Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WB-6 Results Confirmed - Continuous Operation The Next Step

Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log announces the results of the WB-7 Bussard Fusion Reactor (BFR) experiments. And the results? No show stoppers so far.

An EMC2 team headed by Los Alamos researcher Richard Nebel (who's on leave from his federal lab job) picked up the baton from Bussard and tried to duplicate the results. The team has turned in its final report, and it's been double-checked by a peer-review panel, Nebel told me today. Although he couldn't go into the details, he said the verdict was positive.

"There's nothing in there that suggests this will not work," Nebel said. "That's a very different statement from saying that it will work."

By and large, the EMC2 results fit Bussard's theoretical predictions, Nebel said. That could mean Polywell fusion would actually lead to a power-generating reaction. But based on the 10-month, shoestring-budget experiment, the team can't rule out the possibility that a different phenomenon is causing the observed effects.

"If you want to say something absolutely, you have to say there's no other explanation," Nebel said. The review board agreed with that conservative assessment, he said.

The good news, from Nebel's standpoint, is that the WB-7 experiment hasn't ruled out the possibility that Polywell fusion could actually serve as a low-cost, long-term energy solution. "If this thing was absolutely dead in the water, we would have found out," he said.

If Polywell pans out, nuclear fusion could be done more cheaply and more safely than it could ever be done in a tokamak or a laser blaster. The process might be able to produce power without throwing off loads of radioactive byproducts. It might even use helium-3 mined from the moon. "We don't want to oversell this," Nebel said, "but this is pretty interesting stuff, and if it works, it's huge."
The next step in my opinion should be a continuously operating version about the size of WB-7. A device I used to call WB-7x and will probably be called WB-8.

Here are some links to what I think a liquid nitrogen (LN2) cooled magnet coil WB-8 (WB-7x) should look like.

Design Issues including laboratory equipment.
Reactor Vessel Requirements.
LN2 Storage
Magnet Power Supplies
Reactor Building And Reactor Controls
Power Supplies Update #1
Reactor Building Sketches
Electron Guns
Lab Tools
Other Instrumentation - Mass Spectrometer
Research Speed
PID Loops And Leak Valves
Orifice Sizing for leak valves.
Thinking About Control
Ionization Pressure Gauges
Turbo Pump Ratings
Gas Valve Design
Data Collection
Vacuum Pumping
Transimpedance Amplifiers
The First Wall Problem
WB-6 Shopping List
Standardizing Fusion Test Reactors
Gauging With Intent
CAN Bus And System Control
Magnetic Field Measurement

For those of you not up to speed on the basics may I suggest:
Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion
The World's Simplest Fusion Reactor Revisited

And for those of you who would like to join in on the research at a very modest cost may I suggest Starting A Fusion Program In Your Home Town. There is a lot that can be learned from these very simple devices and some simple instrumentation. There is so much we don't know yet.

H/T Instapundit

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Tom Cuddihy said...

Geez, Simon. I don't read your site for one day and major news on Polywell!

Things are looking up. Even the Obama thing may be good for Polywell given Chu's interest.

LarryD said...

One of the comments on the article mentioned this:

"One thing that puzzles scientists is that the high temperature was achieved after the plasma’s ions should have been losing energy and cooling. Also, when the high temperature was achieved, the Z machine was releasing more energy than was originally put in, something that usually occurs only in nuclear reactions."

I hope someone is investigating that, too.

Anonymous said...

Simon, thanks for doing yeoman's work ; keeping us informed.

Why did Protn7 say that H-Boron fusion would not reach break-even on the Yahoo board? I scanned the article a couple of times and couldn't find any information regarding specific "fuels". Is Protn7 correct and how did s/he come to that conclusion?

Best, Marc

CountingCats said...

You suggest that the next device will probable be a WB 7 type device, used for continuous operation. Hasn't Dr Nebel already claimed that the next step would be a 100 MW continuous operation device?

M. Simon said...


H-B fusion with a 50 - 50 mix of atoms has some loss problems. if you go to a 9 H atoms to 1 B atom mix the problem is probably tractable. There is a long way to go before success is even possible. And it is by no means assured. At best we can say - the approach looks promising.


Going direct to a 100 MW device was Bussard's idea. I think Rick Nebel is a little more cautious and thinks that a few intermediate steps would give a greater chance of success. If success is possible. I'm an optimistic realist. There are a lot of hurdles to get over.

The first one is that the physics is not well understood. More data is required. The currently just completed effort is a step. We need a few more.

Anonymous said...

Simon, thanks for the reply. I am also realistically optimistic.

If they ever need help from a project manager, please let them know there is one out here who would walk on hot coals for the privilege to contribute.


M. Simon said...


I'm making a list.

If things ramp up in a big way (or even a small way) be sure to get back to me.