Sunday, May 06, 2007

A new version of fusion?

The usual 'hot' one has had umpteen billions pured into it and so far has produced nothing valuable. Dr Robert Bussard's work by comparison looks rather interesting and yet's starved of funds. Picked up on it originally in u75, best description seems to be here.
When energized, the cube of electromagnets creates a magnetic sphere into which electrons are injected. The magnetic field squeezes the electrons into a dense ball at the reactor’s core, creating a highly negatively charged area.
To begin the reaction, boron-11 nuclei and protons are injected into the cube. Because of their positive charge, they accelerate to the center of the electron ball. Most of them sail through the center of the core and on toward the opposite side of the reactor. But the negative charge of the electron ball pulls them back to the center. The process repeats, perhaps thousands of times, until the boron nucleus and a proton collide with enough force to fuse.
That fusion turns boron-11 into highly energetic carbon-12, which promptly splits into a helium nucleus and a beryllium nucleus. The beryllium then splits into two more helium nuclei.

The great thing is that the only "pollution" from the process is helium, great for blimps and party tricks that make you talk like Donald Duck. There are high-energy neutrons given off which rot the equipment meaning it has to be replaced occasionally, but nothing like the radiation and dirty isotopes produced from fission. And the inputs are hydrogen and boron, both dirt-cheap to source.
More here, though this bunch seem mainly concerned with the spaceflight applications.

While Bussard's far from the fruitcakes that seem to infest the cheap energy scene, it seems perverse that such a promising area is unfunded. If you follow the second link far enough, you find they had a very promising device on a mere $2m funding, which got cut, in Bussard's words:
It was not a cutoff of OUR funding, but the entire Navy Energy Program was cut to zero in FY 2006, and we were a part of this cut. The funds were clearly needed for the more important War in Iraq.
While it's so far been a US Navy project, there doesn't seem much chance of the private sector taking up on it:

As for energy companies "stampeding" to support us -- It is clear that a view like this is ignorant of the reality of energy companies. There is only one thing the oil cvompanies want, and that is to sell oil, and more oil. So long as the fields pump, the oil companies will squeeze. They have NO, absolutely NO interest in anything new, ins spite of all their foolish ads in magazines for wind mills and solar-PV roofs. It is all just show and tell. I know these guys, and there is no way they would support anything that might get in the way of oil. The only way to stop oil, from their view, is when it does run out. And then they''ll go for deeper drilling, new fields, Gulf geopressure gas, LNG, etc, etc, and keep raising the price, until finally foolish solar and windmills become competitive.

It's the ultimate sadness of the human race in the 21st century that while we have a major crisis in terms of depletion of oil and global warming, efforts instead go into wars to control the oil-bearing countries and to prop up existing business and governmental hierarchies rather than to genuinely find solutions. Our energy / pollution crisis may look bleak but there are plenty of possible solutions on the horizon, but first and foremost we have to sort out our own society.


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