Fusion Futures

August 27, 2007 | 13 Comments

After a few days of relief that Dr. Bussard’s research has resumed a sense of reality sinks in followed on by thoughts on just what might happen. There are some thrills to be had when speculating on what this research could do.

The reality dose is that the IEF device isn’t running steadily or reached breakeven and that’s what the research is about. But, having read Tom Ligon’s IEF vs. ICE explanation I’m quite content, as whatever comes from the research it would be one of the single most important practical physics successes to date. A steadily running device that fuses would be a success. One that runs to or past breakeven would be a stunning accomplishment. In any case it would be the first step in getting a design for commercial use. It would have more in common with the engine on my lawnmower than the Formula 1 or Indy Car engine of today. But actually, my mower shares in 130 years of development just like the F1 and Indy Car engine.

For the sake of the speculative thrill lets assume Dr. Bussard’s team gets past breakeven with the boron fueled device. The power to run the magnets, the electron gun, a fuel injector, likely a magnet cooling apparatus, and vacuum pumping etc are not likely to need 100 megawatts of power (the mathematical output of such a device). So there will be rather a lot left over for use.

For what? Considering the likely funding resource three things will be of primary importance. Electrical grid feeds, ocean-going propulsion, space flight propulsion, and just maybe air flight propulsion. One other would get attention and that would be rail propulsion.

When one looks at the energy use of a developed country like the US, Bussard boron fueled fusion covers the biggest share of energy use. Although air transport would require more specialized development, electrical grid feeds and ocean-going propulsion will quickly get intense engineering attention.

The grid feed aspect offers at the most basic level a powerful boost to national physical and economic security. More adroitly, world security will be enhanced. Over time, as utilities and private power generators add capacity the need for coal, oil, natural gas and fission fuels will simply disappear. Make note that it will take a while as many if not most utilities have huge capital investments that will require amortization or the debt repaid. So cheap will still be a long way off. The other benefit is that new capacity can come on quickly as the size and location requirements allow these devices to be installed much more easily, free of most any environmental issue and that will reduce the need for those huge electricity distribution lines.

Ocean going propulsion units will also offer big returns. Shipping and military use will offer quicker and safer transport. The use of perhaps the dirtiest fuel, bunker oil, will disappear too. Military resupply would in large part be freed of fuel as a logistics issue.

The underlying motive for the research has openly been seen for decades, the goal of low cost very heavy lift to space and steady acceleration and deceleration. Books could be written about this and some have already been that see possibilities of low cost gravity well exits. In the lifetime of our children, space habitation may well be a lifestyle choice.

There is some reason to think that engineering could adapt a fusion unit to air transport. Although little thought is published about such an application, the physical dimensions are tolerable for current large airplanes. What remains to been seen is the design for weight and development of an engine or motors to move an airframe through the air. But if such work took place and came to a good result the nemesis of both military and airlines, fuel and refueling would no longer be a problem. Some ideas might be electric turbines or a fusion unit directly making free hydrogen for fuel. This promises to be quite exciting.

Rail implementation also offers some excitement. When so much power is available the train could magnetically levitate itself. No more need to power up the rails to magnetically lift the train. That would be a major cost reduction for high-speed rail transport and would make it possible for lines to go much more remote locations and traverse huge distances.

Interesting? These are just the things that come to mind over a day or so. There are lots more from millions of other people who have yet to apply their ideas. The Bussard Fusion device may well be a historic moment to come early next year should it get past breakeven if only for a moment.

There will a rush of developments coming hard and fast if the news breaks on getting past breakeven. Next year could be one of the most interesting in history, or another step in mankind’s journey into the future.

What are your ideas? What do you expect will change and how? Comments welcome. Comments might be the most interesting things we’ll see till spring!


13 Comments so far

  1. M. Simon on August 27, 2007 5:34 PM

    Since the US Navy is funding this my guess is that the first application will be ships and power plants – just like the original fission program. In any case the first ship prototypes will be built on land.

    For aircraft use – superconducting motors. In fact the Navy plans on superconductor motors for its ships without Polywell.

    Mag Lev if it ever comes to pass will probably use Halbach arrays for levitation in something like the Inductotrak. The train would need about 10 MW on board if the tracks were not the source of power. Track power would be OK for short segments. Cost prohibitive for long runs mainly due to the cost of the power control electronics.

    BTW may I suggest an article on the Halbach Array / Inductotrack. If we used it for nothing except the initial boost of a rocket it would cut 30% from the size of the rocket.

    As to rockets. My current favorite using fusion would be to use hydrogen as reaction mass and the first stage the Inductotrak. That means the rocket would be traveling at 400 to 500 mph before it starts spewing serious quantities of hydrogen.

    A lot will depend on the final mass and power output.

    It also means a return to powered landings. At least until final approach. Much safer.

    Most of the world lives within a few tens of miles of the sea or a large river connected to the sea.

    If we mounted Polywell on barges/ships we could easily transport them to where most of the world needs them and quickly connect them to the local grid.

    Think of how much it would have helped the Iraqis (an obvious friction point) to be able to deliver a 500 MW barge to Baghdad (river transport) within 6 months of the cessation of major hostilities. And a new barge every 6 months to distribute power plants up the Tigris and Euphrates.

    Over time the plants could be moved to land.

    Another thing that will be done (caused by the technological shift of having to mass produce 1.5 MVDC to AC converters) is a HVDC grid replacing the AC grid. It would be more economical in terms of losses allowing 1,000 mile interconnects. In addition you wouldn’t have the phasing problems caused by intertie loops. So you could make such a grid much more redundant.

    It also would mean that grid controllers would only have to worry about power dispatch not phasing problems. In addition power dispatch for new sources coming on line would be speeded up because phase matching would not be required. As soon as the DC voltage you are producing goes above the line voltage at the production point you are adding watts to the grid. Diodes would be used to prevent backflow.

    Power to the People is my motto.

  2. M. Simon on August 27, 2007 5:41 PM

    Each who has contributed to this (even if only following developments) has helped change civilization for the next 1,000 years.

    This is a turning point in which every one involved can be proud. A few people at the right place and the right time can change civilization.

  3. M. Simon on August 27, 2007 5:56 PM

    I forgot aircraft.

    There are turbofans well into the development stage that can give Mach .85 speeds.

    Coupled with a superconducting electric motor it could be a very interesting aircraft. Radiations shielding issues will probably be the most difficult. We already know how to do that for ships.


    I forgot to mention the implications for oil.

    It will make refining oil shales much cheaper. So it will make our transition to an electric/biofuel regime much less painful.

    Steel plants will be all electric except for the initial reduction. We even may figure out a way to do that with Hydrogen.

  4. Jeremy on August 30, 2007 5:59 AM

    Consider a quicklime/calcium carbonate reaction. Atmosphere is reacted through aqueous quicklime to scavenge the CO2. The resulting CaCO2 which precipitates can then be heated (via Polywell) to liberate the free CO2 which can then be refrigerated and disposed of or used to make petroleum products. Climate change? Only to how we want it!!! A 1 terawatt CO2 reactor on every continent should do it.

  5. Mark on August 30, 2007 5:00 PM

    I’m very disapointed at the slow pace. The State of California could blowup San Quentin and sell the realestate for $2Billion. Then they could use $1Billion to build a new replacment prison and give the other $1Billion to Dr. Robert W. Bussard with no strings attached.
    On the other hand, give me 1$Billion and I will faithfully negotiate with Dr. Bussard, as to what he should do next.

  6. M Chatterton on September 17, 2007 3:28 PM

    Those of you who think Bussard has the answer with IEC Fusion are suckers. His presentation at Google was a complete pitch for $$$. Watch the talk and you find all the elements of pathological science at work:
    1) Inventor has great invention
    2) Greedy establishment scientists hate great invention (and/or inventor) and want to quash it, fearless inventor battles odds and gets money from true believers (often in the Navy for some weird reason).
    3)Years go by, millions are spent. Inventor, having not saved the world, loses funding, which he attributes to enemies subverting him.
    4)World is screwed.

    Welcome to the world of pathological science!

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