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Power Science

Fusion Power Breakthrough Near At Sandia Labs? 358

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An achievement that would have extraordinary energy and defense implications might be near at Sandia National Laboratories. The lab is testing a concept called MagLIF (Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion), which uses magnetic fields and laser pre-heating in the quest for energetic fusion. A paper by Sandia researchers that was accepted for publication states that the Z-pinch driven MagLIF fusion could reach 'high-gain' fusion conditions, where the fusion energy released greatly exceeds (by more than 1,000 times) the energy supplied to the fuel."
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Fusion Power Breakthrough Near At Sandia Labs?

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  • by P-niiice (1703362) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:45PM (#41378283)
    so the 20-50 year estimate that never shrinks may actually get reduced some?
    • Re:great! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:49PM (#41378329) Homepage Journal
      No, see as you approach feasibility, your likelihood of being bough by a competing producer to be extinguished (see gasoline) becomes multitudes greater. You will never actually reach production with things like this, for the same reason you will never reach a wall by moving in increments of 1/2. Tee short of it, there is too much money to be made to have something as valuable as energy become a low-cost commodity.
      • Re:great! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Abreu (173023) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:55PM (#41378431)

        Is there any evidence (real evidence, not YouTube videos of guys in their basements) of any "revolutionary, clean energy technology" being bought out and extinguished by the oil industry?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Of course not, they buy out and extinguish the evidence, duh!

        • Re:great! (Score:5, Funny)

          by LurkerXXX (667952) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:09PM (#41378665)

          I made a working engine that ran off of tap water. Then the oil companies had me killed.

        • of course not. that's part of the conspiracy. that's how you know it's the truth!
          the only way it could be MORE truth is if there was evidence directly contrary to the conspiracy, because that'd have to be planted evidence. lack of evidence is just THEM being tricky.

          ow my head hurts.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Large format NIMH batteries are the only one I know of.
          In short texaco helped kill the electric car by suing Toyota for the Rav4 electric. Toyota was losing money on the cars and did not want to lose even more by dealing with texaco.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_encumbrance_of_large_automotive_NiMH_batteries [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by inode_buddha (576844)

          There are patents that were filed by Henry Yunick among others in the early 1980's which had a working model Buick getting ~50 MPG's on the road. The patents were sold to GM which subsequently sat on them for ~20 yrs due to interlocking directorships with Exxon Mobil. They are now owned by a holding corp. I'll dig out the relevant patent numbers shortly, theyre around here somewhere...

          • Re:great! (Score:5, Informative)

            by azav (469988) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:31PM (#41379827) Homepage Journal

            Here:

            http://patents.justia.com/inventor/HENRYYUNICK.html [justia.com]

            U.S. Patent Number 5,645,368
            A race track is disclosed having a tri-oval banked, racing surfacesurrounded by a barrier support material delineating a race barrier support surface at a

            U.S. Patent Number 5,515,712
            An apparatus and a method for testing internal combustion engines aredisclosed. In the preferred arrangement the apparatus includes a test module supporting an electric

            U.S. Patent Number 5,246,086
            An internal combustion engine oil change system including an oil filtersupplied with a check valve fill fitting. During an oil change, new oil is

            U.S. Patent Number 4,862,859
            A method and apparatus for operating an electric ignition, internalcombustion engine that substantially improves the fuel efficiency by utilizing heat normally discharged to the

            U.S. Patent Number 4,637,365
            A method and apparatus for operating an internal combustion engine thatsubstantially improves the fuel efficiency by utilizing heat normally discharged to the ambient to

            U.S. Patent Number 4,592,329
            A method and apparatus for operating an electric ignition, internalcombustion engine that substantially improves the fuel efficiency by utilizing heat normally discharged to the

            U.S. Patent Number 4,503,833
            A method and apparatus for operating an electric ignition, internalcombustion engine that substantially improves the fuel efficiency by utilizing heat normally discharged to the

            U.S. Patent Number 4,467,752
            An internal combustion engine having a cylinder 16, a cylinder head 10, anda piston 12 slidably mounted within the cylinder for reciprocating movement towards

            U.S. Patent Number 4,068,635
            A valve is interposed between spaced valve seats of a conduit having end portions communicating with the ends of an internal combustion engine valve

        • Re:great! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:53PM (#41380101) Homepage Journal

          Search for any combination of "butamax gevo patent sue suit" etc etc.

          These guys are having to fight over obvious refinements of the ABE process for making butanol, you can look it up on Wikipedia or numerous other places.

          And when I say "these guys" I mean a company that wants to actually make and sell Butanol, a "green, clean" 1:1 replacement for gasoline with lower emissions versus Butamax, which is owned by BP and DuPont, who has sued them to prevent them from producing fuel.

          I hear it is theoretically possible to get a permit to operate a still for the purpose of producing fuel, and you might even be able to use it for road fuel if you're willing to pay the taxes on it.

        • by Shompol (1690084)

          Is there any evidence... clean energy technology" being bought out and extinguished by the oil industry?

          You are welcome [slashdot.org]

      • You will never actually reach production with things like this, for the same reason you will never reach a wall by moving in increments of 1/2.

        Zeno's Dichotomy Paradox has a resolution. This is more like the Rockefeller Contraction (apologies to Hendrik Lorentz).

      • Re:great! (Score:5, Funny)

        by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:10PM (#41378683) Journal

        > No, see as you approach feasibility, your likelihood of being bough by a competing producer to be extinguished (see gasoline) becomes multitudes greater.

        I'm not necessarily disagreeing, but do you have a reference?

        My own suspicion is that as you approach feasibility, government grant money tends to increase, but if you *achieve* practical feasibility, grant money evaporates. Therefore, to maximize funding, you must asymptotically approach feasibility.

        But I'm willing to hear a different theory.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Fusion research is most likely somewhat ahead of where predictions made in the 70's said it would be, given the funding (decreasing) it has received since then. The "always 50 years away" thing is a stupid meme.

          • by roc97007 (608802)

            Right, but like any long lasting memes, there is a kernel of truth, which, one might say, could be attributed to a number of factors, like, at first not understanding the difficulty, and later underestimating the pace of research.

            Also right, we're a lot further along now. We now have knowledge of many techniques that don't work, and a few techniques that *almost* work.

      • by na1led (1030470)
        No Profit, No Fusion! I think that's the case for just about every new advance technological idea that could benefit us all.
        • Re:great! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sumdumass (711423) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:43PM (#41379149) Journal

          All they have to do to make profit is make it cheaper then current forms of electricity. This will not be back yard inventor stuff where every home is powered by one built out of spare parts. It will be something sitting on a large site with power transmissions lines coming to it that is selling the electricity on a market. If it costs more to make then current forms, it will not be used. If it costs less, it will be implemented.

      • by swb (14022) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:26PM (#41378875)

        And how low cost will it be actually?

        Let's assume that the Sandia technique/technology results in sustained net-positive fusion by the end of 2013. The results are so positive that a small-scale concept plant that will push to the grid gets built, by, say 2020.

        This works well enough and there's enough refinement that a full-scale 8 GW plant can be built. By what, 2035? This plant is so successful that by 2050 there are maybe 4-5 more built an in operation.

        So we have a lead time of 2050 for less than 50 GW of power. Considering total production is something like 1300 GW, it hardly seems like a threat to anything or a source of the vaunted "free" energy.

        Even if you manage increase production by a factor of 10 to 500 GW capacity, what will fund the grid expansion to deliver all this free energy? Will the cost of electrically powered stuff go down -- or up, now that "everything" is made to run on electricity and the demand for rare earths, copper and other related materials goes way up?

        • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:23PM (#41379739) Homepage

          Large scale is very dumb. Make 25KW units and put thousands of them across the city. Cheaper, easier, and reliability of the grid goes up dramatically.

          • "Large scale is very dumb"

            Well, small scale units are just big magnets with a cold beryllium cylinder at the centre. They're not power plants.

            In order to get this type of fusion to work, you have to input a few dozen times the world's power output for a few nanoseconds, contain the core as it is heated to 6 billion degrees kelvin in under a microsecond, manage 2.7 megajoules of xray radiation, contain an atomic-bomb scale EMP, shape one of the strongest magnetic fields in the galaxy as it collapses and ens

        • by fatphil (181876)
          > Let's assume that the Sandia technique/technology results in sustained

          Stop right there!

          The word "sustained" appears neither in the summary or the article.

          Anyway, I think it's best to talk about the implications of their experiments only after they've been done.
          • by chrismcb (983081)

            Let's assume that the Sandia technique/technology results in sustained

            Stop right there! The word "sustained" appears neither in the summary or the article.

            Hence starting with "let us ASSUME ..."

      • Do you know who they are? The .gov address might give you a clue but it is Sandia National Laboratories. They are one of the DoE's research labs. It's where they do research relating to nuclear weapons, among other things. This isn't something the oil companies have any sway over or ability to grab.

      • by radtea (464814)

        You will never actually reach production with things like this, for the same reason you will never reach a wall by moving in increments of 1/2.

        You mean you won't reach production because you're too fucking stupid to realize that "an infinite number of intervals of diminishing size" is completely different from "an infinite distance", even after it's been explained to you dozens of times by multiple people over the course of more than 2000 years?

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      Yes, it will be reduced all the way to "twenty minutes into the future".

  • by Abreu (173023) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:46PM (#41378291)

    ...I just want you guys to know that "Sandía" means "watermelon" in Spanish.

    Oh, also: I hope this leads to a new, efficient and clean type of energy.

  • Great! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Type44Q (1233630) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:47PM (#41378309)
    Practical applications are now only fifty years away! :p
  • by Anonymous Coward

    All the previous vaporware and false claims about fusion are about "cold fusion". This is not the same thing. Accusations of being vaporware would only be valid if the word "cold" appeared in the summary, which it does not.

  • near end of 2013? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gl4ss (559668) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:50PM (#41378345) Homepage Journal

    so uhh.. call us in a year if it works, ok? that the parts which are known to work do work isn't really news you know.

  • by bazald (886779) <bazald@zenipe[ ]om ['x.c' in gap]> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:51PM (#41378363) Homepage

    How much energy goes into the production of the liner tubes, which are apparently eaten away throughout the course of the fusion reaction? Obviously this is all preliminary research, but I still think I'm missing something.

    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      Make the liner tubes out of used 20oz water bottles
    • Dude, it's magnetic containment. That's kinda the point. It keeps the really hot particles from ever touching the tube. It takes a buttload of energy to run but compared to fusion, not that much.
      • by Daetrin (576516)
        Read the article. The liners are being crushed by the magnetic field. The whole point of this experiment is that they've found a thickness of liner that will last _just_ long enough to finish crushing the fusible elements together before being completely destroyed itself.

        And presumably they can construct the liners for less (both in terms of money and energy) than they feel they will eventually be able to get out of the fusion reaction. It's not like every other method of producing energy doesn't have som
      • You should read the article. Passing such a high current through the tube causes it to ionise.

    • Re:Tubes Eaten Away (Score:5, Informative)

      by vlm (69642) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:20PM (#41378785)

      Time for a world famous /. vlm engineering estimate.

      The tubes are vaporized by the magnetic crunch. Optimistically they're getting a thousand times the power out as in, or far more than a thousand times the power it takes to vaporize the tube (because most of the power is going into squashing the contents, otherwise whats the point...).

      I'm sure they're using beryllium because of its legendary stiffness, not because they love toxic dust. Lets say they use aluminum in a later model. Both light low Z metals of decent strength although beryllium is better. If beryllium oxides were not so toxic we've have airplanes made out of it, not just space satellites and the occasional exotic RF transistor ceramic heatsink. But I digress. Off the top of my head it costs about 5 KWh as an order of magnitude engineering estimate to electrorefine a pound of aluminum. It takes immensely more energy to vaporize a pound of aluminum. An hour in a 5 KW ceramics kiln might melt a pound aluminum... but vaporization is much harder. I'll estimate incredibly low and say you can vaporize a pound of aluminum with only 5 KWh. LOL this is probably 1 or maybe even 2 orders of magnitude low, but its best to be extremely pessimistic... I'm not counting the machining energy or transport, both of which will be much smaller.

      So I'd feel fairly confident that a pound or so of aluminum tube, costing about 5 KWh to refine, should generate about 5000 KWh when the deuterium inside the tubes gets squooshed. Not bad.

      Another crappy engineering order of magnitude estimate is you gotta burn a pound of coal to make a KWh. And you can earn a tidy profit burning coal to make electricity, for better or worse... WRT materials handling transport and mining/ore/coal processing and storage standpoint, those are not an issue as long as you can get more than one KWH out of a pound of the "stuff", since it's clearly no issue with coal at a pitiful KWh per pound. This thing is getting 5000 KWh out of a pound of aluminum tubes (well, once they're filled up with D2).

      No as a first approximation I'm not seeing any fundamental issues with the tubes. This isn't like using up 2 barrels of crude oil to grow and refine 1 barrel equivalent of ethanol. The tubes will be a substantial fraction of the operating expense. Not as significant as jetfuel to a airline, or coal to a powerplant, but more significant than say, the cost of in flight cookies to a airline.

      • Re:Tubes Eaten Away (Score:5, Informative)

        by fatphil (181876) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:49PM (#41380759) Homepage
        That was a fun estimate - thanks! I notice that it's much easier to melt aluminium than your wild stab in the dark. Aluminium's LHoF is only 399 kJ/kg and LHoV is 10,530 kJ/kg. Your 5kWh/lb = 5*3600*2.2 kJ/kg ~= 40000 kJ/kg. So you've not underestimated by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude, you've actually slightly overestimated.
  • Take that, Sol! Now we don't need you for anything!
  • by iamjonah (1702570) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @02:53PM (#41378387)
    Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word "no".
    • by esldude (1157749)
      A simulation shows that experiments scheduled for next year could work. And if they do work, they would maybe be a breakthrough. Yes, I think the proper answer to the query posed by the headline is clearly....NO! Get back to us with breakthroughs once you have actually done it for real one time.
      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:14PM (#41378719) Homepage

        A simulation shows that experiments scheduled for next year could work.

        Not exactly. This was an actual experiment showing that previously done simulations were correct. They needed to figure out the correct thickness to make the liners to balance implosion speed with vaporization due to extreme current, the simulations said this was a sweet spot, and the experiment said that indeed this would work.

        Of course this is just one more step in the design - simulate - experiment cycle, but still, at least it is about a real result.

        Also, I'm just glad to be hearing about further progress from the Z-Machine folks at Sandia since I hadn't in quite a while. So even though it's not the final goal, it's still good news.

    • by P-niiice (1703362)
      And it can't start with How or What
    • I hereby introduce Maxwell Demon's Law of Headlines: Whenever a headline ends in a question mark on Slashdot, there will be no shortage of comments mentioning or implicitly referring to Betteridge's Law Of Headlines.

    • Are we trying to make a meme out of this?

      Or vagina?

  • by conorpeterson (2718139) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:02PM (#41378553)
    The photos of the Z machine have to be seen to be believed, and even then, it is grade A sci-fi: http://www.sandia.gov/z-machine/ [sandia.gov] The "Z pinch" is an alternative method of containing the hot plasma. Tokomak reactors use magnetic confinement of a continuous plasma, while the Z machine uses inertial confinement for shorter lived plasmas. IIRC the web of lightning shown in Sandia's publicity photos is produced when thousands of tungsten filaments are vaporized in order to generate x-rays. The fuel pellet sits in the center and the X-rays compress it into criticality -- if it sounds like an H-bomb, that's because it probably is.
    • by TheSwift (2714953)

      The photos of the Z machine have to be seen to be believed, and even then, it is grade A sci-fi: http://www.sandia.gov/z-machine/ [sandia.gov]

      Middle right photo - Pretty sure I've seen that room before. Shortly thereafter I was hitting head crabs with a crowbar.

  • Go to http://xkcd.com/678/ [xkcd.com], pick your own time line.
  • by 32771 (906153)

    Now I don't have to start becoming a farmer after all. Not that it is a bad thing but starting it at mid 30 seems late in the game.

    Considering that factor of 1000 sounds like a great EROI should be possible, much better than this puny cold fusion stuff.

    Now if they could get rid of this metallic liner they are talking about made out of a potentially scarce resource the whole thing
    could look perfect once they get beyond the simulation stage.

  • ...in only 50 years.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:11PM (#41378687)

    The Tokamak's have been scientific breakeven for more than a decade, ITER is supposed to achieve fiscal breakeven. What's the difference? Scientific breakeven means you extract more energy than you put into it, but you don't actually try to collect any of the energy. Fiscal breakeven is that added step where you actually try to collect the energy and use it.

    See Fusion has this problem in that it's pretty easy to trigger fusion, it's not easy to keep it going and it's damn near impossible to collect any energy from it because all the stuff you have to start the fusion is in the way of collecting any of the energy and all the neutron and alpha particle emissions tend to destroy any materials you put in there to collect the energy.

    This is EXACTLY the point of ITER, it's supposed to test the actual engineering of real world (not laboratory) fusion at an economic scale. This testing is costing a lot of money (US contributions are in the $2 Billion dollar range, total economic input from all the partner nations is 25X that amount).

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:28PM (#41378897)

      Tokamak's have just reached Q~1 if J-60 were to switch from deuterium to a D-T mix. This is to say that the amount of fusion power being generated is on par with the amount of heating power applied. This is a little short of the "scientific breakeven" you describe, as it does not include power for magnets (and other equipment, but that is much smaller). A more useful goal is a Q~5, since the neutrons carry away about 80% of the power, a Q~5 is would mean the alpha particles left behind in the plasma will be providing about as much as heat as external sources. To account for other inefficiencies, a more practical Q would be a little higher.

      ITER's goal is to achieve a Q of 10 for shorter duration plasmas, and to get a Q of 5 for long durations that would be more indicative of a steady state reactor continuously running. These are all in terms of fusion power within the reactor vs. heat applied. ITER will not produce any electricity from the fusion power, it will not be a test of "fiscal breakeven" as you describe it. The plan would be for the successor to ITER, potentially DEMO, to actually produce electrical power and work towards determining economic feasibility and dealing production issues in an actual industrial, instead of research, setting.

    • by conspirator23 (207097) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:25PM (#41379769)
      Simply scale up the reaction to a level where it is self-sustaining on the ambient hydrogen in space, and then collect the resulting photon emissions with an array of photovoltaic converters.
  • But why is that news? They tested it empty, fuel won't even be added until 2013, and analyzing the results of the actual experiment might take even more.

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      Because they exceeded the breakeven point with fusion, which is the second most important achievement other than eventually achieving huge energy returns on energy invested. That's the biggest news in fusion since the hydrogen bomb generations ago.

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        RTFA, please:

        In the dry-run experiments just completed, cylindrical beryllium liners remained reasonably intact as they were imploded by huge magnetic field of Sandia’s Z machine, the world’s most powerful pulsed-power accelerator. Had they overly distorted, they would have proved themselves incapable of shoveling together nuclear fuel — deuterium and possibly tritium — to the point of fusing them. Sandia researchers expect to add deuterium fuel in experiments scheduled for 2013.

  • it's all coming together http://science.slashdot.org/story/12/09/17/2229257/warp-drive-might-be-less-impossible-than-previously-thought [slashdot.org] I know when it finishes - about 10 min after I die . Oops - should have done this as anonymous
  • because I am an idiot and a slow learner.

  • an achievement that would have extraordinary energy and defense implications.

    Says a lot about the times we live in (or the short sightedness of TFA) when the second biggest benefit of a breakthrough in fusion would be fucking weapons.

    I'd be looking forward to a revolution in energy usage and a massive increase in living standards for the entire planet myself, but hey.

  • There are about 36 types of fusion being explored (of which "Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion" is just one), categorized roughly into 6 main types. Here's a list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Fusion_methods [wikipedia.org]

    'Unlimited' energy would be such an amazing thing (eclipsing even say lithium-air battery tech, 200" OLED screens, super conductors, or cheap-as-peanuts aerogel) by an order of magnitude or two. If a quarter of the money that went into the Defense budget went into fusion, we'd all be laughing
  • This is actually the denoument of the final season of "Breaking Bad." An multi-million anonymous donation from a mysterious "Senor Heisenberg" leads to sustainable fusion research all to late to redeem the hapless Walter White and his family.

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @08:16PM (#41382089)
    "beryllium liners remained reasonably intact"

    That line gave me pause. To make it it practical it would have to operate for at least 6 to 12 months before the lining was changed since you'd have to go into cold shutdown and be off line for weeks. It doesn't sound like they are even close to that kind of durability. This type of issue is what has kept fusion in the lab. They passed break even a long time ago but they only got slightly more power than it took to sustain the reaction so it'd be like building a nuclear plant to power a house. They've really got to get the durability of the liners to exceed 12 months and the lasers to last even longer or the amount of energy you get out won't justify the expense. I'm a big fan of fusion I'm just also a skeptic, I've been following since the 70s. One added benefit of fusion would be an attractive waste bi-product, Helium.

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