Saturday, June 14, 2008

Some Objections - Some Answers

Art Carlson, who was commenting on an Alan Boyle article about the progress the EMC2 team was making with the Bussard Fusion Reactor tests, had some objections to the whole concept.
It's fun to daydream, isn't it? And it's easy, too, as long as you don't know too much.

There's more reasons than you can shake a stick at that this won't work. For starters, you can forget about aneutronic fusion. It's not just the temperature, Bremstrahlung is almost to certain radiate more energy than you produce by fusion no matter how good your confinement is. Even if you somehow manage to get a decent power balance, for a given plasma pressure and fusion power, a p-B11 reactor would have to be about 1000 times bigger (and more expensive) than a corresponding D-T reactor.

The next thing to worry about is the electrons. The magnetic configuration has not only lines of radial field from the center to the edge, which is bad enough judging from the experience with mirror machines, it also has lines of *zero* field along which the electrons will gush out. The idea of recycling electrons lost through the cusps won't work because they will come out almost parallel to the field but hit the return cusp with a large perpendicular velocity component they picked up going around the bend.

And the ions? The device is conceived to utilize a bi-modal velocity distribution, which will be destroyed very quickly by the two-stream instability. The anisotropy of the velocity distribution is also know to be a big problem, again from experience in the mirror program.

We haven't even started to talk about energy loss to the grids, the consequences of tiny field misalignments, charge-exchange ion losses, energy coupling between electrons and ions, and whether the potential distribution envisioned is even possible at a non-trivial ion density.

Since they managed to sweet talk somebody into giving them money, let them finish and publish their results, but let's not stop looking for ways to save energy and trying to develop other, less sexy but more reliable energy sources.

Art Carlson, Munich, Germany (Sent Friday, June 13, 2008 1:17 PM)
rnebel who is conducting the test and is definitely not day dreaming had a response.
Just a few comments for Mr. Carlson

1. The theory says that you can beat Bremstrahlung, but it's a challenge. The key is to keep the Boron concentration low compared the proton concentration so Z isn’t too bad. You pay for it in power density, but there is an optimum which works. You also gain because the electron energies are low in the high density regions.

2. The size arguments apply for machines where confinement is limited by cross-field diffusion like Tokamaks. They don't apply for electrostatic machines.

3. The Polywell doesn't have any lines of zero field. Take a look at the original papers on the configuration. See :
Bussard R.W., FusionTechnology, Vol. 19, 273, (1991) .
Krall N.A., Fusion Technology. Vol. 22, 42 (1992).

Furthermore, one expects adiabatic behavior along the field lines external to the device. Thus, what goes out comes back in. Phase space scattering is small because the density is small external to the device.

4. The machine does not use a bi-modal velocity distribution. We have looked at two-stream in detail, and it is not an issue for this machine. The most definitive treatise on the ions is : L. Chacon, G. H. Miley, D. C. Barnes, D. A. Knoll, Phys. Plasmas 7, 4547 (2000) which concluded partially relaxed ion distributions work just fine. Furthermore, the Polywell doesn’t even require ion convergence to work (unlike most other electrostatic devices). It helps, but it isn’t a requirement.

5. The system doesn’t have grids. It has magnetically insulated coil cases to provide the electrostatic acceleration. That’s what keeps the losses tolerable.

6. The electrostatic potential well is an issue. Maintaining it depends on the detailed particle balance. The “knobs” that affect it are the electron confinement time, the ion confinement time, and the electron injection current. There are methods of controlling all of these knobs.

rnebel (Sent Friday, June 13, 2008 6:17 PM)
One must be wary of a certain kind of dreamer:
All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
—T. E. Lawrence from "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"


Karridine said...

I love THIS type of Q&A ...

"It won't work because A, B, C..."

"It DOES work because A non-operative, B nullified by X, C is squeezed at the edges, ..."

Keep reporting this stuff, MSimon! The world is hungry for this.

Unknown said...

And how many places do you see the chief scientist himself of a US Navy funded project replying to an obscure comment in a webforum?

Perhaps it's key to reaching the public at their eye-level, or perhaps it's the wrong approach to dive into the endless spiral of forum posting.
But it resonates with me, not having to settle for reading small interviews and 10-line reports about IEC Fusion in pop-science magazines, but you can actually TALK to the people doing it without it being wrapped in PR crap.

Dr. Nebel should keep it up. It makes following the progress of this technology far more personal to me.

Steve Poling said...

I was struck by the contrasting tones of the critique and response. The first was snarky and dismissive, whereas the second seemed more substantive, pointing out distinctions between current IEC work and similar, albeit failed attempts of decades ago.

I cannot say i'm anything more than a fan at this point. We needed fusion working 30 years ago and shame on us for not funding a plethora of fusion approaches. I think the theory, albeit well verified, is incomplete and we need more experimentation.