious scientists to be believable. Should that happen those scientists would have no problem getting the funds from governments or private investors, banking on their reputation alone. The fact that they have convinced no reputable scientist and have no peer-review scientific output, but have already embarked on a commercial venture should be a huge red sign, this is not some smart gadget you can patent and make a fortune on, it's hard science where theoretical results are typically decades ahead practical applications.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @07:13AM (#47044935) Homepage
    When we need crowdfunding, kickstarting, and bake sales to advance meaningful discoveries in theoretical scientific research, but shit like the F35 fighter plane can quietly blow through 5 billion dollars without producing a single useable aircraft outside of testing. Even sadder is knowing its projected cost is over one trillion dollars along 50 total years of development, and the only comment was in 2011 from the senate armed services committee which basically amounted to a high five.
  • Re:Bad move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @08:16AM (#47045169)

    Part of the problem is that Mr. Lerner also favors a steady-state model over the Big Bang theory, so he is not taken seriously by the mainstream scientific community. OTOH, he does appear to know a lot about plasma behavior, and has gotten some interesting results with the small-scale "garage" experiments he's done thus far. If $200k is enough to get his work to the next level where he can show some more compelling evidence, maybe that will be enough to get some VC guy like Khosla to give him a few million more.

    In any case, he seems harmless enough. And he doesn't appear to be blatantly trying to rip people off, like so many of these "free energy" gurus... I say let him proceed, and see what he can come up with.

    If you're curious about the approach, watch his Google Tech-Talk [] for the details. It's one of the more novel methods I've seen.

  • Re:Bad move (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @08:24AM (#47045219)

    If there's a low entry cost, multiple risky options, and a potentially enormous payoff to whoever gets there first, you want to fund as many options as possible. That's why funding agencies and private investors alike take a pretty scatter-shot approach to lab-scale, sub-million-dollar energy research.

    Of course, if you have a high cost to entry, and a few high-viability options, as with tokamaks, then you have to be choosy.

  • Re:Bad move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @08:26AM (#47045227)

    Given that the physics that this device is based on go back to the '50s and are well-accepted, yes, they do give these ideas good marks in peer review.

    Cold fusion most certainly does not "certainly work"! The reason it doesn't scale is that the effects disappear as your data gets better.

  • Re:Crowdfunding? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @08:35AM (#47045275)

    I don't understand why I should spend my hard earned money to pay for something that will benefit everyone whilst my neighbors spend theirs on all kinds of nice stuff

    This statement alone adequately explains why most of the problems in the world can't be solved.

  • Re:Bad move (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Katatsumuri ( 1137173 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @09:00AM (#47045411)

    I did pay attention. It is one thing to get net positive energy in an experiment, and another thing to capture that energy and to sustain the reaction in a feasible way.

    I would argue in favor of this experiment for the possible interesting scientific results, but by trying to market it as a viable power plant before 2020 they are turning it into a scam.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus