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Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion

TheTalkingMule

Distributed Energy Enthusiast
Oct 20, 2012
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43,788
Philadelphia, PA
To be clear, the point of W7-X has never been to produce energy. This device is simply a proof-of-concept to show that the stellarator concept actually works. If all goes to plan, the things we learn from W7-X will help us build the next-generation of stellarators, which could quite literally change the world, and end our reliance on fossil fuels forever.

Wake me up when it works.
 

nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,856
12,943
United States
Wake me up when it works.

Hey... they're close... just a couple steps left...

- Find a way to produce energy
- Find a way to sustain production without the fusion reaction collapsing
- Find a way to harvest the energy without the fusion reaction collapsing
- Find a solution to neutron embrittlement (unobtainium? Pandora here we come!)
- Find a way to turn fusion into electricity economically (thermal probably won't work, too expensive)
- Find a sustainable fuel source (most of these fusion reactors use He3 which is incredibly rare)
- Find a way to refuel the reactor continuously.... without the fusion reaction collapsing...
- Find a way to build fusion reactors economically... hand built by dozens of phDs probably won't work...

Almost there!

Call me crazy but I think we'll be using the hand-me-down fusion reactor we currently have to save us from fossil fuels...

Fusion research is important... don't get me wrong... but it's a lottery ticket and wind/solar/storage is a 401k; We need to invest resources in a similar fashion.
 
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strider

Active Member
Oct 20, 2010
3,993
1,740
NE Oklahoma
If they just took all the money they're wasting on fusion and productized small LFTR's we could have all the safe power we need for decades while we work on renewable storage options. Heck, Zuckerberg's new charity could do this single-handedly and improve people's quality of life by a colossal amount. Having cheap, safe, and reliable power opens up a lot of options for people at all levels of the economic scale.
 

nwdiver

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Feb 17, 2013
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As crazy as wanting to fly to Mars and starting a colony there, right?

Hmmm.... not really... aside from the fact that we can do a Mars trip with current technology... we just need A LOT of $$$$; A trip to Mars doesn't have to be economically compelling... we'll go to Mars to go to Mars. I doubt many people would support fusion just to have fusion... it needs to be cheaper than the alternatives. I'd be willing to bet that we'll have non-solar fusion generating useful energy on Mars before we have it on Earth due to the need to generate Hydrogen for rocket fuel on Mars combined with lower solar resources.

If they just took all the money they're wasting on fusion and productized small LFTR's we could have all the safe power we need for decades while we work on renewable storage options.

Storage of renewables for most areas isn't going to be beneficial for a few more years yet... and by then storage should be cheap enough to be viable. LFTR has a similar though far far less severe problem to fusion... by the time it's ready to make a dent in fossil fuel use... it won't be needed.

Then there'e the whole magic hot rock => electricity problem aka thermal power... Converting sunlight into electricity is now or will soon be cheaper than converting heat into electricity; For nuclear to be cost effective it needs to find a way to go from fusion/fission => electricity... without an intermediate thermal step. Something that currently only exists on paper.
 
Couple of things to note:

-Step one of Nwdriver's list has been achieved...energy has been produced.

http://www.wired.com/2014/02/fusion-power-not-yet/

-Electric 700 noted we can get all of our needs met from solar, wind, tidal, etc. I think it is important to note what essentially unlimited energy could do that we currently do not do or do on a limited scale, such as: water desalination on a drought busting scale (including aquifir replenishment), carbon scrubbing the atmosphere, filtering the ocean of plastic, making marginally/non farmable land farmable year round with heated greenhouses using desalinated water, "rebuilding" glaciers.... the sky is the limit.
 

nwdiver

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Feb 17, 2013
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-Step one of Nwdriver's list has been achieved...energy has been produced.

True; I was referring specifically to the WX-7 design that the OP linked to...

You're confusing 'unlimited' with 'inexpensive'; The two are not synonymous. Energy from fusion may end up being effectively inexhaustible but we also need to be able to produce it cost-effectively... that will likely be the bigger challenge. Energy from light water reactors costs <$0.001/kWh... and we have >1000 years worth of fuel already mined and ready to enrich in Ohio... that probably WOULD be 'too cheap to meter'... too bad the actual plants are so expensive to build and operate. We'll only know how much fusion capital and O&M costs will be once we start building and operating them.

The energy we get from the sun is for all intents and purposes 'unlimited' but there is a cost of harvesting and converting it to a useful purpose.
 
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nwdiver

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Feb 17, 2013
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United States
Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person in world who think that cheap limitless energy is a good thing. We are going to cook our planet alive...

Pretty sure everyone here is in favor of 'cheap limitless energy'... but accepting reality is important too. Solar, Wind and storage are a far more viable solution to our fossil fuel addiction.

Non-Solar fusion is as likely to save us from climate change as Powerball is to provide you with a retirement. It's certainly possible... everyone would love it... just assume it's not going to happen and make other plans that have a higher likelihood of success :wink:
 

strider

Active Member
Oct 20, 2010
3,993
1,740
NE Oklahoma
Then there'e the whole magic hot rock => electricity problem aka thermal power... Converting sunlight into electricity is now or will soon be cheaper than converting heat into electricity; For nuclear to be cost effective it needs to find a way to go from fusion/fission => electricity... without an intermediate thermal step. Something that currently only exists on paper.
But the sun doesn't shine all day nor does the wind blow all the time. Your statement that sunlight => electricity only applies when the sun is actually shining. Once you factor the costs of storing excess power during the day to handle the nights/cloudy days the cost is astronomical. I believe it is going to take many decades before we can store power on a large enough scale to make renewables useful for base load. If you have actual evidence to the contrary please share it. No hopium please. We need an intermediate step from fossil fuels to renewables. LFTRs would do that safely. It's also going to take decades to move the various transportation fleets to electric (aircraft will be especially prickly with their weight sensitivity). One nice feature of a LFTR is that it's temperature range is perfect for Fischer-Tropsch which would allow us to create carbon-neutral liquid fuels.
 
I think it's awesome that they are still working on fusion reactors even though commercial versions tend to be about 50-100 years away and have been since the 60's.

That said I don't think that we will have cheap reliable fusion power in my lifetime, but that doesn't mean that it's not worth working on.

Meanwhile we can also work on more solar, more wind, more batteries, LFTR (Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors), Wavepower and so on. The fossil-free economy is not going to be just 1 powersource, it will be a multitude all working together.

But we should still research the more far-fetched stuff like fusion reactors, wormholes and anything else. There are enough humans on the planet to make parallel efforts in almost every field.
 
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nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,856
12,943
United States
But the sun doesn't shine all day nor does the wind blow all the time. Your statement that sunlight => electricity only applies when the sun is actually shining. Once you factor the costs of storing excess power during the day to handle the nights/cloudy days the cost is astronomical. I believe it is going to take many decades before we can store power on a large enough scale to make renewables useful for base load. If you have actual evidence to the contrary please share it. No hopium please. We need an intermediate step from fossil fuels to renewables. LFTRs would do that safely. It's also going to take decades to move the various transportation fleets to electric (aircraft will be especially prickly with their weight sensitivity). One nice feature of a LFTR is that it's temperature range is perfect for Fischer-Tropsch which would allow us to create carbon-neutral liquid fuels.

There's two components to your line of thought; 1) Solar/Wind aren't available all the time... what's the best 'stand-by' generation to fill those gaps? 2) What's the cost of storage?

To the first question thermal is the WORST choice... it's generally expensive to build and cheap to operate which is why it's generally used as base load... not peaking. For a peaking resource that's going to see less and less use you need a plant that's cheap to build.... even if it's more expensive to operate. As we build out renewables the most likely candidate to fill those gaps is gas turbines which run ~$1/w and can be up and running in a few minutes... not some kind of steam turbine which cost ~$2/w and need hours or days to warm up. Nuclear may be the cleaner choice but you're better off from an emissions perspective taking that extra $6/w and building more solar and wind.

To the second question storage can get complicated since it's flipped from generation... energy is expensive but power is cheap. A Tesla battery pack can kick out >300kW and it costs ~$20k so from a generation perspective it's cheap at ~$0.07/w vs $1/w for the cheapest peaking plant but it only has 85kWh with a cycle life of ~2k cycles or $0.12/kWh.... I don't classify $0.12/kWh as 'absurdly expensive' and there are dozens of other storage options available that are even cheaper like pumped storage.

The energy storage horse has been beaten to death... resurrected and killed again several times over... enjoy. The way I look at it... if we've been running off stored energy for the last 100 years... and we've still got at least another century left... I think we can probably find a way to store ~2 weeks worth which is all we should need with diversified renewables, transmission lines and demand response.
 
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nwdiver

Well-Known Member
Feb 17, 2013
8,856
12,943
United States
I just noticed that my post makes no sense:) I meant to write that cheap limitless energy is NOT a good thing.

Hmmm... that's an interesting perspective... care to elaborate? Making things cheaper and more abundant is how progress typically happens.

I have a feeling you'll enjoy this video...
 
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