I have a growing number of people who are interested in focus fusion, and they sometimes ask me questions I can’t answer. I refer them to this web site, but often times that isn’t enough to answer the questions, and it even has raised a few of my own.
So, what I’d like to ask of the experts (Eric, etc.) is a little rundown on the current state of the project and what the current challenges are. Here are a few of the questions people put to me that I have trouble answering.
1. Have they actually fused hydrogen and boron using this device? How long have they sustained fusion?
2. They plan to pulse the device over and over. Have they been able to do this yet? Seems like it would take more electrical energy to keep it running than they would get out of it. (At this point I try to tell them about the magnetic field effect and give a quick primer on quantum mechanics. Their eyes glaze.)
3. Man, thats a lot of heat and x-rays. How are they going to keep the thing from melting? Where are they at in keeping the thing cool? Or just making it durable enough to take it?
4. I heard that Sandia was doing the same thing your guys are doing with the LTD. They think they are gonna take a lot longer to get to breakeven. Why is focus fusion so different and better? The people at Sandia are pretty smart, and well-funded.
5. I read somewhere that fusion power is impossible because so-in-so expert said that because of (various reasons and theories) that you’ll always put in more than you’ll get out. (At this point I will point at the Sun and say, “That fusion reactor seems to be doing it pretty well,” and if they aren’t put off by that snarky statement, I’ll say that most of the projects that the experts are talking about are referring to tokamaks. That doesn’t seem to help.)
It would be great of I could tell people exactly what has been accomplished, and what lies ahead. I think I could get some believers if I could just show them where the project stands.
1. No. But in the experimental stage, the generation of neutrons is important for diagnostic purposes, so the use of aneutronic fuel would not be ideal, anyway. The predictions for hydrogen-boron are extrapolated from experiments with deuterium and helium. Use of hydrogen-boron will be phased in as future experimental work progresses. In terms of how long fusion has been sustained, you can simply respond that the confinement product (which factors in time, energy, and density) calculated for the Texas A&M experiments (5×10^15 keV*sec/cm3), while controversial, would be a record at the time if correct.
2. This is an engineering issue for a commercial prototype that is down the road a ways compared to the near-term question of whether net energy can be generated at all. But you can consult the “Energy Flow Sequence Diagram” at http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/business_plan.htm for a sense of how it would work.
3. A commercial DPF would pulse with a frequency below that at which thermal effects would become a problem. But preliminary estimates suggest 1000 pulses/second (1kHz) would not be a problem, and that is enough for plenty of power (5MW) given the low cost. If it can only pulse 600 times per second, then 3MW–That would be nothin’ to cry about.
4. We don’t know that it is, but we are finding out in not much time for a lot less money.
5. Don’t waste time on people who just want to snark.
If you want to answer questions at this level of detail, the Arxiv paper regarding the Texas A&M work is readable. Find it here: http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com/PROSPECTS_FOR_P11B_FUSION.htm
Cool! Thanks for the reply. This gives me more ammunition.
BTW, what the thing I was referring to about Sandia was this:
I read an article about it on ArsTechnica, and got on the forums to talk fusion with the science geeks there. Some were already aware of FF, but most were of the “There is other fusion projects than tokamaks?” crowd. It is to them I am trying to proselytize.
A lot of influential people hang out at ArsTechnica. Many are just your normal geeks, but others are people at big tech companies. Fusion, I’ve found, is something they are very interested in, but few know what is happening, relying on mainsteam media for info. I think its an important place for getting the word out.
Oh, and BTW, cool shirt.