Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Is It Time For the US Government To Back Fusion At NIF Over ITER?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the come-on-now,-you're-both-pretty dept.

Power 308

ananyo writes "Laser beams at the National Ignition Facility have fired a record 1.875 megajoule shot into its target chamber, surpassing their design specification. The achievement is a milepost on the way to ignition — the 'break-even' point at which the facility will finally be able to release more energy than goes into the laser shot by imploding a target pellet of hydrogen isotopes. NIF's managers think the end of their two-year campaign for break-even energy is in sight and say they should achieve ignition before the end of 2012. However, with scientists at NIF saying that a $4 billion pilot plant could be putting hundreds of megawatts into the grid by the early 2020s, some question whether the Department of Energy is backing the wrong horse with ITER — a $21-billion international fusion experiment under construction at St-Paul-lez-Durance, France. Is it time for the DoE to switch priorities and back NIF's proposals?" Perhaps a better idea, given the potential benefits of fusion research, would be for the DoE to throw their weight behind multiple projects, rather than sacrificing some to support others.

cancel ×

308 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

well, i dunno (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417179)

Will this be a project to benefit society or will it be another thing where government money funds the hard, risky, long-term R&D and then a private company gets to reap all the rewards?

captcha: autocrat. Captcha generator reveals all.

Re:well, i dunno (5, Insightful)

baudilus (665036) | about 2 years ago | (#39417219)

The two are not mutually exclusive. Just think of the internet you're using to post your comments for an example.

Re:well, i dunno (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | about 2 years ago | (#39417257)

You proved his point.

Re:well, i dunno (1)

baudilus (665036) | about 2 years ago | (#39417425)

Are you making the argument that the internet does not benefit society?

Re:well, i dunno (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#39418047)

On the one hand we have widespread access to information and educational content and a marketplace that allows individuals to benefit from globalisation for a change. On the other hand, we have 4chan and facebook. So, I'd say it's too close to call...

Re:well, i dunno (2)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#39417457)

The government is getting back its investment on the Internet and the R&D involved. Unless you mean that the government has to make all of the profits on it, I'd say that his point isn't proven. There's nothing wrong with private companies making money off the government's work, unless the government got insufficient return on its own investment.

Re:well, i dunno (3, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#39417847)

Doesn't the government get its money back in the form of taxes from the Internet companies that wouldn't exist without it?

Re:well, i dunno (-1)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#39417451)

The Internet developed despite Government; indeed, look at what's happening now that the Government wants more control of the Internet.

That every now and then Government funds a project which becomes widely useful does not mean that Government funding or involvement is necessary or even good (especially when you count overhead and waste).

Re:well, i dunno (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#39417497)

NIF itself isn't really the answer, though. It's great for super-dense matter studies and gathering information of use for nuclear bomb detonations, but if the goal is sustainable fusion, NIF's approach is too expensive and inefficient. Rather, you need to go with a variant like HiPER [wikipedia.org] . NIF relies solely on a compression pulse. HiPER uses a compression pulse plus a heating pulse. This allows the compression pulse to be much smaller and easier to achieve.

Re:well, i dunno (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417277)

The government needs to step back and let the free market solve the problem. Government is not solving the problem, government IS the problem.

Re:well, i dunno (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417701)

Yes, certainly the oil industry knows what is best for us.

Of course (-1, Flamebait)

JamesP (688957) | about 2 years ago | (#39417233)

The ITER people will whine , wah wah wah it's only 10 years away yada yada yada

Because of course ITER 'is the only true and scientific way'

OTOH it would be good for the DoE to put their weight behind other types of confinement and fusion generation (like Polywell, which IIRC is funded by the Navy)

Re:Of course (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#39417355)

Basically, this should be a 'hero' project. Like a moon shot. Lets face it, we need to transit off of fossil fuels to a large degree sometime down the line. Not tomorrow. Not next year, but certainly in the next decade or so. Nuclear fission is an option - but as we've seen, not a terribly good one. Solar / wind / hydro / ponies and pixie dust / conservation will also help but we still need a backbone capable of powering modern civilization unless we want to devolve into something less pleasant. And that backbone has to put a lot of gigajoules into the system on a 24/7/365 basis.

So we need to put our money where our collective mouths are and work on something capable of bringing up the entire world to first world standards.

Or fight the war to see who's standing over the oil fields.

Re:Of course (4, Insightful)

isotope23 (210590) | about 2 years ago | (#39417661)

well then Thorium nuclear reactors would seem to be a better bet.

Re:Of course (5, Informative)

Kreigaffe (765218) | about 2 years ago | (#39418023)

Not just Thorium, and there's probably better designs out by now anyway, but I for one was very pissed and still am that Clinton canceled America's Integral Fast Reactor project. Because ohhh scary nuclear. Except the IFRs produce less waste, safer waste, and can be fed just about anything, including most the crap that right now is considered waste.

Bad project, Bill kill!

Re:Of course (1)

ccool (628215) | about 2 years ago | (#39418081)

Mod Parent Up,

Although I would really like to see fusion reactor, it seems that fission still has a lot to give with Thorium reactor.

Re:Of course (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39417805)

Or fight the war to see who's standing over the oil fields.

Imaginary Yale grad dialogue:

So we already selected that option, its really freaking expensive, but we're "winning" so why fool around with the alternatives?

For generations we've been dropping the median standard of living so when the oil runs out we'll remain in charge, so no problemo there.

Why do I/we need to do this to remain in power, again?

General Fusion (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 2 years ago | (#39417823)

Basically, this should be a 'hero' project. Like a moon shot.

By that argument after spending $100B we'll get ITER/NIF to work but the cost of building any more fusion plants will be so overwhelmingly expensive that we will not build anymore for the next 40 (and counting) years. Instead why not take a chance on something a lot simpler like General Fusion [generalfusion.com] . These guys have a beautiful reactor design and are working on a shoestring budget to develop it. While the chance of success is not known (they themselves estimate it to be 10-50%) if it were successful it would be instantly deployable and have massive repercussions for energy generation - certainly the basic physics behing it is good the only question is in the complexities of plasma dynamics and interactions and whether they can fire the pistons to compress the molten lead with a sufficiently accurate timing.

Re:Of course (2)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39417537)

I don't favor either NIF or ITER because frankly I don't care, but I've been hearing "Fusion is almost at the break-even point" for the last 20 years.

In my lexicon almost =/= 20 years and I have to wonder why it was not achieved back in 1995 or 2000 (as they claimed would happen). Perhaps they should be more careful with their claims of "almost there", else we'll start viewing them like the boy who cried wolf.

And for energy sources, why not just burn liquefied sugar (ethanol) and other plant oils in our cars? It's plentiful and renewable and inexhaustible (as long as the sun keeps shining). It appears to be working for the Brazilians.

Another thing that would help is having 1/10th as many people, thereby decreasing the energy need by 1/10th. I think China has the right idea (1 child per couple) even though it is morally repugnant. But then so too is overpopulation and starvation; if we don't limit our growth then Nature will do it for us.

Re:Of course (2)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417687)

We need adequate energy sources, and fairness in distributing those resources, to get most of the developing world past the 'demographic transition'. It's a big ask, but could be done if we were truly determined.

Fusion is _hard_. We had no idea how hard it would be until we tried doing it -- mostly because of unknown unknowns. It's took only a few short years (maybe 10?) to turn Fermi's first nuclear pile into a working power plant. Fusion is one to two /orders of magnitude/ more complex to pull off. So obviously, we're going to have to wait longer for a working power plant. If ITER works (and we're now confident it will), the first prototype power plants (the DEMO machines) won't be far behind.

Re:Of course (3, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 2 years ago | (#39417789)

I have been hearing about biofuels since the early 80's so I don't think they have a record that is any better than fusion.

Brazil is still mostly dependent on fossil fuels. Gasoline there is a 25/75 ethanol/gas blend.

A population reduction - are you volunteering?

Re:Of course (0)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39417931)

>>>I have been hearing about biofuels since the early 80's so I don't think they have a record that is any better than fusion.

I can run my car or truck on ethanol or biodiesel respectively.
Now show me where I can buy electricity that came from a fusion reactor.
Oh it doesn't exist. QED biofuels have a better record than fusion.

Re:Of course (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about 2 years ago | (#39417841)

Cane is working for brazillians because they have climate and soil that can grow a lot of it, for a relatively poor country. It's completely unrealistic most other places. You'd never have enough land for that to work in say India or china, and corn ethanol is horribly inefficient compared to cane.

Also, research is new, novel and doesn't always work as well as you'd hope. It's not engineering where they know what the outcome will be. On the scale of things 20 billion dollars for one research project is basically nothing. To build one nuclear power plant (not reactor, but power plant) will probably cost more than that. If it works there will be hundreds of 'fusion plants' worth building eventually.

Re:Of course (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417849)

> I don't favor either NIF or ITER because frankly I don't care, but I've been hearing "Fusion is almost at the break-even point" for the last 20 years.

Ever tried getting funding for a project that takes 100 years to complete?

Re:Of course (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39417851)

In my lexicon almost =/= 20 years and I have to wonder why it was not achieved back in 1995 or 2000

because 20 years previous we hadn't signed on the dotted line to do it.

Its kind of like building a house. I can hire out to get one built in a year, anytime I want to start ... but until I sign on the dotted line its going to perpetually be "a year away".

Re:Of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39418123)

> if we don't limit our growth then Nature will do it for us.

About half a century ago, people said that there is enough food for only 3 billion people in here. And then we invented a way to make more food. Penicillin was a very small invention if you consider the equipment, but it had a huge global impact. But people overused it and made it less efficient.

If you want to predict the doom of human kind, you need to remember that humans fight back.

Re:Of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39418163)

The ITER people will whine , wah wah wah it's only 10 years away yada yada yada

Because of course ITER 'is the only true and scientific way'

OTOH it would be good for the DoE to put their weight behind other types of confinement and fusion generation (like Polywell, which IIRC is funded by the Navy)

First of all Chine just announced at the latest FESAC meeting that they are building an ITER clone.

NIF cannot be made into a power plant. Order to make an economical power plant, NIF would need to fire 100 shots per second. They are lucky to get 10 shots in a day.

Polywell as no thermal confinement and will never reach break even.

You need to leave the science up to the scientists.

YES (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417245)

Short answer: YES

  You don't solve a problem by building a bigger hammer; the ITER approach is pure politics.

Re:YES (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417291)

Shorter answer: NO

NIF was intended from the outset as an institution to research fusion weapons. I doubt very much that a device that destroys so much of itself after each shot could end up as a practical power plant.

Re:YES (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417751)

Flamebait?!
It's amazing what a 6-digit ID [slashdot.org] can do.

Re:YES (2)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | about 2 years ago | (#39417477)

Both!

Every problem (short of too much entropy in the universe, maybe) becomes easier if you have enough energy. No clean water? Desalinate sea water with tons of energy. Earth too hot? Fuck it, let's build domes under the sea and grow crops with artificial light. Can't get enough rare earths? Mine the living shit out of huge masses of dead earth (I'm assuming the planet is basically fucked by the time we need to do this kind of thing) for the trace minerals. If there's a viable project that has the potential to give us cheap, renewable energy, we should be funding it!

Re:YES (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417479)

The devil is always in the details. So they achieve break even point and then ? You're still going to have to do research in materials to come up with a reactor that doesn't become brittle under radiation. Yeah fusion is not radiation free. Those pesky neutrons are still there to mess things up. Fusion research considering the costs involed is either international or no one will be able to do it. Americans as always are under the illusion of "we're the best" even when you're not". But hey if you want to dump in toilet 4 billion dollars, and then never be accepted into the ITER project go ahead. We'll make you pay dearly the use of fusion technology when it comes online.

Re:YES (2)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417735)

Not to mention the awkward little problem of cheaply manufacturing those ultra-precise little fuel targets, and positioning them quickly and accurately enough inside the reactor for it to be practical.

My money's on ITER. Machines that produce actual fusion power (Joint European Torus) already exist.

Re:YES (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417887)

Short answer: YES

  You don't solve a problem by building a bigger hammer; the ITER approach is pure politics.

You can totally solve the large nail problem by building a bigger hammer.

Theft (-1, Troll)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#39417317)

Go solicit private capital rather than forcing me under the threat of violence to fund your little science projects.

Re:Theft (0)

T.E.D. (34228) | about 2 years ago | (#39417505)

Please let me assume you are also railing just as hard against all the subsidies oil companies are also receiving for oil exploration right now.

Re:Theft (1)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#39417551)

Isn't that implicit in my remark?

Re:Theft (1)

idontgno (624372) | about 2 years ago | (#39417603)

Not necessarily. You'd say exactly the same thing if you were an fossil fuel pigopolist working to hamstring your successor technology and preserve your business model. No dinosaur ever welcomed the coming of mammals.

Re:Theft (0, Troll)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#39417737)

I said "your little science projects" not "your little competing science projects".

Also, I don't think you really understand evolution.

Re:Theft (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39418051)

There's nothing inherently wrong with fossil fuels. We're just running out is all. (Oh and I seriously doubt the OP is a fossil fuel corporation. No need for ridiculous attacks.)

Re:Theft (2)

LehiNephi (695428) | about 2 years ago | (#39417601)

Those "subsidies" are nothing of the sort, actually--they're actually tax breaks, and they apply to pretty much every industry [ldjackson.net] , not just to Big Oil.

Re:Theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417729)

Yes. Next question?

Re:Theft (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417757)

If anarchy's what you want, move to Somalia. The folks depriving you of your money by violence won't be from the Government, because there IS none ;-)

Re:Theft (0)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#39417971)

That's a straw man argument; I'm already arguing AGAINST violence: The violence by "non-Government" Somalia is no different than the violence by "Government"; violence is violence, regardless of whether you're called Warlord or Sheriff.

Re:Theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39418133)

The really touching part is that you really believe that without a Government, there wouldn't be violence and people taking by force.

Awww, bless!

Re:Theft (0)

JDG1980 (2438906) | about 2 years ago | (#39417771)

Go solicit private capital rather than forcing me under the threat of violence to fund your little science projects.

Go move to Somalia if you don't believe in the social contract and the public good.

Re:Theft (0)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 2 years ago | (#39418029)

You must believe in Intelligent Design; otherwise, you'd see the folly of central planning by the noble bureaucrat with his brilliant mind and his crystal ball.

Terms like "social contract" and "public good" are buzzwords and straw men (similar to "Patriot Act").

Re:Theft (0)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | about 2 years ago | (#39417829)

Go move out of the US rather than forcing me under the threat of violence to let you mooch off the civil society taxes and government has enabled.

No, seriously. Get the fuck out of my country.

Re:Theft (3, Insightful)

spike hay (534165) | about 2 years ago | (#39418045)

What's with spergy computer nerds and libertarianism? I guess it must be appealing to reduce the complexity and unavoidable ambiguity of human society into just a couple of quasi-moral rules pulled out of nowhere.

And this is better than thorium because....? (4, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 2 years ago | (#39417351)

Seems like thorium reactors, which we've already built, and gotten working, are a much more tractable problem.

Re:And this is better than thorium because....? (1)

ajpuciat (2553090) | about 2 years ago | (#39417399)

Because thorium isn't fusion.

Re:And this is better than thorium because....? (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#39417657)

Thorium is just a trendy topic. Geeks are always so easily sold on the storyline, "There's this great new technology, and here's a list of five or so of its advantages -- it's the solution to all of the world's problems!". Which totally skims over, obviously, the disadvantages and challenges.

Re:And this is better than thorium because....? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417863)

Hipsters are always so easily sold on the storyline.

FTFY

Re:And this is better than thorium because....? (5, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 2 years ago | (#39417877)

Thanks, but I'm aware of the "new technology will solve the energy crisis" meme. The deal is this. We do need a new source of electricity as hydrocarbon depletion, or more importantly, hydrocarbon's ever shrinking energy return, starts to bite in a big way. We don't have many affordable options that scale. Nuclear has a chance of that, but conventional plants are dangerous and uranium isn't an infinite resource either. We have much more thorium than uranium, and while the plants are technologically challenging, we've already built them. It's not a matter of "trying to break even." We've broken even. It's a matter of building enough of the things safely and economically. That take incremental development, not some major breakthrough. It seems to me that pursing thorium is an easier and more economic solution than continuing to futz with fusion.

Re:And this is better than thorium because....? (2, Insightful)

Kreigaffe (765218) | about 2 years ago | (#39418161)

Thorium, yes, but the wider view is reactor design. Doesn't have to be Thorium, we also have all this lovely nuclear waste from old reactors lying around.. and a good bit of it is still perfectly fissile, given the right sorta conditions. That's producing energy from trash, for the 21st century.

Then again, scary nuclear, NIMBY SAYS NOPE!

Re:And this is better than thorium because....? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417709)

Because there are no long term waste? There are no fuel issues? There are no mining issues? There are no issues with meltdowns? Because there are no issues with higher energy densities that cause meltdowns of fuel in fission systems???

Thorium is exactly like Uranium, minus the very-high-end nucelides. Thorium is bred to Uranium then it makes energy. In terms of safety and long term issues, there are virtually no differences.

Thorium proponents are at a stage of "too cheap to measure" BS of nuclear power in 1950s. They seem to forget about capital costs. Kind of like solar and "it is free" BS on the other side.

Capture the Energy Produced? (5, Insightful)

earls (1367951) | about 2 years ago | (#39417379)

I'm vaguely familiar with the NIF and their "how it works" section breaks down in great detail everything involved in generating the beam, amplifying the beam, targeting the beam, and imploding the target, but how do they capture the energy produced by the target?

Re:Capture the Energy Produced? (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#39417525)

They don't.

Next question?

Re:Capture the Energy Produced? (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39417909)

Well technically it heats up the walls and any shielding. Unlike a torus / iter type thing, you don't wrap the reactor with liquid helium cooled superconducting magnets so thats not too big of a deal. To a crude first approximation you can heat a NIF device up until the vapor pressure starts screwing up the reaction and optics (I donno, dull red glow?)

Re:Capture the Energy Produced? (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417777)

Mod parent up.

At the risk of sounding patriotic. (0, Flamebait)

baudilus (665036) | about 2 years ago | (#39417409)

I think the DoE should reward homegrown projects first, and all things being equal, a domestic project should get priority on funding.

America didn't become a superpower by international collaboration; it did so out of invention and innovation, and a sense of patriotic duty.

On a very basic level, I'd like to know just how many jobs are going overseas because of our government's international investments as opposed to the good that funding can do right here on our soil.

How much international funding did Fermilab get when it was initially built?

Re:At the risk of sounding patriotic. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417507)

> America didn't become a superpower by international collaboration

Ahem. By being the sole remaining manufacturing center in the world after WW2, the Marshall Plan made all of Europe our customers. This sorta had a little influence on our superpower status. Point otherwise taken. So yeah, we need our own projects. Next time we want to build a giant science project like the supercollider, we should put it somewhere that isn't full of hateful rednecks, so it might have a chance to actually get built. CA's great, but too seismically active. Maybe New Mexico, or hell even Utah seems to be moderate where it counts there.

Re:At the risk of sounding patriotic. (1)

reasterling (1942300) | about 2 years ago | (#39417975)

Next time we want to build a giant science project like the supercollider, we should put it somewhere that isn't full of hateful rednecks

Do you know something that you are not sharing, or do you just hate Texans? I tried to find some more information on why the supercollider was canceled and all I found was that it was a financial consideration at the federal level. [wikipedia.org] The fact is that I, like many Texas residents, would have loved to have seen the completion of the project and the subsiquent boon to our local economies. Not to mention the scientific benifit that it could have afforded all of us.

Re:At the risk of sounding patriotic. (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about 2 years ago | (#39417633)

We did become a superpower by international cooperation. Our international cooperation with the allied powers in the defeat of the axis powers in WW2. That and the fact that in the aftermath nearly 100% of our industrial capacity was still intact at the end of the war.

Re:At the risk of sounding patriotic. (1)

Fallingwater (1465567) | about 2 years ago | (#39417719)

America didn't become a superpower by international collaboration; it did so out of invention and innovation, and a sense of patriotic duty.

Then it busily removed invention and innovation, and what's left is the ignorant "AMERICA FUCK YEAH" mentality that somehow suggests the US should try its best at solving the energy crisis without external influence, because heavens forbid humanity should collaborate at solving, y'know, the most important problem it's ever had.

Finding Unlimmited Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417411)

if you don't know where Philadelphia is and you live in DC you an send one man up each road north untill you find an answer or you can send severl men up many roads and find the answer sooner

When was that again? (5, Funny)

eternaldoctorwho (2563923) | about 2 years ago | (#39417415)

[NIF's managers] say they should achieve ignition before the end of 2012.

I'm guessing their target date is December 21.

...Well played, Mayans, well played.

Cheaper than War (4, Insightful)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | about 2 years ago | (#39417419)

Is $4B really that hard to come up with for this project? That sounds a lot cheaper than the constant state of war we find ourselves in today in the Middle East to keep the oil supply flowing.

Re:Cheaper than War (3, Insightful)

Moses48 (1849872) | about 2 years ago | (#39417681)

People like to equate our oil needs with our electric needs. Maybe I'm misinformed, but they don't seem to equate. If we found a completely free source of electricity, that used a large building to produce, we wouldn't get rid of our oil demand. We would get rid of our coal demand. Electric transportation still suffers from battery issues at the moment. At some point in the future cheap electricity might reduce our oil demand, but with urban sprawl and the current shortcomings of electric transport, I don't see this happening soon.

Re:Cheaper than War (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417775)

assuming an unlimited 'free' electricity supply, synthesis of oil from base chemicals starts to look doable. its just energy after all - all it needs is converting into chemical form.

Re:Cheaper than War (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#39418001)

Battery issues are coming to an end, soon enough the range anxiety crowd will be recommended a therapist instead of a bigger battery. Average-Joe-priced electric cars are already going 100 miles on a charge and doing an 80% quick charge in half an hour. That's over 3x the average American's daily driving distance. The vast majority of cars could be replaced with electrics right now.

The only thing we really need petrofuels for is non-tiny aircraft, and in the short term, non-huge boats.

Re:Cheaper than War (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39418049)

If we found a completely free source of electricity, that used a large building to produce, we wouldn't get rid of our oil demand.

Not really. Given enough cheap energy, synthetic fuel is pretty trivial.

The energy cost of ethanol distillation makes it a borderline negative source of energy... but if that energy is infinite and free, well then... Think about it... aluminum is essentially congealed electricity (look how its made). So you make aluminum greenhouses out of free electricity and dirt, then you string 24x7 ultra-high intensity lights using free electricity, the plants grow in water that was desalinated ocean water using free electricity, then you ferment the "stuff" and distill using free electricity... Given an infinite source of free electricity, pretty much, sea water comes in one pipe, and motor fuel ethanol comes out another pipe.

You could condense carbon dioxide out of the air and strip the carbon off, condense water out of the air to strip the hydrogen off, mix together in a somewhat complicated o-chem lab, and make synth-gas. Air goes in one pipe, gasoline comes out the other pipe.

Takes a heck of a lot of energy to pull that trick off, but it can be done.

Re:Cheaper than War (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417815)

$4b is chump change, considering that the energy market is a multi-trillian dollar sector. Hell, the €25b that the anti-ITER folks are whining about so pathetically, is chump change -- it's ambitious, yes -- but worth every penny.

Re:Cheaper than War (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417901)

and far cheaper than Apples unsustainable dividend plan with an estimated cost of $45 BILLION over 3 years. I would rather have Apple horde their cash for a 'rainy day' or invest / diversify into other technologies. $4B is chump change.

NIF has adequate funding (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | about 2 years ago | (#39417421)

One purpose of the facility (alongside inertial confinement fusion) is

to support nuclear weapon maintenance and design by studying the behavior of matter under the conditions found within nuclear weapons

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Ignition_Facility [wikipedia.org]

They could throw the Polywell a few more bucks... (3, Insightful)

newcastlejon (1483695) | about 2 years ago | (#39417435)

Or at least let the DoE get involved instead of driving them to the DoD with inter-departmental pissing contests.

For the money that the Polywell people are asking, and what a full-size model would cost compared to the "superconducting cathedrals"* of ITER, they'd be fools to not at least give them a try.

*The late Dr. Bussard sure did know how to turn a phrase. There's no doubt about that, which is more than can be said about the actual Polywell concept itself - at least so far.

Re:They could throw the Polywell a few more bucks. (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417853)

I'd have polywell funded, even if just to shut up the myriad internet cranks constantly banging on about it.

No offence folks -- but citations from reputable peer-reviewed literature or STFU.

Try Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor first (3, Informative)

greg_barton (5551) | about 2 years ago | (#39417449)

The LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor) is a much more promising technology. For starters it's already been done, decades ago at Oak Ridge. It only needs to be commercialized. Also it lacks the hard gamma problems inherent in fusion.

See energyfromthorium.com [slashdot.org]

Re:Try Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor first (2)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417883)

Hard-gamma? I thought that the issue with most of the likely fusion reactions was enormous amounts of fast neutrons and activation of materials by said neutrons, not hard gamma rays.

LENR Most Promising (0)

bhlowe (1803290) | about 2 years ago | (#39417465)

Low Energy Nuclear Reactions are by far the most promising fusion technology for short term gain.

Experts and executives within NASA have had very positive things to say about the potential of the technology.
(Sources: http://www.ecatplanet.net/list.php?category/45-NASA [ecatplanet.net] )

Two companies claim to be working on final prototypes to be released after patents: (Andrea Rossi, http://ecat.com/ [ecat.com] and http://defkalion-energy/ [defkalion-energy] ) that are giving private and semi-public demos to interested parties.

If $5-10 million were spent examining these claims and doing some basic replication research, it would be money very well spent.

Re:LENR Most Promising (1)

lew2048 (2571805) | about 2 years ago | (#39417813)

This threatens high-energy physics research, the $5B a year we put into various fusion programs. I predict the first Nobel Prize in Physics given for LENR will be to the theorist who explains it, not to any of the people who actually researched it.

Re:LENR Most Promising (1)

lew2048 (2571805) | about 2 years ago | (#39417837)

One other point : this is one of many examples of how government funding corrupts the process of science. And thus a fine reason to abolish all government funding of science.

Re:LENR Most Promising (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417857)

i thought you were serious until you mentioned the charlatan Rossi. Go kill yourself.

Re:LENR Most Promising (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417945)

Not a chance in hell, even spending 1$ on snake oil is 1$ too much.
And Rossi and his e-cat generator is snake oil. 100% pure snake oil.

Re:LENR Most Promising (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#39418059)

Rossi at least seems to be selling snake oil.

Game Changer - Put Up or Shut Up (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417483)

Four billion dollars, 21 billion dollars...a drop in the bucket compared to Obamacare and other government boondoggles, and for an end result that would be a game changer in the history of civilization.

And all you Warmists...this is your wet dream (assuming you are actually concerned with warming and not just out to control people).

Time to put up or shut up. Make your real intentions known.

Re:Game Changer - Put Up or Shut Up (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 2 years ago | (#39417923)

You don't get out much, do you?

The NHS delivers far superior healthcare outcomes to everybody and costing us half as much as a percentage of GDP as the US spends. The US model is utterly, utterly broken, because policy is made by ideologically-blind libertarian halfwits.

But please, continue deluding yourself. It's funny to watch.

Definitely both of them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417487)

There is no reason not to when you consider how much is going towards other projects.
Fusion research is valuable research, the more ideas funded, the better.

If we ever go full fusion and get a really efficient system going, it would be such a huge change, almost as big as the industrial revolution.
Energy will no longer be a problem to us. We will have reached the "unlimited power age" where our advances are only held back by our creativity, and of course the laws of physics.
It would then cascade in to other industries, such as farming & food production, water, water, imagine that, no water problems due to power-hungry purification.
We could mass grow even more crops using artificial sunlight and water in large-scale vertical farming buildings as well as hydroponics in general.

It might even lead to the space age becoming feasible through mag-launchers mechanisms instead of fuel-based systems.
And even then, fuel would no longer be a problem, we could grow enough crops in order to produce those fuels.
In fact, with all this power comes new materials research in general. We could create all sorts of new power sources using various different combination methods.
We could possibly even power more compact linear accelerators with high amounts of power for production purposes, specifically for converting other elements in to new ones.
With our space age here, we could be out there mining meteors to power our new highly advancing race. Colonies around Earth, on the Moon, even Mars.
Fusion generators could power some new-age field-generator experiments to protect ships from EM.

The sky isn't even the limit anymore, if we ever finally crack the fusion age.
Shame it will just get sidelined as "another energy source" instead of "this will solve everything ever!"...

frack NIF, its all polywell (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417531)

polywell is smallish has good results so far and it's only 200mil to build a pB^11 reactor that generates power. so what the hell are we waiting for

Dear Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417535)

I promise that until the end of time no matter how much money you throw at energy research I won't use it as a cheap point of criticism (as long as it goes to guys in lab coats or those stereotypically thereby attired).

Hard problems haven't been tackled yet (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417555)

Well, good luck with getting power into the grid by 2020.

The reason why I'm saying this, is that it's an incredibly bold goal to turn the technology they've already got into a working prototype, incorporating everything learnt elsewhere, into a next-generation scientific experiment, let alone a power plant, by 2020. Hell, even HIPER won't break ground before 2020.

Besides, the REAL fun stuff, is things like advanced materials for the combustion chamber, and a working blanket, which NOBODY has yet demonstrated, not JET, not ITER, not NIF -- nobody.

Worse yet, we don't know what problems we'll run into once we achieve ignition in NIF, or the burning plasmas regime in ITER.

To the genius who suggested that ITER is a political waste of time is obviously unfamiliar with the science. Even if ITER achieves its low-balled goals, it'll be a massive step towards a working plant. And they plan to actually test working power-generating, and tritium-breeding blankets as well, although that won't start until quite late in the project (the D-T phase of the project).

The 'patriotic' Americans slagging ITER on /. should be quiet, as the US is, true to form, turning its back on the rest of the world, starving the US Domestic Agency of funding, and doing what it wants anyway.

What is break even? (3, Informative)

Artraze (600366) | about 2 years ago | (#39417625)

It seems to be that the thermal energy produced is equal to the optical energy put in. Well, great, it's a milestone of sorts, but still massively far off actually producing energy. First and foremost, conversion of thermal to electrical is 33-40% efficient. Then you have to convert that to optical, an efficiency I do not know, but seems according to the Wiki page to be 1% (422MJ bank, 4MJ shot, could be old). Still, maybe it could be a lot better, but probably wouldn't exceed 80-90%. So, you actually have to beat this "break even" by a factor of at least 3 in order to actually output energy. But that doesn't account for fuel production, nor maintenance or construction of the facility.

And, I should also point out that this story is just that their laser works, not that an sample was fired producing "break even" energy.

Will it work? Maybe. But realistically, by the time we see commercial power from this, a fission plant built today would be reaching end-of-life.

Re:What is break even? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#39418101)

Your 99% loss in the shot turns into heat. Low grade process heat to be sure, but it doesn't just "disappear".

It's the economics stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39417727)

The question isn't "Can we reach and pass the energy break even point" but "Can we produce economic energy this way". On this measure ITER is the better bet. The bid achilles heel of the NIF approach is manufacturing the pellets that are fused. There need to be incredibly precise in order to collapse in a uniform way and not deform too much. A commercial plant would have to rip through hundreds of pellets a minute. The things currently cost well over a million each.

We need to discuss economics more than energy break-even.

Fantasy Fusionists (1)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | about 2 years ago | (#39417783)

The US government is currently funneling funds to NIF. Ananyo, the uber-parent poster, suggests the DoE backs multiple projects, instead of "sacrificing some to support others." It is unclear how the US government is supposed to pick the right technology worked on by the right people at the right time, or how unlimited funds will be available to fund various projects to prevent sacrifices when the CBO projects the entire US economy will "shut down" in 2027 based on current trends.

The Numbers (5, Insightful)

docilespelunker (1883198) | about 2 years ago | (#39417953)

Really now, they've fired ~2MJ pulse. But what does that mean? 2MJ of laser light was present in their test chamber. This was fueled by 400MJ of electrical energy stored in capacitors. So we can now see that they have accomplished making a 0.5% efficient laser. This is nothing to write home about. Lets consider the actual fusion power output. The most they've had is about 1kJ of fusion energy output. This is not a lot. The balance between energy in and energy out is very poor. Getting 1kJ from 400MJ is about the best they can hope for. An overall efficiency of 0.00025%. Who here thinks that's good? JET, which is the smaller brother of ITER has achieved a 90% energy balance. Still not breaking even, but still 3600 times closer. ITER is designed to output 10 times more energy than is input. So it'll spank NIF. QED. That doesn't stop it being expensive though...

A little concerned here... (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#39417965)

Is it really economic to do this? If we have to build a new facility every time it goes past breakeven and explodes, it just seems like it is going to be expensive. Not to mention the politics of siting a bomb blowy-up thingy near cities where they need the power.

Oops! (1)

jduhls (1666325) | about 2 years ago | (#39418089)

Can't fund it all. The rest of the cash went to oil subsidies.

Best way to win... (1)

gabereiser (1662967) | about 2 years ago | (#39418105)

is to spread the bets... I totally agree that in order to find that successful solution, one must look at ALL solutions to find the most successful. Sometimes its not as easy as saying "You succeeded, and you failed" but rather "You succeeded, and you did it better than the others"... So I would tend to agree with the poster on this one...

Heavy Ion Fusion can work now; $30B for 100GW (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39418159)

Using heavy ions (Xenon Bismuth Lead etc) accelerated to 10GeV (~0.4c) in a linear accelerator to ignite DT cylinders encased in lead in a simplified NIF type target chamber filled with lithium spray is a far more likely approach to economic fusion power than anything else in existence.
http://www.fusionpowercorporation.com/press-information

The technology is in hand, and has been since the 1970's, but has the problem of sticker shock:
-The drivers are adapted lineacs (and related collider tech) that are much more efficient (30%) than lasers. They can run at very high power without overheating and delicate optical issues of lasers.
-Lithium spray absorbs all of the neutrons and breeds tritium - avoiding all Tokomak first wall neutron and plasma interaction problems.
-Costs are actually pretty comparable to ITER, but the payoff is absolutely massive.

Problem is you need to build big to overcome ignition energy barriers - 100GW (10GJ/pulse) with 10-20 target chambers being fed by the same lineac would be about right. The lineac needs to be about 7-10km long so not small. Gains of 1000:1 are expected so driver is not overwhelmingly huge, estimated $10 billion), and at $20-30 billion (assuming large cost overruns) for 100GW it is cheaper than any other source of power. It also has zero proliferation risk, and almost no radioactive waste.

The very high temp (1100C) liquid lithium produced in the reaction chamber can be used as a heat source in Sulphur Iodine chemical process to create hydrogen feedstock for hydrocarbon synthesis at $50/barrel forever. Waste heat from this process can then also make electricity.

300 of these units around the world would address all of humanities projected energy needs for the next 100 years - both electrical and transport fuel, at lowest possible costs, with none of the existing downsides of other forms of electricity production.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>