New fusion approach at Lawrence Livermore – "artificial star"

“Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star. It is science’s star experiment: an attempt to create an artificial sun on earth — and provide an answer to the world’s impending energy shortage”……..

….drools the headline of  Telegraph Science Correspondent, Richard Gray’s article article – 27 Dec 2008

A cynic would say this is part of the ongoing “distraction robbery” being carried out by the energy and motor industry – “don’t worry – we’ll sort out the energy problem (we’ve got various wheezes up our sleeves – fusion, fuel cells, hydrogen just around the corner) meantime keep shelling out on far more of the stuff than you would need if the governments and / or us, the energy utilities funded the already existing and far more cost effective energy conservation schemes, or invested in already available and proven renewable energy schemes such as wind energy along with further grid interconnections, and more high efficiency local CHP/DH schemes.

It is highly unlikely say some commentators, that even supposing such experiments, for that is all they presently are, do work, and do ultimately yield a viable power source, it will take at least half a century to begin mass construction and decades further before any impact can be made on our present need for fossil fuels and start to cut carbon gases. This is inevitable due to the vast scale of these projects- this one takes up several football fields, and consequently entails  long lead times in designing, building, testing then up scaling, each step of which can take decades.

At present, the only way any heat which may be generated by the fusion scheme can be converted into electricity is to use a standard power station type steam boiler and steam turbine –  which presently which run on fossil heat.  These existing power station furnaces and boilers are relatively cheap so it is only the furnace and fuel that this fusion is supposed to replace at less cost. How this collection of hi tech lasers, mirrors, high vacuum, radiation shielding, massive concrete walls, and so on, is supposed to be cheaper than say the solar mirror fields which also can replace heat supplied to a steam turbine by fossil fuel burning, and which have been powering Nevada Solar one since the seventies, or which are planned for the Sahara linked to Europe by HVDC lines is hard to see.

The gushing science correspondent doesn’t bother to consider these obvious issues and swallows the whole press release fairly uncritically – no doubt one of the reasons newspapers are going out of business.

3 comments on “New fusion approach at Lawrence Livermore – "artificial star"

  1. Well Dave why not in the short term. But to declare the path of a technology for 60-80 years as you just did! I suspect some technology will have transformed the answer and perhaps even the question before we reach 2030.

    As for the IEA, they declared that yes, cheap oil may peak soon (unless OPEC has vast amounts more cheap oil than they declare – as any rational cartel would ensure was the case) but this did not in any way validate the risible peak oil theory that there is a geological constraint on ALL oil supply meeting any conceivable demand in the next few decades. It merely means that oil to meet conceivable demand paths out to 2030 and beyond (all a lot lower today than 6 months ago!!) may cost $100, or even $150 /bbl in the coming decades. All of which is good news for alternatives and hardly the end of the world for economies.

    What is damaging to economies and alternatives is price volatility. It will be interesting to see the effects of the oil price crash on wind turbine build in 2009 and 2010. I think we may see a considerable contraction. I still maintain that the greatest boost to renewables would be reduced fossil fuel price volatility.

    On the flip side we could see a big nuclear build, across the globe and sustained for a decade at least, which may have a greater impact on GHG than windmills don’t you think?

    Mike

    http://www.energy-alert.co.uk

    Energy Alert Ltd.

    Ash House

    Dullingham Ley

    Newmarket

    CB8 9XG

    ——————————————————————————–

    From: Dave
    Sent: 29 December 2008 13:20
    To: ‘Mike
    Cc: ‘Claverton En Gp- Email’
    Subject: RE: … a game changer – New Fusion Wheeze…….ready any half century or so…….?

    Hi Mike,

    Well this would be all fine and good providing it could all works out in time, but it clearly can’t help us, if, as the hopeless IEA now tell us, Peak (cheap) Oil and the climate scientists Peak Climate are only a few years away.

    We visited the UKs Fusion Experiment (ITAR?) at Didcot a few years ago, and apart from being very disappointed they weren’t all wearing white coats like proper scientists, we had quite a good chat with them. They said it would take a few more years to finish their experiments at Didcot, then they could design a half scale full size reactor – 10 years – then they would built it (I think this is the French one) – another 10 years – then do some more work and test – 10 years. Then, if they had found alloys (by no means certain by their own admission) to withstand the radiation, they could built a full scale commercial prototype – say 10 years design and 10 years build. Then, if that worked – say give it 10 years to find out the snags, they could start replicating them. Well of course you can’t go from a first prototype to building 100s in anything less than decades.

    So fusion on the Didcot model is clearly at least 60 – 80 years till it can make any difference and this must surely apply to this thing at Lawrence Livermore – now I may of course be wrong, but we would be clearly foolish to assume that it will all go swimmingly and we can start plastering the planet with cheap fusion power.

    Meanwhile, we have clunky old wind turbines, which we now know well very much how much they cost – (answer – cheap enough for us to afford), and how they perform, and could start cranking out the thousands of wind turbine factories tomorrow, if only the government would admit that it is, at the moment, the only real show in town, and get on with it.

    I’m sure Moore’s Law applies to wind turbines – that explains their factor of 5 increase in capacity worldwide between 2000 and 2007 – that’s the one to watch.

    Any of the other techs apart from chp / dh and insulation are a distraction or a side show, in my humble opinion, on the basis that they are not actually existing as commercial units, so we should proceed now on what we know works technically and economically and switch to anything better (tidal, fuel cells, wave, etc) if and when it comes along with no or few financial regrets.

    Kind Regards

    Dave
    The Titanic Deck Chair Re Arranging Company

    From: Mike
    Sent: 28 December 2008 15:33
    Subject: … a game changer

    Hi Dave,

    When we ponder timeframes of decades I expect we are more often than not confounded by things like this

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/3981697/Scientists-plan-to-ignite-tiny-man-made-star.html

    Ten years ago this could not be done. In 10 years time we will be able to? Not this perhaps, but “something”. In 50 years?

    When I look at any field of science Dave, I see Moore’s Law everywhere. Yet clearly others seem not to or we would not spend today worrying about and spending vast sums on averting disaster in 2050 and beyond…..which is a good point to wish you a happy and prosperous new year!

    Regards

    Mike

    Mike Coulten

    http://www.energy-alert.co.uk

    Energy Alert Ltd.

    Ash House

    Dullingham Ley

    Newmarket

    CB8 9XG

    ——————————————————————————–

    From: Mike Sent: 22 December 2008 07:27
    To: ‘Dave
    Subject: Heres a good article on oil and why OPEC will stop your plans, whatever they are

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6c815670-cf97-11dd-abf9-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1

    {Al Romig of Sandia National Laboratories, a US government national security research centre, argues that price volatility is one of the most serious obstacles to developing alternatives.

    Suppliers, he says, may have an interest in keeping the price high “and then [dropping] it to $10 per barrel, because when the oil price falls like that, the economics of any of these alternatives … turn against you, and you walk away from it”.}

    Also, free Iraqis, the greatest threat to the House of Saud EVER, will have less cash as a result of this price crash. Good timing all round for the cartel wouldn’t you say? They have cash piles to live off for a couple of years before the next hurrah. Tell me Dave, if its OK for OPEC to ration oil, why don’t we (the rest of the world) ration food, medicine etc to these OPEC states? Why not? So why oil? OPEC impoverishes people who generate wealth and transfers it to people who find oil under their feet. It holds back development of the worlds poorest people (the most oil dependent economies – % of GDP spent on oil – are often the poorest) and kills of all project financing for renewables and oil substitutes.

    I think Dave that until the “debate” starts to live in this real world you will all be tilting at windmills in what will boil down to ineffective subsidy spending. Let us address OPEC directly. I think you will find GWBush has, only George being such a thicky, the world of course hasn’t realised what he has done. Watch Iraqi reserves and output double or likely much more in coming years (Iraqis realising their wealth you see, USA nothing to do with it, mainly Iraqi, European, Russian and Chinese oil comps) and the myth of OPEC reserves (why would a monopolist under-declare) shown for the transparent lie it is.

    I may sound anti renewables at times Dave but I am not. I am anti these fantasy narratives that seem to have, these days, almost totally replaced and supplanted real debate on a factual basis. Still, we must be entertained above all!

    I continue to advocate – Price floor under oil, proper carbon pricing where polluters actually pay and direct trade action against the illegal OPEC cartel. These are the real world actions that will, if done, make project financing large scale renewables build possible. i.e this is what will actually make it happen

    Enuf, woke up in an argumentative mood. I feel better now 😉

    Merry Xmas Dave and a sustainable New Year to you!

    Regards

    Mike

    Mike

    http://www.energy-alert.co.uk

  2. Updated comment from Mike C…..

    Well Dave why not[MC] build some renewables in the short term. But to declare the path of a technology for 60-80 years as you just did[MC] as a justification for spending vast sums on technology that will almost certainly be displaced is somewhat reckless! I suspect some technology will have transformed the answer and perhaps even the question before we reach 2030[MC] don’t you?

    As for the IEA, they declared that yes, cheap oil may peak soon (unless OPEC has vast amounts more cheap oil than they declare – as any rational cartel would ensure was the case) but this did not in any way validate the risible peak oil theory that there is a geological constraint on ALL oil supply meeting any conceivable demand in the next few decades. It merely means that oil to meet conceivable demand paths out to 2030 and beyond (all a lot lower today than 6 months ago!!) may cost $100, or even $150 /bbl [MC] to produce (as distinct from the market price at any time) in the coming decades. All of which is good news for alternatives [MC] including renewables but also everything else and hardly the end of the world for economies.

    What is damaging to economies and [MC] energy alternatives is price volatility. It will be interesting to see the effects of the oil price crash on wind turbine build in 2009 and 2010. I think we may see a considerable contraction. I still maintain that the greatest boost to renewables would be reduced fossil fuel price volatility.

    On the flip side we could see a big nuclear build, across the globe and sustained for a decade at least, which may have a greater impact on GHG than windmills don’t you think?[MC] Govts are keen to spend money.

  3. I too visited the JET Lab at UKAEA Culham ( near Didcot) recently. I was impressed by the fact that people were willing to spend their whole career doing an endless chain of 4 month runs/analysis in the full knowledge that they would not live to see the final results- a workable fusion plant . Such dedication. I was less impressed by the row of pots in the toilet block, for urine samples. A dead give away. This is the technology that meant to to be safe and clean compared with fission. Quite apart from the risk of leaks of radioactive tritium gas and the possibility of catastrophic failure, spewing parts around the immediate area, given the huge neutron flux, the reactor core materials and equipment would become fiercely radioactive and would have to be regularly striped out, so there would be waste in large tonnage terms- albeit only with half lives of 100 ears or so.. Why bother (and spend $20bn+ so far on it ) when we already have a safe fission reactor in the sky? We already use it to power 100GW (th) solar, 100GW(e) wind, 750GW(e) hydro, 10GW PV(e) solar plus of course traditional and new biomass derived energy ( and food) . About the best I can say for fusion is that it might be useful at some point in the future to provide a power source for ion jet propulsion units to get us to the asteroid belt to pick up Helium 3 to run the fusion reactor- we’ll have run out of Lithium on earth (it will all be in batteries!) .

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