May 04, 2009

Nuclear Fusion and New Nuclear Fission Technology

(H/T to Torulf Greek who created several of the images of Bussard/IEC fusion) and found or created one of the tri-alpha energy images)

1. High Temperature Pebble Bed Reactors

China is starting a full size 250 Megawatt high temperature pebble bed reactor this year (2009) China will be following up by developing factory mass production of pebble bed reactors and deploying several pebble bed reactors at some locations.

(TRISO baseball size pellets used for the pebble bed reactors) are achieving 16% burn-up without failure. To provide some perspective, most light water fuels are only licensed to achieve about 5% burn-up. There is a $7 million project to work on achieving deep burn (60-70% burnup) of TRISO fuel pebbles. 3 to 20 times more uranium can be used in one pass through a reactor. The pebble bed reactors also are basically immune from meltdown. China has run a test where their 10 MW reactor had its coolant turned off and the reactor shutdown by itself.

Higher temperatures mean more efficient conversion of heat to electricity and the reactors can be adapted more easily for industrial uses and could be swapped in to replace coal burners at coal plants. Coal plants could be more easily converted to be carbon free by re-using the site and the steam generators and the power grid connections.

2. Integral Fast Reactors

Integral fast reactors can achieve 99.5% burn up of uranium. They could be used with deeper burning pebble bed reactors and with existing reactors to close the fuel cycle.

3. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

Videos explaining the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) are here

There is a proposal to use LFTR to make power cheaper than power from coal plants by making factory mass produced 100 MW reactors.

This reactor like the Integral Fast Reactor can burn up almost all of the nuclear fuel.

4. Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Hybrid

LIFE, an acronym for Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy, is an advanced energy concept under development at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

This system would also enable all of the uranium to be completely burned. Nuclear waste from current plants or waste (unburned fuel) that is currently in storage can also be burned in the fission part of this fusion-fission hybrid. The nuclear fusion part generates the neutrons that transmute the uranium.

5. Compact Tokomak Fusion-Fission Hybrid

U of T at Austin scientists propose destroying nuclear waste from other nuclear fission reactors using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor, the centerpiece of which is a high power Compact Fusion Neutron Source (CFNS) made possible by a crucial invention, the Super X Divertor.

6. Uranium from Seawater

Japan has a plan to scale up uranium from seawater by using modified seaweed as a source of biofuel and to trap uranium from seawater.

Uranium in seawater is a 3.5 billion ton source which is being replenished by river runoff.

There are a lot of regular uranium reserves and uranium in phosphate deposits and with the deeper burn and deep burn of uranium mentioned above (3-30 times more efficient usage of uranium and thorium) there will not be an urgent need for uranium from seawater. However, mastering this capability will ensure tens of thousands to billions of years of fuel supply. (Depending upon rate of usage.)

7. Inertial Electrostatic (IEC/Bussard) Fusion

IEC fusion has gotten another $2 million in funding.

IEC fusion uses magnets to contain an electron cloud in the center. It is a variation on the electron gun and vacuum tube in television technology. Then they inject the fuel (deuterium or lithium, boron) as positive ions. The positive ions get attracted to the high negative charge at a speed sufficient for fusion. Speed and electron volt charge can be converted over to temperature. The electrons hitting the TV screen can be converted from electron volts to 200 million degrees.

The old problem was that if you had a physical grid in the center then you could not get higher than 98% efficiency because ions would collide with the grid. The problem with grids is that the very best you can do is 2% electron losses (the 98% limit). With those kinds of losses net power is impossible. Losses have to get below 1 part in 100,000 or less to get net power. (99.999% efficiency)

Bussard system uses magnets on the outside to contain the electrons and have the electrons go around and around 100,000 times before being lost outside the magnetic field.

The fuel either comes in as ions from an ion gun or it comes in without a charge and some of it is ionized by collisions with the madly spinning electrons. The fuel is affected by the same forces as the electrons but a little differently because it is going much slower. About 64 times slower in the case of Deuterium fuel (a hydrogen with one neutron). Now these positively charged Deuterium ions are attracted to the virtual electrode (the electron cloud) in the center of the machine. So they come rushing in. If they come rushing in fast enough and hit each other just about dead on they join together and make a He3 nucleus (two protons and a neutron) and give off a high energy neutron.

Ions that miss will go rushing through the center and then head for one of the grids. When the voltage field they traveled through equals the energy they had at the center of the machine the ions have given up their energy to the grids (which repel the ions), they then go heading back to the center of the machine where they have another chance at hitting another ion at high enough speed and close enough to
cause a fusion.

8. General Fusion

9. Helion Fusion

Helion Energy has the exclusive license to a novel energy technology, the Fusion Engine. A prototype at 1/3 commercial scale is operational and generating energy from fusion. The Fusion Engine works by forming hot, ionized deuterium and tritium gas known as a Field Reversed Configuration plasma. Two of these plasmas are then electromagnetically accelerated to greater than 1 million mph and then collided in a burn chamber. In this isolated region, temperatures reach 50 million degrees and release enormous amounts of energy.

10. Focus Fusion

Focus Fusion has raised $1.2 million to prove out its system concept over the next two years.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Inc., a small research and development company based in West Orange, NJ, has announced the initiation of a two-year-long experimental project to test the scientific feasibility of Focus Fusion, controlled nuclear fusion using the dense plasma focus (DPF) device and hydrogen-boron fuel. Hydrogen-boron fuel produces almost no neutrons and allows the direct conversion of energy into electricity. The goals of the experiment are first, to confirm the achievement the high temperatures first observed in previous experiments at Texas A&M University; second, to greatly increase the efficiency of energy transfer into the tiny plasmoid where the fusion reactions take place; third, to achieve the high magnetic fields needed for the quantum magnetic field effect which will reduce cooling of the plasma by X-ray emission; and finally, to use hydrogen-boron fuel to demonstrate greater fusion energy production than energy fed into the plasma (positive net energy production).

The experiment will be carried out in an experimental facility in New Jersey using a newly-built dense plasma focus device capable of reaching peak currents of more than 2 MA. This will be the most powerful DPF in North America and the second most powerful in the world. For the millionth of the second that the DPF will be operating during each pulse, its capacitor bank will be supplying about one third as much electricity as all electric generators in the United States.

Eric Lerner, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Google Talk 64 minutes

11. Tri-alpha Energy

Dr. Hendrik Monkhorst of the Quantum Theory Project and his collaborator, Dr. Norman Rostoker of UC Irvine, designed a novel type of fusion reactor called the Colliding Beam Fusion Reactor (CBFR). Tri-alpha energy is a stealth mode startup that has over $40 million to develop this colliding beam reactor.

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