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Fusion Power By 2020? Researchers Say Yes and Turn To Crowdfunding.

Unknown Lamer posted about 7 months ago | from the will-research-particle-physics-for-food dept.

Power 280

Luminary Crush (109477) writes "To date, the bulk of fusion research has been channelled towards a plasma containment and stabilization method. This is the approach used by ITER's tokamak reactor, the cost of which could exceed US$13.7 billion before it's online in the year 2027 (barring further delays). Researchers at LPP Fusion, in a project partially financed by NASA-JPL, are working in a different direction: focus fusion, which focuses the plasma in a very small area to produce fusion and an ion beam which could then be harnessed to produce electricity. It is small enough to fit in a shipping container, can double as a rocket engine, and would cost US$50 million to produce the working 5 MW prototype. To reach the next hurdle and demonstrate feasibility, LPP Fusion has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $200K."

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Oh, sure (0)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#47044613)

but which they claim is scientifically sound and only relies on well-established science

Given how ideas speak for themselves in physics (and science in general) more than their messengers, the obvious question is why hasn't everyone jumped on it yet?

As they leave, the electrons in the beam interact with the electrons in the plasmoid and heat up the area to over 1.8 billion degrees Celsius, which is enough to get fusion reactions.

Yeah, except the temperature is irrelevant, the combination of temperature, density and time isn't. What worth is the former if they don't have the latter?

Re:Oh, sure (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044919)

Nigger. There. I said it. What are your feelings about that?

Re:Oh, sure (1, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#47044939)

I'm feeling very noir about that.

Re:Oh, sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045007)

I'm feeling very noir about that.

I'm feeling totally browned off about it

Re:Oh, sure (0)

butalearner (1235200) | about 7 months ago | (#47045189)

the obvious question is why hasn't everyone jumped on it yet?

Did you see the name they picked? You might as well just skip the middle man and mail Ford Motor Company a few hundred dollars as prepayment for their impending trademark lawsuit.

Re:Oh, sure (0)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#47045313)

Because they cost a fortune and coal is a hell of a lot more profitable. Experimental technologies that are not profitable, require huge startup costs and are only "Good" in the sense that they help mankind as a whole are the domain of governments. No sane business person would invest in this.

FIRST! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044615)

..also, here's a TED talk about fusion power https://www.ted.com/talks/michel_laberge_how_synchronized_hammer_strikes_could_generate_nuclear_fusion

Fusion power since 4.5*10^9 BC in space! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044617)

Its called sun. We only have to recieve the gift by wind turbines or solar panels.

Re:Fusion power since 4.5*10^9 BC in space! (4, Insightful)

benjfowler (239527) | about 7 months ago | (#47044881)

I'll take this seriously when somebody demonstrates feasibility of running aluminium smelters and other extremely high-energy processes off wind turbines and solar panels...

This is about as dumb as an old acquaintance who wanted to convert his car to run on electricity, run by solar panels on the roof (yes, there are really people that stupid out there).

Re:Fusion power since 4.5*10^9 BC in space! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045143)

That's nothing! There are people so stupid they think we'll colonize the universe and mine asteroids! Now that's stupid!

Re:Fusion power since 4.5*10^9 BC in space! (3, Funny)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 7 months ago | (#47045301)

This is about as dumb as an old acquaintance who wanted to convert his car to run on electricity, run by solar panels on the roof (yes, there are really people that stupid out there).

His idea was completely possible, for certain values of "car":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

A matter of priorities (4, Insightful)

lennier1 (264730) | about 7 months ago | (#47044621)

14 billion? That's less than it costs to supply that little adventure in the Iraqi desert with toilet paper!!!

Re:A matter of priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044651)

Sign:

"will work for fusion"

jr

Re:A matter of priorities (1)

AGMW (594303) | about 7 months ago | (#47044659)

Indeed ... in the UK the great unwashed spend more on DMR ('distant male regent') ring tones than we spend on fusion research!

Re: A matter of priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044743)

What?

Re: A matter of priorities (3, Interesting)

benjfowler (239527) | about 7 months ago | (#47044887)

Quote from Professor Brian Cox: Britain spends more on ringtones than fusion research.

Goes to show you where our priorities lie as a nation; and how our worthless so-called leaders are asleep at the switch, as usual.

Re:A matter of priorities (1)

Pino Grigio (2232472) | about 7 months ago | (#47044985)

Yawn.

Quite a lot of tech and research in plasma physics and fusion paid for from the defence budget. You know, like most of it.

Re:A matter of priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045337)

This claim is inaccurate. There are three main flavors of fusion research: magnetic confinement, stellar, and inertial confinement. Only the latter is supported mostly by the military.

Re:A matter of priorities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045343)

Yawn. Too stupid to spell 'pinot' properly.

Crowdfunding? (2)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 7 months ago | (#47044647)

So at what pledge tier do I get a Mr. Fusion?

Seriously, I'm happy to through some cash their way, but you'd think that for something this significant they'd be able to find $200k from actual investors or research funds to take the next step, especially since they are apparently already funded by JPL.

Re:Crowdfunding? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044703)

Crowdfunding together with something tangible can raise surprising amounts of money. People are a lot more willing to "donate" money if they get something symbolic in return. If they put together a small booklet/calendar with concept sketches and ideas for interesting fusion reactors and sell they can get plenty of funding while spreading knowledge.
Valve made a similar thing for their Dota-tournament, a small compendium where the revenue is put into the prize-pool. They have raised over $3 million and aren't done yet.
Assuming that people are more interested in fusion reactors than they are in watching other people playing computer games you can easily fund the first step and get a good start on the next goal.

Re:Crowdfunding? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045159)

I don't understand why I should spend my hard earned money to pay for something that will benefit everyone whilst my neighbors spend theirs on all kinds of nice stuff - ain't gonna happen. I'd rather take that money and become more self sufficient and purchase practical things like solar panels, weapons, precious metals and stuff for barter. It's not my job to provide them charity just because they are more short-sighted than me. If we are to do this, everyone should pitch in. Having said that, and being strongly anti-tax, I would support a reasonable, unversal energy surcharge (tax) to fund this.

Re:Crowdfunding? (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 7 months ago | (#47045261)

We already have a universal and totally unreasonable energy surcharge. The 3 year revenues from this tax alone (from the population of our small country) could bankroll another ITER. Only problem is: we're spending it on other stuff, not on energy research or even renewables.

Re:Crowdfunding? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045275)

I don't understand why I should spend my hard earned money to pay for something that will benefit everyone whilst my neighbors spend theirs on all kinds of nice stuff

This statement alone adequately explains why most of the problems in the world can't be solved.

Bad move (4, Insightful)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | about 7 months ago | (#47044671)

They didn't have much credibility to start with, and turning to crowdfunding only makes it worse.

It is not a mass market product with quick deliverables, it is an industrial solution. So the natural financing source would be venture capital, rather than crowdfunding. If they have to turn to indiegogo, it can only mean they failed to convince anyone relevant and are desperately trying to ride the "fusion is cool" fans, and disappoint them in the process.

As much as I would love to see fusion plants soon, it looks like this is not the company that will deliver them.

Re:Bad move (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044733)

But for 300 bucks you can get a copy of his 1991 book refuting the Big Bang.
 
I'll let the rest of you fund this maverick grad-skool dropout and his wacky ideas about standard fysix. I'd love for him finally to prove the world wrong in their assessment.

Re:Bad move (4, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 7 months ago | (#47044801)

This. They are asking for $200k. If that's all that is needed to make a difference they could easily get that funding if their ideas were even remotely sound. It's quite telling that people will find the ITER to the tune of $13bn but won't give these guys the left over pennies from the bottom of the jar.

Re:Bad move (1)

AikonMGB (1013995) | about 7 months ago | (#47045139)

Unfortunately, since fusion would be an incredibly revolutionary technology, there is a tremendous amount of money to be gained by being "first to the post". Any investor with money already in one technology will push hard for only that technology to be funded, at the expense of all other lines of research. Fusion research is sadly driven by economic politics.

Re:Bad move (3, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 7 months ago | (#47045219)

If there's a low entry cost, multiple risky options, and a potentially enormous payoff to whoever gets there first, you want to fund as many options as possible. That's why funding agencies and private investors alike take a pretty scatter-shot approach to lab-scale, sub-million-dollar energy research.

Of course, if you have a high cost to entry, and a few high-viability options, as with tokamaks, then you have to be choosy.

Re:Bad move (1)

thsths (31372) | about 7 months ago | (#47045163)

ITER's funding is a massively political issue. I would argue that it is funded exactly because it is expensive. My scientists involved in fusion research work in, on or with ITER - do you really think they would give good marks to a simple fusion technology in a peer review?

I am not saying that what they propose is sound - not even the proposal does that. But I would say that the fact that they cannot get traditional funding does not go against them.

Remember cold fusion? It certainly works, but it does not scale. We could have tried to make it scale, but nobody was really interested. ITER on the other hand has a clear route to market, but it will cost somewhere in the region of 100 billion to do so.

Re:Bad move (4, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 7 months ago | (#47045227)

Given that the physics that this device is based on go back to the '50s and are well-accepted, yes, they do give these ideas good marks in peer review.

Cold fusion most certainly does not "certainly work"! The reason it doesn't scale is that the effects disappear as your data gets better.

Re:Bad move (1)

jythie (914043) | about 7 months ago | (#47045321)

Having worked in physics research, yes, a simple fusion technology would probably get very good marks and a lot of enthusiasm.

It should also be noted that 'cold fusion' did not work. It was not an issue of scaling, it was an issue of not actually creating a fusion reaction. There are still quite a few die hards around and there was some interesting offshoot work for creating neutron sources for medical work, but as a power source it was abandoned because it never existed in the first place.

Re:Bad move (4, Insightful)

taiwanjohn (103839) | about 7 months ago | (#47045169)

Part of the problem is that Mr. Lerner also favors a steady-state model over the Big Bang theory, so he is not taken seriously by the mainstream scientific community. OTOH, he does appear to know a lot about plasma behavior, and has gotten some interesting results with the small-scale "garage" experiments he's done thus far. If $200k is enough to get his work to the next level where he can show some more compelling evidence, maybe that will be enough to get some VC guy like Khosla to give him a few million more.

In any case, he seems harmless enough. And he doesn't appear to be blatantly trying to rip people off, like so many of these "free energy" gurus... I say let him proceed, and see what he can come up with.

If you're curious about the approach, watch his Google Tech-Talk [youtube.com] for the details. It's one of the more novel methods I've seen.

Re:Bad move (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#47045369)

This. They are asking for $200k. If that's all that is needed to make a difference they could easily get that funding if their ideas were even remotely sound. It's quite telling that people will find the ITER to the tune of $13bn but won't give these guys the left over pennies from the bottom of the jar.

They're funded by NASA.

I suspect this is more for the publicity than the money.

Re:Bad move (1)

msobkow (48369) | about 7 months ago | (#47044907)

I had the same thought right off. A paltry $200K for something that is supposed to serve the trillion dollar energy markets of the world? If this thing had any chance of working, there would be energy market investors lining up with the chump change they're asking for.

Re:Bad move (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 7 months ago | (#47045361)

Yeah. At less than the annual cost to hire 2 (or possibly even 1) person qualified to work in this field. Also, when you see numbers like "50 million to produce the working 5 MW prototype", I seriously doubt that these people have any idea what it costs to build things. My city spent $5 million just to build a pedestrian bridge. Building a fusion rector would probably cost at least 100 times more.

Re:Bad move (3, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 7 months ago | (#47044951)

I expected to see Slashdot drooling and rushing to catch a ride on the latest "ITER = Bad; everyone without much funding = good but repressed" bandwagon. Good to see the discourse is higher than that.

That doesn't mean that ITER (or NIF, or any of the other major names) is going to be the best solution. Honestly, while there's little doubt in even most critics mind that ITER *could* lead to (via DEMO) a viable way to produce power, I seriously doubt it'll lead to an *economical* way to produce power. But the concept that none of the world's energy companies had an interest in a $200k power source that will change the world... sorry, but no. They looked at it, checked the science, and all decided it was a big "pass".

Personally, I have the most hope for HiPER [wikipedia.org] leading to an economical fusion source. It's like NIF (ICF fusion), but uses far weaker (and thus dramatically cheaper) compression pulse, and makes up for the difference with a heating pulse. Basically, the capital costs are far lower and it gives more than an order of magnitude better gain than standard ICF. It piggybacks on the data from existing ICF fusion research, adding only a few new requirements of its own (such as research on how the heating pulse will interact with the high-energy state resulting from the compression pulse). And there's the standard challenges of any such pulsed fusion system, mainly about achieving a sufficient repeat rate. But it looks doable.

Re:Bad move (2)

newcastlejon (1483695) | about 7 months ago | (#47045067)

I wouldn't say ITER = bad, so much as ITER = big. For the amount of money that's been spent on that project, where's the harm in spreading a few million around the smaller projects too? You never know if any of them will bear fruit, and it'd be nice to be able to build a fusion reactor without needing superconducting magnets the size of a house.

Re:Bad move (1)

MickLinux (579158) | about 7 months ago | (#47045077)

I'm all for exploring ideas that are energy-economically feasible, as well as potentially resource-econemically feasible.

However, I really think that the cold-fusion idea was killed by stupidity prematurely, and --no offense -- I think that for those who want to work on a cheap fusion alternative, they should look at protein-folding to see if there is a way to get nuclei momentarily within a reasonable tunnelling cross section.

Point being, they could work on their protein folding designs on a computer to their heart's content. Then, if they do find something interesting, they can publish that as a theoretical protein model for cold-fusion purposes. Get THAT accepted, and one can then work on DNA recombination to develop the thing.

Re:Bad move (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045167)

Do you have the faintest conception of how dumb that post is? Is it some sort of subtle troll? If so, I don't get it.

Re:Bad move (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 7 months ago | (#47045271)

No. Proteins simply can't withstand the conformational energy involved in forcing two nuclei together past the coulomb barrier, and even if they could, they'd be promptly atomised by the energy liberated in the reaction.

Re:Bad move (2)

felrom (2923513) | about 7 months ago | (#47044961)

I didn't see the funding option for, "Donate $500 and we'll pay your electric bill for a decade." If they think they're so close to such a breakthrough they should be offering more than t-shirts and posters.

At this rate (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 7 months ago | (#47045031)

I expect to see them on Shark Tank.

I also love that they changed the name from the British Dragon's Den to Shark Tank, because - what - too satanic sounding for middle America?

Re:At this rate (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 7 months ago | (#47045315)

I also love that they changed the name from the British Dragon's Den to Shark Tank, because - what - too satanic sounding for middle America?

Maybe it's because of that lady with the car rental business (and famous for what has to be the worst business website); she came for capital to expand her successful business, which the "dragons" were willing to provide with much reservation. After hearing their offer she replied that for giving up 40% of her company to them she'd be better off just going to a bank, and to the surprised reactions to her turning down the offer on the table, she scoffed: "I'm Chinese. We eat dragons for breakfast".

Re:Bad move (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | about 7 months ago | (#47045051)

shush this looks wonderful. I have not heard of such an excellent scheme to divorce fools of their money for weeks now. seriously the only think that shocks me more is that they are still finding fools to con into this thing. They have been flogging this crap for 5 or 6 years and they still expect people to believe they have found the magic bullet that they refuse to show anyone proof of because someone will steal it and they simply can't find anyone in the world willing to make billions and billions by investing in them so they must resort to crowdfunding. But I guess people still fall for the Nigerian scammers and mysterious lotto winnings when you didn't even enter a lotto, sometimes the stupidity of some parts of humanity scare me almost as much as pricks like these that like taking them for a ride.

Re:Bad move (1)

Zobeid (314469) | about 7 months ago | (#47045327)

> "natural financing source would be venture capital" . . . "they failed to convince anyone relevant"

I suspect most of those "relevant" people remember the whole Cold Fusion flap and have had it drilled into their heads that Fusion Is Bogus. Also, every time I even raise the subject of fusion in conversation, somebody retorts with the well-traveled saying that, "Fusion power is forty years away -- and always will be!", as if that was the definitive, final word on the subject.

For venture capital, the decision not to invest in fusion research -- any fusion research, by anyone -- is easy to make.

Re:Bad move (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#47045363)

They didn't have much credibility to start with, and turning to crowdfunding only makes it worse.

It is not a mass market product with quick deliverables, it is an industrial solution. So the natural financing source would be venture capital, rather than crowdfunding. If they have to turn to indiegogo, it can only mean they failed to convince anyone relevant and are desperately trying to ride the "fusion is cool" fans, and disappoint them in the process.

As much as I would love to see fusion plants soon, it looks like this is not the company that will deliver them.

They only need $200k for a proof concept to get investors excited. NASA is already one of their sponsors, so it's not like this is pie in the sky. You likely haven't been paying attention but Fusion research has really taken off recently. There are several Fusion reactors around the world that now produce more energy than they consume. It's a very exciting time. I suspect we'll have real commercial fusion reactors very soon. They're safe enough they could even be used by the public... so yes, I foresee having a fusion reactor in my house within my lifetime. Sadly, I think the main change to my life will be my idiotic neighbors putting up even MORE Christmas lights and leaving them up until July.

There have been too many scams... (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 7 months ago | (#47044675)

For me to be anything but skeptical of this claim.

I want to believe... but seriously how many of us here are proficient enough in the physics and engineering to really have a clue.

All we can do is believe... and as much as I want to believe... i also don't want to be taken for a fool. I hope its real... but suspect its bullshit.

Re:There have been too many scams... (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#47044697)

I want to believe... but seriously how many of us here are proficient enough in the physics and engineering to really have a clue.

That's why you have Wikipedia...which will tell you [wikipedia.org] that aneutronic fusion needs much higher temperatures, in addition, at least fifty times the density-time of D-T fusion, and generates three orders of magnitude lower power density. Which is the reason why everyone goes for D-T. Yeah, I want to believe, too, but it's like wanting to believe that the brick wall you're heading into at 60 mph in your car isn't there, you can't wish it away.

Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044753)

The same lack of proficiency in physics and engineering that prevents most of us from really having a clue -- a genuine clue and not just a plausible clue -- that the poster was referring to is the same lack of proficiency that prevents most of us from being able to judge Wikipedia articles.

I've seen too many problems on wikipedia about things I do know that I cannot trust it for things I do not know.

Re:Wikipedia (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 7 months ago | (#47044827)

precisely...

its an utter crapshoot from my perspective... if it has a chance of working I'd like to see it funded. If these guys are just scammers then I'd be happy to see them come to bad end... ideally a fatal end. The same idealism that makes me value the attempt fills me with utter hatred at anyone or anything that would stand in its way.

Fusion power could be one of the biggest things to ever happen to not only our species but life on earth in general.

We are after all the great hope of our world. The other life on planet earth is utterly incapable of higher reasoning. If any life on planet earth is to survive it must leave the planet. And only we or something like us has a chance of doing that. Fusion power would extremely useful in this regard.

Anything that causes it to be developed must be encouraged. Anything that causes it to hindered should be flayed alive.

Re:Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045217)

That's a lot of "utter" and death and "great hope"... Like a religion.

Re:Wikipedia (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 7 months ago | (#47045325)

We don't need to leave the planet at all, chances of a global catastrophe caused by something other than us is very minimal. When we'll be able to, we'll be long dead anyway (you and I personally, not the species)
An exception would be a large coronal mass ejection, which will fry all our satellites and computers except for some stuff in underground bunkers or buried.

Re:Wikipedia (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#47044835)

I've been seeing the same argument about the Lawson criterion in nuclear physics textbooks since the 1980s, and so far, it hasn't failed me (or anyone else, for that matter). If masses of people are writing there that the hurdles for aneutronic fusion are higher than for D-T fusion, the most plausible explanation is that they really have a good reason to write that.

Re:Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045331)

I've been seeing the same argument about the Lawson criterion in nuclear physics textbooks since the 1980s, and so far, it hasn't failed me (or anyone else, for that matter). If masses of people are writing there that the hurdles for aneutronic fusion are higher than for D-T fusion, the most plausible explanation is that they really have a good reason to write that.

I prefer not to make that assumption about "masses of people" and the plausibility of that explanation.

I've seen too much misinformation on wikipedia to have confidence in it for the things I'm not proficient in. And the times I've seen statements not jive with their corresponding references doesn't help any.

The references section of wikipedia articles can often be a gold mine, saving a lot of time, but based on my own experience, I cannot bring myself to trust the content.

I don't have the background to judge the physics and engineering behind the crowdsourcing campaign and that essentially means I don't have the background to judge the wikipedia articles.

Re:Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045177)

It's the same lack of proficiency that makes the average slashdotter so sure about our glorious future in space...

Re:There have been too many scams... (1)

BarryHaworth (536145) | about 7 months ago | (#47045201)

That's why you have Wikipedia...which will tell you [wikipedia.org] that aneutronic fusion needs much higher temperatures, in addition, at least fifty times the density-time of D-T fusion, and generates three orders of magnitude lower power density.

In their paper in Physics of Plasmas [aip.org] they report having achieved the density and temparature necessary for aneutronic (hydrogen-boron) fusion. The new electrode will enable them to demonstrate a reaction which creates more energy than is required to trigger it - not a finished device, but one which will demonstrate its practicality and attach the funding necessary to commercialise it.

For more detail, an interview with the project founder [libsyn.com] can be found on the Future and You podcast here [libsyn.com] .

Re:There have been too many scams... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045215)

Tri-Alpha energy is also going for pB11 and they have had at leas 140 million in funding (and looking to raise more). In the long run people believe the tokamak will never produce a commercially viable reactor so something smaller is required. Also, a DPF is not a new scheme, DOE money for "alternate concepts", anything other than a tokamak or ICF is almost neglible so these guys have to get money from somewhere else.

Re:There have been too many scams... (1)

Cley Faye (1123605) | about 7 months ago | (#47044771)

It's just that you're used to this:
"We have X that is a complete solution for your problem! You just have to fork $200k to this bank account and we'll send it to you for FREE"

Re:There have been too many scams... (3, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | about 7 months ago | (#47045333)

Kickstarter and Indigogo are new venues for this kind of scam, I see 'alternative tech' projects pop up (and get wiped) from kickstarer every couple weeks. Most people do not have the first hand domain knowledge to evaluate physics heavy projects, so the posters depend on pulling people's mythology and trying to tie their project to some kind of anti-status-quo narrative.

Cheap energy - just what we need... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044693)

... to destroy the rest of the nature beyond all hope.

Re:Cheap energy - just what we need... (4, Insightful)

allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) | about 7 months ago | (#47044751)

Sometimes I wonder - I, or perhaps humanity as a whole, we have so much anxiety about the destruction and depletion of our natural resources, the extinction of species, the CO2 in the atmosphere, the conservation of our environment. Some of us try so hard to be environmentally conscious by recycling waste, reusing appliances, conserving water and energy.
Then maybe 100 years from now the killer asteroid will struck Earth and obliterate everything, or the supervolcano under Yosemite will blow up. And the universe will point the finger at us and say "ha ha!"

That would be a real bummer.

But I suppose this is like saying, why take care of myself? Why take a shower in the morning, have a balanced died, quit smoking, if maybe tomorrow I'll be dead?
As long as we have a chance at survival, we have to protect our heritage, which means the natural environment that spawned and hosts us.
Who knows, maybe in 100 years, instead of being obliterated, we will take this heritage with us to the stars.

Re:Cheap energy - just what we need... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045241)

It's too late. The catastrophic effects of burning fossil fuel on world climate have been known since the 1970s. Peak oil could have been a nice opportunity to switch to other energy sources. What's the answer instead? They press gigantic amounts of poison into the ground to extract more fossil fuel.

I'd not trust the authors too much. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044699)

The article states that operations are to begin at ITER in 2027. This is actually the date where ITER will be operated using a Tritium and Deuterium plasma, as opposed to a Deuterium only plasma. Nearly all tokamak experiments currently undertaken are using Deuterium-only plasmas to investigate how the devices operate. Adding Tritium to the mix means that a Tokamak can reach fusion temperatures, but it requires extremely delicate handling. A Tritium plasma is safe, but it's important to keep track of all of it (and that includes losses to the vacuum vessel of the tokamak, we really don't want any going missing!).

Plasma experiments are set to begin in ITER much earlier, with a `first plasma' date in November of 2020 using a Deuterium plasma. It should not be understated what we can gain from experiments using a Deuterium-only (which means no fusion) plasma. ITER will be used in this manner for several years, while we gain better understanding of plasma physics on these scales. When we have a good feel for the machine, then we will start to produce fusion with a `DT' (Deuterium-Tritium) plasma.

I'm very busy right now and have only had a cursory glance at the article, but I'm reading things such as `Moreover, because the end product of the reaction is moving charged particles, those can be converted into electricity directly', and thinking that at least the writers do not have a detailed knowledge of plasma physics. Tokamak power plants would use the energy of the 14MeV neutron produced by the DT fusion reaction to heat water to steam and generate it directly. `Moving charged particles' is just a plasma, just like in a flurorescent light bulb. You can make a current out of it, but not electricity.

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#47044717)

`Moving charged particles' is just a plasma, just like in a flurorescent light bulb. You can make a current out of it, but not electricity.

I thought that's what MHD generators were for? Given that the output would be in form of plasma, it just seems a natural solution to the problem, even if you recover the remaining energy using a steam cycle. (Of course, in tokamaks, that particular design might be difficult or infeasible. Of that, I haven't really thought yet.)

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044755)

I've not heard of an MHD generator before, which is interesting considering I'm quite close to the field. A tokamak plasma needs to be kept confined, as that's how you can keep it hot enough to facilitate fusion reactions. From what I can tell from all-knowing Wikipedia, the MHD generator uses a plasma current to generate electricitiy. You could take the plasma out the tokamak and run it through one of these, but what would be the point of generating a hot plasma just to run it through a machine which returns some of the energy you put in?

The whole reason a fusion reaction is important is it produces high-energy neutrons. These go into the walls of the device and heat up a `blanket' module around it. This blanket is (we hope...) going to give us both more Tritium to fuel the device, as well as lots of heat to generate a steam turbine.

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#47044901)

You could take the plasma out the tokamak and run it through one of these, but what would be the point of generating a hot plasma just to run it through a machine which returns some of the energy you put in?

Well, you'd do that in pulsed power generators, or with waste plasma, which, as I said, may not be applicable to tokamaks - but if I understand it correctly, it would be applicable to this device, if it were actually capable of net power output, which I doubt. I'm surprised you haven't heard about MHD generators. I thought they were quite commonplace in certain applications. The Soviets were using them for geophysical research [ihed.ras.ru] in distant areas, when they needed high currents and MW levels of power output for short periods. Between being compact enough to fit onto a truck, having something like ~1kWe/kg, and having the ability to start and stop within hundreds of milliseconds, the devices were apparently more suitable for that application than anything else I'm aware of.

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (1)

multi io (640409) | about 7 months ago | (#47044955)

Tokamak power plants would use the energy of the 14MeV neutron produced by the DT fusion reaction to heat water to steam and generate it directly. `Moving charged particles' is just a plasma

Uh, a plasma contains charged particles, but is neutral overall (normally). And the particle motion is undirected. What they claim to get out it is a pulsed, directed beam of multi-MeV 4He ions (and only those -- the electrons fly away in the opposite direction), which could be converted into electricity directly (via induction).

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045039)

You're right, that's what they claim. Seems to be my bad, I guess they do expect to be able to generate electricity with a beam, which seems to me like an odd way of doing things but as I said it's a new concept to me!

Current inertial confinement fusion plasma operations also use a DT plasma, the energy from which they'd get from the neutrons coming out of the reaction. This is the best analogue to what they're trying to achieve here (It looks to me like what we would call a theta-pinch, which fizzled out some time in the 50s/60s).

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045107)

LPP's goal is aneutronic fusion (pB11 I believe) so they would have very few neutrons as a product and would use direct MHD conversion.

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (1)

Gibgezr (2025238) | about 7 months ago | (#47045111)

"A Tritium plasma is safe, but it's important to keep track of all of it (and that includes losses to the vacuum vessel of the tokamak, we really don't want any going missing!)."

My Google-fu was weak on this one: could you perhaps elucidate why exactly we really don't want any going missing? Is it rare and valuable? I am trying to figure out just what Tritium plasma is...my physics background ended at first year uni, so it all sounds like "dilithium crystals" to me, and means about as much.

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045173)

Tritium is used in Nuclear Weapons, so you can only imagine the bureaucratic nightmare it is working with it. It is also radioactive, and has a nasty habit of embedding itself into the walls and other plasma-facing materials. So what I was trying to say is that not performing fusion reactions first and concentrating on the physics of ITER and other tokamaks is useful to get as much information about how the devices work, without having to go through the difficulties that using Tritium introduces.

Furthermore, I would imagine it is somewhat rare as it's made in fission reactors. This is why the blanket module on the outside of the tokamak vessel is quite important, as it would allow the device to fuel itself.

Re:I'd not trust the authors too much. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045239)

Oh, and what we refer to as a plasma is a charged gas. So if you imagine taking water, heating it and turning it to steam by breaking the bonds between the molecules in the water, that's a change in phase from liquid to a gas. If you were then to take a gas and heat it MORE, the atoms in the gas will lose their electrons, and they'd float around in a mixture of positive ions and negative electrons.

A Deuterium plasma is thus a deuterium gas (deuterium being one neutron, one proton and an electron), which has been ionised. A Deuterium-Tritium plasma has some of the element Tritium in the mix, which has two neutrons, a proton and an electron. Hope this helps.

It's pocket change, so they're probably greedy.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044713)

Let's put $200.000+ risk on "backers" alone, in the hope that they reach a milestone that will increase the value to their investors many-fold.
Worst case it doesn't work out and we've got a bit of pocket change.

I really want to believe, but... I'm sure they could find an investor for $200.000+, assuming they'd be willing to part with a major stake in the company.
So this leads me to believe they're just not committed enough to this over their own financial gain.

EROEI? (4, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | about 7 months ago | (#47044773)

I am sorry, that sounds like a suspiciously "pie in the sky" project to me.

First of all, nuclear fusion is insanely difficult. OK, maybe not *that* difficult, more like: "Easiest way to get fusion is to get 1.99x10^30 Kg of hydrogen in one place" difficult.

Now, coming out of nowhere, we have people saying: "Give us US$ 1,000,000 and we will give you portable, safe fusion within 6 years!". Sure, people, what makes you think you can do better than, say ITER? New approach, yadda yadda yadda, sure, I have heard that one before. Whatever the "new approach" was, it did not work the first time, it probably won't work now. Insanely difficult problem, overconfidence of the new kid on the block, and all that

Second, the old "Fusion power is clean!" saw. No, it is not. Fusion generates insane temperature and neutron radiation. What makes you think you can put everything in a small container? What happens to all that energy dissipation? To the container and its surroundings? If you RTFA, these people are saying thay can generate up to 5MW in a containment chamber "small enough to fit in a garage"! Excuse me? No dangerous radiation, perfect containment in a completely secure, small package? Hmmm... The Engineering does not seem strong in this one.

Third argument against: EROEI. Sure, you can get fusion going in a very small spot. We know this, it has been done before, using several different technologies (See Z-Machine at Sandia National Lab, for instance). BUT... (a) how much power do you have to pump into these capacitors to even *create* fusion in the first place? (b) creating fusion can be done... but what about *sustaining* a fusion reaction? In other words, if it takes you 20MW of power to sustain 5MW of power generation, where is your EROEI? Oooops... There is none.

Final nail in the coffin: "We were financed by NASA-JPL". So what? NASA funds thousands of projects per year. JPL, probably hundreds. And don't get me started on the NSF or DARPA, (or whatever local equigvalent exist in your country), OK?They certainly fund some pretty weird things, just on the off-chance that XYZ wild theory could prove interesting. Or, even better, that XYZ wild theory will be conclusively disproved. That, in itself, does not mean anything. It certainly does not mean your project is headed by cool-headed, super-smart, seasoned engineers and scientists: just that your weird project received a bit of money from whatever popular government entity you could contact.

As a matter of fact, if your project was so smart and so innovative, *and* headed by cool-headed, super-smart, seasoned engineers and scientists, you probably would not have to ask for money on IndieGogo or other: smart money would flow, by the millions, into your coffers, again just on the off-chance that super-duper weird idea could prove to be the real, "fusion in a box" thing that could change the world. Seriously. And don't give me that conspiracy crap that big oil does not want you to be independent yadda yadda yadda: there is so much money floating around right now, looking for ROI, and so many (rich) people ready to tweak the nose of Govt (See: The Intercept) that a serious project like this would get funded 10 times over. WhatsApp sold for *billions* of dollars for Pete sake! What makes you think portable fusion reactors could not get funded? Get Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg on the phone!

All in all, this does not sound very serious. More like the romantic fantasy of the genius guy in a garage changing the world one micro-fusion reactor at a time. Sorry.

Fund this? Sure, why not. But I'll pass this one, thank you very much.

Re:EROEI? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044915)

They are claiming aneutronic fusion that converts plasma to energy directly, so shielding-wise it could well fit in a container. And the argument "if that would be possible, someone would have done it already" undermines the whole concept of scientific research.

The problem I have with this project is that they are making extraordinarily bold claims (they even have a power rating for the product) which should require extraordinary proof, and need to be vetted by very serious scientists to be believable. Should that happen those scientists would have no problem getting the funds from governments or private investors, banking on their reputation alone. The fact that they have convinced no reputable scientist and have no peer-review scientific output, but have already embarked on a commercial venture should be a huge red sign, this is not some smart gadget you can patent and make a fortune on, it's hard science where theoretical results are typically decades ahead practical applications.

Re:EROEI? (1)

PeteFox (3660371) | about 7 months ago | (#47044917)

I suggest you actually go and read some of their web site. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics have been conducting their science very much in the open, they have presented to Google, along with other alternative fusion approaches and have the most read article in 2012 in the Journal of Plasma Physics. They have also historically had grants from NASA to investigate plasma. While certainly not very conventional, that's almost certainly the point.

Re:EROEI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044997)

Their most read article states that they have made a very hot plasma, maybe hot enough to aneutronically burn Boron (we don't know for sure until we see it replicated). That's light-years away from practical fusion.

Re:EROEI? (1)

Noryungi (70322) | about 7 months ago | (#47045329)

Yes, and they also have been taken down by a plasma physicist for complete nonsense: read this if you dare [wordpress.com] .

The title of this article says it all: "Why Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Results are Not Even Wrong; a Detailed Analysis." Ouch.

Re:EROEI? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045221)

Insane temperatures aren't really a problem when you have such a miniscule amount of material held in a near-vacuum. Neutron radiation is a problem, certainly, but it's one that we know how to deal with and one that - eventually - we can sidestep entirely given the right choice of fuels. As a thought excercise, try to imagine what would happen if ITER was running and the containment vessel failed. I guarantee you that stuff coming out would be the least of your worries.

As regards the issue of funding, I imagine it goes a little like this:

Small company approaches government.

Government official goes to their science advisor (if you're lucky they may have more than one).

Advisor says no, and that's the end of that.

Company approaches larger company/rich person.

Rich person asks if it's so good why aren't the government doing it? Again, that's the end of that.

Scientists may ostensibly only in it for the science, but ultimately they're still just people with jobs and reputations to protect. The only way we're likely to see a big shift away from the idea that tokamaks are the be-all and end-all is to present someone with the power of the pen (or lots of cash) with a fait accompli. As it is, given the tiny amount dedicated to fusion research, it's not entirely surprising that it's being treat like one person's pet project at the DoE.

With respect, it's not right to complain that people don't know what they're doing when you demonstrate that you apparently don't know the field any better and don't show much understanding of the DPF approach at all.

tl;dr Science may be easy, but engineering is expensive and we all know how hard it is to get funding from governments if you don't know the special handshake.

Re:EROEI? (1)

Noryungi (70322) | about 7 months ago | (#47045259)

tl;dr Science may be easy, but engineering is expensive and we all know how hard it is to get funding from governments if you don't know the special handshake.

Except, of course, they already got funding from NASA-JPL in the past - so you could argue they do know the "secret handshake" or whatnot.

I believe (after a bit more research) that they did not get Government or other fundings because their main scientist is really controversial [wikipedia.org] . He may be a plasma specialist, but his cosmological ideas also run counter to traditional views & theories.

Make of that what you will - he may be right (on Fusion power, at least), but he should have taken a more back-seat role for the (non-crowdsourced) funding effort.

Fool and his money... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044789)

if there is any realisitc chance for this to happen, then a for profit serious investor would jump on it. anybody who crowdfunds this is an idiot.

dubious (1)

ssam (2723487) | about 7 months ago | (#47044855)

There are some pretty dubious energy projects on indiegogo.
https://www.indiegogo.com/expl... [indiegogo.com]

Also:
"The Department of Energy decided forty years ago to put all its fusion money on one device, the tokamak, and is not funding anything else"
What about NIF? or is that DoD?

Re:dubious (1)

mbkennel (97636) | about 7 months ago | (#47044945)


The NIF is a nuclear weapons project, not an energy project. It is financed by DOE NNSA, National Nuclear Security Agency.

The primary goal is to generate calibration data for nuclear weapons simulations. There some minor lip service to energy research, but the engineering approach is 70 years behind where the tokamak is for energy production.

Crank alternative science (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 7 months ago | (#47044897)

If you believe that the smartest people on Earth are working on a 17 billion euro machine like ITER, when they could be building cheap focus fusion machines for 1000x cheaper, then I have some shares in the Tower Bridge to sell you...

I'm in, except... (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 months ago | (#47044931)

I want an n/200,000 share of all patents, publications, and corporate assets produced in the next 10 years in return for my n contribution. And you can keep the ferro-fluid and the shout-out.

its a pretty sad state. (4, Insightful)

nimbius (983462) | about 7 months ago | (#47044935)

When we need crowdfunding, kickstarting, and bake sales to advance meaningful discoveries in theoretical scientific research, but shit like the F35 fighter plane can quietly blow through 5 billion dollars without producing a single useable aircraft outside of testing. Even sadder is knowing its projected cost is over one trillion dollars along 50 total years of development, and the only comment was in 2011 from the senate armed services committee which basically amounted to a high five.

Re:its a pretty sad state. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045225)

Except that the point of reality is that while energy research is underfunded by governments (if not by major energy firms - note that there are very few "oil firms" left in this world; they're all "energy firms", and they're all putting money into new sources of energy, although of course we don't know how much and nor do we really know what they're researching so it could be pastry recipes), it is not underfunded to the level that a potentially world-changing project, requiring a few hundred thousand dollars, has to go for crowdfunding. That's farcical. What this is, my friend, is a scam, and the sad thing is that so many people, undereducated in this particular field, are so unthinkingly cynical about governments that they'll believe any baloney like "Forty years ago the DoE decided to support just one approach, the tokamak".

Hydrogen Boron Reaction? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47044965)

This article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aneutronic_fusion describes the pros and cons of using different fuels for radiation free fusion. By using Hydrogen-Boron you can avoid the neutron radiation problem. But in exchange you have to have a temperature 10 times what we've failed to produce for a long enough time to get energy back from the more common fuels. The article also mentions that a lot of the energy released would be photons, which are harder to convert into electricity.

Hydrogen-Boron and radiation free would be nice and so raises the profile of this work and perhaps makes it more crowd funding friendly. But without more explanation makes me even more suspicious that they are saying all the too good to be true parts and skipped mentioning all the reasons it's not likely to work. On the other hand it would be nice if boards of competent scientists could invest some real money in slightly crazy ideas that were allowed to fail without politicians going nutso that when you tried 10 things with a chance of success of 10% only one worked.

Okay, Fusion is cool but... (1)

Chas (5144) | about 7 months ago | (#47044973)

Honestly, it's tech we probably aren't going to see, even by 2027.

I'd rather we funneled energy research money into something we could implement wide-scale by then. Like LFTR.

Once we've got plentiful energy, THEN we can go chasing after fusion.

This was tried 35 years ago (5, Informative)

InterGuru (50986) | about 7 months ago | (#47044977)

This was tried as the Trisops Project [wikipedia.org] 35 years ago but lost funding because all of the fusion energy project's focus was on the Tokamak.

Trisops was an experimental machine for the study of magnetic confinement of plasmas with the ultimate goal of producing fusion power. The configuration was a variation of a compact toroid, a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) structure of plasma and magnetic fields with no coils penetrating the center. It lost funding in its original form in 1978.
The configuration was produced by combining two individual toroids produced by two conical pinch guns, located at either end of a length of Pyrex pipe with a constant magnetic guide field. The toroidal currents in the toroids were in opposite directions, so that they repelled each other. After coming to an equilibrium, they were adiabatically compressed by increasing the external field.

Disclosure: I was an author on the paper and of the referenced Wikipedia article;

Re:This was tried 35 years ago (3, Interesting)

leomekenkamp (566309) | about 7 months ago | (#47045155)

Do I understand correctly that you have worked on that project? If so, could you comment on what the people on LPP Fusion are doing? Is is feasible / safe / sustainable?

Hydrogen-Boron reaction (1)

MarkWegman (2553338) | about 7 months ago | (#47044995)

This article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org] covers the pros and cons of Hydrogen-Boron reaction. You do avoid the nasty neutron radiation issues but at a cost of needing 10 times the kind of temperature we have spent decades trying to achieve. While the posting says much of the energy is easy to convert to electricity a lot of it escapes as photons. The fact that the article in the posting doesn't cite the issues suggests that it's not a balanced article and is the kind you'd expect for fundraising from naive people (aka us). I do agree with some of the comments above that it's a shame that boards of scientists who know the issues don't have funds to distribute to crazy ideas like this with potential huge payoffs, without politicians complaining that when scientists take a risk they mostly fail.

Eric Lerner? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 7 months ago | (#47045109)

The company's Chief Scientist is listed as Eric Lerner, a name I thought I recognised. Turns out he's a noted plasma cosmology crank.

Re:Eric Lerner? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 7 months ago | (#47045135)

This isn't to say that the guy's not credible - if he knows anything, it's plasmas - but it's odd to see his name come up in this context.

Re:Eric Lerner? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#47045287)

Why is that odd? He's been peddling his DPF pet to anyone who remotely smells like funding for at least a decade.

Science, not fortune telling. (2)

asylumx (881307) | about 7 months ago | (#47045137)

I just don't see how making promises like this is good for anyone. Clearly they are just looking for funding; no scientist or researcher in their right mind would promise something they can't already do by a specific date unless they were lying (or guessing, call it what you want) in order to get funding. This is the kind of crap that makes simpler people no longer "believe in science."

Re:Science, not fortune telling. (2)

asylumx (881307) | about 7 months ago | (#47045311)

Just wanted to add: If there is research that needs to be done that is not, by itself, profitable, then I believe we should consider funding it without forcing the researchers to make PR statements like these because who knows what ideas or conclusions that research might actually lead to -- It's really too bad that we are so focused on all research building profits for someone. We, as a society, suck at thinking about anything long-term.

Crowdsourcing... well if we have a government of the people then isn't everything they do technically crowdsourced already?

Indiegogo for buying beer or a new car (1)

GauteL (29207) | about 7 months ago | (#47045149)

After reading this story and this older story [slashdot.org] (which has 5 backers and a nice 390 Euro beer kitty) I can't help thinking I want in on this action.

Do I need to invent a ridiculous company idea or is it enough to just ask for donations for my holiday fund?

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