Friday, December 23, 2016

Alternative Fusion Power - Still Underfunded and At-Risk - Sees a Tenth Project Launched

23 December 2016

If you've been following my posts on fusion power, you'll know that I've been tracking nine alternative fusion reactor designs. 

I do check the news semi-regularly to see what's new, and due to the fact that almost nobody anywhere is investing in fusion power research, there usually isn't much to be found. However, on today's search, I found good news. The US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (Princeton was Dr. Einstein's old hangout) is now planning to move ahead with a spherical tokamak design, which, due to being shaped more like a cored apple than a doughnut, will be about half the volume of a tokamak (click here for link).

Now, I suspect that Mr Trump plans to take us back to the stone age in science, in which case, this project could be at risk (thankfully, there are nine others). 

Ten Alternative fusion reactor designs and associated companies/sponsors

§  Levitated Dipole Experiment (MIT “plasma pinch”)
§  Compact Spherical Tokamak - Tokamak Energy Ltd. - spherical tokamaks + high-temperature superconductors (see also “Spherical Tokamak” PPPL below)
§  Colliding beam reactor - Tri Alpha Energy Ion beams - aneutronic fusion power.
§  Polywell - EMC2 company
§  Magnetized target reactor (acoustic fusion) – General Fusion (Richmond, British Columbia)
§  Dense Plasma Focus - LPP Fusion
§  Compact Fusion - Lockheed Martin (Skunkworks)
§  Sheared Flow Stabilized Z-PinchUniversity of Washington & Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (added by L. Hunt)
§  Spherical  Tokamak - US Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) – announced 16 August 2016 (added by L. Hunt)

I do favour government funding of fusion power research, as the trillion dollar plus investment is and will remain a barrier to entry in the marketplace, and basic science is one of the areas where government spending has often produced positive results (the government did bring us the internet and almost every basic advance in computer science, not to mention the space program, multiple lifesaving medical treatments, etc.). 

On the private side, Lockheed Martin has a great little compact fusion reactor design, but I don't think it's a funding priority there either --- they've published nothing since 2014. 

So, commendations to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL)! And maybe it's time to cut the whole ITER project and rethink the design of that white elephant (it will be useful for research, but it WILL NOT ever be a prototype for a commercial fusion reactor)..........