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« Obama and the climate change musical | Main | Squawk »
Monday
Feb152016

Will fusion kill the climate debate?

I keep a weather eye on developments in the nuclear fusion field, although always with an eye to the oft-levelled criticism that practical fusion is just 30 years away and always has been. 

But last week I did start to get a bit more excited when I learned that the Chinese have managed to contain hydrogen plasma at  50 million degrees C for nearly two minutes. The shift from fractions of a second to minutes seems, to me at least, to bring about a change in perception. We are dealing with an engineering problem rather than a science problem.

Windfarms are already redundant - they have never been anything else - but perhaps they are going to be joined on the scrapheap by oil and gas much sooner than we thought.

Although of course we'll still have to deal with the green protests first.

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Reader Comments (83)

'Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth's crust.'

Sea water is a thousand times more abundant than beach sand. That doesn't make beach sand rare.

Feb 15, 2016 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

Tomo, you provide a reference to Molten Salt Reactors. The issue is thorium. The assertion was, 'That proven technology is of course the LIFTR Thorium nuclear reactor.'

Try again.

Feb 15, 2016 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

Alan the Brit, You do understand that what is sent down via a subduction zone will come back up via a back arc volcano ...

Feb 15, 2016 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeP

Gamecock

that was someone else's assertion - try reading the posts.

Feb 15, 2016 at 4:40 PM | Registered Commentertomo

As an engineer I have yet to be convinced Tokamak designs will ever be economical. Also not mentioned is the large amount of Tritium they make, that is a significant terrorist threat to have laying around due to its use in nuclear weapons.

I see cold fusion was mentioned once in the comments, but in fact it is probably the front runner. Industrial Heat's 1 MW LENR plant has now been running well for eleven months, supplying steam to a real commercial customer. It consists of four 250 kW E-Cats and the one year trial will be completed soon. The later E-Cat X not only runs at 1400C but is claimed to produce electricity directly. Little is known about it but if the 1 MW plant is proven out, it is probably real too.
See Mats Lewan's webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ3S3YMH96s&feature=youtu.be

Feb 15, 2016 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ashfield

The most important missing piece of information, IMO, is how much energy was input into the reactor to achieve this 102 seconds of contained fusion.

Feb 15, 2016 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

budgie

"The regulations appeared to be written by people with little scientific or engineering experience."

Plus ça change.

Feb 15, 2016 at 5:24 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

How long before the green fascists claim that we will run out of water. Begonias will wither, newt ponds will dry up and our children will never see spagnum moss.

Feb 15, 2016 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

That happened several years ago. Quote "What are we going to swirch do when we run out of water" said a ginger haired and glasses buffoon on CNBC

Feb 15, 2016 at 5:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Thirty years,time to pay off the mortgage plus some and not have to worry about scabbling about looking for the next job.Ideal!

Feb 15, 2016 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered Commentermarc

Oh, there are a few other engineering challenges left here. One obvious one is drawing heat out of the thing without crossing a line and re-forming some atoms. Once that happens, the magnetic bottle won't hold them anymore. And there goes an expensive portion of your apparatus.

You're confining a little fragment of the sun in your power plant -- without being able to use sun-like gravity to hold it in place. Good luck with that.

Feb 15, 2016 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoberto

Debbie:

It's not just energy in, it's also ion density as well as temperature and confinement time that matter:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nucene/lawson.html

I'd bet that density was low, as no-one has mentioned it. JET achieved about 70% energy out relative to energy in and actually I think still holds the record in that regard.

Feb 15, 2016 at 7:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Adrian Ashfield (Feb 15, 2016 at 4:48 PM), Mr Webinar undermines his credibility from the very start by declaring his belief in both CAGW and the cold fusion work of Fleischmann and Pons. I listened for about an hour but found his hand-waving explanations rather hollow and lacking in any relevant scientific detail.

The idea of cold fusion has a long history (Cf. muon catalysed fusion) and was first observed in the 1950's. Unfortunately, the type of 'cold fusion' discussed here is still rather mysterious and I'd need to see a lot more theoretical and empirical data before I'd start believing in it. Until then I place this stuff alongside the 'science' of Uri Geller, Erich von Däniken... and CAGW.

Feb 15, 2016 at 8:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

NCC 1701E
"Fossil fuels will run out in 200 - 300 years."

There is no basis for this statement. A not very difficult calculation shows that there must be fossil fuels in the earth's crust that will last, at current rates of consumption, for around 1-10 million years. ALL the oxygen bound up in Iron ores came from CO2 photosynthesised into, crudely, C + O2. The O2 reacted with free iron and FeO in the early earth's crust, the C was sequestered and remains unoxidised to the present day, existing as coal, oil and gas, nearly all of which humans have yet to exploit.

Feb 15, 2016 at 8:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

Dave Salt,
I don't agree with CAGW either but that is a side issue. I think Mats was trying to play both sides of the coin and make the point it was an answer to global warming that so many believe in.

LENR or cold fusion is proven beyond all reasonable doubt. Follow www.lenrproof.com to the point where it gives a link to references. Last I looked there were 1,700 papers supporting cold fusion many of them peer reviewed.
I am persuaded the 1 MW plant exists and is doing well. What would be the point of continuing the trial if it wasn't?

Feb 15, 2016 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ashfield

"the Chinese have managed to contain hydrogen plasma at 50 million degrees C for nearly two minutes."
February 3, 2016
"Germany's Fusion Reactor Creates Hydrogen Plasma In World First The experimental fusion reactor. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany have successfully conducted a revolutionary nuclear fusion experiment. Using their experimental reactor, the Wendelstein 7-X (W7X) stellarator, they have managed to sustain a hydrogen plasma – a key step on the path to creating workable nuclear fusion.
controlled nuclear fusion would change the world, and several nations are striving to make breakthroughs in this field. Germany is undoubtedly the frontrunner it’s successfully fired up its experimental stellarator fusion reactor, a serious competitor to the tokamak model.
Last December, the team managed to suspend a helium plasma for the first time, and they’ve now achieved the same feat with hydrogen. Generating a hydrogen plasma by producing and sustaining one for just a few milliseconds
As a power source, hydrogen fusion releases far more energy than helium fusion, which is why sustaining a superheated hydrogen plasma within a stellarator represents such a huge step for nuclear fusion research.
John Jelonnek, a physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, led a team that was responsible for installing the powerful heating components of the reactor. “We’re doing this for our children and grandchildren.”
In order to initiate the fusion process, extremely high temperatures of around 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) have to be reached within the reactor. At these temperatures, atoms of hydrogen become energetically excited and form a plasma cloud.
In order for the plasma to be sustained, it must not touch the cold walls of the reactor, so the stellarator’s 425 tonnes (470 tons) of superconducting, super-cooled magnets are used to keep it suspended in one place. At a high enough ignition temperature – along with the aid of an effect called “quantum tunneling” – the hydrogen particles begin to collide and fuse, releasing energy and forming heavier elements."
-
So
50 million degrees is small fry.
The reaction is contained where it is unusable.
The amount of reactive material is so minute the heat is unable to melt the container it is in.
Reminds one of the old joke about being given a container of acid that can dissolve everything.
To repeat, anything that requires so much power to produce cannot produce enough usable power to sustain itself.
Not useless science but marketed totally unrealistically.

Feb 15, 2016 at 9:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterangech

Adrian Ashfield (Feb 15, 2016 at 9:20 PM), a web site that simply tells me the phenomena is true because a list of papers and experts 'says it is so' is a poor substitute for hard scientific evidence... it simply pushes my bullshit-meter over to 'tilt'.

The fact that the 'proof' depends upon small changes that are difficult to separate from the 'noise' is spookily similar to the 'evidence' for CAGW. Also, the fact that people are investing in this without hard proof suggests this is likely to be a scam that enriches the initial investors at the expense the last ones in - the term Ponzi scheme comes to mind.

I'd love to be proved wrong, so I await with interest the results of that year-long experiment.

Feb 15, 2016 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

I would like to see independent verification of the claim of a five minute sustained plasma hot enough to induce fusion.
Frankly without strong credible third party verification there is little reason to believe it.
Sustained Fusion is a very wicked challenge in the sense that while literally trillions of stars do it, getting fusion in an industrial scale enterprise is dubious at best.
It takes massive gravity and mass to hold a fusion reactor together. None of which are present in the lab experiments. Using magnetic bottles and plasmas to squeeze miniscule amounts of Hydrogen isotopes together and then getting energy out that does not disrupt the containment field or vessel has not yet happened in a meaningful way.
And as we all see the rent seeking culture endemic to modern big science leads to a distressing number of flawed or misleading claims.
So how can this be verified?

Feb 15, 2016 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

hunter (Feb 15, 2016 at 10:43 PM), sustained fusion has been a practical reality for decades and you can even build one at home (search 'fusor' for details). There are also commercial devices that use it (e.g. http://gradel.lu/en/activities/neutrons-generators/technology/core-technology/) but, unfortunately, all such devices use more energy than they generate.

We know that many forms of fusion devices do work and that some are sustainable, what we don't have yet is one that can generate net energy, especially on a scale that's commercially viable. For example, the evidence I've seen to date suggests that something like INTER should work but the cost of maintaining the liner and recycling the lithium will make it uneconomical to operate as a commercial venture.

Feb 15, 2016 at 11:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

Looking forward to seeing you post some verifiable ecat results on this discussion thread Adrian - only a couple of weeks to go now IIRR:

Discussion > LENR evidence thread

http://www.bishop-hill.net/discussion/post/2564294

Feb 15, 2016 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Think of the children!

Feb 15, 2016 at 11:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterFather Jack Hackett

so angech do better marketing

Feb 16, 2016 at 12:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Been waiting 5 years for Rossi to actually put up some actual verifiable proof of LENR. During that time he has been involved in some not-independent demonstrations that had some very dodgy behaviour (most recently Lugano demo had 'ash' that just happened to contain large proportions of a particular purified isotope of Nickel that it came out later he had purchased from a specialist supplier), and terrible calorimetry that prevents measurement of actual power output. So while I remain hopeful of LENR in general, I am exceedingly dubious of everything that convicted fraudster Rossi claims.

Note that probably the very open and professional MFMP replication effort by numerous scientists and engineers that has been running for a couple of years with high standards of calorimetry and reporting have not yet been able to produce an unambiguous proof of LENR.

Feb 16, 2016 at 5:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobL

Today's news : EDF to keep four UK nuclear plants open for years longer
- "Heysham 1 and Hartlepool will have their life extended by five years until 2024, "
- "Heysham 2 and Torness will see their closure dates pushed back by seven years to 2030."

"An EDF board meeting to approve the new Hinkley Point plant earlier this year is thought to have been postponed'
Note this news is from BBC Business

Feb 16, 2016 at 8:12 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

@Dave Salt, @hunter is surely talking about SELF sustaining fusion ie IGNITION when you achieve more energy out than put in so it keeps the reaction going
@Debbie IGNITION is one of the next steps down the fusion road.

I'm a bit annoyed that commenters here are not showing critical thinking, either just accepting the claim or dismissing it. and Hunter I wish people would actually read previous comments...Several people have pointed out 50MC is too small , they need 100MC for proper fusion reactors and I did warn people about the provenance of SCMP.

Feb 16, 2016 at 8:32 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Will fusion end the climate debate?

Well apart from the fact the there is no debate, just a lot of shouting, the answer must be "don't be silly" - nothing will ever convince the greens to shut up, and as someone has already said, the last thing they really want is cheap clean energy - it would remove every reason for their existence and every excuse they have to take our stuff and boss us about.

Feb 16, 2016 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

stewgreen (Feb 16, 2016 at 8:32 AM), I'm sure @hunter was talking about SELF sustaining fusion but I thought the point needed emphasis.

Feb 16, 2016 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterDave Salt

Dave Salt, stewgreen kindly pointed out my intent in my less than clear statement.
Sustained manageable net exothermic fusion outside of stars is incredibly difficult.
That sort of fusion has been a few years away for the last nearly 60 years.
We can make toys and lab experiments that fuse a few atoms at a net energy cost in a controlled manner. Or we can fuse a lot more and blow up a city or military base in a net exothermic reaction. We call those "thermonuclear devices", or H bombs for short.
We are not really any closer to controlled useful fusion now than we were in the mid 1950's when what is apparently as realistic as the quest for Holy Grail can get in a sciencey search. The difference between blatant con and hopeless quest can be quite small.

Adrian,
As to LENR: it is utterly a scam.
You are either hoodwinked into a transparent con or have some reason to promote the con.
But it is a con.

Feb 16, 2016 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Dave Salt, stewgreen kindly pointed out my intent in my less than clear statement.
Sustained manageable net exothermic fusion outside of stars is incredibly difficult.
That sort of fusion has been a few years away for the last nearly 60 years.
We can make toys and lab experiments that fuse a few atoms at a net energy cost in a controlled manner. Or we can fuse a lot more and blow up a city or military base in a net exothermic reaction. We call those "thermonuclear devices", or H bombs for short.
We are not really any closer to controlled useful fusion now than we were in the mid 1950's when what is apparently as realistic as the quest for Holy Grail can get in a sciencey search. The difference between blatant con and hopeless quest can be quite small.

Adrian,
As to LENR: it is utterly a scam.
You are either hoodwinked into a transparent con or have some reason to promote the con.
But it is a con.

Feb 16, 2016 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Hunter,
"As to LENR: it is utterly a scam.
You are either hoodwinked into a transparent con or have some reason to promote the con.
But it is a con."

You have given no supporting references for your allegations. I suppose you got them from shutrossidown.com.
I have given you links to 1,700 papers, hundreds of well known people that support it and note that Rossi has now received $59 million in funding from two venture capital groups who tend to be careful with due diligence.
A very strange con where the public is not asked for money isn't it?

Feb 16, 2016 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ashfield

Hunter,
You made two libelous comments and then disappear when you are called on it. You couldn't invest in Industrial Heat or Rossi if you wanted to. I wish I could.
Answer the question. How can it be a con if they won't accept money from outsiders?

Feb 16, 2016 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ashfield

i think the ecat is onto something and has the potential to be phenomenal

they have 4 tiny machines delivering 1MW for 6000h now

there problem is I would think materials science when they try to scale this up et c
but maybe they dont need to if they have a bx case for residential hot water

if they an rollout free hot water they put all windmills to utter shame overnight

Feb 16, 2016 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenusNotWarmerDueToCO2

Adrian - I predict that nothing verifiable will result from Rossi's effort. If it does, please post it on the LENR evidence discussion thread which I started for you. So far your input there has been notable by its absence.

Discussion > LENR evidence thread

http://bishophill.squarespace.com/discussion/post/2564294?currentPage=2

Feb 16, 2016 at 11:26 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

not banned yet
Thank you for the link. I had not visited the discussion pages before. I only visit Bishop Hill for climate related reasons.
I don't hink it added much light and like most discussions on LENR was filled by ignorant comments from those unfamiliar with the subject.

I'm not inclined to try and persuade the unbelievers there as I believe that nothing will l convince them except the sale of commercial working reactors.- as Rossi forecast. I do occasionally post on Bishop Hill threads where it is obvious LENR would negate the stated conclusion. I doubt it has changed many people's minds but at least provides the opportunity with links for those interested to look further.

Feb 17, 2016 at 2:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Ashfield

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