Maiello: Defeat the Press
Wolraich: Obama at the Gates of... Gates
In, 500MW from half a gram of hydrogen: The hunt for fusion power heats up, ExtremeTech trumpets a potential efficiency breakthrough in magnetic confinement fusion, the type used at ITER:
Basically, to keep fusion going you need to sustain a temperature of around 11 million degrees Celsius, which requires a huge amount of electricity. Fusion chambers are usually lined with heat-resistant carbon tiles in an attempt to reduce wastage, but the problem is that protons and neutrons escaping from the fusion reaction hit the wall, cool down, and then bounce back into the reaction, reducing the temperature. Electricity must then be used to increase the temperature back to 11 million Celsius.
The PPPL [Princeton Plasma Physics Lab], led by Bruce Koel, have found that a thin layer of lithium metal (the third element in the Periodic Table) absorbs these protons and neutrons, preventing them from bouncing back into the pot, and thus reducing the power requirement of keeping the fusion reaction going.
In, Nuclear Fusion Is a Real Possibility, Discovery thinks Sandia Labs may be on to something with their "warm" magnetic confinement experiments:
A metal cylinder, which lines the inside of each of the coils, has an inner coating of deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen, the former with a single extra neutron and the latter with two). The metal liner is preheated with a laser, and then hit with a current of tens of millions of amperes.
That current vaporizes the liner, but before it does so, it generates a very strong magnetic field nestled inside the one from the coils. As such, the outer magnetic field squeezes the liner with so much force that it shrinks to a small fraction of its original size. That crushing force is enough to get the deuterium and tritium atoms confined long enough to fuse into helium, releasing a neutron and some extra energy. ...
In their computer simulations, the output was 100 times that of a 60 million amperes put into the system. The output rose as the current went up: 1,000 times the input power was reached from an incoming pulse of 70 million amps.
Sandia's equipment, however, can only generate 26 million amps. But they're going to see what happens.
Ugo Bardi thinks that even hot fusion is taking a long time to pan out:
Nuclear fusion and the "three years law" of scientific research
We are still working, mostly, on the "tokamak" concept, proposed in the 1950s by the Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov. There is no doubt that tokamaks can produce nuclear fusions but, in more than 50 years of work, we haven't been able to reach the "breakeven" point, that is the condition when the ratio of the energy produced by fusion is the same as the energy needed to keep the plasma in steady state. The European ITER project on nuclear fusion is supposed to reach and exceed that point when it becomes fully operational in 2026, that is about 20 years after the start of the project. The whole ITER project should last until 2038. These are anomalously long times for an industrial research project. Consider also that, even if ITER attains its goals, we are orders of magnitude away from a device actually able to produce useful energy.
Now, of course, it is impossible to say that tokamaks will never produce useful energy. But look at the figure at the beginning of this post. Doesn't it make you wonder? It looks like we are just making the same machine bigger and bigger, in the hope that, eventually, it will work.
A week before, Bardi announced, The sinking of the E-Cat, Andrea Rossi's supposed home cold fusion heating device. Weeks ago, I had read where Tom Whipple and many others were encouraged by reports that Rossi had submitted his device to Underwriters Laboratory. My reaction was that UL sounds very authoritative, but only tests for safety, not function. UL may only test the safety of the controls of a given device. But it hadn't even gone that far:
According to some recent statements by Rossi, the device had been undergoing safety testing for months at Underwriters Laboratory.
It couldn't go unnoticed in Florida that someone was claiming to be producing nuclear reactors in large numbers. On February 24, an officer of the State of Florida Bureau of Radiation Control went to investigate what was going on in the pretended "E-Cat factory" in Miami. There, he found no factory, but an apartment and Andrea Rossi in person. Questioned on the E-Cat, Rossi declared that "no nuclear reactions occur inside the device." Rossi also stated that all the facilities for testing and production are "overseas," and that safety certification with Underwriters Laboratory will be arranged in the future.
Energy uncertainty seems to result in rich people putting their hopes in more drilling for oil and poor people putting their hopes in cheap energy devices. No one wants to live with less energy, or even contemplate a life with fewer energy slaves.
In The Phantoms I've Killed, Do the Math's Tom Murphy is applying himself to direct conservation using his Kill-A-Watt meter and his TED (The Energy Detective) to identify and eliminate energy vampires at home:
What do these “trick” devices have to do with reduction of power consumption? Knowledge is power. And knowledge of power is spectacularly useful. We got rid of wasteful devices like a stereo that had an inexcusable 12 W standby power drain (9 kWh/month). Knowing the power associated with various lighting choices guides our decisions about what lights we might want to use and when. We have identified various phantom loads (devices that suck “standby” power without providing benefit) and eliminated them by unplugging when not in use. These include a 9 W pull from the printer even when off; 11 W from the central air circulator that we were not even using; 5 W from the sprinkler control that we also were not using; and others as well—you get the idea. ...
The point of all this is that reduction of energy demand is perhaps our most powerful, near-term weapon in facing a world of increased pressure on energy supply. Price signals may ultimately push us into these adaptations, but why not see it coming and be ahead of the curve?: one step ahead of the neighbors. We are a culture adapted to the expectation of growth: more tomorrow than today. This attitude will fail when it comes to energy—starting with liquid fuels. Reduction is a way to beat this physical reality to the punch, and at the same time offer enough relief that maybe we’ll have enough surplus energy (and political will) to build out a modest energy infrastructure less susceptible to the resource limits we face.