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fragmenthyperion
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31 Dec 2021, 10:53 pm

I've always loved the promise of Fusion power. And it's close now. After reading some books by Kim Stanley Robinson, I came to the conclusion that we must build the technologies of the future now. So first, I started learning everything I could about computing, linux, networking, and now programming, the machines that sustain our systems; and also digging back into mathematics, up to calculus currently, with my intent to get a third degree in Engineering and a fourth degree in Plasma Physics. Math is lovely and magical in such a fascinating way. So what if we put our energies at creating and sustaining the technologies of the future? Everyone is needed in the fight to keep our habitat sustainable. Let's make Fusion a reality, and bring a star to Earth.



naturalplastic
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31 Dec 2021, 11:17 pm

Theyve talking about cold fusion ever since they first exploded H bombs back in the late Forties.

Theyve been saying "cold fusion is just around the corner" all of those eighty years.

But youre saying that they really are going to make the dream come true soon any day now?

Why do you think that? What has changed?



fragmenthyperion
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01 Jan 2022, 2:38 am

High-temperature superconducting magnets have made for a game-changing net energy increase in a smaller tokamak fusion device. I have accompanying PDFs if you'd like to jump down the rabbit hole with me.
https://news.mit.edu/2021/MIT-CFS-major ... nergy-0908



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03 Jan 2022, 6:17 pm

I hope you're right, but as a dyed in the wool cynic, I tend to look at it in a similar way to naturalplastic. In the late 1950s in the UK, there was something called the 'Zeta Project', which apparently caused a great deal of excitement in the media when it was announced that it was on the verge of succeeding in producing fusion power. However, within a matter of months, it became clear that no such thing was on the horizon, and the project was soon abandoned.

Then, in the late 1970s, I attended a meeting in Oxford at which a spokesperson for the JET project excitedly told his audience that nuclear fusion would be providing over a quarter of Britain's electricity by the second decade of the 21st Century. JET stood for 'Joint European Torus', a project based in Culham, Oxfordshire, where the reactor was being set up at the time. So far, JET has not produced any commercially viable electricity whatsoever.

I've occasionally renewed my interest in the nuclear fusion saga over the years. I became aware of a project called ITER, based in the South of France, about 20 years ago. From time to time, there have been news releases suggesting that it was on the verge of a huge breakthrough, but nothing ever seemed to come of them.

Anyway, I really do hope that the fusion dream can come to fruition in the foreseeable future. The present 'green energy' agenda based on windmills etc seems to me to be utterly hopeless and a disaster in the making, so we definitely need some kind of miracle....or else a return to tried and trusted fossil fuels, of course.


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04 Jan 2022, 9:34 am

Sustainable fusion reactions have been "Only 30 Years Away!" for over 70 years.

"Cold Fusion" is a hoax -- there is currently no accepted theoretical model that would allow cold fusion to occur.



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04 Jan 2022, 7:22 pm

I don't have the technical expertise to understand the science and the equations etc, but one or two aspects of the whole business just seem inherently unfeasible or impossible to me. For example, can these processes ever produce more energy as output than the amount of energy used as input? The sorts of temperatures required inside the reactors also seem unmanageable (100 million degrees Celsius?).


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04 Jan 2022, 7:48 pm

I read someplace that physicists on the Manhattan project were taking side bets on the possibility of igniting the atmosphere when testing fission bombs. I think it was in one of the Fienman books.

You might find this interesting:

wikipedia.org - Tokamak - Currently in operation

wikipedia.org - ITER

My understanding is the current bugaboo is trying to contain and control the reaction once it gets started.
It can (theoretically) be done but the reactor needs to be much bigger. So they came up with ITER.

In one of the older Spiderman movies Doc-Oc is working on something like this when the experiment goes wrong, causing him to get his robot arms fused to his spine. Try finding the clip on youtube, watch it, read the Wikipedia articles I linked and then watch the scene again. I think you will see the fiction does a good job of making use of the ideas and problems in the real life stuff ( but scifi'd up ).

Never say never, but I think there are many wrinkles still to iron out.


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04 Jan 2022, 8:20 pm

From the MIT article that fragmenthyperion posted earlier.

"The major innovation in the MIT-CFS fusion design is the use of high-temperature superconductors, which enable a much stronger magnetic field in a smaller space. This design was made possible by a new kind of superconducting material that became commercially available a few years ago. The idea initially arose as a class project in a nuclear engineering class taught by Whyte. The idea seemed so promising that it continued to be developed over the next few iterations of that class, leading to the ARC power plant design concept in early 2015. SPARC, designed to be about half the size of ARC, is a testbed to prove the concept before construction of the full-size, power-producing plant."

I am pretty sure the ARC reactor is what Iron Man had powering his building in the first Iron Man movie.
"Making it smaller" was his innovation in the cave that the bad guy couldn't duplicate.

And Tony Stark went to school where? MIT.

(It is fun when science fact and science fiction overlap like that.)


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04 Jan 2022, 8:36 pm

On the "Science Fact" side of things:

Space Based Solar (my pet "favorite science that other people are working on" thing)
Uses the Sun - which is already operational
https://www.spacesolar.caltech.edu/publications

The SPARC HTS Magnets (As far as I can see - only the Magnets are operational so far)
http://www-new.psfc.mit.edu/sparc/hts-magnet


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04 Jan 2022, 8:52 pm

Ok, apparently I am hooked.

The "High Temperature Super Conducting Magnets" are made using "rare earth barium copper oxide high-temperature superconductors".

Note: the magnets are "high temperature" - superconductors are usually operated at temperatures close to absolute zero - at least they were when I first heard about them 30 years ago. Apparently these new materials work at temps higher than that - but then again most temps are.

This is NOT "cold fusion".

www-new.psfc.mit.edu - SPARC - Publications

cambridge.org - Journal of Plasma Physics - Overview of the SPARC tokamak

wikipedia.org - Superconductivity

wikipedia.org - Yttrium barium copper oxide

Please note: Zero on the Celsius scale (0°C) is defined as the equivalent to 273.15K, with a temperature difference of 1 deg C equivalent to a difference of 1K,

wikipedia.org - High-temperature superconductivity

"High-temperature superconductors (abbreviated high-Tc or HTS) are operatively defined as materials that behave as superconductors at temperatures above 77 K (−196.2 °C; −321.1 °F)"

When it comes to superconductors "High Temperature" is a relative term. I personally don't want to go out and play in the snow when the temperature is -321 degrees Fahrenheit.

So - why is this not "Cold Fusion" ? Because the Plasma is still crazy hot - just the magnets are cold.


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05 Jan 2022, 3:51 pm

Fusion technology is similar to new "breakthroughs" in battery technology. They never materialise.

I'm hoping that you haven't became like many, many environmentalists and pinned your hopes on pseudoscience?



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09 Jan 2022, 11:54 am

Ok.

"Cold Fusion" (fusing atoms at room temperature) is something else. I misspoke above.

And cold fusion may well be just a scam. Like perpetual motion machines.

Youre talking about harnessing regular existing hot fusion. Turning an H bomb into an H-furnace so to speak. Like we HAVE done with nuclear fission (to create nuclear reactors that power subs, and power stations). We have turned A bombs into atomic furnaces to boil water into steam. So the hope has been that we can do the same with H bombs. Make slow burning H bombs to make electricity.

A fusion bomb works by using an A bomb (aka fission bomb) to IMplode. Explode inward to recreate for a moment both the gigantic pressures, and the ten million degree heat that exists at the core of the Sun to cause nuclear fussion of hydrogen atoms. Squash the atoms together and bake them- so - they then explode releasing even greater energy than the huge energy you put into it to cause that.

So to harness that you have - you still have to "light the fuse" with an fission bomb"( I would think). And then to keep the fusion reaction going indefinitely you have to contain the ten million degree plasma (basically a little artificial sun here on earth) in magnetic fields so the plasma can do its fusion thing for ever-with roasting you- so you can exploit it.

Needless to say- there are a lot of challenges to meet to do all of that.

You cite articles that say that incremental progress is being made in magnet tech toward making "containers" for the hot fusion process feasible. So maybe youre right. A journey of thousand miles begins with little steps. But I am not holding my breath. Would be great if it could become possible.

Supposedly peaceful Fusion would not only free us from fossil fuels, but wouldnt have the radiation problems that current fission nuclear reactors have. And would be even more powerful. It would be nice if the powerful nations (US, Russia, EU, China) were to have a "peaceful fusion race", like the space race to the moon in the 1960s. Instead of having arms races.



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12 Jan 2022, 12:53 pm

NP - your description of the H-bomb is a good one.

I think this tokamak thing is more like a particle accelerator than an H-bomb.

Static electric charges interact with magnetic fields when they move (which I guess is about when they stop being "static" and start to be "electric flow"). That is how generators and also DC motors work. And old TV tubes.

Plasma is a 4th "phase" of matter, at the end of the list after solid, liquid and gas comes plasma.

When I was in 4th grade I found a book in the library that told how to build an electrical generator using a horseshoe magnet and some "bell wire". I then read everything I could find (using all of my 9 year old research skills - three different encyclopedias) to try and answer one question: why would a magnet - which clearly uses magnetic energy make electricity which is quite obviously electrical energy - what gives. The reason I couldn't find the answer, turns out, is because it really is tricky - there is this thing called "electromagnetism". It has to do with two "action-at-a-distance" forces the electro-static force and the magnetic-force which are now explained with quantum physics.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetism

Says "Originally, electricity and magnetism were considered to be two separate forces. This view changed with the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's 1873 A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in which the interactions of positive and negative charges were shown to be mediated by one force. There are four main effects resulting from these interactions, all of which have been clearly demonstrated by experiments:

1. Electric charges attract or repel one another with a force inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them: unlike charges attract, like ones repel.
2. Magnetic poles (or states of polarization at individual points) attract or repel one another in a manner similar to positive and negative charges and always exist as pairs: every north pole is yoked to a south pole.
3. An electric current inside a wire creates a corresponding circumferential magnetic field outside the wire. Its direction (clockwise or counter-clockwise) depends on the direction of the current in the wire.
4. A current is induced in a loop of wire when it is moved toward or away from a magnetic field, or a magnet is moved towards or away from it; the direction of current depends on that of the movement."

So the thing I couldn't quite figure out in 4th grade was a small part of the grand unified theory - that thing that Einstein never quite figured out - and they are still working on.

What is said above about electrical current in a wire is also true for any static electric charged particle (like an ion - a salt molecule for example - or an electron) moving in a pathway for any reason.

Since plasma is made of electrons and protons (and neutrons) which have very small static electrostatic charges you can do tricky things with electro-magnets to get the plasma moving in a circle, like a rubber-band is a circle. If you imagine the rubber band going around around a paper towel tube you have a general idea - the plasma moves in a ring around the central magnetic "pole". And while you can keep it "stable" in that it keeps going around - it kind of tends to slip off one end or the other of the tube. So they add more magnets and bend the tube into a doughnut shape called a "torus" then if it slips off one end it just slips back on the other. The rubber-band cannot fall off the doughnut. The problem is that while the plasma is going around the small circle (the rubber band) and the large circle (the doughnut) it has a tendency to sort of fall apart, like smoke - and some of the plasma particles hit the sides. When this happens you loose energy. Someone figured if you get the plasma to go around the doughnut like the stripes on a candy cane. So now we have a rubber band around a doughnut-shaped candy cane. Have I lost you yet? There is a "q" factor which relates fast (tightly) the stripes wrap around. For specific values of q you get better results (fewer particles hitting the sides and more energy kept in the doughnut). The faster this plasma spins around and the more they squeeze it together (again with magnet tricks) the hotter it gets and the more likely you are to get high speed collisions which result in fusion. It is all in how you play with the electromagnetic forces. It also helps if you keep mostly hydrogen and other light elements in the plasma - heavier elements muddy things up - I guess ( F = m a ) still applies and a change in mass also results in a change in acceleration - if you don't change the force.

There are two ways to look at "temperature" - one is radiant-energy things like light and microwaves and infrared radiation. When the radiant-energy is in the form of infrared it is called "heat energy". The other way is the speed of particles, especially in a gas or liquid - or in plasma. Plasma is less dense than gas. The atoms and molecules don't stick together the same way, or bounce off each other, so as a "whole" is has different properties than gas. The kinetic energy of the moving plasma particles can also be thought of as heat.

The tokamaks have been operational for years. The real trick is getting them to put out more power than it costs running the magnets. That's the real trick. A much bigger doughnut might do the trick - which why they (US, and 5 other countries) are building ITER in France. Particle accelerators are already hugely crazy big - some the size of a small town - built underground. Another way might be to have much better magnets. Which is what MIT thinks is worth a try.

It is a bit like lighting a match - it takes heat (energy) to get it to light, but then once is is lighted it releases more energy than you put in. Tokamak should work the same way, but they haven't gotten the match to light - yet.

Most of this (and more) is in the article on wikipedia on tokamak. Some I have picked up on other web sites.

I may have gotten some of the details wrong but I think that is generally the gist of the thing.


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12 Jan 2022, 6:24 pm

Tokamak (Fiction)

Image

Image

Tokamak (Nonfiction)

Image

Image


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14 Jan 2022, 10:49 am

Ultra hot fusion can be done experimentally, but is not easily controllable on earth. The temperatures involved inside are millions of degrees on whatever scale you pick to use. Special magnets are needed to contain the nuclear plasma for the reaction to occur. It is very, very expensive to build. Who knows when/if it can actually become reliable as an energy source long term.

https://www.livescience.com/chinas-1-tr ... an-the-sun


Ultra cold fusion can also be done, but it is also not easy to sustain. (I first pondered about this route back in 1993, when the first successful Bose-Einstein condensation experiment was reported in the literature.) It involves supercooling deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen) in a gold holoram container to Bose-Einstein condensation (to near absolute zero) and then preturbing the holoram with a cooled photon stream. The combined nuclei undergo a process that converts some matter (hydrogen) into the energy that it was made from plus regular helium. This was reported to have been successful in a small scale experiment a few years ago in the scientific literature. It did generate more energy than what was needed to kick start the reaction, but was relatively small to what was expected. The experiment probably cost over a billion dollars just to set up. This method would be best done in outer space.

Do not expect either method to be done on a large scale in the US for years to come yet. They have a long way to go before they can be viable at that level.



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15 Jan 2022, 3:44 pm

I was hoping QC would pipe up!