It has been a while since I had time to put anything up on my blog. The blog was started a few years ago for me to explore the online experience. It was interesting to put my views online but I knew there would be only a few readers.
I put a little effort into promoting the site and I was delighted when I got a few hundred readers. However, there has been a much greater than expected interest in the site. I would like more comments but I get lots of readers.
What caught my interest in the last few weeks was the announcement from Lockheed Martin about their Compact Fusion experiment. I suppose we are getting a lot of business activity around mobile devices. The thought of a mobile fusion device seems really in the realm of science fiction. I remember back to the future had a car with a fusion engine. It was a Delorean car built here in Ireland, the fusion engine was of course invented by the film makers not the Irish researchers. We have little people and fairies here in Ireland but we have not cracked fusion yet.
The Lockheed Martin team claim that a working reactor could be built to fit on a truck. I like the idea that plasma could be used to solve the worlds energy crisis. However, I am skeptical of some of the more radical claims about breakthroughs in this area. I worked in fusion for a number of years and was a member of the Scientific Committee of JET, the most successful fusion device ever built. It actually achieved a fusion power of 4MW.
Lockheed say that they have a 1/2 scale device currently and they expect five yearly cycles to a working experimental reactor and a further five years to a fully developed fusion product. Their aim is to build a 100MW device that would be mobile and could be deployed easily.
My first reaction is that a small device with a quick development cycle could allow much more rapid development than is achieved in the government funded programmes where the cycle times are many years. I have learnt this working in industry as compared to academia. Where I am, in industry, we can turn around rapid development programmes in months that would take years in a university or government lab.
But will it work? Hard to say yet. There is some indication that they have developed a flexible magnetic confinement that adjusts to the plasma to give a high beta confinement. I will wait to see the paper before I comment anymore.
Even if it does work, it will be 10 years before the power flows and the team have focused on the plasma problems, but the materials problems associated with a burning reactor are immense. I firmly believe that if a €50B reactor such as ITER is difficult to design then a smaller reactor might be nice but will be harder. Remember fusion is easier to achieve the larger the reactor. That is why the sun works so well. It is huge.
I will await the first paper to see if they really have a game changer on their hands.