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Power Science

Fusion Power Breakthrough Near At Sandia Labs? 358

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 Abreu ( 173023 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:46PM (#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.

  • by conorpeterson ( 2718139 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:02PM (#41378553)
    The photos of the Z machine have to be seen to be believed, and even then, it is grade A sci-fi: [] 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 i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:03PM (#41378571) Homepage Journal

    Which it hasn't really been for a decade now, and wouldn't have been like that if fusion had been receiving the funding it deserves. Of all non-service industries energy has the lowest research funding to revenue ratio, and super-majority of that has been towards fracking and ethanol.

    This is a self-perpetuating myth if ever there was one. My money's on FocusFusion to beat sandia to net+ though.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:14PM (#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.

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

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:20PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:28PM (#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.

  • Re:great! (Score:4, Informative)

    by anubi ( 640541 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:43PM (#41379141) Journal
    Sandia National Laboratories. Government funded?

    Doesn't that mean the people own the technology developed - so if anything does come of this - who is going to tell the taxpayer who funded this that he can't go build one for himself or sell the power he can make off of his unit?

    Or give him any authority to tell his neighbor not to do the same should his neighbor want to do likewise?
  • Re:great! (Score:5, Informative)

    by azav ( 469988 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:31PM (#41379827) Homepage Journal

    Here: []

    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

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    An apparatus and a method for testing internal combustion engines aredisclosed. In the preferred arrangement the apparatus includes a test module supporting an electric

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    An internal combustion engine oil change system including an oil filtersupplied with a check valve fill fitting. During an oil change, new oil is

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    A method and apparatus for operating an electric ignition, internalcombustion engine that substantially improves the fuel efficiency by utilizing heat normally discharged to the

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    An internal combustion engine having a cylinder 16, a cylinder head 10, anda piston 12 slidably mounted within the cylinder for reciprocating movement towards

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @06:13PM (#41380383)

    Here is the interview, [], and Here is the graph [].

    Funding fusion power is probably the best thing we can do for the environment right now.

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

    by fatphil ( 181876 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @06:49PM (#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.
  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:16PM (#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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