The very lucky Alan Boyle who writes the CosmicLog on the MSNBC site interviewed the new leader at Dr. Robert Bussard’s EMC2 Inertial Electrostatic Containment fusion project. The leading comment for news comes from new CEO Jaeyoung Park who has assumed the position since Rick Nebel retired back in November.

The key quote is Park saying in part, “ . . . we’re on track with the scaling law.”

Bussard Design WB8. Image Credit EMC2. Click iamge for the largest view.

The rest of the quote deals with the project devices, which at the moment is testing the eighth generation device called the WB8.  Next up would be a WB9.  For those interested in the romantic or insider details, the moniker ‘WB’ comes from the ‘Wiffle Ball” look of the earlier devices.

Bussard's WB6 with Coils Exposed During the Build. Image Credit EMC2. Click image for the largest view.

Park’s quote in full from Boyle’s account is, “This machine should be able to generate 1,000 times more nuclear activity than WB-7, with about eight times more magnetic field. We’ll call that a good success. That means we’re on track with the scaling law.”

The curious point is that the results implied from running the test series on WB7 indicated that WB8 would continue up the scaling projection to show that a full size generator would have a good chance of success fully making net power.

All this for a pittance over more than two decades – barely totaling in the low tens of millions.  The WB8 build and test series is less than $8 million.

This round of funding and research is about learning if Bussard’s fusion concept can be scaled up to a size capable of putting out more power than it consumes.

The $7.9 million US Navy funding is to test the late Dr. Bussard’s plasma containment technology known as inertial electrostatic confinement that provides a medium for fusion events.  The idea is also known as Polywell fusion. Bussard’s idea is to use an electro magnetic cage to in such a way that positive charged fuel can “accelerate into the well” in the midst of the magnetic fields.  The idea relies on speed to overcome the fuel’s natural unwillingness to get the atom’s or molecule’s nucleus close enough that they occasionally spark a fusion reaction, releasing energy and neutrons.

The concept was pioneered by the late physicist Dr. Robert Bussard who passed away in 2007, and carried forward by the EMC2 Fusion team in Santa Fe, N.M. that was first led by Mr. Nebel and now by Mr. Park.

Park told Boyle that EMC2 employs eight or nine full-time technical staff members, and relies on about two dozen external consultants.  That’s a list of great interest.

While the team is working at a seeming snail’s pace, Park and Boyle point out that the WB-8 experiment was about 60 percent complete, which roughly matches how much of the $7.9 million has been spent so far. Park freely acknowledged that EMC2 was originally aiming to finish the experiment by this time, but offers the realities of government funding – including continuing resolutions, shutdown threats and other budgetary snags – have dictated the slower pace.

Park told Boyle, “We decided at some point that it’s not a good idea to follow the timeline directly, because if you follow the timeline and not the moneyline, you’ve got a big problem. The reality is that we have to follow the timeline given by the funding profile rather than the timeline given by the date.”  That shows an engineer’s view of cash flow management and is quite reassuring to the US taxpayers.

Park suggested that the money provided under the WB-8 contract should last until the end of the year. If the EMC2 team is able to efficiently use the financial planning such the money lasts to the end of the project, the EMC2 group and their Navy supporters should know whether it’s worth going ahead with the next step, perhaps even with a big demonstration reactor.

Boyle says Park is hoping that WB-8 will be the last small-scale experimental machine EMC2 will have to build.

For long-term supporters of Dr. Bussard the waiting has been excruciating.  Still we can’t expect regular frequent updates.

Park said, “Currently all our funding comes from the Navy. That’s our customer. Our customer desired that we keep most of our progress confidential. . . They’re somewhat concerned about making too much hype without delivering an actual product.”

Boyle reports if WB-8 and the follow-up studies coming over the rest of the year are successful, the Navy won’t stand in EMC2’s way.
Park said, “Our understanding is they want us to be successful. They want us to provide something for our sponsors. They also want us to do well commercially as well, as long as we remain US-owned and control the technology.”

Boyle asked, “And if WB-8 fails?”

Park’s answer, “Sometimes breakthroughs happen, and sometimes you can never solve it, and then maybe it’s time to give up – at least for me. But I can positively say I tried everything.”

Your humble writer prefers to think that WB8 will succeed justifying the next step.  With Nebel’s efforts and now Park’s and a crew of dedicated staff and consulting help in a trail of tests and experiments all confirming Dr. Bussard’s ideas the chances of success are quite good.

Even if the WB8 comes up short, with all the new data, there will come a “eureka” moment to someone solving the problem.  Lets hope that Dr. Bussard got it complete and correct before his passing so the genius can be of help without more delay.


3 Comments so far

  1. Musson on May 12, 2011 7:32 AM

    Does anyone else think that if the wiffle ball gave off green light – it would look like a prop from the Green Lantern Movie?

  2. Your Future on September 10, 2011 7:14 PM

    The Polywell is a failure.

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