Nuclear Fusion At 100: The Hidden Race For Energy Supremacy

It’s hardly a secret that nuclear fusion has had a rough time when it comes to its image in the media: the miracle power source that is always ‘just ten years away’.  Even if no self-respecting physicist would ever make such a statement, the arrival of commercial nuclear fusion power cannot come quickly enough for many. With the promise of virtually endless, clean energy with no waste, it does truly sound like something from a science-fiction story.

Meanwhile, in the world of non-fiction, generations of scientists have dedicated their careers to understanding better how plasma in a reactor behaves, how to contain it and what types of fuels would work best for a fusion reactor, especially one that has to run continuously, with a net positive energy output. In this regard, 2020 is an exciting year, with the German Wendelstein 7-X stellarator reaching its final configuration, and the Chinese HL-2M tokamak about to fire up.

Join me after the break as I look into what a century of progress in fusion research has brought us and where it will take us next.

Continue reading “Nuclear Fusion At 100: The Hidden Race For Energy Supremacy”

Deuterium Powered Homes And The Return Of Cold Fusion Hype

We’ve been sent this press release claiming a new kind of fusion reaction that works at small scales using an incredibly exotic fuel material: ultra-dense deuterium. We looked into it with an open mind, and if we’re being kind we’ll conclude that there’s a ten-year long research project being undertaken by [Leif Holmlid], a single scientist whose claims would win him one or two Nobel prizes if any of it were true.

If we drop the kindness and approach it rationally, this doesn’t smell right and can’t be believed until it has been reliably reproduced by someone not associated with the original research. Let’s delve into the claim of Deuterium powered reactions, and circle around on the cold-fusion hype we found so sadly entertaining back in the ’90s.

Continue reading “Deuterium Powered Homes And The Return Of Cold Fusion Hype”

Fusion Reactor Wins Science Fairs

[Will Jack] built a heavy water fusion reactor and then won district and regional science fair projects with it. Someone give this man a job!

We looked in on his fusion reactor about a year ago. At the time he had managed to build a magnetic containment field but didn’t have the voltages or the deuterium necessary to achieve fusion. We’ll that’s all changed. Using a boron-10 lined sensor tube he’s managed to detect the rise in neutron counts that would indicate fusion. Remarkable. He’s now working on a refined gas system that will allow him to increase the deuterium purity by cutting down on the leak rate. He mentions a few other hardware improvements such as a new containment unit and an ion source upgrade. Both of these concepts go beyond our knowledge so do make sure to put on your Nuclear Engineering hat while reading through his project update.

Basement Fusion Reactor

Do you ever wonder what projects your neighbors have going on in their basements? [Will Jack’s] neighbors might be surprised to find he’s building a fusion reactor. The first step toward completing a Farsworth-Hirsch Fusor is up and running. The picture above shows heated plasma contained in a magnetic field. Next he just needs to up the voltage and inject some deuterium.

Yeah right! Deuterium, aka heavy water, is extremely rare and very difficult to refine. If you’re not familiar with the substance, you should get your hands on the NOVA episode: Hitler’s Sunken Secrets.

We’re glad to see that [Will Jack] is donning a lead vest for protections.  [Will O’Brien] cautioned us about the stray X-rays these things produce when he covered fusors back in 2007.