Off Topic Fusion Tech soon?

I am a big fan of technology. I am a big fan of cheap, clean energy. Fusion is the best way to get there.

Solar and wind need large batteries, and they do not exist yet. Flow batteries improve each year but they are not available at scale or cost to compete on price with existing electricity sources.

I am a fan of Generation 4 and later fission reactor designs, and even Gen 3+ designs are fine by me. All the issues from 3 Mile Island to Fukushima were Gen 1 reactors. I prefer them to coal plants, but natural gas is the better trade-off between those 3.

Admittedly, though fusion beats fission because its cleaner, by a huge margin. The problem is that as of yet no one knows how to make a reactor that we can get more energy out of than we put into it.

One of the big issues, and sadly I seem to have lost the article that convinced me of this, is money. We have not funded the research to the level that would get us the solution to the many problems we have in making this work in 30 years. Why, well fission reactors have a military component. You can design them to make plutonium for weapons. Fission is just a powerplant.

The good news is that for the last 20 years or so, funding from non-governmental sources has started to trickle and flow in. Government grants have also increased. The momentum of decades of low funding research is getting us closer to seeing the goal line.

Internet moguls and people like that are funding these programs. Some big companies like Lockheed Martin are getting in on the game. Solar system class space exploration would be much easier with fusion reactors.

There are about 20 major programs run in many countries with public and private funding all racing to get the first break even reactor and dare I say full commercial plants by the early to mid 2020s.

This company claims, on a site long on promises short on delivering, to have proof of their break even reactor by the end of this year. They claim to need another 3 years for their commercial class reactor. That puts them in line with Lockheed Martin’s claims.

To paraphrase my favorite line in, the Count de Monte Cristo, “… the sum of all human wisdom is contained in the lines, wait and hope….”

Short Note on Cold Fusion

I am also a cheerleader for Cold Fusion. I think there is a non-zero, but admittedly very close to zero chance that there is a real effect there that could be harnessed. Is it fusion, probably not. Is it possible it is some kind of quantum effect, yes, but very unlikely. I hope it is, but I have seen 0 hard evidence, and many enthusiastic claims that come to naught. The Martin – Fleishman Memorial Project is open and honest about the research. If they ever say they have it, I will believe them. I have watched more than a few of their failed tests. Even then, they have not posted anything in over a year…

Like I said, low chance, probably 0, but I hope.

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2 Comments

  1. Fusion is a pipe dream. It’s the best solution for power generation for multiple reasons but progress has been nil to date. Maybe some serious funding upgrades are in order?

    Solar and wind are zero carbon but require a lot of batteries. The most promising energy storage for this grid-scale challenge appears to be lithium ion batteries due to their rapidly decreasing costs. If you buy forecasts by some industry researchers, by the mid-2020s, wind or solar combined with lithium ion batteries could be cost-competitive with natural gas CCGTs. A lot needs to happen to make this a reality. And a lot of land will be used to replace fossil generation with current renewable technologies.

    Fusion is the better long-term solution if folks can switch gears and start funding research programs with conviction. Nuclear doesn’t seem to work with the new AP1000 reactors being tried in S. Carolina (not anymore) and Georgia. Will be interesting to see the industry develop in the coming decade.

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    1. I totally understand your position on Fusion, and most people I talk to share your fair skepticism. I have been reading a lot of papers that these companies are putting out, the ones that are not in semi-stealth mode, and I think they collectively are getting close. The German Stellerator design is really compelling to me, and reminds me of some of the early ideas from Robert Buzzard. I have been called pollyannaish, and I am okay with that.

      I think for short term energy storage, Li-ion can work for solar / wind. Still, the supplies of that metal are not great enough to supply enough storage for grid usage. We may not have enough for electric cars (https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-lithium-battery-future/) (https://www.statista.com/statistics/452026/projected-total-supply-for-lithium-globally/) (https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/mcs-2018-lithi.pdf) Sodium batteries may be promising.

      Flow batteries, by comparison, could be made to the quantities that we need. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery) http://aquionenergy.com/ might be able to make something, but bankruptcy seems to have killed them. They survive as a conglomerate subsidiary. I’m hoping someone will make it work. Flow batteries won’t work in cars, but they would be great for utility scale storage. http://www.storionenergy.com/technology.html might be a good candidate, and they have installations on many military bases. Still, I am not convinced anyone has a solution yet, so who knows maybe we will find more Lithium, and maybe they will win. Either tech is fine with me. I just want the energy storage.

      No matter what, I am hopeful.

      I agree that the fission nukes can’t compete with natural gas. They don’t do well against them. The AP1000 design is a Gen3+, and I think a lot of the problems with those two in the US are more about unreasable nuclear fear than economics. The unreasonable fear, causes unreasonable regulations, which leads to insane building costs. That being said, I admit I may be wrong, and that those fears are justified. I just am not convinced they are. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NuScale_Power has an alternative solution that might just solve the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

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