Some time back another fusion view was offered by Karl Schroeder, more famed for his science fiction work than his noticeable knowledge about technology. But the fiction guys have a long and distinguished history of getting the future plotted for us and when one of the better insight makers offers his thoughts, they are well worth reading.

Monday Michael Kanellos published his report about the comments made by Wal van Lierop, CEO of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital at the Clean Tech Investor Summit in Indian Wells, California. The take here is that one of the fusion innovations will be getting built out in 5 years or less. With this caliber on money making bets in the millions of dollars something is surely up.

Karl Schroeder

Briefly, I’m going to paraphrase some of the more noteworthy remarks Karl Schroeder made to Philip Proefrock at EcoGeek. Karl comes right out reminding us that its not the power from atomic and nuclear energy that is so alarming as the mining, refining and waste disposal that are horrible. These issues and the dramatic entrenched costs are still at hand and atomic fission could remain the long-term low cost leader for generating electricity.

But Schroeder offers that Bussard’s technology is different. It and many others concepts are different in that in some cases the process will be aneutronic or direct conversion from nuclear fusion to electricity with no heat production. The heat conversion and other massive installations to handle the atomic heat output and electrical generation are expected to be unnecessary. In the Bussard system there is just electricity and a trickle of radiation, which stops the moment you turn the fueling off or over fuel it. It just fizzles out like the old vacuum tubes. And they’re small, such as fitting on ships, inside office buildings and even airplanes.

EcoGeek and Karl discuss the raw material requirements and we see that the exotic materials are not required, fuel is boron, from sea water or dirt, and the most high tech material is alloys of tin for the wiring of the electromagnets.

An interesting segment is Ecogeek’s question, “What new technologies do you think have the potential for the greatest possible impact on the environment?” (OK, it wouldn’t my best question,) but Mr. Schroeder answers, “I like to play the game called ‘if I had a billion dollars.’ If I did, I’d drop $200 million on Bussard . . .” and a bit later strikes us with the observation, “. . . and the rest on various projects that can’t get funding because they have a low probability of success, but massive payoff if they do work. – Which is precisely where our early investments should be flowing right now, because we don’t have time for incremental development to solve the climate crises. We need ‘miracles’, and those don’t come from slow, safe R&D projects [such as ITER, the multinational fusion project and other multi – quasi – governmental –committee type of things -editor].

While I might have a different motivator than climate change such as energy security and the price to energize and fuel mechanical and electronic work, I’ll take climate change as an excuse. Karl Schroeder is an interesting person and has a site well worth a look.

Wal van Lierop

Now Wal van Lierop isn’t some frazzled dreamer with notions from old articles in Omni magazine. Mr. Kanellos is quoting van Lierop saying “Within five years, large companies will start to think about building fusion reactors.” His company started in 2001 and counts limited partners like BASF, Royal Dutch Shell and Rabobank. While Chrysalix is not in on the Bussard effort, the company has a piece of General Fusion, a Canadian company that says it has found a way to get past the many technical problems in fusion. While the knowledgeable may look askance at how thin that is and the thinness of their website they do have investors funding the work.

The plan is to build small fusion reactors rated at 100 megawatts priced at $50 million which would put power on line at 4 cents a kilowatt hour, a very competitive price. And you just know with venture capital in the deal, the price might be a little inflated. The technique is called “Magnetized Target Fusion” (MTF) that rather reminds of the Ukrainian fellows who use brute force to hammer a fusion event.

Magnetized Target Fusion Device

This process offers an electric current generated in a conductive cavity containing lithium and a plasma. The electric current produces a magnetic field and the cavity is collapsed, that results in a massive temperature spike. The lithium breaks down into helium and tritium. The tritium is separated and then mixed with deuterium. The two fuse and make helium, a reaction that releases energy that can be harvested. The claimed advantage is that MTF needs only have the plasma at thermonuclear temperatures (150 million degrees Celsius) for a microsecond to get the reaction to occur. They have patent applications filed.

Venrock, another venture firm has invested in fusion projects and its overseeing partner is Ray Rothrock, a nuclear engineer. These bits seem to suggest that fusion is coming.

While another fusion effort has gotten backing, the message I take is that fusion has potential far beyond the multinational effort at ITER who lost (only for a little while) U.S. government funding. There remain some intriguing and viable efforts that don’t enjoy Dr. Robert Bussard’s fame and competence in the physics and engineering. One thing is becoming clear, some very smart people realize that fusion is a challenge with perhaps many routes to success and a huge payoff when practical.

With less than a month to go on the earliest possible results from the Bussard team the anticipation is only going to grow. There are even people developing refinements in anticipation of the Bussard team’s success. The web has a wealth of competency and interested people following the effort closely. Its going to be an exciting spring.


1 Comment so far

  1. aneutronic nuclear fusion reaction on July 8, 2008 6:46 PM

    […] But the fiction guys have a long and distinguished history of getting the future plotted for us and…Helium-3 Aneutronic EnergyWe define a nuclear reaction as "aneutronic" if not more than 1% […]

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