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Power Science

Could a Helium-Resistant Material Usher In an Age of Nuclear Fusion? (sciencealert.com) 128

Researchers working with a team at the Los Alamos National Lab tested a new way to build material for nuclear fusion reactors, "and found that it could eliminate one of the obstacles preventing humanity from harnessing the power of fusion energy." schwit1 quotes Science Alert: A collaboration of engineers and researchers has found a way to prevent helium, a byproduct of the fusion reaction, from weakening nuclear fusion reactors. The secret is in building the reactors using nanocomposite solids that create channels through which the helium can escape... Not only does the fusion process expose reactors to extreme pressure and temperatures, helium -- the byproduct of fusion between hydrogen atoms -- adds to the strain placed on reactors by bubbling out into the materials and eventually weakening them...

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers overview how they tested the behavior of helium in nanocomposite solids, materials made from thick metal layer stacks. They found that the helium didn't form bubbles in these nanocomposite solids like it did in traditionally used materials. Instead, it formed long, vein-like tunnels. "We were blown away by what we saw," said Demkowicz. "As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system."

The article points out that nuclear fusion generates four times the energy of nuclear fission.
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Could a Helium-Resistant Material Usher In an Age of Nuclear Fusion?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Before you start worrying about the walls of your fusion machine, you need a fusion machine that can provide net positive energy.

    • That doesn't make sense. Why?
    • by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @05:52PM (#55578291)

      Before you start worrying about the walls of your fusion machine, you need a fusion machine that can provide net positive energy.

      Excuse me, but the point of this article is that the walls are part of the fusion machine.

    • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @06:34PM (#55578411) Homepage

      You seem a little bit confused about the technology and the science behind it.

      There is no difficulty in using fusion to generate more electricity than you put in. That is actually easy.

      The reactors being built aren't designed to do that. They're designed to be useful to the engineers figuring out how to build all the parts to be durable and find out exactly which configurations give the best efficiency.

      The reason it would not yet be cost effective isn't about net energy, it is about net money; making it last long enough to turn a profit! There are huge capital costs involved in construction.

  • I’m been hearing fusion is only 20 years away for at least 30 years now. One of these days it will come true just like the year of Linux on the desktop. Wake me up when either one happens. You probably can’t because I’ll be old and dead by then.

    • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @04:16PM (#55577957)

      I’m been hearing fusion is only 20 years away for at least 30 years now.

      It is worse than that. The time until we get fusion power is a monotonically increasing function of calendar year. In the early 1950s, when Project Sherwood was started, it was highly classified because it was thought that it would produce fusion power so soon (i.e. less than a decade) that it would be a valuable military technology. By the late 1960s they were talking about it being achieved in 20 years. By 2000 the timeline had grown to 30+ years.

      In 2014 the projection for DEMO, the ITER follow-on, which is described as a system that would bring us to the "threshold of a prototype fusion reactor", i.e. short of being an actual prototype fusion power reactor, which in turn is short of being an actual commercial power reactor, was projected to start operating in the 2040s, i.e. at least 30 years, if no further schedule slippages occur. Currently, PROTO, the actual prototype fusion power reactor is not envisioned before the 2050s and likely later, which brings us about 40 years, and we still aren't talking about an actual commercial power plant. Allowing for the established 20 year cycle for each iteration of a major fusion reactor project, we might get that commercial power plant in 60 years. But it will be too expensive to compete with other sources of power.

      Is some other new fusion design going suddenly break us out of this pattern? There is no law of nature against it, so it is possible. But literally hundreds of fusion schemes have been investigated, and without exception every concept has proven much harder in practice than on paper (or computer). Engineering by press release does not cut it (Lockheed Martin I am looking at you), until an actual demonstration unit is operating with predicted performance all claims on new breakthroughs should be ignored.

      • Is this THE Carey Sub?

        Haven't seen that handle pop up in a while, how you doing?

      • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@ear[ ]ink.net ['thl' in gap]> on Saturday November 18, 2017 @05:15PM (#55578161)

        Is some other new fusion design going suddenly break us out of this pattern?

        I think so. These magnetic confinement designs have a toroid shape to the plasma, making the volume of plasma needed for breakeven much larger than if it was a sphere. Spherical containment using a magnetic field is not likely possible. What would be possible for spherical containment is an electrostatic force. There's been some research in this funded by the US Navy but they've always been very secretive and underfunded because the Navy suspects that if the project got too large then it'd be taken over by the Department of Energy and killed, as it competes with their magnetic confinement projects.

        Another interesting confinement is to use a magnetic field but on a molten metal, the fusion fuel is contained in this molten metal "bottle". By using powerful rams to move the metal inward the fuel is compressed inside this collapsing bottle. The heat and pressure would, theoretically at least, fuse portions of the fuel and keep the metal hot. Repeated ramming would keep fusing the fuel and the excess heat is extracted to produce power.

        These are far less expensive experiments in fusion compared to the tokamak designs that so many people (or nations rather, I don't think the people have much say on this) are dumping money into. I believe these other designs are also far more likely to be energy positive at a reasonable scale. Any fusion project can be energy positive if scaled large enough, we have ample evidence of that in the universe. The reason the US Navy is funding their own fusion project is that they believe it can be used to power a future aircraft carrier or submarine. I suspect that they will not find that feasible, but even then they must see value in this as a source of energy for military strategic reasons.

        I recall reading some articles on these alternative fusion reactor designs and it was something like the power input required grew on the square of the diameter but the power output grew by the cube. Their early experiments required X watts of power in, gave Y watts of power out for a given diameter Z. For X to be larger than Y meant Z had to be, again as I recall, much larger than the size of a typical fission reactor. For this to be practical means the capital expense would be much larger than any fission project attempted so far. Who is going to spend that kind of money when fission is already a proven technology?

        One thing that determines the size of the reactor is the fuel. Some fuels are better than others and, of course, the best fuels are rare and expensive. If we are going to use a lower quality fuel then the size increases even more.

        What's going to break us out of this pattern of fusion always being 30 years in the future is the Department of Energy getting off the idea that magnetic fusion is the only path to take. They need to get serious on this and invest in, or at least issue licenses for, competing fusion technologies. If these competing technologies actually prove successful though then the Department of Energy would look really stupid for investing so much money into something that didn't work AND they'd actually solve the problem that they were set to solve, therefore making the future existence of the department unnecessary.

        The Department of Energy isn't going to solve our energy problems because it would not be in their best interests to do so. So long as energy scarcity is a problem they have a mission. I say dissolve the Department of Energy and roll over much of its people, assets, and mission into the Department of Defense. What does not fit into the likes of energy development, nuclear weapons, research, and such, can be rolled into the Department of Commerce or some other government entity. The Department of Energy needs to go away. If we can't make it go away then we should put people in charge that are actually motivated to have the department pursue it's mission.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Fusion is easy
          The Farnsworth fusor [stanford.edu] is a commercially available neutron source, that is basically a fusion machine. There are ways to extract energy from it, but the math indicates it can't reach brake even, as currently conceived.

          Getting useful power from fusion is hard

          Scientific breakeven, getting closer, some designs claim this is a potential
          Engineering breakeven - No design claims this yet
          Ignition
          commercial breakeven - not close - once the power is created, it needs to be extracted efficiently enoug

      • Is some other new fusion design going suddenly break us out of this pattern?

        No. Incremental advances like this one in material science are going to do it. Same deal with the electric car, there was never any fundamental breakthrough, just thousands of incremental advances. Look how long it took, but now you know your next car is most probably going to be one of those. Chances are, the timeline of fusion power will end up shorter than that of the practical electric automobile, despite the engineering challenges being orders of magnitude harder.

      • The problem is that the "they" turn out to be the reporters who told you about it, and they're not actually any sort of authorities on the research, or even involved in it.

        When the ITER timeline slipped, it was because of current events and related funding interruptions, not because there was some fundamental problem with the research schedule.

        You also seem to be cherry picking the most poorly worded quotes, and then splitting their hairs. All the projects you mentions are prototype reactors, so you're miss

      • "Is some other new fusion design going suddenly break us out of this pattern? "

        www.generalfusion.com

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @04:26PM (#55577989)

      Here's why. The projections in 1976 seem to have been overly optimistic regarding our minimum commitment to research, but possibly overly pessimistic regarding our ability to perform in the worse-than-worst-case scenario.

      https://www.google.ca/url?sa=i... [google.ca]

      • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @06:13PM (#55578353) Homepage

        Oh god not this chart again. Anyone that posts this is demonstrating that they are unfamiliar with the history and physics of fusion. So let's explore this...

        Right when the entire concept was starting in the 1940s, there was a theoretical calculation that estimated how quickly the plasma would leak out of the machines. Among the various inputs were two that were key - the plasma leaked slower out of larger machines because it had further to go, so that was linear with size, and in addition, the scattering varied with the square of the magnetic field strength so if you made the magnets even a little stronger then you're good to go.

        However, there was one problem. During the war, they had actually worked with magnetically confined plasmas as part of the bomb project. The actual measured results from these experiments were WAY faster than what the classical math predicted. Most worryingly, the magnetic field only improved the times linearly. If this "Bohm diffusion" was correct, there was no hope of making a working reactor.

        So when they built the first machines and ran the calculations, it appeared the classical numbers were working. If they just made it bigger they would be off to the races. So through the late 1950s and into the 60s they did that. And sure enough, the results got worse. At a 1968 meeting, Spitzer, the dean of the US program, had a chart showing that the entire stellarator series was clearly following the Bohm model.

        Fusion was dead.

        Funny thing though... at that same meeting the Soviets showed the results of their new tokamaks and they were 10x Bohm. The results were so good, no one believed them. They had to invite a team from the UK to use their laser scattering probe before anyone was convinced it actually worked.

        And then there was a sudden rush to build tokamaks. So much of a rush that they converted the biggest stellarator into one and never looked back. Now the problem was not stability, it was heating the fuel - previous machines like the pinch series heated the fuel by either compressing it rapidly or running a current through it. The tokamak showed that there were hard limits on both, and these were too low to use for heating.

        So through the 1970s you had a series of experiments all around the world on how to heat the fuel. Generally, the US was the winner. The PPPL's PLT machine was able to hold its plasma and heat it until it reached the conditions for fusion. All that was left was to increase the pressure to a useful figure, and then introduce tritium so the thing would actually burn.

        And that's where this graph comes in. Notice the start point of this graph, in the mid-1970s. This is when Hirsch was putting together the Manhattan Project-level attempt to make a working commercial machine around 2000. Based on this there were going to be three machines in a rapid sequence, first the follow-on to the PLT, which became TFTR, then a prototype generator that also handled tritium production, and then the prototype commercial machine. That's the green line in the chart.

        What actually happened is that they built TFTR and it didn't work. As they ramped up the dials, the machine became increasingly unstable. By around 1983 TFTR failed, MFTF never even turned on, and congress, realizing no one really knew what the hell was going on, cut the funding.

        So basically the green line is based on the underlying premise that they actually understood the physics. But they didn't. And if you don't understand the physics, it doesn't matter how much money you pour into it, it still won't work. So the black line happened.

        In spite of this, fusion proponents keep putting this up and blaming money for "the problem". THIS IS A PHYSICS PROBLEM, IT'S NOT A MONEY PROBLEM. And we still don't really know the solution, and a trillion dollars won't fix that.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          "and congress, realizing no one really knew what the hell was going on, cut the funding."

          Well gee, there's your problem. In science, if you don't understand a problem, you generally invest -more- time and energy into figuring out what the hell is going on.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Long post. Not much relevant until the end. When nobody knows what's going on, you require scientists to do research to figure out what's going on. That requires money. No money, you continue not knowing what's going on.

          Slashdot user Maury Markowitz apparently think's commercial fusion is impossible, and impossible because physics. Cool. That's now part of the Internet record, so we can see if you were right. There seem to be a few thousand actual physicists who think there's a worthwhile chance you'r

          • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @08:02PM (#55578739)

            I think Maury may have some background in fusion research. If not, I do, at least.

            The problem is not just money. It's also what the money is being used for: what kind of reactors are being built, what metrics are the government program managers are being sold on, what kinds of scientists are you employing, etc. There is a very big distinction between trying to solve engineering problems and physics problems.

            ITER, and other reactor designs solve engineering problems, and try to answer the question "can we build a reactor with these specific plasma properties?" The physics questions are a lot more open ended, and any physics project has a much higher chance of failure than an engineering project.

            I said I have some background in fusion. I worked on DIII-D which is a large fusion reactor run by General Atomics. Back then, I was probably best described as a computational physicist, now I'm a condensed matter physicist. I got into condensed matter physics because of my work on DIII-D. There were a lot of fusion scientists about 30 years ago who argued strenuously against building bigger and more expensive reactors. Instead, they argued we needed to focus on developing better components for the reactor designs we already have. That idea became IFMIF - a facility to test materials for fusion reactor use (fusion science likes these monolithic large projects - easier to fund, but they are SLOW). ITER was made the funding and marketing priority over IFMIF. Now, we're into engineering design on the system after ITER (DEMO), which requires input from IFMIF... which is still not built. So once again, we will go build an incredibly expensive reactor while using materials we know will not work in a commercial system because we're not willing to prioritize solving the physics problems. So, we can go on like this building reactors for a very long time without making real progress, and spend a lot of money along the way.

            This Helium bubble stuff is interesting, but it's not a driving consideration. This is the kind of small project they've thrown to the materials folks to keep enough people involved until IFMIF is built.

            • > ITER was made the funding and marketing priority over IFMIF

              Which is precisely what that graph is as well - prioritizing an engineering prototype over the machines people actually needed.

              One can't blame Hirsch - he felt there was a very real possibility that funding sources would dry up if they didn't demonstrate ignition soonish. And that's precisely how it played out in the end.

          • > When nobody knows what's going on, you require scientists to do research

            Exactly, you need *scientists* to do *research*, not *enginners* to build prototypes.

            I thought I made that clear. I suspect it was to everyone else.

            > and impossible because physics :rolleyes:

            Thank you for demonstrating you can't be bothered to read anything that's "long", as my arguments are *very* clearly based on economics, not physics.

        • Another thing everyone should remember when complaints that the we don't have fusion because the U.S. government hasn't been spending enough on it is that the U.S. government is NOT the only source of fusion energy funding in the world. 90% of the ITER funding is not from the U.S. If it just because the U.S., across eleven administrations has been a laggard, why has not the rest of the world raced ahead and delivered?

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          Weren't there other problems where they had the problems of generating the magnetic fields strong enough (superconducting magnets), find metals strong enough to resist melting and fracturing. Then when the fields were strong enough they had the problems of the plasma pinching and twisting into singularities (solved with a stellerator). Now they have the problem with the Helium byproducts corroding the metal (solved with the use of layered metals like the punch-arms of of a Mantis Shrimp).

          They need money to

      • Why did you hide a link to wikimedia behind a google redirect?

        https://commons.wikimedia.org/... [wikimedia.org] is the file.

    • Wake me up when either one happens.

      The problem is, that the Helium 3 will cause the workers in the factory to "squeak". This will wake up the Nazis camping out on the Dark Side of the Moon. They, in turn, will show up on the Earth in big-ass space dirigibles.

      These will wake you out of bed.

      • Actually, there seems to be a fair amount of helium on the moon. https://www.extremetech.com/ex... [extremetech.com]
    • If you had heard about it, and then followed the news about the projects during that time, you'd have seen all the progress.

      As with the linux desktop, if you're not the one running it, you don't see it. If you are running it, you do see it.

      If you are following the news about fusion power, you know it is progressing along its originally-planned path. If you aren't following it, all you know is the answer to the basic question, "Are we there yet?" "No, Billy, we're not there yet."

    • Driiing! The year of Linux on the desktop already happened. To me.
  • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @03:56PM (#55577881)

    This is an interesting development in materials science, but helium diffusion weakening of containment vessels is pretty far down the list of critical problems standing in the way of producing commercial energy from fusion any time this century.

    The key obstacle, even more important than the fact that no power producing fusion reactors have yet been built, nor are likely to be in the next 30 years, is that they will not be able to compete with other sources of electricity. Fusion power is going to be much more capital intensive than fission power plants that already have trouble competing with other sources of electricity due to their construction costs. No new material for a container wall is going to fix this.

    • >even more important than the fact that no power producing fusion reactors have yet been built, nor are likely to be in the next 30 years, is that they will not be able to compete with other sources of electricity.

      At this point I am moderately confident that when artificial over-unity fusion becomes a thing, it will turn out to be fundamentally and insurmountably too expensive due to physics.

      • Hearty agreement here. It is impossible to look at the proposed schemes and see cost-competitive power coming out of it.

      • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @04:29PM (#55577999) Homepage

        > and insurmountably too expensive due to physics

        It already has, and everyone knows it. It's not just fusion, it's fission too. If you have neutrons in the first loop, you are uneconomical. Period.

        The cost of a modern fission reactor is around $10/Wp. Of that, about $6/Wp is the generation loop. Only about $1 to $1.50 is the actual reactor itself.

        So in other words, the lowest possible price you can build a [fission|fusion] plant for is about $6/Wp. And that's without the reactor.

        A wind turbine that produces the same amount of power costs about $1.25/Wp. Because the wind doesn't always blow, to make the same amount of energy you need three of them. So a generator using wind turbines that produce NNN power will cost you about $4.50 complete, whereas for $6 you still only have a cooling loop on your nuclear plant.

        The power companies have been telling the labs they won't build these things since the beginning. The Stellarator D study in 1958 produced a machine that was 500 feet across and twisted like a pretzel. The power company liaisons working on the report told them there was absolutely no way anyone would ever build such a thing. The physicists basically said "who cares" and went back to their physics, saying that since the physics didn't work then the study was dumb anyway.

        That pattern repeated itself dozens of times over the next 30 years. Every so often someone would think they were getting close to a working design, and they would do a commercial design effort. And every time, the power companies would tell them in no uncertain terms they were smoking pure hopium. GE threw in the towel in 1965 when they did their own study that said the same thing. The largest one I know of is the Bechel report from ~1975, and once again the same outcome - no way anyone would ever build one.

        Everyone in the field is aware of this. It's gotten to the point that if you bring this up they either yell at you (literally, had this happen to me) or do the equivalent of "LA LA LA I CANNOT HEAR YOU!". It's astonishing to watch.

        • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @08:44PM (#55578895)

          Good summary. Nuclear power is simply uneconomical compared with the newest, and rapidly developing, renewable technologies. There is a reason that world nuclear power production (not just in the US) has been nearly level for about 30 years. The era of nuclear power plant construction has passed, and super-expensive fusion ain't bringing it back when (and if) it becomes available.

          A 21st Century electrical grid looks like this: high voltage DC power lines that ship electricity across an entire continent (800 KV lines can transport electricity from one U.S. coast to the other with losses under 5%), solar and wind power deployed in excess capacity (but still cheaper than the nuclear "base load"), pumped water storage to provide additional power leveling which, again, serves the entire continent. No need for expensive batteries, but you can build them too, and the technology continues to improve there as well.

          The larger the grid the better because local conditions will average out, and you can take advantage of peak solar production in one place when evening demand peaks elsewhere, and so forth.

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @04:19PM (#55577967) Homepage

    > helium -- the byproduct of fusion between hydrogen atoms -- adds to the strain placed on reactors by
    > bubbling out into the materials and eventually weakening them

    The problem with fusion is that it generates relativistic neutrons that displace atoms in metals and cause them to become brittle. This not only weakens the materials but makes some critical materials like the superconducting magnets rapidly turn into scrap.

    While the helium -alphas actually- also present problems, they are not the same thing at all. The damage rate from such events is orders of magnitude lower than the neutron damage. And the idea that letting them just bubble out will remove them from the fuel at a fast enough rate makes me LOL.

    The idea that this somehow fixes anything is so utterly ridiculous that it simply puts the black hole that is modern fusion research into stark perspective.

    • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @06:59PM (#55578509) Homepage

      And the idea that letting them just bubble out will remove them from the fuel at a fast enough rate makes me LOL.

      If the researchers say they think it is worth pursuing, and all you have are laughs, I'm gonna side with them and laugh at you!

      If the ideas of the serious professionals involved seem "so utterly ridiculous" then all I learned anything about is that to you, things seem utterly ridiculous.

      Nearly all important research has people laughing at it before it is finished. Dismissing things out of hand does not imply that they are without substance.

    • by Raenex ( 947668 )

      The problem with fusion is that it generates relativistic neutrons that displace atoms in metals and cause them to become brittle. This not only weakens the materials but makes some critical materials like the superconducting magnets rapidly turn into scrap.

      Not just scrap, nuclear waste. You know, the thing fusion was supposed to avoid in comparison to fission. It's yet another problem that has not been solved to make fusion viable.

  • The press release [tamu.edu] doesn't seem nearly as cool as the summary suggests (though the press release says it as well.) The photos show some sparse channels, not an interconnected vein-like network, and most certainly not enough to show that the material wouldn't weaken over time. All it really appears to show is that Helium shoots through unabated, perhaps without losing enough momentum to even save the next material. Seems like a useful shielding if thick enough but then again so is anything, and it would be
  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @04:43PM (#55578043)

    Fossil fuel plants, other plants that burn material, nuclear fission plants, and the proposed fusion plants all take water, heat it up so that it's a vapour, and run it through turbines. In some places the use the remaining energy to heat buildings and heat water. But for the most part it's so inefficient to boil water just to let the vapour turn a turbine. What we really need is to find a better way to turn the heat from these sources into electricity.

    • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Saturday November 18, 2017 @05:37PM (#55578239)

      Yeah, it would be great if we had such a thing, but keep in mind the criteria a replacement has to meet. You need materials that can handle the sheer magnitude of heat energy of these plants. You need materials that will fail in the safest way possible. You need to be able to afford said materials. And that's assuming competency and responsibility all around.

      The buzzword pop-sci solution would probably be some kind of metamaterial that can convert heat into electricity. or something harvested with greater efficiency. But even if such a material were created, it would have to be competing with water.

    • Brayton cycle turbines are what you are looking for.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      This is not new, gas turbines operate under this cycle. That's burning stuff though, and people generally don't want to burn stuff for energy. This cycle also works for other high temperature heat sources to derive electricity. Some concentrated solar power plants use Brayton cycle turbines to produce electricity, or at least it's been proposed. The higher the heat the more efficient the heat engine and steam turbines a

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      Yes, those pesky laws of Thermodynamics, which tell us that there is an upper limit on how much heat you can turn in other types of energy! Curse you, Carnot cycle [wikipedia.org]!
  • Researchers working with a team at the Los Alamos National Lab tested a new way to build material for nuclear fusion reactors, "and found that it could eliminate one of the obstacles preventing humanity from harnessing the power of fusion energy.

    This would be a great news, if there is only one obstacle to harnessing fusion, or just a few obstacles. Reducing the number of obstacles from infinity to (infinity -1 ) is of just academic interest.

  • by multi io ( 640409 ) <olaf.klischat@googlemail.com> on Saturday November 18, 2017 @05:10PM (#55578139)
    The nuclear fusion community talking about helium diffusion in reactor walls is kinda like the space travelling community talking about the lack of clear sun hours in Martian wellness resorts.
  • Our demand for party balloons, helium filled disks and Goodyear blimps will never run out right? So after US stocks run out [gao.gov] what then? Could fusion power possibly make helium a renewable resource?

    • Our demand for party balloons, helium filled disks and Goodyear blimps will never run out right? So after US stocks run out [gao.gov] what then? Could fusion power possibly make helium a renewable resource?

      Betteridge's Law strikes again!

      No.

      In 2013 world electricity production was 23,322TWh, but lets allow for power production growth and assume 100,000TWh. How much helium would be produced if all of that was produced by D+T fusion? One watt-hour is 2.25*10^22 eV, so 10^17 Wh is 2.25*10^39 eV. D+T fusion produces 17.6 MeV per helium atom. Assume an overall conversion efficiency of 25%, so that we get one helium atom for each 4.4 MeV of electricity produced. So we get 2.25*10^39/4.4*10^6 = 5.1*10^32 helium atoms

    • eh, U.S. would just import it. There is probably 50 - 100 years worth of easily recoverable helium left in the world from natural gas wells. After that, if it's really needed for an application, would have to taken from atmosphere. That costs thousands of times as much as the current production method, but is an already solved problem.

  • It's called the sun and we waste most of the energy it generates.

    Solar, wind, and storage seem to be much easier to deploy now and far more cost effective than fusion will ever be.

    And China hasn't even ramped up most of their battery factories yet.

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      The Sun is indeed an enormous source of energy, throwing out spikes of flame hundreds of times larger than the Earth itself.

      However... a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny pittance of that energy is directed towards us at any one time.

      A tiny pittance of that makes it through the atmosphere (and any external capture/retransmission has the same kind of efficiency loss associated with it unless we start living in space entirely), a tiny pittance of that strikes the ground.

      We then have relatively expensive devices utilisin

      • > However... a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny pittance of that energy is directed towards us at any one time

        So? The question isn't the absolute number, the question is that number relative to actual usage.

        According to the IEA, the Earth's total consumption is 132,000 terawatt-hours per year.

        The amount of sunlight hitting the Earth is 174 petawatts, of which we can make practical use of about 1/2 (due to reflection, re-emission, and wavelength issues). There are 365 x 24 = 8760 hours in a year, so that's 174000 x

    • It's called the sun and we waste most of the energy it generates.

      We don't even know how to build a Dyson Sphere, so that's going to be true for the foreseeable future no matter what we do.

      We certainly could be making much better use of the insolation Earth receives, however.

  • So, not only a new better way to streghten material, but maybe also a way to capture the helium that is being produced? (Helium is getting harder to find these days I've heard).
  • ...fusion is only "about 30 years away"!

  • The article points out that nuclear fusion generates four times the energy of nuclear fission.

    This is the kind of scientific illiteracy that /. is supposed to take up arms against, rather than promulgate.

    Apparently, the dominant unit of concern is obvious, suitable for all purposes, and so dang telepathic, it doesn't even need to be written down. Besides, writing it down would upset the linguistic circuit optimized to process monadic more-than.

    There's this Hollywood trope about ripping a soldier's stripes r

  • "We were blown away by what we saw," said Demkowicz.

    ...in a really high squeaky voice.

  • Not only does the fusion process expose reactors to extreme pressure
    That is nonsense. The fusion reactors we have right now operate with a near vacuum.

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