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Piston-Powered Nuclear Fusion

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the tried-everything-else dept.

Power 147

katarn writes "General Fusion is a startup proposing they can create commercially viable fusion using acoustic shock waves, triggered by 220 precisely controlled pneumatic pistons. Their approach is based on a US Naval research concept called 'Linus' and old research done by General Atomics. They feel we now have the high-speed, digital processing capable of pulling off this feat, where decades ago the technology was not available. I think we can hold off on the 'vaporware' claims for a bit; everyone is aware of the horrible track record for turning fusion concepts into reality, but they don't claim to be the first with the idea or that there are not substantial challenges in the way. If nothing else, it is a fascinating concept." Los Alamos National Laboratory has further details on this type of fusion, and longtime LANL researcher Ronald Kirkpatrick did an external assessment (PDF) of General Fusion's plans. Popular Science had a lengthy story about the company a while back. The reason they're back in the headlines now is that they've secured enough funding to begin work on a prototype reactor.

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If the government did research that proved (1)

Kotoku (1531373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905873)

If the government did research that proved it is possible... Why aren't they following up on it? I'll believe it when I see it.

Re:If the government did research that proved (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905911)

Sorry, but it all got patented by the contractor, in exchange for reducing the price of the contract by 0.05%.

Re:If the government did research that proved (-1, Troll)

dmbasso (1052166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908015)

Alan Cocks will be responsible for the pistons.

So the question is: will it run in Linus?

There is reason to be concerned. (5, Insightful)

reporter (666905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906133)

The article by "Technology Review" mentions that significant parts of the power-generation device remain to be researched and developed. That is a bad sign.

Startups, by their very nature, do not succeed on a bet that the technology will be invented. Venture capitalists do not support fairytale wishes.

Startups use existing, proven technology and package it in new ways to serve a need of the consumer. Startups are about commercializing a technology, not inventing it.

What startup does breakthrough research? None.

Research is the luxury of universities (with infinite time horizons) and monopolists like Microsoft .

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (4, Insightful)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906329)

It's exactly that kind of short-sighted thinking that has driven nearly every commercial research and development laboratory out of the United States.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28906425)

In his defense, a company can't exactly sustain itself without some type of income.

Research is something an established company can afford to do.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (4, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907155)

Research is something an established company can afford to do.

Mod me flamebait, but from the amount of money the US government spends on securing oil, there really shouldn't be any problems with fusion research funding.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28907459)

Mod me flamebait, but from the amount of money the US government spends on securing oil, there really shouldn't be any problems with fusion research funding.

Why flamebait? You are correct. I would also like to add the US military budget...

The US has the means to fund this research. It has chosen not to do so.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908477)

You mean there's supposed to actually be a Step 2?

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (4, Informative)

j.boulton (661381) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906875)

As someone who works for a startup, I cannot empathize how WRONG you are. Almost every aspect of what we do to bring our particular product to market is new and needs to be thoughtfully researched and developed. It isn't easy but the potential rewards make it worthwhile. We spend a lot of time 'proving' our ideas with prototypes to provide proof that we know what we are doing and that the risk for investors is reduced.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28907999)

I don't want be flamebait at all, but maybe we have to define research before making this claim. I work part time in a university and part time in a startup and I think there are some differences between both types of research made by them. I thing OP has a point specially when talking about basic research.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28907457)

Startups, by their very nature, do not succeed on a bet that the technology will be invented. Venture capitalists do not support fairytale wishes.

So very, very ill-informed. Betting on needed technology being invented is a risk and the very thing venture capitalists do is to take great risks expecting to reap in big profits. Profits that cover more than all their other risky investments that fail since they expect most to fail. That is the definition of venture capitalist.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (1)

955301 (209856) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907697)

One counterexample to your point is worth mentioning: Startups driven by ex-academics. There are case studies of successful ventures where researchers came out of the university and into the private sector to apply research to commercial problems. They are niche, but perhaps that's how you could clarify your assertion - by also mentioned niche solutions based on solid research.

Re:There is reason to be concerned. (1)

MadCow42 (243108) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908441)

Well, the good news in their case is that they're not inventing most of the components so much as engineering them... steam pistons are not high-tech, and it's only a matter of adapting them to their system's needs.

Also, I used to work with one of their principles - Doug Richardson (he was my boss at the time). He's just about the right mix of weird, brilliant, and stubborn to make this work. At least I can assure you they're not some crackpot garage operation - they have a solid basis for their design and think they have a good chance of pulling it off. If I had the cash, I'd be investing with them too.

MadCow.

Re:If the government did research that proved (3, Informative)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906767)

The vast majority of fusion research funds from US government flow through the Department of Energy. The senior guys at the DoE have a few pet approaches to fusion, and 99.9% of the funding goes into those. Innovative, small scale, low cost approaches like this, or IEC polywell fusion are left begging to the Navy for funds, but the Navy has far less money to spend on nuclear research than the DoE.

Re:If the government did research that proved (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907857)

The US govt does an incredible amount of RD that they never follow up on i.e. it is more Rd, rather than RD. The reason is money. Take the example of TransHab. Thankfully, Bigelow has been pursuing it. If we are VERY lucky, the Augustine commission will recommend that we buy one or two and attack to the ISS to help him alone.

And this particular example, the Navy does a LOT of nuke funding. Have to. If we can create a reactor that is much smaller in size, it will change a lot of things for US. DARPA also has its fair share of black funding.

Steam punk angle? (5, Interesting)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905875)

I mean, come on, this is just begging for some steam punk artwork!

Gawd (2, Funny)

tetrahedrassface (675645) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905889)

So a project code named "linus' makes the tag sharks think we are all idiots and can't read the article? This has a chance of working. It might be an off chance but anytime Los Alamos is involved you had damn well better put some stock in it. On second thought... Linus made linux, and this was code named 'Linus". Therefore we can now call it Fusex.

Soon everyone will be asking hey.. Does that reactor run Fusex?

I think you get the point

Re:Gawd (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28906149)

I think it's very aptly named - fusion has been 10 years away for the last 10 years and the linux desktop has been next year for the last 10 years. both are pie in the sky ideals that won't ever happen, and fanboi's latch onto the nonsense like religous dogma.

when you actually get linux to work maybe fusion will happen as well, fags.

Re:Gawd (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906843)

when you actually get linux to work maybe fusion will happen as well, fags.

That's good news, because Linux works quite well on my desktop computer, since 2001.

fusion has been 10 years away for the last 10 years and the linux desktop has been next year for the last 10 years.

So I can expect fusion in 2010.

Re:Gawd (0, Troll)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906871)

No, fusion has been 50 years away for the last fifty. Where did you ever get the idea that it was only 10 years away? Some hack reporter that couldn't count his own shoelaces? (hint: Two, not four).

Re:Gawd (1)

SlashWombat (1227578) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907289)

Christ, even night carts only had 50 pisstins.

On the other hand, think how fast your fusion powered car would go, given 220 pistons!

Re:Gawd (1)

Black.Shuck (704538) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907781)

So a project code named "linus' makes the tag sharks think we are all idiots and can't read the article?

You must be new here.

OK, interesting (3, Insightful)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905901)

Skimmed the article, they're planing to do with pistons what would be done explosives in a normal nuclear bomb.

Wouldn't it be funny if it worked?

Re:OK, interesting (0)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905955)

Skimmed the article, they're planing to do with pistons what would be done explosives in a normal nuclear bomb. Wouldn't it be funny if it worked?

I bet Osama is thrilled.

Re:OK, interesting (2, Funny)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906117)

Yeah, if he was still alive. This could really mess with his funding.

So its a hydrogen bomb (2, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905923)

...with the fission component replaced by good old fashioned pistons? I bet it sounds great. There has certainly been a lot of modelling in this direction.

Re:So its a hydrogen bomb (5, Interesting)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906917)

Only in the vaguest sense. The secondary stage in a thermonuclear bomb is triggered by a fission primary, however the secondary stage in a thermonuclear bomb is not a purely fusion weapon. It's a multilayer sandwich. The secondary starts off with another fission reaction (the plutonium spark-plug), which helps trigger the fusion reaction (lithium deuteride), which in turn boosts the ongoing fission reaction in the spark plug, which in turn boosts the ongoing fusion reaction. Finally it produces a neutron flux which detonates and consumes the secondary casing (depleted uranium, U-238). Most of the energy in a thermonuclear bomb comes from the fission of the depleted uranium protective casing. Thermonuclear bombs do fission 'better' than purely fission bombs. For the record, this was discovered accidentally when Castle Bravo was a much bigger bang than the designers expected.

Re:So its a hydrogen bomb (2)

kohaku (797652) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907793)

Finally it produces a neutron flux

Hah, yeah right! You're going to have to make up some more believable sounding sciencey words before we fall for THAT one. Why don't you just go reroute the flux capacitor through the deflector to invert a tachyon pulse while you're at it?
Comedians...

Re:So its a hydrogen bomb (1)

BotnetZombie (1174935) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908309)

which in turn boosts the ongoing fission reaction in the spark plug, which in turn boosts the ongoing fusion reaction. Finally it produces a neutron flux which detonates and consumes the secondary casing (depleted uranium, U-238).

Dear sir
I would like to personally thank you for helping us the great people of North Korea to finalize our procedures.
Kim Jong-il

Re:So its a hydrogen bomb (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908407)

"For the record, this was discovered accidentally when Castle Bravo was a much bigger bang than the designers expected."

While probably what you say is true up to this point (I would agree a thermonuke is more efficient at fission than a straight fission), I don't think this last statement is entirely accurate. While the more efficient reaction gave Castle Bravo some extra blast, most of the extra oomph from Castle Bravo was from a poorly understood or overlooked reaction of one of the lithium isotopes--which is a fusion reaction, not fission.

In other news... (4, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905943)

Colonel Fission is pissed and has vowed to crush General Fusion's puny attempts at creating nuclear energy!

Re:In other news... (1)

Anti_Climax (447121) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906695)

That's Mister Fusion to you!

Re:In other news... (1)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906881)

I was so sad they named it General Fusion and not Mr. Fusion. SOOOO sad. Or maybe it was the whisky.

Re:In other news... (2, Funny)

Rocketship Underpant (804162) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907729)

Auntie Matter will smooth the whole thing over with tea and crumpets.

Re:In other news... (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907935)

Oh, he might try but a colonel only commands a single regiment while a general commands at least two ;-)

Actively stabilized fusion (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905957)

There's been some modest interest in actively stabilized fusion for a while, but this is the first mechanical scheme.

The basic problem with fusion reactors is that the plasmas aren't stable. Most work to date involves trying to come up with some geometry that produces an inherently stable plasma. So far, nothing works, although some geometries almost work. But it's not that hard to build a small machine that has an unstable plasma. The original Stellerator, in 1951, did that.

The instabilities occur on the order of milliseconds, not microseconds or nanoseconds. That's slow enough that some kind of active stabilization scheme to nudge the instabilities back in line might work. Something with a large number of sensors and actuators. But I'd been expecting electrostatic deflection plates or magnets, not physical pistons.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28905987)

I wonder if this could be turned into a rocket engine? It has an EE Smith feel about it.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (2, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906257)

That might explain the spinny engine bits on the Serenity.

I've got an idea (5, Funny)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906057)

You could attach four smart mechanical arms to someone's brain stem (with an inhibitor chip of course). Those extra arms could make the millisecond adjustments to keep the instabilities in check. I have to admit this sounds familiar ...

Re:I've got an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28906075)

Out scrounging for more venture capital after your last little incident, eh Octavius?

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (1)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906069)

So in order to maintain the fusion reaction they're going to physically shove the plasma into alignment whenever it develops an instability? Are you saying that Spider-Man 2 was actually correct about its physics? I'm not sure if this means i should be looking forward to flying cars in the near future or watching out for an attack by super villains.

Pulse fusion, it looks like... (4, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906163)

They're not going to stabilize the plasma at all, if I understand this right (IANANP). It's a pulse fusion model: put your hydrogen in the middle, surround with a working fluid that they refer to as "liquid metal" (made of lead + lithium), fire off pistons to make a pressure wave in the liquid metal and make a burst of fusion in the middle, generating heat. This makes the molten lead even hotter, and it's circulated through a heat exchanger. The cool part, I thought, was that the lead also absorbs radiation so the casing and equipment doesn't fall apart after a few months because the neutron flux made it brittle. That's a neat trick.

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906259)

One neat thing that they didn't mention: having lithium exposed to a high radiation flux will breed more tritium. It makes its own fuel.

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906787)

It's a shame it breeds more tritium and no di-lithium ...

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (1)

ionix5891 (1228718) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907111)

not if you reverse the polarity of the main deflector

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (1)

Calydor (739835) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907461)

So it's a perpetual motion machine?

I -knew- this sounded too good to be true.

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (3, Informative)

dkf (304284) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907615)

So it's a perpetual motion machine?

What on earth gave you that impression? Converting lithium to tritium leaves less lithium behind, and the energy would be coming from rearranging nucleons. No perpetual motion there at all.

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (2, Interesting)

jamesh (87723) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906735)

What happens to the lead when it absorbs the radiation? If it's fusion then there aren't a lot of neutrons let off but does it still remain stable (ie remain lead) over a long period?

Re:Pulse fusion, it looks like... (2, Interesting)

physburn (1095481) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907845)

Yeah the lead will absorb radiation, but when it absorbs those fast neutrons from the fusion reaction, it will split like uranium does in fission. Except some very nasty radioactive daughter products. With the lead, this is not be clean energy, it will rather dirty indeed.

---

Nuclear Power [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906723)

Are you saying that Spider-Man 2 was actually correct about its physics?

It was correct about everything else wasn't it? Why would the physics side of it be any different?

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (1)

j-stroy (640921) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906193)

I've been waiting for this (acoustically contained/pumped fusion). Its just one more way to add energy, create confinement and maintain resonance. And whats with Sonoluminescence [wikipedia.org] anyways? The whole tokamak thing seemed a little ill conceived when I heard how difficult it is to keep the vacuum from being poisoned and energy from leaking away from the desired chain reaction.

Btw sound waves are observed>/a> on the surface of the sun. [space.com]

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (5, Interesting)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906341)

Uhhhh, what are you talking about? The plasma parameters are not by any means, in so far as I can see, actively controlled in any way in this scheme. Their plan is to launch two colliding toroidal vortex rings of hot plasma into the vorticular void of a large sphere or rapidly spinning molten LiPb metal. Then, using pistons, they launch an imploding spherically symmetric shockwave into the metal to converge upon the merged spheromaks at the center of the setup. The TOTAL confinement time looks like it'll be measured in microseconds at most on this thing, no way is there time for active control of the plasma during a shot like that.

As fusion schemes go, I am obligated to express my opinion that this one is way fucking wacky, however, it is significantly less wacky than a lot of other ideas out there (polywell, I'm looking at you) and it does not appear to have any immediate show stoppers associated with it which would allow me to dismiss it out of hand. I am not a physicist, but I did just get home from my job working on one of the nation's largest conventional (laser driven) inertial confinement fusion reactors and I have a very deep enthusiast's interest on these matters. On the laser fusion device that I work on, we have recently begun shooting MTF targets (we call it MIF or magneto-inertial fusion though) on our system as well [rochester.edu] , and the results are quite interesting. We use a centimeter scale, single loop Helmholtz coil setup with a conventionally laser-driven fusion microcapsule sitting at the center of the coils. The laser fires, compressing the D-T fuel to tremendous pressure and temperature (higher than in the sun's core) and just before the exact moment of maximum compression and fusion burn (bang time) the Helmholtz coils are fired with power from a couple hundred Joule capacitor bank, thereby producing a huge magnetic field in the compressed target capsule and hopefully increasing the plasma confinement time from a mere few picoseconds to several times longer (the Larmor radius of charged particles in a magnetic field of the intensity we produce is on the order of the size of the compressed capsule, it effectively suppresses electron thermal conductivity and confines the hot plasma within itself). Proton deflectrometry has been successfully used to validate the expected ~.2 megagauss magnetic fields in our setups. The work ahead of the guys with this piston driven shockwave idea is enormous, but the field of plasma and fusion physics is still rich with exciting discovery. I wish these gentlemen the very best of luck.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (3, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906541)

So what's your opinion of Dense Plasma Focus Fusion [focusfusion.org] then?

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (4, Interesting)

deglr6328 (150198) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906779)

I won't sugarcoat my thoughts on that one, I'd say it's nothing more than a fraud. The lowest of the low, vastly kookier than even Bussard's Polywell. I have followed discussions about Eric Lerner and focus fusion VERY closely on the wikipedia pages and I have little to no respect for that man's ideas about fusion or his tactics of argument. He does not have a PhD and he is not a physicist. His ideas about the "electric universe" are idiotic pseudoscience. I will refer you specifically to the plasma physicist Art Carlson's highly thoughtful and reasonable objections to unconventional fusion schemes in general on this issue, and his objections to focus fusion in particular (all on the wiki pages). His credentials and intellectual honesty in these debates seem, to me anyway, to be impeccable.

Robert Bussard can be forgiven for his sin of the polywell. He was a really good scientist who achieved some truly admirable things in his career, but at the end I think he realized that he was getting old and would never live to see his dream of fusion power come true, and he started making wacky claims when things became desperate (like extrapolating his supposed observation of three -count em- THREE fusion neutrons from one of his setups to commercial scale power cost estimates, that's just pain nutty). It's unfortunate but entirely forgivable. Art Carlson's criticism of the polywell device as a non-starter due to its being classified as a reactor whose plasma is in thermodynamic disequilibrium (Todd Rider's MIT thesis on this showed that the bremsstrahlung losses are insurmountable) are highly convincing, and the waffling and flouncing about that the polywell supporters do in the face of these criticisms seem highly dubious.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (2)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908279)

Personally I'm holding back on putting the 100k down on the Tesla 2020 with 220 cylinder fusion engine. But I wouldn't claim a University of Wikipedia education to condemn a new idea; I wouldn't want to make a statement on the workability without a Ph.D. in high energy physics myself. Compared to the billions spent on the confined plasma schemes, pulse set-ups are cheap to implement and see if you get excess neutrons or not. The one thing we learned from the cold fusion disaster, the claims don't last long if looked at seriously.

Re:Thermodynamic disequilibrium (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908281)

All plasmas are in a non-equilibrium thermodynamic state. Different configurations just have different dissipative mechanisms, many of the most important ones poorly understood for typical magnetic confinement experiments. I used to be a plasma physicist, and got out after realizing that the anomalous transport made you something like 600x off in your theory predictions, and if you dumped in all the possible corrections theorists had imagined up to that time (never mind the conditions for most of these were in conflict with each other) you still wound up a factor of 50x off.
      If you wish to look into this you will find the problem is the Boltzmann equation--Boltzmann is simply wrong with his invariant measures for phase space in the case of non-equilibrium physics (hyperbolic measures are required then). Foundations of statistical mechanics stuff, nasty math, etc. Plasma physics was pretty hopeless 20 years ago and probably still is, unless you have "gravitational confinement" like the stars or build things big enough (ITER) that the losses are offset by enough gain. The laser fusion process can be fast enough to stay ahead of the losses with a smaller system than the magnetic confinement stuff (ITER), but would at that time still have to be large enough to supply half the North American continent with power.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (1)

Zobeid (314469) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908455)

Eh what? Please excuse my ignorance, as I have only been following this casually, but. . . .

I thought it had been long shown that Todd Rider's paper doesn't address (i.e. is not applicable to) the Polywell device.

I seems to me that most critics of Polywell go off track when they start describing the ions in the reactor as a hot plasma (as if it were a kind of tokamak), when it would be more apt to view them as a converging particle beam. The type of directed (as opposed to random) kinetic energy those particles possess is not heat at all, from a thermodynamic standpoint. It has to be analyzed differently.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (2, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906581)

I don't know what's scarier: that your post was so full of technical jargon, or that I understood all of it.

I think I need to switch fields.

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28906737)

I think magneto-inertial laser fusion would make for a better name...

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (2, Interesting)

quanminoan (812306) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908431)

Polywell more wacky than this? There are a number of things I can't see them getting right with this piston concept any time soon. Personally, I don't think they can make a uniform shockwave using pistons, but we'll see I guess. The plasma vortex rings sounds interesting. I guess my primary question would be using the lead lithium blanket next to the plasma. Invariably, you'll have some vapor in the plasma region, and these higher Z atoms should wreck havoc with Bremsstrahlung radiation. The polywell already produces neutrons from fusion, avoids Bremsstrahlung more than the original "fusor" concepts, and should be scalable. Granted, I actually feel that the more conventional schemes have a greater chance of success currently. ITER should break even...

Re:Actively stabilized fusion (3, Interesting)

mako1138 (837520) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907203)

But it's not that hard to build a small machine that has an unstable plasma.
The original Stellerator, in 1951, did that.

Uh, the advantage of a Stellarator is that it's a stable configuration... relatively speaking.

And indeed it is not difficult to build a machine with an unstable plasma. The history of magnetic confinement fusion research is "oh I've got this great idea for a stable plasma configuration" followed by "we built it and found out that it's not stable enough."

Code Name: Penuts (4, Funny)

Cidolfas (1358603) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906021)

The research team's other concept, which created fusion by enticing atoms with footballs only to pull them all away at the last second, was named 'Lucy'.

Re:Code Name: Penuts (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908217)

Their approach is based on a US Naval research concept called 'Linus' and old research done by General Atomics.

Yes, but does it run Linux?

p11B (4, Informative)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906125)

Perhaps if the D-T reactor does really well they can redesign it to handle a fuel composed of hydrogen ions (protons, in other words) and Boron-11 ions. The products of this reaction are helium-4 ions, which are not radioactive and do not induce radioactivity in their containment vessel if they are captured electrically. Electrical capture also avoids the losses associated with converting heat to electricity.

I really hope General Fusion gets this to work, but if I had any money, my money would be on EMC2 Corp, which is working on inertial electrostatic fusion. This [blogspot.com] or this [emc2fusion.org] should get you started on a search for more information.

Re:p11B - Better link (3, Interesting)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906183)

Perhaps this [blogspot.com] is a better link for Polywell Fusion.

Re:p11B (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906249)

If you read the site, you'd see one of the tricks they have up their sleeve to deal with the radioactivity problem: they surround the actual fusion process with a working fluid of molten lead (and lithium) which not only transmits the shockwave from the pistons, but also absorbs neutrons. If the reactor does well, they shouldn't have to change the fuel at all.

Re:p11B (1)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906453)

I saw that, but since I'm talking out of the wrong orifice, I have to admit that I don't know what happens to lead or lithium when they absorb neutrons. I just "ass-ume" that they become radioactive isotopes and that this instability will get transferred to whatever is close to them.

Would someone who knows tell me what happens to lead when you keep pumping it full of fast neutrons? As I recall, lead is pretty close to the bottom of the fusion reaction ladder, so any transmutation involving it winds up losing energy, but I have to believe it still transmutes, given enough provocation. Do I have the general idea sort of right?

Re:p11B (2, Interesting)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906625)

My guess is that 204Pb will absorb a neutron and transmute to 205Pb, which decays to a stable isotope of thallium, and 208Pb will transmute to 209Pb, which decays to nearly stable bismuth. The other lead isotopes look like they should just become heavier stable lead isotopes. I don't see any obvious waste problems here.

Re:p11B (2, Informative)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906643)

Oops, the half life of 205Pb is long enough to make it a problem. There won't be a lot of it, though, as 204Pb is only 1.4% of natural lead.

Re:p11B (1)

ivan_w (1115485) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907557)

I would tend to think that, if it ever becomes a concern, they could easily reduce the amount of Pb205 in the mix.

Using a centrifuge would seem to be able to do the trick (and multi-staging it eventually) .. But I'm no physicist nor an engineer, so I'm not even sure whether it's practical and/or even feasible!

--Ivan

Re:p11B (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908415)

Given they're going to be melting it anyway, would it be easier to separate out the 205Pb (I'm guessing it's slightly denser, so could be centrifugally separated) before the rest goes in the reactor?

There's probably uses for relatively high-purity 205Pb, munitions perhaps?

Interesting... (3, Informative)

kabz (770151) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906127)

I wonder if this is related to the suspected fusion that occurs during ultrasound induced cavitation.

Re:Interesting... (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906591)

It's the same idea, essentially -- a shock focused from all directions onto a point in the middle.

Ultrasound pumped into a resonant cavity is just a different way of starting the shock (and you get many shocks per second with a higher efficiency -- whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on what you're doing)

They are already ahead of the government... (1)

Jade E. 2 (313290) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906195)

I don't know about their fusion reactor, but as far as web servers go that startup appears to be way ahead of LANL.

Re:They are already ahead of the government... (1)

waferhead (557795) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906229)

Yes, slashdot has apparently DOS'd a guvmint lab.

Expect the black DHS helicopters to arrive in 3,2,1... ;-)

Re:They are already ahead of the government... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28906475)

Who ISNT ahead of the incompetent, useless government?

Well.. (2, Funny)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906197)

Well, it looks like they're finally going to hammer out fusion power.

Few bad points (1)

snikulin (889460) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906211)

1. A bit too colorful and garrulous website [generalfusion.com] for a honest poor startup.

2. Butt-ugly font at that.

3. Relocation to Canada will be required [generalfusion.com] . Are you kidding me?!!!

Re:Points 1 & 2 (1)

rdebath (884132) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906913)

The website looks just like a startup's website to me. The copy has been written by the MD (or the MD's marketing friend) and the layout is exactly what you get from someone technical who can do html but does their best to minimise their contact with it. The fonts in particular are using the "verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif" list straight out of "the manual" and the layout is a dead simple table layout copied from before everyone got conned into trying to do all the layout using CSS.

As for 3, I imagine it's got something to do with the US having a sue happy population with stupid laws about anything with the word nuclear in it. You know like Nuclear magnetic resonance scanner ...

Re:Points 1 & 2 (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907819)

Plus, if they blow up a sizable part of Canada, who cares? :)

Re:Few bad points (3, Insightful)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906981)

Relocating to the Vancouver area is a bad point? What world are you living in? On Earth Vancouver is frequently ranked among the planets most livable cities.

Fantastic Fiction (3, Funny)

robbiedo (553308) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906221)

"General Atomics" Sounds like a company from a 1950's Robert Heinlein novel.

Re:Fantastic Fiction (5, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906333)

There's a reason fifties novels sound like that. It has to do with art imitating life, not the other way around. General Atomics was real. So were General Dynamics and General Electric. So were companies like North American Aviation and The Aerospace Corporation. Some of them even still exist.

Re:Fantastic Fiction (2, Informative)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906997)

Was real? My office is just down the street from them. Sure they aren't doing that cool Project Orion stuff anymore but they're still here.

Re:Fantastic Fiction (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906601)

Your thinking General Services from "We Also Walk Dogs."

Nice try (2, Funny)

beej (82035) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906281)

But that's never going to fit on a DeLorean. Why don't these guys ever plan ahead?

Who knew? (2, Funny)

tchdab1 (164848) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906361)

that the Batmobile had a 220-cylinder engine?

Re:Who knew? (1)

NalosLayor (958307) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906911)

Actually, it had a 238 cylinder engine. Unfortunately, the name Orion was already taken.

So, (1)

Bu11etmagnet (1071376) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906557)

It builds on work done during the 1980s by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, based on a concept called Linus

... does it run Linux ?

Re:So, (2, Interesting)

Entropius (188861) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906603)

Probably. If it's scientific and computer-y, it's probably powered by penguins.

I just got back from a computational physics conference, and I doubt anybody there would have the slightest idea how to make a supercomputer run on Windows.

VSE (1, Offtopic)

epine (68316) | more than 5 years ago | (#28906863)

I've lived in the area for a long time, and never heard a good story about the VSE (RIP 1999), it's remains, but not the lingering stench, since composted into the CDNX.

Wikipedia just provided me with a funny story about the VSE I didn't know, but find all too typical.

The history of the exchange's index provides a standard case example of large errors arising from seemingly innocuous floating point calculations. The index was initialized at 1000 and subsequently updated and truncated to three decimal places on each trade. The accumulated truncations led to an erroneous loss of around 20 points per day. Over the weekend of November 25-28 1983, the error was corrected, raising the value of the index from its Friday closing figure of 524.811 to 1098.892

Are these the same people who are proposing to solve the fusion problem with 220 synchronized penises? Good god, I hope not.

For the record, here's what $500m typically buys you in British Columbia.

Fast Ferry Scandal [wikipedia.org]

Amazing, just eight hours ago, a local newspaper is reporting that these vessels have been flipped for $20m.

PacifiCat ferries resold overseas [bclocalnews.com]

The Washington Marine Group sold the three ferries the company bought from B.C. Ferries for $19.8 million, to luxury yacht builder Abu Dhabi Mar.

Four cents on the dollar. That beats the old VSE hands down. Vancouver has a world-class ethnic cuisine, has enjoyed some decent success in video games and film production, but has a terrible track record with anything that floats.

Ballard Power being one of the more buoyant exceptions. I just did a search on "Ballard Power profit" and was pleasantly surprised to get a hit.

Ballard Power reports modest profit in Q2 [lfpress.ca]

I suppose if General Slammer raises $500m to build the commercial scale reactor, they'll use our excellent BC shipyards to fabricate them. We're good. We can weld aluminum into structures less valuable than the original metal.

While I've never met a lumberjack I didn't like on a personal level, I have to say as voting collective, they're dumb as stumps. We inevitably get the government we deserve. Our big project always make work, but rarely make money.

In rural areas of BC, it's easy to spot the people with jobs at the local mill or the local mine: they've got more equity sitting in the driveway than in their shit-box house (4x4 trucks, boats, campers, skidoos, jet-skis, ATVs, etc.) Big nature, eh? You can't govern in this province without earning this vote.

We do have some nice mountains. Vancouver is planning a party to show this off. You might have heard of it. I think the plan is to lose a lot of money proving we're world class and shrewd at business.

Re:VSE (2, Interesting)

Luxifer (725957) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908317)

Wow, you're too bitter to be a Canadian by birth, and you didn't apologize once. So..er.. where you from originally?

New Idea? (3, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907485)

Maybe we should just move all companies and their fusion experiments to one, single 'fusion science park', with each building next to each other in a ring. We then use large bulldozers to smash all the buildings towards the centre at the same time and see what happens?

It's an idea? No?

Why why why... (1)

mustafap (452510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907515)

FTA : "half used to create steam that spins a turbine for power generation"

Why do we still pursue solutions that end up relying on 19th century technology?

It's like a space ship's hyperdrive being powered by coal. Even Douglas Adams wouldn't have put that in a story.

Re:Why why why... (2, Informative)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28907741)

Because it works.

Re:Why why why... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28908301)

Steam turbines are only slightly less basic than the lever, or the wheel. There's no reason to replace them, and there won't be until we come up with something better.

Chances are, we won't for a long time.

"vaporware" (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28907869)

"I think we can hold off on the 'vaporware' claims ..."

Wouldn't this be plasmaware?

acoustic shockwaves (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908089)

a startup proposing they can create commercially viable fusion using acoustic shock waves...based on a US Naval research concept called 'Linus'

In other news, Naval research has noted ongoing changes in dolphin behaviour, six days after Linus Torvalds shouted at Alan Cox.

Using shock waves to compress things (2, Funny)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#28908339)

A series of financial shock waves squeezed my retirement plan into the size of a helium atom, so I don't see why sound waves can't do the same for a couple of deuterium atoms.

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