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Nuclear Fusion Update

Nuclear Fusion Update thumbnail

The Conversation claim nuclear fusion is back again. Nextbigfuture has been constantly tracking nuclear fusion and advanced nuclear fission every week for the past 13 years.

The popular question is when will we have commercial nuclear fusion that has a significant impact on the energy production of the world?

MIT has spunout a tokomak fusion project into Commonwealth Fusion systems. They want to apply modular designs to high-temperature superconductors. They want to get to stronger magnets that will shrink the size and cost of the potential nuclear fusion reactor. Improved magnets would improve any nuclear fusion design that involves confinement of plasma. There is less science risk to this MIT approach but more technological risk. They are trying to accelerate the commercial use of high-temperature superconducting magnets and trying to contain their costs. Cost for superconducting magnets for past fusion projects have been $20 per watt but other applications have seen costs of $1.4 to $1.8 per watt.

Updated Prospects for Commercial Nuclear Fusion>

I have had several articles summarizing the prospects for commercial nuclear fusion

The ITER project and the national ignition projects are decades away according to their own timelines. They are really counting on advanced superconductors to reduce the size and improve projected cost and performance. The Commonwealth Fusion systems is an effort to bring advanced superconductors into the equation and to prove out some of the fifteen to twenty major outstanding major technical challenges.

Helion Energy got funding increased towards tens of millions instead of a few million. John Slough works out of the University of Washington. There have been no major announcements on this project for the past two years.

They would need $200 million for a commercial pilot plant. Their timeline has likely slipped a few years.

Prototypes every two years

Delays and risks with nuclear fusion mean the best hope for better nuclear energy is molten salt nuclear fission.

Terrestrial Energy is developing a 190 megawatt small modular molten salt reactor that will cost less than $1 billion to build. This will result in kilowatt-per-hour costs of less than 5 cents, a price competitive with power from natural gas.

Terrestrial Energy of Canada has signed a contract for technical services with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Karlsruhe, Germany. JRC will perform confirmatory studies of the fuel and primary coolant salt mixture for Terrestrial’s Integrated Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR).

Molten salt would have vastly reduced nuclear waste and advanced designs could eventually eliminate nuclear waste by closing the fuel cycle and using all of the uranium and plutonium.

There are several other molten salt nuclear reactor and advanced nuclear fission efforts.

* Costs for nuclear energy can be reduced.
* safety can be increased
* nuclear waste – unburned fuel – can be used

High power lasers improving 1000 times every decade

Two recent scientific breakthroughs have opened a new way to laser fusion reactions according to startup HB11 Energy. It involves the reaction between hydrogen H and the boron isotope 11 (HB11) as uncompressed solid state fuel within an extremely high trapping magnetic field. Both of these conditions have been demonstrated by experiments and following predictions from computations.

This has many unknowns in terms of the science but the ultra-high power laser pathway has the advantage of constant and rapidly improving power with short pulse lasers. This technical improvement in well funded underlying technology is something that means that this approach can emerge as the winning approach within 8-15 years.

* a 1 kilojoule laser boosts a magnetic field to 4500-10000 Tesla for over one nanosecond. About 100 times stronger than powerful superconducting magnets
* a second laser causes a nuclear fusion chain reaction
* lab experiments have been performed which indicate fusion yields increase by a billion times.
* energy production with a proposed system would be four times cheaper than coal

A research paper claims experimentally confirmed reaction gains one billion times higher than the classical values, placing it far ahead any DT fusion approaches.

HB11 energy expects to be able to provide energy for about ¼ of the price of coal-fired power, without any carbon emissions or radioactive by-products, which will be disruptive to the power industry.

The specific evaluation of elastic collisions of the generated alphas with protons and boron nuclei documented how the hydrogen nuclei receive an energy within a wide range around 600 keV energy, for reacting with the 11B nuclei at nearly ten times higher fusion cross sections compared with all known other fusion reactions, to produce each three alphas etc. for the avalanche. The measurements with the nuclei for the energetic HB11 reactions on the background of less than few ten eV background plasma, could be theoretical reproduced in details. This shows the need to explore this kind of non-ideal and non-neutral plasmas. The earlier estimations of the anticipated avalanche reactions was then fully proved for use. Under simplified assumptions, the reaction of 12 mg boron fuel can produce one GJ = 277 kWh or more fusion energy, ignited in a controlled way by the one single ps irradiated laser beams in the reactor. The easy operation with one beam ignition should then permit a reactor with one shot per second and sufficiently fast localization of the reaction unit using presently available technology for low-cost power generation. The now presented results show an increase of the HB11 fusion gains by more than nine orders of magnitudes above the classical value.

Most of the venture-funded possibilities for breakthrough nuclear fusion have stalled or have slow progress

LPP Fusion (Lawrenceville Plasma Physics) – the target is to make LPP Fusion with a commercial system 4 years after net energy gain is proved. The hope is two years to prove net energy gain. Then 2021-2026 for a commercial reactor (2026 if we allow for another 5 years of slippage). They could lower energy costs by ten times.

LPP fusion has raised another $665K recently. This will fund their Beryllium electrode experiments which they hope to prove net energy gain.

LPP Fusion is very public about their research. They are minimally funded with a few million. They are trying to get tungsten and beryllium anodes and cathodes to work for their dense plasma focus design. Think of an advanced spark plug design. They are trying to get a handle on contamination from the firings. They are looking to coat their chamber with titanium. They have to up the amperage to about 3-4 megaamps.

LPP Fusion continues to have funding and science risks.

General Fusion- has a steam punk like design with giant pistons striking a sphere with molten metal and plasmoids. They have Jeff Bezos funding as well as the Canadian and Malaysian government. They were targeting 2023 with 4 cents per kwh. They no longer have a published time target or price target.

They have to scale up and reach their net gain objectives. Things would have to start moving a lot faster and money and the team would have to increase at least 30 times for a path to success by 2030.

Tri-Alpha Energy had previously promised success within a few years. They have had best funding of the venture-funded nuclear fusion. They had raised well over $500 million. They no longer publish target dates and seem very far from achieving net energy gain.

Lockheed Compact Fusion had a target date of 2024.

There are several other projects.

There was also a claim of ultradense deuterium generated fusion.


15 Comments on "Nuclear Fusion Update"

  1. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 11th Apr 2018 10:24 pm 






  2. Cloggie on Wed, 11th Apr 2018 11:01 pm 

    Come back when you have something working.

  3. twocats on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 6:26 am 

    i love the first item on the “to do list”

    “net energy gain”

    yes – that would be a plus! making me cry with the laughter.

  4. dave thompson on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 7:26 am 

    Watch out cloggie the fusion is gaining on your wind and solar.

  5. Cloggie on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 9:21 am 

    Could be, we would look pretty silly with a North Sea full of wind turbines and all of a sudden there is fusion, “too cheap to meter”.

    That’s the risk we need to take. I would remain optimistic though in such a case and view the North Sea as a storage space for high grade

  6. joe on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 9:55 am 

    Fusion, phasers, warp speed……
    We look out our windows most mornings hoping to see the biggest fusion reactor we are likely to ever look upon. You can’t just condense it down to the size of a room. Maybe not for a hundred years. We probobly don’t have that much time before so much economic damage is done by climate change to make it an impossibly unrealistic idea. We only grow on margins, take those away and you got nothing.

  7. Antius on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 11:41 am 

    All interesting concepts. Far fetched to be sure, but if they can be made to work, they will change the world. I am a little sceptical of the aneutronic fusion concepts. The energy yield for all heavy ion fusion is greatly inferior to DT fusion.

    Power density is a key challenge for economics. That is why passively safe nuclear reactors have proven difficult to engineer at an affordable cost. Double the size and you double the capital cost. That is a problem for any magnetic confinement concept because super-hot plasma is ridiculously diffuse – <1mg/m3.

    A high power density fusion reactor would change humanity's prospects overnight. It won't just be a new cheap way of producing electricity here on terra. Suddenly we would have a cheap power source for ships that could colonise the entire solar system. A game changer of epic proportions.

  8. Duncan Idaho on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 12:58 pm 

    Fusion is a constant like the speed of light—
    Always 20 years away, no matter if 1950 or 2018.
    Of course, we do have The Sun——–

  9. BobInget on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 1:20 pm 

    Speaking of nuclear;

    If you can’t find iodine supplements locally, Amazon has it.

    The trick is to overload your Thyroid w/non radio active iodine.

    Looks like at this minute, we may launch missiles
    at Syria. As I said yesterday, Israel may very well
    bomb Iran, ‘just because’. ‘Fog of war and all that.
    (Israel has been bombing Syria off and on for years. Lately, they have been hitting Iranian backed “terrorists’ in country.

    On the other hand, nothing may happen. Iodine Supplements won’t do any harm. Greens, picked before the war, also are loaded w/iodine.

    Good luck world.

  10. BobInget on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 1:22 pm 

    Cabinet ministers have left Downing Street after meeting Theresa May to discuss the UK’s response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

    Ministers are expected to back her call to join military action threatened by the United States and its allies.

    Sources say the PM is prepared to take action against the Assad regime without first seeking Parliamentary consent.

    But there have been calls from opposition parties and some Tories for MPs to get a vote beforehand.

    Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life. It will just take more lives and spawn the war elsewhere.”

    Does Theresa May need MPs to approve UK action in Syria?
    Syria ‘chemical attack’: What we know
    Corbyn warns against US-Russia ‘hot war’
    Has Jeremy Corbyn ever supported a war?
    Mrs May has said “all the indications” are that the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad, which denies mounting a chemical attack, was responsible for the alleged chemical attack in the formerly rebel-held town of Douma.

    Senior figures from Russia, which provides military support to the Syrian regime, have warned of a Russian response to a US attack.

  11. joe on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 1:40 pm 

    They tried a Syria vote years ago,parliament voted against it. There is no prospect of a UK invasion of Syria. Assad is simply in the way. There is also the issue of his government. If Assad were arrested tomorrow, who amoungst Assads government would Isis like to talk to?

  12. Denial on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 1:40 pm 

    I think that what we are missing is that conventional nuclear energy can be tweaked and fixed to spread out our collapse scenario

  13. dave thompson on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 2:56 pm 

    Lets all just not worry anymore, fusion energy is just plain silly. Everything that humans do and accomplish at scale is collective stupidity.

  14. Antius on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 4:30 pm 

    “Lets all just not worry anymore, fusion energy is just plain silly. Everything that humans do and accomplish at scale is collective stupidity.”

    Dave Thompson, it will either work or it won’t. Some of the concepts being developed are new and it is not a foregone conclusion that they will fail. Since it doesn’t exist in a workable form now, we should not pin our hopes and plans upon it. But spending modest resources on the development of something that might change the game, is not a waste of time.

  15. dave thompson on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 5:34 pm 

    Antius even if humans can get one of these contraptions going, fusion is and will be very expensive. Just like all of the electrical generating schemes humans come up with, fusion will end up being another at scale human fiasco.

    The biophysical world and the food chain is really all that will mater in the end. Both of which are quickly being destroyed by human activity at scale. Using these electrical generating plants whatever they may be as an example. Just continues the destruction of the biosphere.

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