Saturday, April 19, 2008

For All Mankind

A lot of people have been asking me publicly and privately, if the Bussard Fusion Technology is successful, can it be bottled up by special interests? I think the we have an answer from Dr. Richard Nebel who is now running the experiments in New Mexico.

Your concern is something that EMC2 has thought about. The Polywell is what is generally described as a "disruptive technology". Namely, it is a technological surprise that changes everything. A lot of people have/are investing a lot of money in energy technologies. The Polywell is their worst nightmare. Consider for a moment who isn't going to like the Polywell:

1. The fusion people. They've already gone ballistic (but we're not going to go there).
2. The fission people. They're working on a "nuclear renaissance".
3. The solar people.
4. The wind people.
5. Big oil.
6. The gas and coal companies
7. The biofuels people.
8. A few of the environmentalists.

As you can see, we are pretty much an equal opportunity irritant. We are very well aware that any number of people would like to sit on this technology and keep it out of the market. This is one of the primary reasons that Dr. Bussard chose to have this project funded by the Navy rather than privately funded (where we probably would have had a much easier schedule). With the Navy contract, we retain the rights to the intellectual property for commercialization.

Dr. Bussards's desires for this technology were very clear: he wanted it developed and used by the public ASAP. We intend to honor those wishes.
Dr. Nebel, if the latest experiment (WB-7) works out and you read this, I want you to know that if you can use my help, I'm good to go. I'm willing to sweep the floors if that is the way you think you can best use me.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Headless Blogger said...

Fission person here and I have no problem with your new and disruptive technology. The commercial nuclear business is currently understaffed, even before the new construction. My coworkers are retiring or otherwise dreaming of getting out of the business which doesn't help either.

If you mean nuclear Licensees, I cannot speak for them. But please don't call them "people."

The one that I did not see on the list is your friendly federal regulator. They'll try to regulate this as onerously as they do fission. We already know that logic and reason does not apply with them.

M. Simon said...

Since the project is currently a US Navy deal I think that getting them licensed for Navy use will not be a problem.

Once that happens the gold rush will be on.

Foobarista said...

One approach would be to let people like the Chinese or Indians use it. If it works, they wouldn't care about US regulators, IP issues, Big Oil, or whatever.

And, given that China and India are throwing up new ultra-dirty coal plants daily to meet their power needs, they'd be all over this technology like a cheap suit if it works out.

Neil said...

Getting your initial research funding through the military is good for one other thing, when you're talking about disruptive technologies. (I'm a fan of DARPA, myself.)

It's good to be in business with folks who have access to SOCOM. Never know when your key personnel might need rescuing, if your technology is truly disruptive.

Big D said...

I had been wondering about the IP. So, what does the Navy get to keep, other than a copy of the research results? Do they get rights to build in-house for ships and subs, or is this just strictly a research contract with everything else TBD?

Also, a couple of notes in that vein...

First, one problem that has concerned me for quite some time is that this technology is so disruptive, that there are some countries and entities that I do not feel comfortable with giving this to (although I suspect that, given how relatively simple it is, that won't be an obstacle for very many years). Won't things like ITAR get in the way? And if they do, does anybody have a really huge problem with that? If fusion takes off here, and more slowly among trusted allies, that alone would provide sufficient economic disruption that those without the technology would still gain a significant free-ride boost due to cheaper legacy energy sources.

In addition, I would like to point out that fusion is not *by itself* disruptive to "big oil" (although it would relieve the overstressed domestic natural gas market, which as a fertilizer feedstock is a component in the rise in food prices). In order to displace oil, batteries (or dense liquid fuel made largely from electrical input) must be developed to the point at which they can economically replace combustion engines. And even then, it will take years to ripple through driveways. Fusion solves a lot of long-term problems for us, but it has a limited impact in the near term (beyond the immediate psychological effects).

M. Simon said...


I have no idea what the contract details are.

As to the rest of your points - I totally agree.

The disruptions will not be big bang for most (possibly excepting ITER).

It will ripple through the economy.

It is being discussed further by some very smart people at talk Polywell

M. Simon said...

sorry Big D,

I meant you not Larry (who I just e-mailed something on the topic)

LarryD said...

It takes time for a new technology to get deployed and become infrastructure. I think it took electricity about forty years to displace steam power in industry.

The first thing that will get disrupted is funding for obviously now second rate technology, like ITER. Which is already running into budget problems.

The Navy has been planning to go to all-electric ships in the future anyway, Polywell fusion dovetails nicely. But even with an aggressive schedule, it'll take at least five years to design and start production of the Mark 1 Polywell Naval Fusion Reactor.

Jdam said...

That sure is a shiny vacuum chamber they got there. It might even fetch a few bucks on Ebay when this "disruptive" fringe science experiment finally ends. Since it's got a window, maybe it can be used for "feather and hammer" drop demonstrations for 1st graders.
If it makes you feel good you can write "Riggatron" on one side and "Polywell" on the other, and "Ramjet" on the top just to keep up the Bussard legacy of irrational exhuberance and technologies that either were never built or never worked.

Fight on, true believers!

M. Simon said...


No need to believe.

Experiments are underway that will prove or disprove.

Which is the way it ought to be.

BTW you sure are bitter for an old man.

M. Simon said...


You are aware that the ELM problem with ITER has been known for twenty years and that the ITER people are only getting around to addressing the problem AFTER the design is done and construction has started?

Where I come from an operation like that would be called a FRAUD.

The boys in New Mexico are doing it right. Do your trial and error on a small scale before ramping up.

LarryD said...

Specifically, WB7 will confirm or refute Dr. Bussard's conclusions about WB6. We should know well before the year's end.

Reserve judgment, least you eat crow.