Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ITER - The Other Side

I have been going hot and heavy on the Bussard Fusion Reactor. I think it is time to present the other side. DNA India reports: ITER is ‘the way’ to the future of energy. Well I don't believe it. I think ITER (The International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor) is doing wonderful physics. The chances for a working power plant from this effort, in my opinion, are slim and none. From DNA India:

Ever wondered what makes the sun so hot? The process is called fusion and it involves the coming together of four hydrogen nuclei to form a helium nucleus. It is accompanied by the release of huge amounts of energy which we get in the form of light and heat. Now, scientists are trying to replicate the fusion process in an experimental project and India is playing a crucial role in it.

The International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) project is a joint international research project that will demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power. The countries involved in this one-of-its-kind project are USA, European Union, Japan, Russia, India, China and South Korea.

Carlos Alejaldre, deputy director general of ITER, who was in Mumbai to attend a colloquium at BARC spoke extensively on the project. Terming it as one of the most challenging projects ever, Alejaldre said the project would integrate together key technologies from various fields.

So what is the project all about? “The project involves production of 500 MW of power for a considerable amount of time by fusing deuterium and tritium (both are isotopes of hydrogen),” Alejaldre said.

And this is no ordinary power production by any means. “Deuterium and Tritium would be fused at temperatures ranging from 100 to 200 million degrees and at pressure of 106 atmosphere,” he added.

The construction of the reactor would begin in 2009 and it will become operational in 2016.
That is seven years of effort. Added to the 40+ years already invested in the project.

The one thing you have to say about it is that it is training a lot of plasma physicists.
Alejaldre believes the advance in fusion technology has been faster than Moore’s law which predicts advances in the power of computer processor. “ITER represents a quantum leap in fusion power production. The maximum amount of power generated in a fusion power plant so far was 16 MW. In ITER, this number will swell to 500 MW,” he said.

So when will the fusion power of ITER actually reach home? “ITER is a purely experimental project. The 500 MW power won’t be connected to the grid. However, if all goes well with ITER, a machine considerably bigger than ITER should start generating electrical power by 2040.”
He neglects one important detail. It is easy to get 500 MW out if you are putting 1,000 MW in. So far no reactor in the ITER series has produced net power. The ITER will have lots of superconducting magnets. Be 31.5 meters (103 ft) high and weigh as much as an aircraft carrier. That would put it in the 100,000 ton range.

It will also be a huge neutron generator, making it excellent for producing plutonium from uranium.

By contrast the Bussard design, Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion, when fueled with Boron 11 produces no neutrons, would be about 6 ft across for 100 MW output and about 8 ft across for 500 MW output. Plus it could deliver power to the grid without the need for steam generators, turbines, generators, steam condensers, and the rest of that kind of thermal plant that ITER requires to turn its output into electricity. BTW such a plant operationg at the highest standard temperatures for steam plants could turn maybe as much as 40% of the thermal energy into electricity. Sixty percent is a big giveaway in terms of making the ITER monsters practical.

The Bussard design is a better bet and if it works power plants could be in mass production in 15 years or less from the day the final research and development work starts.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


erich said...

I thought your readers would be interested in looking at these energy technologies and EPS's theoretic base for ball lighting.

Aneutronic Fusion: Here I am not talking about the big science ITER project taking thirty years, but the several small alternative plasma fusion efforts.

There are three companies pursuing hydrogen-boron plasma toroid fusion, Paul Koloc, Prometheus II, Eric Lerner, Focus Fusion and Clint Seward of Electron Power Systems

Vincent Page (a technology officer at GE!!) gave a presentation at the 05 6th symposium on current trends in international fusion research , which high lights the need to fully fund three different approaches to P-B11 fusion

He quotes costs and time to development of P-B11 Fusion as tens of million $, and years verses the many decades and ten Billion plus $ projected for ITER and other "Big" science efforts

Here are the links:

A resent DOD review of EPS technology reads as follows:

"MIT considers these plasmas a revolutionary breakthrough, with Delphi's
chief scientist and senior manager for advanced technology both agreeing
that EST/SPT physics are repeatable and theoretically explainable. MIT and
EPS have jointly authored numerous professional papers describing their
work. (Delphi is a $33B company, the spun off Delco Division of General
"Cost: no cost data available. The complexity of reliable mini-toroid
formation and acceleration with compact, relatively low-cost equipment
remains to be determined. Yet the fact that the EPS/MIT STTR work this
technology has attracted interest from Delphi is very significant, as the
automotive electronics industry is considered to be extremely demanding of
functionality per dollar and pound (e.g., mil-spec performance at
Wal-Mart-class 'commodity' prices)."

EPS, Electron Power Systems seems the strongest and most advanced, and I love the scalability, They propose applications as varied as home power generation@ .ooo5 cents/KWhr, cars, distributed power, airplanes, space propulsion , power storage and kinetic weapons.

It also provides a theoretic base for ball lighting : Ball Lightning Explained as a Stable Plasma Toroid
The theoretics are all there in peer reviewed papers. It does sound to good to be true however with names like MIT, Delphi, STTR grants, NIST grants , etc., popping up all over, I have to keep investigating.

Recent support has also come from one of the top lightning researcher in the world, Joe Dwyer at FIT, when he got his Y-ray and X-ray research published in the May issue of Scientific American,
Dwyer's paper:

and according to Clint Seward it supports his lightning models and fusion work at Electron Power Systems

lightning produces thermonuclear reaction
This new work By Dr.Kuzhevsky on neutrons in lightning: Russian Science News is also supportive of Electron Power Systems fusion efforts .

Vincent Page (a technology officer at GE!!) gave a presentation at the 05 6th symposium on current trends in international fusion research , which high lights the need to fully fund three different approaches to P-B11 fusion (Below Is an excerpt).

"for larger plant sizes
Time to small-scale Cost to achieve net if the small-scale
Concept Description net energy production energy concept works:
Koloc Spherical Plasma: 10 years(time frame), $25 million (cost), 80%(chance of success)
Field Reversed Configuration: 8 years $75 million 60%
(Eric Lerner)Plasma Focus: 6 years $18 million 80%"

Looks like Eric Lerner is moving down the road!!

U.S., Chilean Labs to Collaborate on Testing Scientific Feasibility of Focus Fusion
The learning curve is so steep now, and with the resources of the online community, I'm sure we can rally greater support to solve this paramount problem of our time.

However, short of a Energy "silver bullet" like fusion , Here is a fully DOABLE technology

Time to Master the Carbon Cycle

Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,............ and that now......... we are over doing it.

The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world's virgin forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

Energy, the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas management

On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons.

The best estimates I've found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
the other 2/3.

Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel co2 emissions as charcoal.

As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, "Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day's are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative". and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

Terra Preta Soils Technology: Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration and 3X Fertility Too

This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I'm sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it's implementation.

The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade in place:

Terra Preta soils I feel has great possibilities to revolutionize sustainable agriculture into a major CO2 sequestration strategy.
I thought, I first read about these soils in " Botany of Desire " or "Guns,Germs,&Steel" but I could not find reference to them. I finely found the reference in Charles Mann's "1491", but I did not realize their potential .

I have heard that National Geographic is preparing a big Terra Preta (TP) article.

Nature article: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

Here's the Cornell page for an over view:

This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 17,000 folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

Terra Preta Discussion , central data base, and Mail list at REPP-CREST:

There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

Ammonia Scrubbing Technology for Fossil Fuel Power Plants Emissions:

Here is a great article that high lights this pyrolysis process , ( ) which could use existing infrastructure to provide Charcoal sustainable Agriculture , Syn-Fuels, and a variation of this process would also work as well for H2 production and Charcoal-Fertilizer, while sequestering CO2, NO2 and SO2 from Coal fired plants to build soils at large scales , be sure to read the "See an initial analysis NEW" link of this technology to clean up Coal fired power plants.
Soil erosion, energy scarcity, excess greenhouse gas all answered through regenerative carbon management

The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it's benefits is this one static:

One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 30-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994).

I have joked for years with local farmers that chicken litter is just Iowa top soil imported to the valley in the form of corn, now at least we'll be able to keep it here rather than it running off into the Chesapeake Bay.

All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I've found:

Carbon Diversion

Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns

BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis - Biomass - Clean Energy - Renewable Ene

Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy

Ensyn - Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals

Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste

Advanced BioRefinery Inc.

Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

International K&K Enterprise Others

The upcoming International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference to be held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( )

If pre-Columbian Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 20% of the Amazon basin it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies.
That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial western society.


Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
E-mail: shengar at
(540) 289-9750

M. Simon said...


Thanks so much!

Would you consider joining the IEC Fusion list and posting this there?


M. Simon said...

Did I mention I have seen ball lightning up close and personal?

I was in 1974 just after a lightning strike.

The ball was about 1 - 1.5 meters across and glowed an ionized copper green. It was transparent (other than the green color) and scared the crap out of me. It didn't feel safe to get too close.

I did watch it for about 10 seconds from about 2 - 3 meters distance. Then it faded out.

The colliding ball idea is interesting however the energy pulses produced are quite large and the output requires some kind of thermal engine.

M. Simon said...

Electron Power Systems

Ball Lightning Explained [pdf]

Scientific American Ball Lightning

Gamma Rays

Russian Science News


Carbon Cycle

BTW CO2 in the atmosphere is vey low by historical standards and CO2 seems to follow warming by 800 years. Which means that CO2 is not a likely greenhouse gas.

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