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Promising Fusion research with space propulsion applications

Discussion in 'SpaceX' started by Bobfitz1, Apr 25, 2018.

  1. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    Some who frequent the SpaceX topic might have run into posts about LPPFusion, a small fusion research company with no government funding yet impressive results for a private or gov't funded research program.
    You likely don't know that research into their approach, called a Dense Plasma Focus device, was originally funded by NASA JPL as basic science into advanced ion space propulsion ideas. Much of the fusion energy produced by a DPF generator using hydrogen boron fuel is released as a directed high velocity stream of helium ions.
    When NASA got out of funding basic science, the lead researcher, plasma physicist Eric Lerner looked for ways to continue the research and ten years ago founded Lawrenceville Plasma Physics - now operating as LPPFusion.

    LPPFusion's approach to fusion is the lowest cost design with a chance to one day produce clean fusion energy at an LCOE cost that would be much less than coal, gas, PV or wind power. Clean, cheap fusion energy in the next decade would greatly accelerate efforts to replace fossil fuels and slow global warming. However should a DPF pB11 fueled fusion generator ever be developed, versions could be built and used as an ideal propulsion method for planetary space travel. Including Mars of course. Ideal because this type of fusion device would be compact, powerful and because pB11 fusion does not create an intense neutron flux, heavy shielding is not needed. It might be employed alone or as an electric power source for a VASIMR type ion rocket.

    Having expended $5 million to date on their Dense Plasma Focus research device, LPPFusion currently ranks 2nd in fusion efficiency among all private and government funded fusion projects. Only slightly behind the Joint European Torus (JET) efficiency record. Fusion efficiency is a measure of the fusion output energy produced by a test run divided by the input energy expended to produce that much fusion.

    LPPFusion test shots last year created plasma ion temperatures of 2.8 billion degrees C. A paper reporting this new record plasma temperature was published last year in the peer reviewed journal Physics of Plasmas. New experiments this summer using beryllium electrodes (a first in DPF research) are expected to increase plasma density and the amount of fusion energy produced by the test shot. Improved density and energy output will permit experiments next year using hydrogen boron (pB11 an advanced fuel whose fusion does not produce the intense neutron flux inherent to deuterium-tritium fuel used by most fusion approaches). Demonstrating significant fusion energy output using pB11 would be the first time any fusion research group across the world has successfully used pB11 this way.

    A short summary of LPPFusion's technology, results and potential environmental benefits can be found at
    LPPFusion | Cheap, safe, and clean energy generator: the power of the sun recreated on Earth | Wefunder

    If you have ever been frustrated to read that year after year, the U.S. Dept. of Energy gives 95% of fusion funding to ITER - which will never lead to clean and cheap energy - to the exclusion of innovative and cost effective approaches which deserve funding, you may have wished you could make your voice heard and move the bureaucracy to spread available resources more widely.

    If you have, an opportunity is now available to give a small push to a research effort working on this very promising "moon shot" technology. This effort has a chance to show Congress and vested scientific interests just how productive funding more than one approach can be. I encourage all who are interested to visit LPPFusion’s page on Wefunder and watch the video there. It may convince you to give the small extra push needed to fully fund the next year of research. LPPFusion’s Wefunder campaign has already raised $750,000 of it’s 1 million dollar goal, but it closes in only six more days.

    Note:
    Tonight Eric Lerner, LPPFusion Chief Scientist, will participate in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit at 8:00PM EDT Wednesday, April 25. This gives anyone considering whether to help raise the needed capital the chance to ask any question they have. Go to: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/
     
    • Informative x 2
  2. ecarfan

    ecarfan Well-Known Member

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    Sure, I hope that approach ends up producing a commercially viable fusion reactor. However, with the rapidly decreasing cost of wind and solar and batteries, I believe the planet can be converted to sustainable energy in my lifetime. No fusion required.

    A fusion-drive rocket would be awesome. But in the meantime, methalox rocket engines work and they can get us to Mars.
     
    • Like x 2
  3. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    Respectfully, converting the planet to sustainable energy over 30 to 50 years is nowhere near fast enough.
    The goal is actually to replace fossil fuels as rapidly as possible to as to stop the continued increases in atmospheric CO2 level which are driving global warming and looming environmental disaster.

    However choosing solar, wind or fusion for new generation capacity only gets fossil fuels fully displaced over a few decades as already built power plants reach end of life and must be replaced. I believe that to greatly accelerate the shut down of fossil fuel plants, a new fusion option ideally should be even cheaper than solar and wind while avoiding the location problems of wind turbines and the large space requirements of solar PV. Unlike wind and PV, fusion generation would not need large amounts of storage to cover during ebbs in wind and sun.

    If you view the LPPFusion video at Refunder, you will get a good sense of the true scope of environmental benefits of much cheaper electric power. They are profound. Homes anywhere could be heated with electric heat pumps rather than gas or oil. Water desalinization would expand to meet needs for fresh water if powered by a much cheaper energy source. It would even be economically feasible for governments to build CO2 extraction plants around the world to bring CO2 levels down over decades.

    Solar PV and wind while getting cheaper over time, still won't be able to stop current CO2 emissions from continuing to increase global CO2 levels for the next few decades. That would only be possible with an energy source so much cheaper that existing electric producers will stampede to replace fossil fuel plants regardless of how close they are to end of life.
     
    • Disagree x 1
  4. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    On the energy and environment topic thread " " goes a little deeper into the potential environmental benefits of clean, very cheap fusion energy. Another member posted a good question/opinion and I replied with more specifics of why much lower LCOE cost of a new energy source is so important to slow and then reverse climate change. Link is below if anyone would care to understand this point better. Or disagree on some aspect, which is also welcome!

    Clean low cost hydrogen boron fusion and impact on environment
     
  5. ecarfan

    ecarfan Well-Known Member

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    I agree. And even if we were able to make that conversion today, completely, the amount of CO2 humans have added to the atmosphere in the past few centuries is still going to radically change the climate.

    Of course the complete conversion to sustainable energy isn’t going to happen today or even over the next 30 years. But it could happen in 50 years and that will make a huge difference to the people living in the 22nd century, as compared to not making the conversion.

    No one will be more thrilled than me if, in my lifetime (I’m 64) a commercially viable fusion energy facility is brought online. However, I’ve been reading about fusion energy and its promise since I was in grammar school. Maybe the LPPFusion approach will work. But even if it does, the first viable facility is still likely decades away, and during those decades wind and solar and batteries will likely continue to be adopted at an exponential rate, I think. And likely at a far lower cost compared to building large numbers of LPPFusion reactors.

    I am of course speculating. Just as you are speculating that LPPFusion will actually work and be commercially viable. I hope it is!
     
    • Like x 2
  6. Xminus6

    Xminus6 Member

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    If we can run carbon scrubbers with a net negative carbon footprint using cheap energy, then the Carbon issue can be solved it seems. The issue right now is that carbon scrubbers are net positive.
     
  7. croman

    croman Active Member

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    Methane is a way more powerful GHG. Eliminating fossil fuels is probably the best bet rather than relying on technology to remove what we keep putting in.

    But its clearly going to be an all of the above type approach to mitigating this slow motion disaster.
     
  8. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    Some recent info/opinion on CO2 removal. The guy advocates building carbon removal plants as soon as possible, but doesn't estimate the scale of costs. He does explain what I was getting at in earlier posts.
    Opinion | Saving the world with carbon dioxide removal

    "As I outline in my book, “A Farewell to Ice,” this is because we have a carbon dioxide “stock-flow” problem: temperature rise is closely associated with the level of the gas in the atmosphere (the stock), but we are only able to control the rate at which new gas is emitted or removed (the flow). Carbon dioxide, unlike methane, persists in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, so even if we reduce our emission rate, the level of the gas will keep going up. At the moment, measurements show that this carbon level increase is exponential — it is accelerating. "

    So yes, an all the above approach seems necessary. Reducing emissions as fast as possible now and later, if technology ever makes large scale removal cheap enough, also pulling out as much as possible.
     
  9. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    I'm absolutely speculating that LPPFusion might succeed. At this still early stage there is a long way to go and most likely they will get so far and then not be able to reach net energy gain. I recommend learning more about what LPPFusion calls 'Focus Fusion'. The science, yet to be fully proven to work, is remarkable. With only 6 million spent to date, this approach produces more fusion energy per unit of input energy that approaches which have consumed hundreds of millions or more over five to fifteen years.
    Due to the hugely simpler and less expensive fusion approach, if the science is shown to work, it will absolutely not take decades to have a first viable plant. DPF fusion generators are best built small, each producing on the order of 5MW. But being small and not terribly complex, they could be mass produced. I did a LCOE analysis a few years back. I wasn't possible then (or now) to know precisely how much mass produced generators might cost. It seems possible that may be as low as a few million dollars. The analysis did show that if cost were in this range, the electricity cost per KWh would be under .01 dollars. That would be two or three times less expensive than PV or wind even some years in the future.
     
  10. AudubonB

    AudubonB Mild-mannered Moderator Lord Vetinari*

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    IF THIS THREAD were in the “Investors’ Sector”, which seems appropriate to me, then I would require every poster who has or expects to have an active investment interest in the company being discussed to state that openly. Not to disclose such interest is, to me, disingenuous and as such, makes any such commentary on the operation, its goals and prospects, suspect.

    Your opinion may differ....
     
    • Like x 3
  11. Nikxice

    Nikxice Member

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    Good point. A Google search of LPPFusion brings up quite a few references to crowdfunding opportunities. Seems odd for a company that's been around for more than 40 years.
     
  12. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    I'd did disclose I have invested in LPPFusion in my original post. I will edit the post you flagged to include the disclosure.
    However to be clear, nowhere have I said that anyone should invest, or that an investment would be profitable should the company succeed in reaching net fusion. I am advocating that some "moon shot" type research projects deserve to be supported if they have some reasonable chance to succeed and greatly benefit mankind. I also try to explain why the approach is fundamentally different than ones long funded by governments for decades.

    LPP questions/discussion

    (Disclosure: I invested in LPPFusion some years ago as a bet on a company with a chance for a fusion tech breakthrough that could produce clean, distributed energy at such a low cost it could greatly accelerate reductions in global CO2 emissions. Research successes since then suggest improved chances for such a breakthrough. Wefunder is a site bringing together small investors with small companies raising capital for potentially beneficial advances.)
     
    • Like x 1
  13. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    It seems the flagged post can no longer be edited by me. Hopefully the disclosure in my reply will be sufficient. Feel free if you wish to add that paragraph to the flagged post.
     
  14. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    LPPFusion has not been around more than 40 years. It was incorporated in 2003. The President and Chief Scientist Eric Lerner has researched Dense Plasma Focus devices for that long. Originally funded by NASA JPL in the late 70s.

    Several years ago a team of physicists led by Robert L. Hirsch conducted a review of LPPFusions research program and published results, and concluded that research deserved DOE funding. Hirsch directed the US fusion energy program during the 1970s evolution of the Atomic Energy Commission (including initiation of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor), through the Energy Research and Development Administration.

    DOE for years has put 90% or more of fusion research funding into Tokamaks, currently ITER. Dr. Hirsch several years ago publicly explained why ITER, even if it succeeded in 20 years time , could never produce competitively priced energy.
     
  15. Nikxice

    Nikxice Member

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  16. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    Yes, and Bloomberg is mistaken.

    Interestingly, Lerner still does some cosmology work. His latest paper showing discrepancies between observational data and hypothesis was just published by the Royal Astronomical Society. :p
    Royal Astronomical Society.png

    Btw, the Canadian documentary “Let There Be Light”, released in March 2017, featured LPPFusion as one of three fusion projects described. It gives a great background on the state of fusion today and is visually stunning. Previously available through Amazon for payment, it is now free to watch for Amazon Prime users.
     
  17. Lozza12

    Lozza12 Member

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    Sorry all - a slightly random question but I thought the intelligent folks here might be able to provide enough an answer - whatever happened to Franklin Chang Diaz and his plasma drive? I remember this was supposed to be tested on the ISS in like 2015 but I haven't heard anything since....
     
  18. ecarfan

    ecarfan Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for recommending that documentary, I just watched it. Beautifully filmed and informative though it moved rather slowly in my opinion, especially at the beginning.

    However, the film did not fill me with hope that commercial fusion power plants would become a reality in this century. That said, I hope the ITER project and the German stellerator project can progress far enough to determine whether it is a viable approach or not. The other two look like real long shots. A year of undergraduate physics obviously does not qualify me to properly assess the viability of any of the fusion projects discussed in that film. But appreciated the attitude of the ITER group, that they are in it for the long run and just like the builders of European cathedrals they’re okay if they don’t live to see the project come to fruition.
     
  19. Mike1080i

    Mike1080i Member

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    VASIMR ended up never flying to the ISS after NASA determined that the space station “was not an ideal demonstration platform for the desired performance level of the engines,”

    http://sen.com/blogs/irene-klotz/nasa-nixes-ad-astra-rocket-test-on-the-space-station
     
  20. Bobfitz1

    Bobfitz1 Member

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    You are very welcome @ecarfan. You are right about the pace of the movie but what I found objectionable was that the film makers spent so much time on ITER, yet never challenged any of the scientists involved about the economics of commercialization if their hugely expensive machine ever succeeded in generating significant amounts of net energy.
    Either they did not know of or did not choose to pay any attention to the presentation by Robert L. Hirsch at the 14th U.S.-Japan IECF Workshop October 16, 2012 titled "Where to Look for Practical Fusion Power" which details why ITER has zero chance of ever being a practical source of energy. it is an easy, worthwhile read. http://aero.umd.edu/html/sedwick/presentations/S9P1_Robert_Hirsch_Talk.pdf

    Hirsch directed the US fusion energy program during the 1970s evolution of the Atomic Energy Commission (including initiation of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor), through the Energy Research and Development Administration.
    These few paragraphs summarize his views at that time.

    "Let’s review what I’ve said. First, we have to recognize that practical fusion power must measure up to or be superior to the competition in the electric power industry. Second, it is virtually certain that tokamak fusion as represented by ITER will not be practical.

    So where are we likely to find practical fusion power? First, we must look for a concept or concepts that are inherently small in size, which means high plasma density. Second, we must look for something that can be based on a low or zero neutron fusion reaction. One example is the proton-boron reaction.

    We know some things about proton-boron fusion. First it requires much higher temperatures that deuterium-tritium. Second, it cannot be based on a Maxwellian plasma particle distribution, because theory tells us that the plasma radiation losses (Bremsstrahlung) from a very high temperature, Maxwellian, proton-boron plasma will kill the concept."

    And at the end Hirsch concludes:
    "These thoughts were painful to formulate. As a past leader of the U.S. federal fusion program, I played a significant role in establishing tokamak research to the U.S., and I had high hopes for its success. Realities have emerged to dash those hopes. When we learn unpleasant things, it is incumbent on us to speak up, even when it hurts. "

    Inherently small in size (therefore cost) and based on aneutronic porto-boron fuel is what LPPFusion is developing.
    As I mentioned in and earlier post, Hirsch led a team that reviewed LPPFusion device and physics and concluded the approach was viable and deserved much greater funding.
     

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