Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Energy Futures

I thought it might be interesting to look at what could be done with a light weight fusion reactor if the Bussard Reactor works as advertised.

Brian at New Energy discusses Fusion Futures and some of those implications.

Here are a few of my own ideas:

Since the US Navy is funding this research my guess is that the first application will be ships and power plants - just like the original fission program. In any case the first ship prototypes will be built on land.


For aircraft use - superconducting motors. In fact the Navy plans on superconductor motors for its ships without The Bussard Polywell Fusion Reactor.

There are turbofans well into the development stage that can give Mach .85 speeds.

Coupled with a superconducting electric motor it could be a very interesting aircraft. Radiations shielding issues will probably be the most difficult. We already know how to do that for ships.


Rockets. My current favorite using fusion would be to use hydrogen as reaction mass and with the first stage a Mag Lev slingshot based on the the Inductotrak design. That means the rocket would be traveling at 400 to 500 mph before it starts spewing serious quantities of hydrogen.

A lot will depend on the final mass and power output.

It also means a return to powered landings. At least until final approach. Much safer.


Most of the world lives within a few tens of miles of the sea or a large river connected to the sea.

If we mounted Polywell on barges/ships we could easily transport them to where most of the world needs them and quickly connect them to the local grid.

Think of how much it would have helped the Iraqis (an obvious friction point) to be able to deliver a 500 MW barge to Baghdad (river transport) within 6 months of the cessation of major hostilities. And a new barge every 6 months to distribute power plants up the Tigris and Euphrates.

Over time the plants could be moved to land.

Another thing that will be done (caused by the technological shift of having to mass produce 1.5 MVDC to AC converters to convert the Polywell output to AC) is a HVDC grid replacing the AC grid. It would be more economical in terms of losses allowing 1,000 mile interconnects. In addition you wouldn’t have the phasing problems caused by intertie loops. So you could make such a grid much more redundant.

It also would mean that grid controllers would only have to worry about power dispatch not phasing problems. In addition power dispatch for new sources coming on line would be speeded up because phase matching would not be required. As soon as the DC voltage you are producing goes above the line voltage at the production point you are adding watts to the grid. Diodes would be used to prevent backflow.

Power to the People is my motto.

Let me say in passing:

Each person who has contributed to this (even if only following developments) has helped change civilization for the next 1,000 years.

This is a turning point in which every one involved can be proud. A few people at the right place and the right time can change civilization.


How about the implications for oil?

It will make refining oil shales much cheaper. So it will make our transition to an electric/biofuel regime much less painful.

Steel plants will be all electric except for the initial reduction of the iron ore. We even may figure out a way to do that with Hydrogen.


LarryD said...

"Another thing that will be done (caused by the technological shift of having to mass produce 1.5 MVDC to AC converters to convert the Polywell output to AC) is a HVDC grid replacing the AC grid."

Another War of Currents? We'll see. It's been over a hundred years, so I don't mind a review in light of now existing technology, but AC won out over DC despite Edison's best efforts, and I'm not convinced DC would now win out.

M. Simon said...

HVDC is often used to connect grids that operate at two different frequencies.

It is not as obscure as you think. However, it is not so common either.

Cities and other islands of consumption will remain AC. It makes sense.

However, at some distance (depends on economics) DC transfer of power is more economical than AC. If the cost of conversion comes down the minimum economic distance comes down as well.

HV Static Inverters.

Baltic Cable.

Reliapundit said...

africa can INDUSTRIALIZE and use power to make and deliver clean water and make cement - and that would end poverty there.

doesn't it also mean that rechargeable batteries/cars become a better thing?

Anonymous said...

How would a War of the Currents be waged now that electrocuting animals is no longer acceptable?

LarryD said...

Refining oil results in a variety of products, asphalt, diesel fuel, kerosene, gasoline, etc. You can tinker with the proportions a bit, but only a bit.

The big problem in getting away from oil is that transportation needs a mobile, high density energy supply, so it's very hard to replace the gas tank.

And even if the battery technology were there, there is the little issue of recharging. I can usually refill my tank in under five minutes, compute the power level required to do that for an electric car sometime.

Biofuels all have scaling problems, even when they don't displace agriculture.

Getting away from gasoline will be neither quick nor easy. Even with cheap electricity.

Cormac said...


The transportation is not an issue because the reactors are so damned small, lots of local reactors will increase the efficiency of the powergrids too.

Recharge time is probably an issue as you point out. At a guess peeps will use electric cars as city/commute cars and keep a second biofuel/petrochem car for long journeys.

I guess trucks etc. will be using gas for a while unless battery technology improves :)

Maybe better ultracapacitors etc. will allow electric vehicles to become truly viable/