The University of Wisconsin hosted the 11th US-Japan Workshop on Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion on October 12th and 13th in Madison Wisconsin. Over the two days some 28 presenters covered the activities, progress and plans spread over the eight U.S., Japanese and Australian leading Inertial Electrostatic Fusion (IEC) research universities.  Plus Los Alamos National Lab was there, presenting as well and shared participation from Lawrenceville Plasmas Physics, Kurita Manufacturing, and a presentation by Phoenix Nuclear Labs.  IEC is being researched much more thoroughly than one might suspect.

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The participant name most familiar to us in the energy field is Richard Nebel of EMC2, the firm of the late Dr. Robert Bussard.  Mr. Nebel chaired a session on day one as well as prepared a summary. As the leader of the leading power production research firm, Mr. Nebel would be needed there as well to learn what’s going on outside of power research and see what be applicable.

The interesting points found across the 28 presentations are the depth of understanding unfolding across the research field.  The issues for this point in time seem to focus on the materials used in the various IEC designs, the effects of the temperature both in the physics, the engineering choices and materials, and the progress to goals spread across the IEC’s potential.

It’s the applications outside of power generation that amaze, space thrusters, neutron sources with transmutation doping, forming beams, plus low energy nuclear reactions, isotope separation, transmutation, and helium implantation.  All that plus power production are on the table now.  The field is getting richer every year.

There is also the learning path exposing new resources, problems and solution ideas.  There are such concepts as finding ways for using the negative ion production, the extended validation of the early Hirsch work, new fast ions, new takes on atomic physics, issues of special fusion distribution and the matter of microchannel formation.  All these plus experimentation for electricity gathering are out in view now. Of note is University of Wisconsin research is already looking into the impacts of 3He on materials that will get to solving the matter of intensely energetic 3He unloading power into the proposed mechanisms for extracting the electrical power.

The eight universities include the University of Wisconsin with 10 presentation credits, the University of Sydney with 4 credits, the University of Kyoto with 3, the University of Illinois with 2, Kasai University with 2, Tokyo Institute of Technology with 2, and one each from the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri.  It seems the field is attracting more programs.  Of greater significance is that the breadth and depth of IEC is going to both put at ease concerns about the significance of IEC as well as more strongly motivate research funding.

One might think the physics matters are worked out.  In the main that’s so, but detractors, amazingly remain.  Fusion in IEC is widespread now, with the University of Wisconsin operating no less that 4 different kinds of fusors.  Across the U.S, Japan and Australia IEC fusion might have more fusion events per year than any other form of fusion, probably far more.  That might be enough to unsettle other method’s research participants.

The tokamak field is operating to a much less successful extent and falling behind in making progress very fast indeed.  It must be unnerving, when it comes to competition for funding; IEC has a successful story with gaining progress across several fields to measure against ever more funds and more time extensions for progress by tokamak supporters.  Previous funders who missed early opportunities must be chagrined as well.  The arena in which IEC is seen is changing for the better, and very deservingly so.

For those interested primarily in energy release and production from fusion the pickings in the workshop presentation list seem thin.  It may be simply that the leader is funded and restrained by the terms about the release of information.  But the presence of Mr. Nebel is comforting.  Nebel is likely seen as the leading authority about the Bussard theories and being there for the small discussions, making some part of the allowed knowledge and insight available privately one hopes, should help move others along.

The reverse is true as well.  The wealth of experimental results, the insights and questions of the hundreds of people now involved needs a forum for getting that know how spread about.  Hundreds of minds and perspectives are better than a few or one, and the relationships such workshops seed are immeasurably valuable. What Nebel took and shared is unknown, as it should be, and Nebel may well have new insights to take home as well.

For those of us outside, a review of the Nebel Summary and a look through the presentations is worthwhile. This writer read them all and came away with a much better sense of what’s going on along side the power production effort.  What stands as obvious is the field is growing in sophistication, the certainty that commercial results is growing, there is a wealth of different targets, and that much of the work is going to impact across the whole field.  This point in time for IEC is the very most exciting, the physics work concluding, the research into the potential is beginning, the problems as they surface are being addressed and seem to be other opportunities as well.

All this points to IEC as being a sharp and pointed edge of the blade into the future.  What comes of it is getting more certain.  Hundred of minds are concentrated now, and hundreds more if not thousands will be over the coming years.  It’s invention stage passing proving, launching into exploration and soon innovations and more developments.  This is without doubt, the most exciting field in science today.  I just wish Dr. Bussard were here to see it for himself.


4 Comments so far

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