Friday, August 21, 2015

bragging via osmosis

Helion Energy is starting another round of funding on their next nuclear fusion reactor.


         It's a far cry from the last generation of fusion experiments, and Helion's approach is the closest yet to break-even territory- they're anticipating the next generation reactor (they rebuild every 2 years) will be the model for unitized commercial reactors. 

 This is exciting stuff, and dovetails nicely with my own philosophical approach when it comes to cheap clean energy- it will come when it is economically feasible, but it's inevitable. This is a good thing.

      My dad always got into funky shit at work. When he swallowed the anchor and gave up going to sea, he was at the time in the middle of a teardown with the submarine "Alvin," which would later on go on to find the TITANIC. This was a few years after he was on the crash design crew that reconfigured the Alvin to hunt down a missing nuclear bomb, something that certainly made the news, but before my time.

 Alvin is owned by the Navy, but operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which is itself part of MIT. When my dad's health was first starting to decline, when I was a toddler, he transferred to Boston, to work in MIT's magnet lab on ALCATOR , an early  nuclear fusion reactor.

 Seriously, click on the link. Thing looks like a sci-fi put up job, but it's real. If only the bleeding hearts knew that not only is MIT in the heart of Communist Cambridge, MA, the campus is powered by a fission reactor, and has a fusion reactor sitting there just down the road from Harvard, where they damn near canonize Saint Che Guevara.

At any rate, my father's patient description of what he was doing at work always fascinated me. The only time I think I ever saw my father disappointed in me was when I turned down the navy's offer for a shot at their their nuclear power school in Charleston. I had it in my head at the time to be more Jacques Cousteau, less Robert Oppenheimer.  In intervening years, I had room for regrets there.

 At any rate, I'm really looking forward to watching what Helion does.


Rusty Gunner said...

Let's call it cautious optimism. Fusion has turned my head with pretty words and promises before.

Now, if you want to get the lefty Luddites all splodey-headed, tell them about Farnsworth-Hirsch fusors being built -- and achieving fusion -- in peoples' garages.

Anonymous said...

The fission reactor at MIT doesn't power anything (it's for research purposes only, and doesn't generate power other than thermal which is dissapated in a cooling loop). The campus IS powered by its own gas turbine cogen plant though.
-Marc (MIT nuclear engineering BS, MS and other degrees)

Problem with Helion's (plasmoid collision), IEC designs (fusors), and other "clever" approaches, they don't address some serious materials issues, don't generate net power (unless scaled) and have serious scaling issues.

If you want a good example of an idea that has (in my opinion, as someone who has researched this area for a while now) check out General Fusion. Their method has the best chance of being scaled into something workable for power as it requires the lowest gain for break even, and the easiest to economically scale even at low gains.

Paul, Dammit! said...

Marc, I was checking it out yesterday. General Fusion's claim seems very solid and in agreement with what you're saying, but seems to be very optimistic with their timeline. I'll admit that I don't know enough to be so skeptical, beyond never having experienced everything working correctly the first time running through with even simple systems, let alone cutting edge nuclear power experiments.