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  • #1023
    AvatarJShell
    Member

    So, if we want Ed Synakowski to diversify fusion research, to aneutronic forms, and not just pursue Tokamak and lasers. . . could we bring up our idea with his boss? I wonder if we could do an email or letter-writing campaign to take this issue up with Pat Dehmer, Deputy Director of the DOE Office of Science? He appointed Ed Synakowski . . . unless there is someone else who is closer to him . . .or we could lobby with Stephen Chu directly—

    #9061
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    Unfortunately, you’d need more people who are doing aneutronic research and icc’s to be committed to such an effort. Right now this is a pretty marginal group. Also, they’d have to be comfortable with whatever strategy we’re pursuing. We still have a few key steps before we get to a letter-writing campaign phase.

    #9062
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    I do think the first step is to see if Ed can commit to developing (or, if it already exists, publicizing) a budget that includes alternatives. I’m sure he’s thought about it, and such a thing exists in a drawer somewhere.

    Actually, a pre-cursor for this (if they haven’t got a budget already hidden away) is ReNeW type documents. (“ReNeW” stands for “Research Needs Workshop” – so they have a workshop where they assemble experts to study the needs of each thing they’re thinking of doing. This kind of doc is a pre-requisite to give them validation for funding something.) So you’d need some respected/admired plasma physicists to draft said ReNeW docs which can then be used as the basis of a budget estimate and mandate for funding towards alternatives.

    This is a big bureaucracy you’re working with.

    Then, you’d have to get everyone on board that this doesn’t undermine the fusion effort, but makes a case for increased funding. If you try to take away from one group to give to another, you’ll have a protracted, wasteful battle. If you’re upset by the tokamak spending, fear not. Funding other projects might yield results that allow for a shut down of the project because of success elsewhere. It seems probable that a lot of fusion scientists would think advanced fuels and ICC’s are a waste of time and we need to keep the tokamak online as it’s the only hope of fusion success.

    Now, once you get someone to commit to doing the ReNeW docs and devising a new budget, that’s when you need the letter-writing campaign, to urge budget committees to approve the budget, urge your representatives to pass it, to allow for government spending in our imminent “cuts across the board” climate. I think energy has a strong direct case for funding from increased oil and gas taxes, as the energy industry spends one tenth of the industry average on R&D.

    Others would disagree, and so you see our argument isn’t with the government officials, but with a lot of our fellow citizens.

    #9067
    AvatarAeronaut
    Member

    Rezwan wrote:

    Others would disagree, and so you see our argument isn’t with the government officials, but with a lot of our fellow citizens.

    Nobody wins an argument. What we can do is figure out how to persuade a lot of our fellow citizens.

    #9068
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    Perhaps argument was the wrong word. The idea is we’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to get high risk research done.

    Energy sector should fund more R&D, but for some reason, they aren’t. Corporations turn around and say Gov’t should be funding energy – it’s not their risk to take, they want to socialize the risk, privatize gain. And Govt – as Synakowski policy suggests, claims it is limited by funding and has to make the “hard choices” to cut off the “riskier” programs. This impasse is only going to get worse, with Republican majority in house vowing further cuts across the board, and angel investors desperate to find sure things to get their ROI. With current institutions and instruments in place, energy research is undersupplied by both market and govt. And everyone quick to screech about “waste”.

    A really cool animation would be to show the energy economy as a machine, with money (currency) as the sheathes of filaments that move around the circuitry. Just like with any energy extraction system, you’re going to have waste. The point is to get more out than you put in. More, in this case would be bona fide energy innovation.

    So you’d show different players and their strategy and their tendency to try not to spend on R&D (hoarding the money, aka, storing the current in their capacitors). Also, you’d show that a lot of this “wasteful” expenditure on R&D does get back into the economy. Money, like currency, never disappears, it flows back in or does some work. Just a redistribution…

    #9071
    AvatarFrancisl
    Participant

    Have you had any luck approaching venture firms that are familiar with the high tech energy field like GE? GE Cleantech Venture Fund

    #9077
    AvatarAeronaut
    Member

    I’d like to see a checkbox on my income tax form, similar to the one used to contribute $1 to the government’s partial funding of presidential campaigns. Or a similar way for millions to invest $1 each. in unison, so to speak.

    #9082
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    The history of fusion research link you gave a while ago indicated that the reason the Tokamak wound up victorious was that theory and projections indicated that all that was necessary to attain unity was size: get the donut big enough. No big or significant breakthroughs necessary. So that set up the huge money vacuum.

    In practice, of course, the consequence is that the plasma instabilities are turning out to be very chaotic and hard to corral, indeed, so the size and expenditures required are still increasing without known limit. With all the ‘sunk costs’ and career commitments on the line, everything else is being drained and sidelined.

    IMO, the only way this cycle is going to be broken is by demonstrated success of some other approach; my money, if I had any, is on FF, of course!

    Unity and then some engineering progress would/will make the issue moot. And at that point gubmint money would be unnecessary and (again IMO) very unwise to accept.

    #9121
    AvatarJShell
    Member

    But even if clean energy R and D did get a boost, it isn’t necessarily that FF would get any of that money, if Ed Synakowski simply gave more $$ to the ITER/Tokamak project . . .isn’t Stephen Chu still sitting on some millions from the stimulus that he hasn’t spent yet?

    What if we just did a letter-writing campaign for Chu (or someone else) to allocate some extra millions that would go to *alternative* fusion research, outside of the current tokamak and lasers funding already being conducted?

    #9122
    AvatarJShell
    Member

    “ReNeW docs” sounds like a good idea . . . consensus-building and cooperation is usually a great way to go. I think the key is, FFS may not be big enough right now to have an impact on overall clean energy R and D funding climate . . . but if we publicize the plight of non-tokamak and non-lasers researchers (ie that they are being starved of funding), then perhaps we could get some higher-ups to apply some pressure to get Ed Synakowski to change his fusion research funding allocation choices.

    I don’t think Ed Synakowski is simply going to change his mind because people ask him to. I think he’s pretty convinced that the Tokamak is the best/only way forward. I disagree with his perspective on reality, but I think it might be easier to convince someone above Ed that Ed may not actually be implementing the best plan for America’s future . . . and that alternative fusion researchers should be getting funding too.

    That is the quickest way to getting LPP public money that I can see . . .which I guess is part of why I’m more eager for a letter-writing campaign or something else more proactive.

    #9124
    AvatarAeronaut
    Member

    JShell wrote: “ReNeW docs” sounds like a good idea . . . consensus-building and cooperation is usually a great way to go. I think the key is, FFS may not be big enough right now to have an impact on overall clean energy R and D funding climate . . . but if we publicize the plight of non-tokamak and non-lasers researchers (ie that they are being starved of funding), then perhaps we could get some higher-ups to apply some pressure to get Ed Synakowski to change his fusion research funding allocation choices.

    I don’t think Ed Synakowski is simply going to change his mind because people ask him to. I think he’s pretty convinced that the Tokamak is the best/only way forward. I disagree with his perspective on reality, but I think it might be easier to convince someone above Ed that Ed may not actually be implementing the best plan for America’s future . . . and that alternative fusion researchers should be getting funding too.

    That is the quickest way to getting LPP public money that I can see . . .which I guess is part of why I’m more eager for a letter-writing campaign or something else more proactive.

    I agree about consensus-building, co-operation, and the need to take a more proactive approach. This needs to reflect the facts that few people currently make the sustained effort to come up with aneutronic fusion- or any type of fusion at all- as a viable solution, and that high-profile positions such as the type that Dr. Chu and Ed Synakowski currently hold are politically sensitive.

    What this boils down to imo is that their motivations are to protect a wide range of existing cash cows and jobs in the status quo. Think how many smart grid, clean coal, and other research boondoggles will go down the drain (along with the stock prices and carefully cultivated leadership images) if a straight-forward solution, with a definite time frame and budget, should come along.

    I can advertise to smart phones around the world for a penny per click. Targeting can be as specific as the handset’s make, operating system, readers’ age group and general interest such as sports or business. Thus we can reach a lot of the world’s early adopters. I’m leaning toward using farce as the vehicle to make the message and branding instantly memorable, but that’s just my opinion. Who knows- maybe there’s a rea$on the TV stations always run hand-wringing ‘news’ stories.

    #9126
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    JShell wrote: But even if clean energy R and D did get a boost, it isn’t necessarily that FF would get any of that money, if Ed Synakowski simply gave more $$ to the ITER/Tokamak project . . .isn’t Stephen Chu still sitting on some millions from the stimulus that he hasn’t spent yet?

    As it is, you’re right. Extra money now would just get soaked up by Tokamaks and lasers. This is why a key step is to ask for a budget that shows/includes ICCs and advanced fuels (LPPX!) as a protected line item on the budget. And also why you need the ReNeW type docs to help them justify to their bosses that these other approaches are well thought out and deserving of $.

    What if we just did a letter-writing campaign for Chu (or someone else) to allocate some extra millions that would go to *alternative* fusion research, outside of the current tokamak and lasers funding already being conducted?

    I’m all for a letter writing campaign. Perhaps asking for it to be explicitly targeted to fusion alternatives might help. If you recall, the original ARPA-E grants were supposed to be for advanced, out of the box ideas – they fit the description of fusion alternatives and many ICC folk as well as LPPX applied – but ultimately nothing came of that and grants were awarded to more conservative ideas.

    In any case, I’m heading up to DC tomorrow for the Fusion Power Associates meeting. Ed should be there as well as many others. This is a more focused gathering than the Chicago thing and hopefully I’ll get a better idea of why things are at this impasse. And also, a better idea of who would be the most useful people to target in a letter writing campaign. Who knows, maybe Ed will say, “well my hands are tied, but if you got x to feel the heat, then…”

    #9127
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    Aeronaut wrote: What this boils down to imo is that their motivations are to protect a wide range of existing cash cows and jobs in the status quo. Think how many smart grid, clean coal, and other research boondoggles will go down the drain (along with the stock prices and carefully cultivated leadership images) if a straight-forward solution, with a definite time frame and budget, should come along.

    Are you saying that research projects are cash cows and boondoggles? That may turn out to be the case with Focus Fusion and any other alternatives we’re co-promoting. So Ed could turn to you and say he’s preventing a waste of these extra cash cows and boondoggles that we’re trying to saddle the country with. And you’re back at square one having to prove something without enough resources.

    That’s the problem with research – a lot of times your results are not what you wished for, or you’ve spent tons of money pursuing an idea only to have another idea elsewhere be more useful/competitive than yours. So, you can just kill yourself because you wasted your life. Or you can realize that your work was honorable and find a new outlet for your research compulsions. To argue that research is a waste is counter productive. At this point, with no clear fusion solution, it makes a lot of sense to pursue smart grids, clean coal, etc.

    I suspect that people will be relieved when a straight-forward solution comes along and eager to switch to more interesting work. I think they don’t believe it’s possible.

    That’s the uncomfortable feeling I’m getting from the fusion community. A few optimists tell me we could have fusion in as little as 15 years (if we pursue some alternatives) – but the rest say 50 to 100 to even 1000 years. That’s because what they’ll develop in the next 50-100 years won’t be nearly as competitive as fission – they’re factoring in economic necessity.

    To me, it seems they do fear losing the cash cow – or to be more accurate – they fear that people will figure out fusion is really too far away and impractical, and will thus get rid of the program all together. They fear that by drawing attention to the shortcomings of tokamaks and lasers, we won’t get any more money for alternatives, rather we’ll kill the program. That’s the fear I see in them, and want to address. Hence the win/win pitches.

    “Rock the boat, don’t knock the boat over.”

    Of course, quick results with LPPX would go a long way to making all of this moot, but now we have the persistent “inconsistent firing/switch/sparkplug” problem to solve, and that in itself could require a lot more R&D. Nothing compared to tokamak research, but as a proportion of initial estimates for this project it could be cast as boondoggle-ish.

    In sum, I don’t want to antagonize or threaten other researchers, rather I want to find common ground and get everybody back to work solving the problem – the many problems. The sooner the problems get solved, the less money we waste in the long run as we close those other projects down. May the best team win, may all the teams have adequate resources to run.

    I’m leaning toward using farce as the vehicle to make the message and branding instantly memorable…

    Do elaborate…

    #9128
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    R;
    your diagnosis of the mood and attitude of the ‘advanced fuel’ fusion community is kind of discouraging, almost as though they don’t actually believe in their own goals and actions. Fear of being labeled a boondoggle is a dead ender — that would prevent any kind of “sticking your head up”.

    Again it seems to me that pursuing government support is a treadmill to nowhere, and a mighty distraction from important matters and workable private alternatives.

    As to the switch/firing problems, when life hands you lemons … It has been suggested that the advances made by LPP in this area have other possible spinoffs and perhaps potential ‘customers’. Certainly the advances made are not limited to LPP’s needs.

    #9129
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    Brian H wrote: Again it seems to me that pursuing government support is a treadmill to nowhere, and a mighty distraction from important matters and workable private alternatives.

    The “fusion in 100 to 1000 years” analysis came from someone who is often asked to evaluate fusion project ideas for VCs and Angels (private alternatives). He says they are looking for something with a return in 2-3 years, ten years max for the angels. And so he has to say – no, this isn’t going to work in that time frame (if at all). And for THAT reason – fusion is far off. Pure economic argument. Government is under-funding it, and the private sector wants quick returns. The delay comes from inaction due to market and government under-supply of research, because to be honest, most research will turn out to be a “boondoggle”.

    So there it sits, under-researched and under-boondoggled.

    I think the answer is to change people’s attitudes on research. If you already knew the answers, it would be engineering. When you’re exploring the unknown – it’s research. “Boondoggle” stigma is irrelevant, but that’s how people seem to look at it. That’s a mighty distraction from problem solving.

    Ah – one other thing – the energy sector seems far more squeamish about research boondoggles. In the pharmaceutical sector, 15% of revenue goes to research, and they routinely expect failure at the end of most drug trials. It would be nice if the energy sector applied the same generosity. After all, energy affects EVERYONE, not just a portion of the population with that disease. An amazing lack of perspective.

    But try to raise the tax on gasoline, and see what happens : )

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