DailyDirt: Harnessing Fusion Energy

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

We’ve brought up fusion energy here before, pointing out some incremental progress and the long road ahead before fusion energy is really a viable alternative to existing commercial energy sources. Solar power seems to be the closest thing we have to harnessing fusion right now, but we shouldn’t give up all hope for a Mr. Fusion generator just yet. Here are just a few more links on harnessing fusion energy.

If you’d like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Harnessing Fusion Energy”

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Paraquat (profile) says:

fusion gets good but undeserved PR

I’ve been a spectator of this fission vs fusion debate for a few decades now. I really don’t understand why the public – including some so-called “greens” – seem to get a warm fuzzy feeling about fusion, but go rabid whenever fission is mentioned. No one has yet been able to demonstrate that controlled fusion is a feasible means to produce electricity – the technical hurdles are enormous, and the recent “progress” is only a trivial improvement over what was done decades ago.

No one has yet been able to generate a single watt of electricity from fusion. Even if it eventually proves feasible to generate electric power this way, there is no reason to believe the techno-optimist assumptions of “unlimited” power from fusion. They are assuming that we can create a miniature-sized sun inside of a reactor – that is not the way fusion reactors work. In fact, they consume a huge amount of power to get the reaction going, which only lasts a fraction of a second. In other words, the EROEI (energy return on energy invested) for fusion reactors is extremely low, and in fact so far has been negative.

But for some reason, fusion gets good PR. Everybody who has seen “Back to the Future” dreams of owning a “Mr Fusion” powered car. Helloooo, it was just a movie.

Meanwhile, we refuse to build a 4th generation nuclear reactor, even though we’ve had the technology to do so since the early 1990s:


So fission gets reviled, we put our hopes on fusion which will probably never work, and in the meantime we burn coal. Oh, and now solar panels made from cadmium are the new rage because they’re cheaper than silicon panels.




Duke Nukem (profile) says:

Re: We should be continuing with nukes

…but we won’t thanks to the silly Luddites that make up the environmental movement and overblown disasters like Fukushima Daiichi that the media love to focus on because ‘if it bleeds, it leads’.

We need to have a complete re-teaching of science in schools in North America and Europe, and we also need to kick out all of the emoprog environmental extremists that have infiltrated high schools and universities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: We should be continuing with nukes

By all means, in this era of continued deregulation driven by profit seeking corporations at all costs coupled with the frothing at the mouth political idiots who would get rid of most all government agencies other than the military – let’s go ahead and let them build the next disaster. It’s awesome because we will all end up with superpowers and all the spandex we could ever dream of.

RonKaminsky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: We should be continuing with nukes

Ever thought of, say, backing up your statements with evidence, or learning some critical thinking skills (never mind science knowledge, which you also seem to woefully lack)? Myself, I’d say that nuclear regulation is about the only sector of government where public pressure manages to counterbalance the growing power of industry (with the result varying from country to country).

I have to admit the “superpowers and spandex” was witty, tho.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: fusion gets good but undeserved PR

The improvements have been massive over the past 30 years. We have been getting energy out of the reactions for a long while now, and we keep getting closer and closer to the break-even point. The team behind this latest NIF result reckon that, since the energy output goes up exponentially with the pressure, they only need to double the pressure to move the net energy account into the black.

Urgelt (profile) says:

Re: fusion gets good but undeserved PR

So, your argument is ‘they’re all nukes, what’s the big deal.’

Fission produces large amounts of radioactive waste material with dangerously-long half-lives, and we have no plan in the works for making those waste products safe. Fission (as currently implemented) risks dangerous melt-downs. Fission plants are expensive relative to coal-fired electrical plants for the electricity we can harvest from them.

Fusion, on the other hand, doesn’t work. But if it did, it would produce short half-life waste products in small amounts and pose no risk of melt-downs. As to cost, well, fusion doesn’t work. We can’t set a cost for something that doesn’t work.

It’s pointless to set up a false equivalency between fission and fusion merely because they’re both nuclear.

Incidentally, fusion might be closer than TechDirt imagines. Last year, Lockheed Martin announced they are working on a fusion concept; they plan to have a prototype reactor by 2017 and a commercial product by 2022. Sounds pie-in-the-sky to me, but if it works…

Their concept calls for 100 MW reactors small enough to mount on a truck trailer, able to be mass-produced. They think they will be able to produce enough of them by 2045 to meet the base load power requirements of our entire civilization. No risk of melt-downs, minimal production of radioactive waste with only short half-lives. Cost? Nobody is talking about cost. Still, a 100 MW reactor that’s trailer-mounted might turn out to be cheap compared to competing energy sources. Maybe.

Unfortunately, Lockheed isn’t sharing many details about their design. So… maybe it won’t pan out. But if it does, it’ll be a far sight better than fission plants. A far, far sight better.

Either way: fusion is not fission. The two aren’t equivalent, and if you can’t grasp that, you’re spouting nonsense.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: fusion gets good but undeserved PR

I’ve never understood the reaction to fusion of “we shouldn’t be pursuing fusion power because it doesn’t work”. Photovoltaics didn’t work either until someone made them work. And the same with every other source of energy. I think the other commenter has pointed out one major reason why there’s so much interest in fusion. The other is that if it can be powered by heavy water, we’ll have an enormously abundant source of fuel.

As for the solar plant, ignoring transmission problems 5,000 square miles could power all the households in the US? That’s a square 70 miles on a side. I think we could spare that much of Nevada.

Anonymous Coward says:

Really, Google?

Doing the math, they’re claiming that enough convertible solar energy falls on an area of 150 square feet to meet the energy needs of the average 2000 square foot home. (Average new home size in the west according to US Census Bureau data is over 2000 sq. ft.). That would be just a small proportion the roof area of such a house. Really? That’s interesting, because previous researchers have found that not enough falls on even the *entire* roof of the average house to meet it’s energy needs. But if the claim is really true, then why not just put small systems directly on the house roofs and and avoid the distribution costs? I suspect it’s because the claims may be exaggerated and not really true after all.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Really, Google?

I suspect it’s because the claims may be exaggerated and not really true after all.

That’s possible, but it’s also possible that the research you’re talking about is averaging numbers over the entire US, while this solar plant is in a relatively southern location that gets bright sunlight almost all day every day all year round. There could be other differences, such as comparing fixed photovoltaics on mostly not optimally angled roofs (many of which have surfaces that don’t get much sun) to this completely different system. It’s not photovoltaic at all, and the mirrors are continually adjusted to maximize the amount of energy captured. It’s clearly not an apples to apples comparison with putting solar panels on houses.

I remember reading an estimate from long ago that converting something like 10,000 square miles of Nevada desert into a solar power station could power the US. Presumably solar technology has improved since then.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Really, Google?

“they’re claiming that enough convertible solar energy falls on an area of 150 square feet to meet the energy needs of the average 2000 square foot home.”

This is roughly true, assuming that you can convert something near 100% of the energy in the sunlight to usable energy. With current technology, however, you can’t.

AlainCo (user link) says:

People moan on rat or cat, and the elephant is in the kitchen

The recent claims of victory by hot fusionist is really facsination when like me you followed the LENR skepticism that is the consensus… would you apply thet skepticism to hot fusion, it would be interpreted asthe biggest fraud upon earth.

Today LENR is getting industrial,
supported by NASA (see Doug Wells seedling project at NARI, SUGAR report), by the Swedish EPRI/DoE (Elforsk), by venture capitalist (Cherokee fund, Sunrise securities), by Italian DoE (ENEA), funded by DoD/Darpa visibly trying to help Brillouin and US LENR industry.

The result of Elforst funded test, is not about 1% excess heat after 100x loss of power in laser, but 500% anomalous heat from grid to heat.

One day people will have to ask the consensus supporter why they fooled us. Is it related to the many billions wasted each year in fusion? not even sure. It is more probably a question of ego, and some lesser funding, peer-review, impact… a tragedy of groupthink, as Roland Benabou describe in his best articles on Mutual Assured Delusion.
Classic if you follow Kuhn, and Taleb.

good readings 😉

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