Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Return of the Wiffle Ball

There are reports that California Governor Schwarzenegger plans to provide funding for Robert Bussard's variation on inertial electrostatic confinement fusion (IEC).

Now, I'll admit that my plasma physics is not exactly up to snuff. But when I saw the video of Bussard's talk at Google, I came away thinking that Bussard might be on the verge of something world-changing. He claims he understands the physics of his variation on the Farnsworth fusor well enough to begin scaling the system up to solve the engineering problems associated with a power-generating system. His estimate of a price tag: $200 million. (NB: US contribution to ITER, the internationally sponsored, experimental tokamak facility, through 2014: $1.112 billion. Total international cost: $12 billion.)

Bussard's version of the IEC concept, called the "polywell" uses magnetic mirrors to confine electrons (not the ions to be fused). The electron confinement produces a negative potential well, into which the ions to be fused are injected. Unlike tokamak reactors, all ions reach the center of the well with the same energy, where they either collide with one another and fuse or cycle back to the top of the well, only to be sucked back down into it again. The magnetic mirror arrangement produces a field pattern that resembles a wiffle ball. Because the energy can be tuned so precisely, boron-11 + hydrogen-1 fusion is possible, which yields nothing but 3 alpha particles.

This thing may easily be too good to be true. But for a chance at a practical, safe, non-radioactive power source with pure electromagnetic coupling, I think this thing is worth it.

I'd love to find a primary source on Schwarzenegger's announcement, and details on funding. I'll keep looking.

There's a pretty good Wikipedia article on the polywell here, with lots of handy references to other material.

Stay tuned. This could change everything.

1 comment:

Cormac-ballz said...

I've also been trying to find a source on their claim to no avail. I sent the Next Energy News an e-mail though I'm not hopeful on that front. The news has me very excited though as I've been following Bussard's publications since that Google tech-talk was released.

It'd be horrible if it turned out to be baseless, and I am worried since the same site has stuff posted about perpetual motion machines basically (or the modern version thereof).