[extropy-chat] Fusion Power: Linchpin Technology?
eugen at leitl.org
Fri Jan 19 10:48:04 UTC 2007
On Thu, Jan 18, 2007 at 03:45:23PM -0700, mike99 wrote:
> Fusion Power: Linchpin Technology?
> Cheap, abundant and clean energy is the goal of environmentalists and
> technologists. Where will it come from? Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal
> and biomass can provide some of it, but these sources have many
> limitations, such as low-energy density, relatively high cost, and
> uneven global distribution. If we could develop a technology to
> generate clean energy from an element found in water, our energy
> problems could be solved.
> Can we do that? Yes, with fusion.
> ...more -> http://latorra.blogspot.com/
Allright, let's look at this in detail. First, the full text, in
order to be able to comment:
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Fusion Power: Linchpin Technology?
Cheap, abundant and clean energy is the goal of environmentalists and technologists. Where will it come from? Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and biomass can provide some of it, but these sources have many limitations, such as low-energy density, relatively high cost, and uneven global distribution. If we could develop a technology to generate clean energy from an element found in water, our energy problems could be solved.
Can we do that? Yes, with fusion.
Fusion powers the sun. So, indirectly, all photovoltaic cells are indirectly using the output of the fusion process. But photovoltaics are far less inefficient than the fusion process itself.
The development of practical fusion energy systems on earth has been the holy grail of scientists since the 1950s. Today, in the early years of the 21st century, the international effort to develop a commercial fusion energy system is still in its early developmental stages. The ITER "tokamak" (toroidal) fusion reactor now being built in France is experimental, not a commercial energy producing system. Many decades will elapse before any electricity from this particular fusion technology can enter the public energy grid. The current ITER timeline projects commercialization no sooner than 2050 and probably much later.
But the ITER machine is not the only possible fusion device. Dr. Robert Bussard and his colleagues claim to have developed a different method of producing fusion power using an Inertial-Electrodynamic Fusion Device that is thousands of times more efficient than the tokamak method, and can be built and deployed to produce commercially usable energy in a decade or so[3a & 3b]. In 2006 the International Academy of Science gave Dr. Bussard its highest award for this research.
According to Dr. Bussard, these are some of the advantages of his fusion power system:
* Stop Greenhouse Effect
* Eliminate Acid Rain Sources
* Decrease Thermal Pollution Sources
* Stop Nuclear Waste Production
* Destroy Nuclear Waste Inventory
* End Water Shortages Forever
* Cheap Fuel Free Electric Power
* Clean Low Cost System
* Fresh Water From The Sea
* Practical Space Flight
* Global Economic Stability
* Cheap, Clean Therma/Electric Power Readily Available
* Fixed Energy Prices Stabilize Economy
* Low Value Cane In Third World Countries Becomes High Value Export Product
* Third World Nations Can Become Economically Viable
* Profitable Industrialization Possible
* Destroys World Market For Gasoline
* Eliminates Effect Of Oil Cartels
* Oil States Suffer Drastic Income Losses
* Desalinization Plants Allow Irrigation Of Arid Lands
* Cheap Water Allows Effective Agriculture
* Low Cost Power Stabilizes Industrial Nations
* Oil Wars Vanish
* Mid-East Stabilized by Economics
* Third World Becomes Fiscally Responsible
* End Use Market Price Ca. $5,000 B In Year 2000 $
* Sell/Lease Systems To Supply Energy Plants/Production
* Royalty/Lease Fees at 2% of Market Price Equivalent To Ca. 2m/kWhr Surcharge Yields Net Income (Profit) at Ca. $100 B/Year (which means an estimated electrical cost of 1 cent/kWhr - ed.)
If even half of these benefits were to materialize, the world would be transformed. So when will this actually happen?
Maybe never. Dr. Bussard's government research funding of a few million dollars has been terminated. He estimates the cost of fully developing his technology into a commercial system to be about $200 million. This is a tiny fraction of the $12 billion of the ITER project. It's even a smaller fraction of the US Federal budget for 2007, which is over $3 trillion. The money Dr. Bussard needs to complete the development of his safe, clean, energy system would be a mere rounding error in the US government's budget, and certainly less than is currently sinking into the sump of fraud, waste and abuse (not to mention misguided policy initiatives).
The dream of fusion power is still a dream deferred. The giant, slow-moving ITER project cannot deliver any useful power until the second half of the 21st century, if then. Dr. Bussard's fast, relatively cheap fusion system could be fully developed, tested and – if it works as promised – deployed by 2017.
Fusion may be the linchpin technology for technical and economic development. Like the linchpin that prevents a wheel from sliding off its axle, fusion can secure the wheel of progress to the axle of safe energy. It can be the source of the clean, abundant energy required for both economic abundance on earth and the exploration oand settlement of space in our solar system and beyond.
Is it worth risking some government money on such a project? I cannot imagine any convincing reason not to.
Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820 http://www.ativel.com
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