Polywell Fusion Submitted By: M. Simon
I’m a retired aerospace electronics engineer. In my younger years I was trained as a Naval Nuke. Back around November of 2006 I got interested in a method for producing nuclear fusion I had never heard about before. That led me to a discussion on NASA Space Flight where Tom Ligon taught me everything he knew about Polywell. Tom worked for Robert Bussard – the inventor of the device.
Dr. Bussard (a name you might have heard from Star Trek) did a presentation of over an hour for Google entitled Should Google Go Nuclear? Clean, cheap, nuclear power (no, really), to try and raise funds for the project.
As is my usual I got busy promoting the idea and eventually, a few months before he died, the US Navy picked up on the project. Dr. Bussard in a private e-mail to me and some others thanked us for our promotional efforts and said it made a difference in getting the Navy to fund the project. That funding lasted until 2013. The research done to that point found no show stoppers for the device. It in fact found that some ideas which were theoretical (the Wiffle Ball formation) were in fact a reality.
So why should all this matter for a blog more devoted to politics than science? Because the US Government is spending quite a bit every year on fusion research and Polywell is not among the devices being researched.
There are big problems with the current method of fusion that is getting almost all of the funds. That would be tokamaks like ITER.
Fusion reactors must be sized reasonably.
* Current cost estimates for the ITER project are approximately $6 billion.
* We don’t want governments to build fusion reactors, we want private industry to build them.
* Designs need to be feasible with power output in the 15 MWe to 1500 MWe range and cost < $6700 per KWe.
(MWe = MW electrical, KWe = KW electrical)
* More expensive machines will not be commercially viable.
* Competition will only occur if private industry is involved.
So ITER is too big. It costs to much (estimates tripled or more since that was written). And results from the experiments are not expected for another ten or twenty years.
Polywell could be tested for a total budget of $500 million (my actual estimate is $250 million – I multiplied that by 2X to account for the usual experimental problems) and we would know in about 5 to 7 years if it was feasible. Along the way there would be milestones to make sure the project was ended if there were any show stoppers found.
So who is working on Polywell?
A2 Fusion is some high school kids building a Polywell experiment on a very small scale.
There are others. All of them are starved for funding.
My initial plan for Proton-Boron is to build a small test Polywell with superconducting magnets – because the higher the magnetic field the better the device works That should cost in the neighborhood of $15 million including design work and a shield building to keep the experimenters and anyone passing by safe. That kind of building has not been required up until now because all the experiments to date have been done with short pulses (under a millisecond). I would like to do longer pulses (seconds) and the inherent cooling of the superconductors (vs copper coils) would allow for much more frequent test shots.
What would be the big deal (besides energy) if Polywell worked? Polywell Rockets. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to Mars in two weeks. Asteroid mining. Colonies on the Moon. In other words much better access to the final frontier. Something the massive ITER could never hope to achieve.
If you would like to learn more there is my blog IEC Fusion Technology. And probably the most up to date resource on Polywell –Talk-Polywell where I’m a moderator. And of course the many links in this post. Don’t forget your favorite search engine.