Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Open Source With Superconductors

My friend Famulus is building an open source Polywell with super Conducting magnets. It would be the first superconducting Polywell in the world as far as anyone knows. Follow the link to see pretty pictures of the plan.

Here he discusses power supplies for the coils.

All very impressive. I wish I was there. There is a slight hitch. Famulus has run into a money problem.

As of the last time I checked he had 25 donations and only needs $1,958 to reach is goal. You can check his latest fund raising stats and donate at the link. And click on the "Updates" link at the top of the page. There are 6 of them.

But that is not the only motivational trick he has in his bag. He has custom T shirts too! I think he needs a better slogan for the shirt. Maybe I Helped Fund An Open Source Bussard Fusion Reactor And Got The Shirt As A Bonus. With suitable type faces.

And just in case you haven't heard of Polywell I can bring you up to speed. You can learn the basics of fusion energy by reading Principles of Fusion Energy: An Introduction to Fusion Energy for Students of Science and Engineering

Polywell is a little more complicated. You can learn more about Polywell and its potential at: Bussard's IEC Fusion Technology (Polywell Fusion) Explained

The American Thinker has a good article up with the basics.

And the best part? We Will Know In Two Years or less.

I'm a big fan of small fusion projects. Especially after hearing what Plasma Physicist and author of Principles of Plasma PhysicsDr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good." No I'm not against ITER, totally, but it is sucking all the oxygen out of the room. For a project that will not be done (regular power production) for 40 to 70 more years. With that kind of schedule we can afford to wait for some breakthroughs.

Oh yeah.

Pledge Some Money to help keep amateurs on the cutting edge.

Monday, February 8, 2010

ITER Image Trouble

The above Image is from the top of this page. It is a working fusor grid working in star mode. In other words the image is from an IEC device not a tokamak device.

Maybe it is a subtle sign the tokamak folks are losing hope.

H/T chrismb at Talk Polywell.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Shake Up On The Way

For those of you not familiar with Latin "iter" means "the way". And the ITER Fusion program now headquartered in France is undergoing a top management shake up.
In an effort to put the world's largest scientific experiment back on track after delays and cost overruns, Europe is shaking up the agency overseeing its portion of the multinational ITER reactor.

On 16 February, Frank Briscoe, a British fusion scientist, will take the reins as interim director of Fusion for Energy (F4E), the agency in Barcelona, Spain, that manages Europe's ITER contribution — the largest of any partner's. Briscoe replaces Didier Gambier, a French physicist who joined the F4E as director when it formed in 2007. Gambier was originally appointed for a five-year term.

The European Union (EU) is also formulating a plan to complete construction on the multibillion-dollar machine in 2019, a year after currently scheduled, Nature has learned.

ITER aims to prove the viability of fusion power by using superconducting magnets to squeeze a plasma of heavy hydrogen isotopes to temperatures above 150 million °C. When full-scale experiments begin in 2026, the machine should produce ten times the power it consumes.
It seems the shake up is due in part to unhappy customers. You know - the people putting up the money.
Europe has faced increasing criticism from ITER's six other international partners: Japan, South Korea, Russia, India, China and the United States. A budget proposed last week by US president Barack Obama would slash America's funding for ITER in 2011 by 40%, to US$80 million; it cited "the slow rate of progress by the [ITER Organization] and some Members' Domestic Agencies". And on 2 February, Evgeny Velikhov, a Russian fusion researcher and head of ITER's council, called Europe a "weak link". "Unfortunately, their organizational structure is very poor," he told Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview that appeared on a Russian government website.

Finishing ITER in 2019, a goal that the F4E is now working towards with industrial contractors, would involve risks such as producing components in parallel, but scientists think that those risks can be managed. "There should be no doubt that Europe is trying hard to get ITER ready in the shortest time that is realistic," says one senior European scientist. The new schedule will be presented to other ITER partners at a meeting on 23–24 February in Paris.
In a recent post, Spiraling Out Of Control, I discussed some of the financial problems at ITER. And for those of you interested in the technical problems may I suggest (actually highly recommend) the Talk Polywell link at the end of that article.

And let me leave you with a few words from a Polywell Fusion fan who is no fan of Tokamak designs (ITER and similar devices): Plasma Physicist and author of Principles of Plasma Physics Dr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good."

And the best thing about Polywell is what Physicist Rick Nebel, who is now herding the project, has to say about it: We Will Know In Two Years or less.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spiraling Out Of Control

I have covered the troubles the ITER fusion project is having in ITER Gets Clipped which covered the American view of ITER's troubles. The The European Voice is taking a look at the problems from an European view.
ITER's projected costs have soared since the first estimates were made in 2001. Contributions will generally be made in kind (through provisions of construction materials, reactor components, labour and expertise). The EU's total in-kind contribution was estimated at €1.491 billion in 2001. By 2008, when the EU's Fusion for Energy agency, which was set up to manage the EU contribution to ITER, reviewed the costs, the estimate had risen to €3.5bn.
Rising costs

Concerns about the ballooning budget led the Commission last year to set up an expert group tasked with reviewing the construction costs. The group's report, released to member states last month and seen by European Voice, said that the construction costs alone could rise as high as €1.5bn (compared to a 2001 estimate of €598 million).

The report said that the increase was a result of “omissions or underestimates” in the original estimates, inflation in concrete and steel prices and “changes in specifications”.

The Commission has set up a task-force to identify sources of additional funding for ITER. One option being considered is a loan from the European Investment Bank.
The latest budget numbers I have seen have the project estimate at around $7 billion US (€5.1 billion).

Interesting that the budget was low balled to get things going and then things started spiraling out of control. Making up for missing resources in out years always costs a lot more than budgeting for them from the start. We see this in the space program all too often. The reason is that you have people you have to keep on board while changes are being made. What we in engineering like to refer to as "the burn rate" - the amount you have to spend to keep going while actual progress halts to make the changes. Every day's delay can cost millions of dollars. Then there is the problem of bringing new people up to speed. Adding people to a late project will often increase the delay over what making do with the people you have will cause. It is easy to get into a regenerative mode where you can never finish at an acceptable time with an acceptable budget. Another thing that happens when you add new people to a project is that the design suffers because the new people never know as much as the old hands.

Fredrick Brooks originally looked at this problem with respect to big software projects. He published his observations in a 1975 book called The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering.

It is probably the best book on big project management ever written so far. I have used his insights often in my engineering career. Management will hardly ever listen to these types of insights at the beginning. But occasionally you can get them to accept the insights provided once a project is in trouble.

Let me add that the much smaller Polywell Fusion project is not having any such difficulty. Physicist Rick Nebel said of his WB-7 experiment: it "runs like a top". Rick has been mum about WB-8 progress. Since he has the same team that did WB-7 working on WB-8, I expect he will deliver the knowledge required on time and within budget. Of course he has an advantage. It is easier to keep a small project ($ millions) on time than it is to do the same for a large project ($ billions). If the experiments look promising I expect that he will have a lot more trouble getting a real power plant operational. The logistics get harder.

You can look at recent list of the design problems ITER faces at Talk Polywell.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

ITER Gets Clipped

It looks like the Obama Administration is cutting back its support for ITER in next year's Federal Energy Budget.
...funding for DOE’s fusion energy sciences (FES) program gets clipped from an estimated $426 million this year to a requested $380 million next year, a reduction of 10.8%. That reduction would come out of the United States’s contribution to the international fusion experiment, ITER, which will be built in Cadarache, France. Under the proposed budget, ITER would get $80 million next year, down from an estimated $135 million this year. The decrease marks the latest dip on the ITER budget roller coaster. In 2008, Congress zeroed out $150 million of spending on ITER in a squabble with the White House. The project got $124 million the following year.

Ironically, the current cut comes about because ITER itself has slowed down as researchers contend with design revisions that could double its $7 billion price tag. “We need to make sure that we don’t get ahead of the project as a whole,” says Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, home of the U.S. ITER project office. The proposed $80 million would keep U.S. researchers fully engaged next year, Mason says. However, he worries that the dip this year will make the required funding increases in 2012 and beyond all the larger and harder to achieve.
I looked at the ongoing design review in ITER Back To The Drawing Board. I believe ITER is in big trouble for two reasons. One is that the engineering is not solid even for an experimental project and also that even if it is successful in its 40 or 50 year time line it will never produce a commercially viable fusion reactor.