Small Company Works on Fusion Reactor

By | March 6, 2010

Phase2 Plasma Assy. Image courtesy of General Fusion.… Using fusion as an energy source has been alternately hyped, derided and discounted over the past 55 years, ever since the first H-Bomb burst over Bikini Atoll. The potential benefits of fusion are obvious: all you have to do is look up at the sun to see fusion at work. Every second of every day the sun generates fusion reactions, expelling enough energy to create a net gain of energy that keeps our planet alive. But creating that net gain from a fusion reaction here on Earth, in a safe and easily harnessed way, has confounded the best minds on the planet for more than half a century.

“Fusion is easy. Net gain is the hard part,” Richardson said. …

General Fusion’s reactor is a metal sphere surrounded by pneumatic pistons. The pistons create an acoustic wave that travels through a liquid metal containment layer, hitting the center with a shock wave. In the center of the sphere, a plasma target should then — in theory — implode and create fusion energy, which is then extracted with a heat exchanger. From there, steam is released to create electricity. For the reactor to have any practical purpose, it has to repeat this process every second. …

General Fusion is currently in the first stage of the project, building all the components including the sphere that will eventually contain a magnetized ball of plasma. During the second stage, due to start in 2011, they’ll build the actual reactor.

Richardson isn’t talking about incrementally lowering the cost of fusion. He’s talking about a quantum leap downward in price. The company hasn’t yet reached their stated goal of raising $50 million, a pittance compared to the money spent on government funded fusion projects, but has succeeded in raising over $9 million from private investors and $12.9 million from Sustainable Technology Development Canada, a Canadian government agency.

Where GF innovates is in adapting today’s technology to improve an old design. Fusion energy is generated in miniscule amounts of time, and thirty years ago the technology simply wasn’t available to control instruments fast enough to take control during the crucial moment when fusion energy is released.

But in 2009, we have fast and cheap computer chips that offer very precise control over motors that can create compressive forces in mere microseconds. “We got to the point in the ’70s and ’80s that we could get plasma to last milliseconds. The question was how to control it. Now, with cheap digital signal processors,” at this point Richardson points at my iPhone, “it can be done.”

And it only has to be done once. If General Fusion can prove they’ve produced net gain through fusion, the world will beat a path to their door. “The next stage would be to build a reactor at the same scale, but with the ability to reliably produce energy at a rate of once every thousand seconds. From there fusion will eventually scale up into power plants, a development Richardson estimates will cost upwards of $1 billion, but it will be a cost born by industries who will benefit immensely from the potential benefits of fusion power. Richardson: “If you look at the scale of spending on energy research and development, $50 million is peanuts. The oil and gas industry spends $20 billion to develop and deploy technology in the Alberta tar sands right now.” …

via Big Bang from a Small Company | h+ Magazine.

2 thoughts on “Small Company Works on Fusion Reactor

  1. Sepp

    “The potential benefits of fusion are obvious: all you have to do is look up at the sun to see fusion at work. Every second of every day the sun generates fusion reactions, expelling enough energy to create a net gain of energy that keeps our planet alive.”

    Although this statement is widely accepted in academic and scientific circles, it is based on nothing but speculation. There is no hard evidence that fusion is what makes the sun emit radiation (light, heat and other wavelengths).

    Perhaps that is why fusion reactors seem so elusive? The dream has been pursued for decades without any appreciable results yet. Let’s hope this one does not turn out to be a dud as all the others before it.

    1. Xeno Post author

      I think our own fusion reactions here on earth (h-bombs) emitting these wavelengths is hard physical evidence as is the elements/radiation/particles we detect in the sun and in fusion reactions on earth.

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