Saturday, April 19, 2008

For All Mankind

A lot of people have been asking me publicly and privately, if the Bussard Fusion Technology is successful, can it be bottled up by special interests? I think the we have an answer from Dr. Richard Nebel who is now running the experiments in New Mexico.
Your concern is something that EMC2 has thought about. The Polywell is what is generally described as a "disruptive technology". Namely, it is a technological surprise that changes everything. A lot of people have/are investing a lot of money in energy technologies. The Polywell is their worst nightmare. Consider for a moment who isn't going to like the Polywell:

1. The fusion people. They've already gone ballistic (but we're not going to go there).
2. The fission people. They're working on a "nuclear renaissance".
3. The solar people.
4. The wind people.
5. Big oil.
6. The gas and coal companies
7. The biofuels people.
8. A few of the environmentalists.

As you can see, we are pretty much an equal opportunity irritant. We are very well aware that any number of people would like to sit on this technology and keep it out of the market. This is one of the primary reasons that Dr. Bussard chose to have this project funded by the Navy rather than privately funded (where we probably would have had a much easier schedule). With the Navy contract, we retain the rights to the intellectual property for commercialization.

Dr. Bussards's desires for this technology were very clear: he wanted it developed and used by the public ASAP. We intend to honor those wishes.
Dr. Nebel, if the latest experiment (WB-7) works out and you read this, I want you to know that if you can use my help I'm good to go. I'm willing to sweep the floors if that is the way you think you can best use me.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

20 comments:

Brock said...

If Dr. Nebel is reading this, I should also mention that I am good friends with an independent VC firm who only works with alternative energy firms, with the full intention of bringing them to market. Dr. Nebel can reach me at bmcusick at gmail dot com if he would like an introduction.

brian.ackermann said...

I've often been curious about the reaction of #1 people to the polywell idea. Can anybody direct me to some reading that does talk about their feelings and thoughts on this technology? Thanks!

M. Simon said...

brian,

At this point we have the thinkers on board. Not many feelers.

Although these pictures have been called fusion porn by some. At this point it is an acquired taste. :-)

Brock,

I have passed your message on to a few people. If there is a need at this stage I'm sure you will be contacted.

Thanks for the offer. You might want to alert your friend in any case to see if there might be something they want to do.

brian.ackermann said...

What I meant was :

1. The fusion people. They've already gone ballistic (but we're not going to go there).

To me this implied that there was some CONSIDERABLE discussion amongst 'themselves' about this darling of ours, but that you didn't want to get sidetracked on that for the sake of your posts consistency.

Is there anywhere where I can read about their reactions?

Thanks!

Brock said...

Brian, I think they're alluding to fights over government funding mostly. Scientists can get remarkably unscientific when it comes to competition for funding. Dr. Bussard discussed this briefly in his Google Tech Talk.

M, I had lunch with my friend just yesterday and we briefly discussed it. His firm is open to making new investments, if the business case looks right of course.

M. Simon said...

Brock,

Ah I see it is "we are looking for opportunities" rather than "we want to do something".

For the time being I think the "we want to do something and we have funds" people will get priority.

Your first hurdle is a management team. I'm not aware of one of the caliber the VC's would want that is available.

Well it is probably premature for that phase any way. If that changes I'll contact you.

Brock said...

I'm not sure what the difference is between "we are looking for opportunities" and "we want to do something" prior to actually seeing engineering numbers, but the offer remains open as far as I know. I'll keep an eye out for that email.

Regards,
Brock

M. Simon said...

The difference is that you have not just funds available but an orientation:

We want to make gas metering servo valves for BFRs.

Or we want to develop the superconducting magnet technology.

Or we want to manage a test reactor for the US Gvmt if the project scales up.

etc.

vs What ya got?

kurt said...

I think the successful development of polywell fusion would actually not be a threat to the big oil companies. Oil is used mainly for transportation. Electrically powered vehicles (with the exception of railroad locomotives) are not at a practical stage of development at this time. Any polywell device is going to be way to large to make into a car or truck engine.

Polywell fusion, if successful, will kill much of the coal and natural gas industry. The natural gas companies will have great economic incentive to develop a cost-effective process to covert natural gas into liquid hydrocarbon fuels for transportation.

The near-term (10-20 year) future of cars and truck is hybrid technology. Railroad locomotives have been hybrids for the last 20 years in that they are all diesel-electric.

I would also like to tell you that I have contacts in both Japan and China who would be interested in developing this polywell technology if the current set of experiments prove successful.

As you know well, China is now the largest consumer of energy, much of which is generated from burning coal (the pollution in many Chinese cities makes this very obvious).

M. Simon said...

Kurt,

Send me an e-mail.

Japan already has a IEC program that has made some useful contributions to the field.

Martin C said...

The polywell would be a good mobile powersource for ships, possibly for large aircraft, and of course it is ideal for large-scale electricity generation. Really cheap electricity and heat will make it economical to produce hydrogen to use as a mobile fuel-source for smaller vehicles. It really could be the thing that kicks off the 'Hydrogen Economy'. In this way I can see the polywell spelling the end of the current oil age. So in my opinion the vested interests that the successful polywell is going to upset - and how! - are all pretty much in the Middle East.
And if Mr Simon sweeps the floors can I volounteer to clean the loos? ;)

Robw said...

Mr. Simom

I am new to all of this and am certainly no engineer/scientist. At this point, what is your opinion on the chances that this is indeed real and will eventually displace fossil fuels?

thanks in advance for your response.

M. Simon said...

RobW,

The odds that the WB-7 experiments will confirm what was done by Bussard on WB-6 95%.

The odds of getting a test power reactor working that produces 100 MWth in the next 5 years - probably 50%. The odds that it can be turned into a commercial power producer in the next 10 years 30%.

I'd consider those very good odds given the risk reward ratio and the level of risk required for proof ($200 mil to $1 bn).

Robw said...

Mr. Simon,

Thanks for the quick response.

Again, from a totally lay person's point of view, I would think that once a sustained fusion reaction was confirmed, tons of money would be thrown their way in order to 'ramp up' to a production mode.

Therefore, if a 100 MW test reactor was produced and functioning within the next 5 years, don't you think there would be so much money thrown at this that it could be in production much quicker than another 5 years beyond that?

That is, of course, unless someone or something suppresses it, but thats another story.

M. Simon said...

Rob,

That is certainly my hope.

However, I'm intimately familiar with the known problems. They will not be easy to solve.

And that is without the unknowns that always crop up.

So I try to be conservative in my estimates so there is margin for error.

Robw said...

Great, thanks again for the reply.

One last question - how soon do you think we will have a clearer picture of whether this tech has potential or not? Would it be when the WB-7 test results are in?

Actually, that's 2 questions...

Rob

M. Simon said...

Less than 6 months.

James said...

man if i can do anything, you can contact me. i for one am more interested in global stability than finacial prosperity. ( i am in the air force for heaven sakes) lol. you guys should go public and sell stock, thats your funding right there and with millions of holders, the stock exchange, and therefore the government will not be able to ignore or put down your reasearch. just a thought. again, if i can sweep a floor or put my avionics troubleshooting skills to the test, give me a shout

Mathew said...

I have to wonder though: gasoline is a pretty good means of storing and distributing hydrogen at STP. If one were to attach a reformulation plant which would suck CO2 out of the air and crack it, crack H2O, and output gasoline and O2 to a Bussard reactor, you could 'recycle' the carbon in the atmosphere and continue to operate the gasoline-based infrastructure that's had a century plus to develop and mature.

The question is, could a large enough reactor provide enough power cheaply enough to have manufactured gasoline be cheaper than distilled? On a large enough scale, how cheap would fusion power really be, like a nickel a Mwh?

M. Simon said...

There is not enough CO2 in the atmosphere. It is plant food.

If we are going to go down the road you suggest carbonate rock is the raw material.

As to the cost of BFR electricity: about 1/2 to 1/10th current cost. With the lower number taking time to develop.