October 30, 2008

IEC Fusion has minimal Funding, Major funding decision still pending

The Navy is soliciting bids for follow up experiments with Bussard inertial electrostatic fusion. [H/T IEC fusion tech

The Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division, China Lake, CA intends to procure on an other than full and open competition basis a service to provide: 1) Research of Electrostatic "Wiffle Ball" Fusion Device. The contractor is to specifically investigate the required instrumentation to achieve spatially resolved plasma densities and spatially resolved particle energies. This requirement is sole sourced to Energy Matter Conversion Corporation, 1202 Parkway Drive, Suite A, Santa Fe, NM 87501, as the only company in the world investigating and developing this type of device. Any firms believing that they can provide this service may submit a written response to be received at the Contracting Office no later than 5 days after the date of publication of this notice. It must clearly show the firm's ability to be responsive without compromising the quality, accuracy or reliability of the service without causing programmatic hardship. All responsible sources may submit a quotation which shall be considered by the agency.

Discussion at Talk Polywell

From Tall Dave:
-- 1 contract from Sep for general Polywell research
-- 1 contract for ion guns
-- 1 contract for "instrumentation to achieve spatially resolved plasma densities and spatially resolved particle energies"

From Dr Nebel (Project Lead):
This is small, interim funding. It's called staying alive until they make a decision.

The Navy is also funding research on the ion gun for the IEC fusion device.

Successful development of IEC fusion would transform space travel and energy

There was speculation that the next IEC fusion experiments would be 100MW versions. This is not clear based on the procurement request.

Here is an introduction to the inertial electrostatic fusion concept.

Some controversy:

According to Todd Rider in his general critique of inertial-electrostatic confinement fusion systems, net energy production is not viable in IEC fusion for fuels other than D-T, D-D, and D-He3, and breakeven operation with any fuel except D-T is unlikely. The primary problem that he discusses is the thermalization of ions, allowing them to escape over the top of the electrostatic well more rapidly than they fuse. He considers his paper optimistic because he assumes that core degradation can be countered.

Nevins makes an argument similar to Rider's in [W.M. Nevins, Phys. Plasmas <2> (10), 3804 (October, 1995)], where he shows that the fusion gain (ratio of fusion power produced to the power required to maintain the non-equilibrium ion distribution function) is limited to 0.1 assuming that the device is fueled with a mixture of deuterium and tritium. A fusion gain of about 10 is required for net energy production.

From M. Simon:

Rider's chief criticism is related to the recirculating power required in a colliding beam machine: "In virtually all cases, this minimum recirculating power is substantially larger than the fusion power, so barring the discovery of methods of recirculating the power at exceedingly high efficiencies, reactors employing plasmas not in thermodynamic equilibrium will not be able to produce net power". This is a very valid criticism and is acknowledged by Robert Bussard. However, Bussard claims that the discovery of what he terms the Wiffle Ball effect and by circulating electrons escaping from the Wiffle ball at high efficiencies he can get the total electron circulation efficiency into the 99.999% to 99.9999% range, making machines of his proposed design viable for power production.

So Rider in his Masters thesis theoretically indicated that he did not believe the electrons could be contained in the IEC fusion designs. Robert Bussard believed and claimed experimental proof that he could and built a test machine which had results indicating success. The device shorted out. The recent work by Dr Nebel and his team replicated Robert Bussards work and their device runs like a clock and does not short out. Robert Bussard also had a PHD in physics. Bussard served as the Atomic Energy Commission assistant director of its controlled thermonuclear reaction division in the early 1970s, helping found the United States fusion program [basically one of key people in starting the US fusion program]. Bussard's worked on actual Tokomak and Riggatron and then for 17 years inertial electrostatic fusion experiments.

Other fusion researchers such as Rostoker and Monkhorst have disagreed with Rider and Nevins analyses. They claiming Rider and Nevins assumptions do not always apply, and proposing nonthermal schemes that they calculate can produce net power, and theorists at LANL have proposed [R.A. Nebel and D.C. Barnes, “The periodically oscillating plasma sphere,” Fusion Technology 38, 28 (1998).] a new electrostatic plasma equilibrium that should mitigate this problem. This concept, called Periodically Oscillating Plasma Sphere (POPS), has been confirmed experimentally[J. Park et al., “First experimental confirmation of periodically oscillating plasma sphere (POPS) oscillation,” submitted to Physical Review Letters]. POPS oscillation maintains equilibrium distribution of the ions at all times, which would eliminate any power loss due to Coulomb collisions, resulting in a net energy gain for fusion-power generation.

IEC fusion type devices currently work to generate fusion and generate billions of neutrons. The results of Dr Nebel's recently completed experiments are currently being studied for the last several months. A clearly negative result taht confirmed what Rider and other critics have said would seem likely to have been released right away and the matter dropped.

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