The ITER project, an acronym for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, remains a project seeks to do the possible with impractical tools. There is no doubt that humanity can accomplish fusion in a quick and dirty way by making a bomb, or run reactions that don’t produce useful amounts of energy outputs, but unlike fission the ability to run a steady state reaction the produces more energy than it takes to drive the reaction eludes us.

The ITER effort is based on the tokamak, a donut looking thing that circulates fuel plasma around endlessly at temperatures and pressures that could get a net energy gain if the fuels are hot enough and at high enough pressure.  It really is the leading way to get to solar temperatures and pressures here on earth.  It is very possible – and incredibly impractical.

ITER has the money to worry away at the problem.  Very hot, light element plasmas, and incredible pressures are huge problems. Hydrogen at room temperature is a devil to contain for any length of time, warm it up to perhaps billions of degrees and pressurized to perhaps millions of atmospheres and the control problems are, shall we say, monumental.

Still, the tokamak is the strongest potential to get to hot fusion containment.  To solve the control problems electronics engineer Maria Goretti Sevillano has come up with some tools in her thesis defended at the University of the Basque Country. Her thesis is entitled Tools for plasma control in Tokamak nuclear fusion reactors: Astra-Matlab integration and control in real time.  Two papers have been published about her work, one in the journal Informatica and the other in the journal Energy.

Maria Goretti Sevillano

Sevillano has detailed how they function: “The materials used in fusion must have certain specific features, and these materials have to be turned into plasma. At the same time, the plasma has to be restricted to a limited space to enable the reaction to be generated and the energy to be used. To achieve this, magnetic confinement is applied in the case of the tokamaks.” In other words, the magnetic field creates lines that act as a wall to keep the plasma in the space where it is meant to remain. But the plasma and the device itself have several problems that have yet to be solved, and Sevillano has been working on some of them.

Sevillano explains, “To develop Tokamaks, many of the plasma’s parameters must be controlled, as well as the whole device itself; the currents that are going to be used, the voltage, the intensity, etc. Until all these things are controlled, it will not be possible to use these machines to produce marketable energy,” she points out.

In connection with this, Sevillano has embedded a code known as ASTRA into the Matlab software; ASTRA is frequently used to simulate the behavior of Tokamak reactors, and the embedding of this code into Matlab will facilitate the development of controllers suited to these devices. The control problems are of several kinds, but in this case some very specific parameters relating to the plasma have been explored in depth.

Sevillano continues, “Control of the parameters is necessary to obtain the maximum energy possible from the plasma, and the amount of this energy that can be extracted is calculated on the basis of the current: the greatest amount of current possible has to be maintained during the longest time possible. That is why these parameters have to be controlled by means of the control, in turn, of the numerous coils and voltages within the structure.”

Sevillano points out that her PhD thesis has produced only a single branch of what would be a complete tree by saying, “All I have achieved is no more than a step towards doing more things. The aim of all these tasks is to design a machine capable of generating marketable energy within the ITER project.”

Its an awe inspiring challenge with a five decade history stacked up so far and the scientists calculate they will obtain some results around the year 2050, some four more decades.

Tokamak and Problems. Click imabe for the largest view.

Fusion is a tantalizing power source and emulating the sun seems a logical and sensible path.  Fusion is possible, we use its’ natural form continuously.  Yet the primary questions remains unanswered.  By what means can humanity get matter to fuse?  Then, which is the most practical?

Taxpayers in the EU, India, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and the United States must wonder how the political momentum got so far on such thin practical certainty.   French Nobel laureate in physics, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, said, “We say that we will put the sun into a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don’t know how to make the box.”

The building of the tokamak has begun, with no clear idea how to control it successfully.  Whether or not Sevillano’s concept’s will make a difference is a question to be answered years out.

Meanwhile the basic question about what the most practical means are to generate fusion is off limits for most of the research world.  The research system is very serious about the ITER project – the competency and credibility of the research system’s desire to get to the goal of commercial fusion is not.


Comments

4 Comments so far

  1. Overcoming the Impossible: Developing Nuclear Fusion | RefineryNews.com on May 9, 2012 2:22 AM

    [...] Source: Fusion- Where the Possible Meets Impractical [...]

  2. Alex Burke on May 9, 2012 1:03 PM

    Excellent article. Insightful and incisive in the intro and especially in the concluding paragraph. A rare accomplishment in fusion energy journalism, whether mainstream or technical. The answer to your question about the most practical approach is almost surely Heavy Ion Fusion — driving miniature thermonuclear explosions with particle beams from a very large accelerator, similar to SLAC, FermiLab, or the LHC. Much more effective than lasers (cf. NIF).

  3. Harold Helsley on May 9, 2012 3:50 PM

    The energy source for the future … RF Accelerator Driven Heavy Ion Fusion Power

    There is a solution to the energy need for the world and the US without generating green house gases or nuclear fission radioactive problems.

    It is Heavy Ion Fusion (HIF) as developed in the late 1970′s at Argonne National Lab under the Department of Defense (DOD).

    You never heard of it, … right, few people have, … as HIF was set aside by the US DOD (& DOE) in favor of lasers, as lasers could maybe be a weapon and HIF could not be a weapon.

    Fusion was first suggested as a potential power source in the late 1920’s. The first earth-bound fusion reaction was demonstrated in 1952. Then shown potentially doable in a small size in 1978-9 at Argonne National Lab and Hughes Lab. Since then it has been endorsed for 35 years by the scientific community “as the conservative way to go” to develop fusion as an energy generation source … but never funded, as it was and is still BIG (expensive, prolific and “benign”). In 1980, the world did not need a BIG new source of energy, as it does now. Fusion was put on the shelf or attached to research projects to see if it could be done in small (MW-GW) size. Fusion cannot be done small and be economical. Data suggests that fusion can produce 5-7 cents kWh electricity, $3.20 per/gal fuel, and $0.002 per gallon for potable water, all needed today and at a very reasonable unit price.

    In 2009, Fusion Power Corporation with Dr. Robert J. Burke and Dr. Charles E. Helsley, secured a patent using heavy ions as the energy source to fuse the Hydrogen isotopes Deuterium and Tritium producing Helium and heat. It solves the problems that Germany, Russia, America and Japan were having in focusing enough energy on the pellet (target) to cause fusion to occur.

    In December 2010, the process was presented at the 18th HIF International Symposium in Darmstadt, Germany, along with an economic model, by FPC.

    In May of 2011, FPC presented the process to the Accelerators for Heavy Ion Fusion Workshop (AHIF) at Berkeley CA, sponsored by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Virtual National Lab (DOD & DOE). Again, the result was “now is the time to move forward” with a fusion program … as there is now a world need for a large new carbon free energy source.

    The science has been done and it now is an engineering process. FPC’s process applies known and existing technologies in unique and novel ways to provide the energy necessary for fusion to occur. FPC’s fusion power is more developed than was rocketry in 1961 when JFK committed the nation (US) to go to the moon and back.

    FPC is an engineering design, implementation and licensing company. FPC’s mission is to provide the energy necessary for maintaining current levels of energy use (standard of living) and to provide opportunities for growth in the energy supply using fusion. FPC’s vision is the development of a fusion power source based on the use of the techniques of radio frequency (RF) accelerator-driven Heavy Ion Fusion (HIF) that were researched in the 1970′s; a technique that has repeatedly received scientific endorsement.

    FPC’s primary goal is to translate the science vetted design of a RF accelerator-driven fusion power system to one that can be brought on-line within a decade – each installation having an energy output equivalent to that of a giant oil field without the depletion problem and located where needed.

    FPC can also be eligible for carbon credits, as FPC can produce per day, 500,000 bls of a carbon neutral synthetic liquid fuel (diesel-kerosene-gasoline), 15 GW electric, and 2000+ ac/ft of potable water from sea water, all with no GHGs, no highly radioactive waste and no potential for a “run-away” nuclear meltdown.

    By 2050, fusion will be the source of most of the worlds energy. This is not wishful thinking, it is simply a way of stating that all other forms of energy that are based on the use of finite fossil fuel sources must decline in the next few decades. This decline will provide a major impetus for the rapid increase in the utilization of this new form of energy. Wind, solar and bio fuels are only “feel good solutions” of “we are doing something to solve the problem” when have little possibility of generating the 14 TW needed in the next 40 years. I can show you the math.

    HIF is the ONLY practical answer for non-proliferation of atomic weapons and maybe the real way to world peace … non-aggression for national energy supplies and national security.

    Let us get moving to really solve the energy problem … not 35 more years of research!

    For more information and detail of the FPC HIF process visit http://www.fusionpowercorporation.com and see the You Tube presentations “StarPower for Tomorrow” and Goggle Tech Talk “Heavy Ion Fusion”.

    Inquires may be sent to: contact@fusionpowercorporation.com .

  4. Lluis Sala on May 14, 2012 11:49 PM

    Spain and olé lol. Good job, congratulations.

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