MIT continues progress toward practical fusion energy

From the “we are this close to nuclear fusion department, 7th decade edition” and MIT:

In series of talks, researchers describe major effort to address climate change through carbon-free power.

A year after announcing a major public-private collaboration to design a fusion reactor capable of producing more power than it consumes, researchers from MIT and the startup company Commonwealth Fusion Systems on Tuesday presented the MIT community with an update on their progress. In a series of talks, they detailed the effort’s continuing work to bring about practical fusion power — based on the reaction that provides the sun’s energy — on a faster timescale than any previous efforts.

Visualization of the proposed SPARC tokamak experiment. Using high-field magnets built with newly available high-temperature superconductors, this experiment would be the first controlled fusion plasma to produce net energy output.Visualization by Ken Filar, PSFC research affiliate

At the event, titled “The MIT Fusion Landscape,” speakers explained why fusion power is urgently needed, and described the approach MIT and CFS are taking and how the project is taking shape. According to Dennis Whyte, head of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), the new project’s aim is “to try to get to fusion energy a lot faster,” by creating a prototype fusion device with a net power output within the next 15 years. This timeframe is necessary to address “the greatest challenge we have now, which is climate change.”

“Humanity is standing on the edge of a precipice right now,” warned Kerry Emanuel, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences, who studies the impacts climate change will have on the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and other storms. Because of the existential threat posed by climate change, it is crucial to develop every possible source of carbon-free energy, and fusion power has the potential to be a major part of the solution, he said.

Emanuel countered the claims by some skeptics who say that climate has always been changing, pointing out that human civilization has developed during the last several thousand years, which has been a period of exceptional climate stability. While global sea level rose by 400 feet at the end of the last ice age, he said, that was a time when humans were essentially nomads. “A 1-meter change today, in either direction, would be very problematic for humanity,” he said, adding that expected changes in rainfall patterns could have serious impacts on access to water and food.

Only three large countries have successfully shifted their economies away from fossil fuels, he said: Sweden, Belgium, and France. And all of those did so largely on the strength of hydropower and nuclear power — and did so in only about 15 years. “We’re going to have to do whatever works,” he said, and while conventional fission-based nuclear power may be essential in the near term, in the longer term fusion power could be key to weaning the world from fossil fuels.

Andrew Lo, the Charles E. and Susan T. Professor of Economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said that for large projects such as the development of practical fusion power plants, new kinds of funding mechanisms may be needed, as conventional venture capitalists and other traditional sources may not be sufficient to meet their costs. “We need to get the narrative right,” he said, to make it clear to people that investments will be needed to meet the challenge. “We need to make fusion real,” which means something on the order of a billion dollars of investment in various potential approaches, to maximize odds of success, Lo said.

Katie Rae, executive director of The Engine, a program founded by MIT and designed to help spinoff companies bridge the gap between lab and commercial success, explained how that organization’s directors quickly came to unanimous agreement that the fusion project, aimed at developing a demonstration fusion device called SPARC, was worthy of the maximum investment to help bring about its transformative goals. The Engine aims to help projects whose development doesn’t fit into the 10-year expectation for a financial return that is typical of venture capital funds. Such projects require more long-range thinking — up to 18 years, in the case of the SPARC project. The goals of the project, she said, aligned perfectly with the reasons The Engine was created. “It is so central to why we exist,” she said.

Anne White, a nuclear physicist at the PSFC and the Cecil and Ida Green Associate Professor in Nuclear Engineering, explained why the SPARC concept is important for moving the field of fusion to a path that can lead directly to commercial power production. As soon as the team’s demonstration device proves that it is possible to produce more power than the device consumes — a milestone never yet achieved by a fusion device — “the narrative changes at that moment. We’ll know we are almost there,” she said.

But getting to that point has always been a daunting challenge. “It was a bit too expensive and the device was a bit too big” to move forward, until the last few years when advances in superconducting magnet technology made it possible to create more powerful magnets that could enable a smaller fusion power plant to deliver an amount of power that would have required a larger power plant with previous technology. That’s what made the new SPARC project possible, White explained.

Bob Mumgaard, who is CEO of the MIT spinoff company CFS, described the next steps the team is taking: to design and make the large superconducting magnet assemblies needed for a working fusion demonstration device. The company, which currently has 30 employees but is growing fast, is in the process of “building the strongest magnets we can build,” which in turn may find applications in other industries even as the group makes progress toward fusion power. He said within two years they should have full-scale magnets up and running.

CFS and the MIT effort are far from alone, though, Mumgaard said. There are about 20 companies actively involved in such fusion research. “This is a vibrant, evolving system,” he said. Rather than a static landscape, he said, “there’s a lot of interplay — it’s more of an ecosystem.” And MIT and CFS, with their innovative approach to designing a compact, lower-cost power plant architecture that can be built faster and more efficiently, “have changed the narrative already in that ecosystem, and that is a very exciting thing.”

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177 thoughts on “MIT continues progress toward practical fusion energy

    • Anyone who believes the claims from the universities today is a fool when it pertains to global warming/ climate change or a huge breakthrough in energy.
      I have been in the energy business for over 50 years and have heard and consulted on too many exaggerated claims.

      • The operative takeaway from the article is the following sentence buried in the BS:

        “…new kinds of funding mechanisms may be needed, as conventional venture capitalists and other traditional sources may not be sufficient to meet their costs.”

        This is about earning a good living, a source of income for University professors, grad students and the Bureaucrats who love them. Ante up more of that Other Peoples Money

  1. I’ll believe this when ‘m getting my power from nuclear fusion

    50 years ago, it was 50 years away, and every time I checked over the past 50 years it was still 50years away.

    • Now it’s 30 years away. 50 years from now it will be 20 years away. So we’re making progress.

        • Perhaps if we fantasize really hard we can shorten that to 12 years, just in time to virtually combat & destroy that imaginary catastrophe which now somehow arrives even earlier than in previous unproven alarmist expectations.

      • 30 years ago, when I started working for ALCATOR C-MOD Tokamak project at MIT’s PSFC, it was 30 years away. 20 years ago, when I left, it was also 30 years away. 1 year ago, when they finally closed ALCATOR C-MOD down, it’s still 30 years away.

        I’m not quite sure I see any signs of progress yet. Maybe I need to wait another 30 years.

    • I’ll believe this when ‘m getting my power from nuclear fusion.
      Well the sun is basically ” It takes 499.0 seconds for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth, a distance called 1 Astronomical Unit.”
      And 99% of all the power we use is directly or indirectly derived from it

    • Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that they were promising five years to net power and ten to commercialization? Must be the partial government shutdown that set things back. Damn that Trump!

      Oh wait, maybe that was a different set of charlat, er, researchers. After all, the key to maximizing the rentseeking is to have dozens of parallel money troughs going on equally-hopeless approaches. Each of them can drag on for three or four decades, feeding thousands of grantseekers for their entire careers.

      Fusion fits into the CAGW religion somewhat analogous to the Second Coming.

      But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but Al Gore only.

    • We are getting our power from nuclear fusion… from several myr ago. It’s been in storage, waiting for us.

      Think of it as delayed solar.

  2. Sea level rise has not accelerated since CO2 took off after WWII. It’s still rising at the same rate as since the depths of the LIA during the Maunder Minimum. So whatever effect its continued rise might have on coastal communities, would have happened anyway. There’s no sign of human influence, although our development in threatened regions has made things potentially worse.

    We have endangered some areas by causing subsidence, however.

    • I’ve looked carefully but can see no edge of any precipice anywhere that humanity is in danger of falling over – unless we are talking about the stupidity of building even more expensive and useless windmills.
      On the other hand I am pleased to tell MIT that we are less than 30 years from getting power by building a giant treadmill for people, rather than hamsters, to run on and produce limitless power. A very green solution is it not?

  3. Controlled fusion has been vaporware for as long as I have known how to read, and I’m not that young. Putting the same amount of funding into fission reactors (or just fighting the anti-nuclear movement) would be rather more productive.

    • Tokomaks are a money pit. Nice for physicists to study plasma, useless for fusion. There are at least three other lines of research I consider promising, and they are all fairly cheap, and being funded (Polywell, Dense Plasma Focus, and Field Reversed Configuration).

    • I agree. There is zero chance of a commercial fusion reactor based on our failure to find the optimum fission design. We follow lost causes and hide successes. There is monkey business in our choices and discussions.

      The re-discovery of the molten salt no fuel rod, no water reactor is the breakthrough. That is the story interesting as it is real (phase 2 Canadian regulatory approval, US approval for funding) and a big deal as it produces electric power with all in costs compatible to coal.

      The molten salt reactor is a design that cannot have a fuel rod melt down or a coolant flow failure or an overpressure failure. It is at atmospheric pressure, not 150 atmospheres as is the PWR.

      It is not safer than a pressure water reactor, it does not have the pressure water reactor faults. That is the reason why it is 1/9 the cost of PWR.

      It produces heat at 600C rather than 31f5C which allows the use of standard turbines and opens up trillions and trillions of dollars of industrial heat applications.

      It is six times more fuel efficient than a PWR, it produces 1/9 the amount of transuranic waste than a PWR, and so on.

      Pressure water reactor are dangerous and inefficient because of the fuel rods. The molten salt reactor has 1/3 as much fuel as a PWR because the fuel is liquid in the reactor.

      The average number of fuel rods in a PWR is 50,000. 1/3 of those must be removed every two years long, as they start to crack.

  4. We don’t need a Government manufactured Hobgoblin, such as Man Made Global Warming to justify the development of fusion energy. So why don’t we just discuss the methodology and process that needs to take place to get us there without all the boogieman BS.

    • This should be the one goal for all developed nations
      Whilst weapons development have yielded erstwhile results.. it’s consumed far too much wealth which could otherwise boost development of fusion.
      The world needs to collectively shake its head and give whatever funding is required..
      Not for our sakes but for the generations to come
      IT’S OUR DUTY

      • Did you forget the sarc tag? Why throw more precious money into the bottomless fusion pit, deprivong millions of people, when one can get the same benefits cheaper and eith little risk (financial and health) by pursuing molten salt thorium reactors? We’ve already wasted 50 years since molten salt reactors became a proven concept, and tons of thorium is piling up as the WASTE from rare earth mining. Like really, what the heck ate we waiting for?

  5. A cartoon “visualization” of a Tokamak!!! Complete with claymation workers.
    When I look at that I keep expecting Gumby and his pet pony Pokey to come clay animating across the scene to describe how wonderful fusion will be.

  6. So the principle of energy in energy out will now change to energy in and more energy out? Laymen’s words.

  7. There is no evidence whatsoever of a “climate change” crisis. There is not even a definition.
    There is no near-term need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, except to remove particulate matter and other pollutants, of which CO2 is definitely NOT one.
    For those who feel good about “carbon-free” power generation, look to France as the model: conventional nuclear, safe, reliable, and abundant in the near term of 100 years at least. What more could you ask?
    For those who love the fusion idea, I have been waiting just 75 years. You said to look for it in 25 years. That was in 1950. Now it’s “15 years.” I don’t believe it. Tell me why I am wrong.
    How can you guys at MIT with all those fancy degrees be so stupid??

    • Ronald G. Havelock, Ph.D. – [ There is no evidence whatsoever of a “climate change” crisis. There is not even a definition. ]

      Precisely!

      [ How can you guys at MIT with all those fancy degrees be so stupid?? ] One anecdote to illustrate your point is the MIT boathouse for their crew team. I understand the boathouse is a design marvel for storing the shells used by their crew team. It wasn’t until after the completion of the concrete structure when they learned how difficult it was to maneuver the 65 foot shells in and out of the building due to the tight elevation changes between the street and the river.

      In light of this, it’s fair to ask MIT for a comprehensive definition of what problem is being solved.

      • Q: “… ask MIT for a comprehensive definition of what problem is being solved.”

        A: Keeping physicists employed. Fusion power research is just another self-licking ice cream cone.

        • They need investment in fusion, so they can contract with the spinoff magnet making company to make better magnets.

          The problem being solved (at this point in time) is acquiring enough money (“billions”) for fusion, so that the spinoff company (CFS) can get the contract seed money they need.

  8. If you can get into it it’s job for life.
    I hope they get it done before the Occasional Alexandra’s 12 years (minus a day) is up !

    • Beat me to it … was going to suggest this is a waste of time because we have it from a reliable source that the world will end in 12 years (minus one day… two if in Australia).

      • Good point, it will be too late to save us from the CORTEZ extinction. Don’t waste any more money!

  9. Using the climate scare to print money to finance a hopeless dream ?
    That said, I’d be an enthusiastic supporter of fusion energy if I could see any evidence that it is a practical proposition.
    The trouble is that creating and then constraining energy for a period of time is always going to take more energy than that energy can produce.

      • Based on my conversation with former colleagues, Alcator C-MOD is fully shut down and all personnel from that project is either laid off or moved elsewhere. The only funding left is in ITER, where MIT plays supporting role.

  10. “Emanuel countered the claims by some skeptics who say that climate has always been changing, pointing out that human civilization has developed during the last several thousand years, which has been a period of exceptional climate stability. While global sea level rose by 400 feet at the end of the last ice age, he said, that was a time when humans were essentially nomads. “A 1-meter change today, in either direction, would be very problematic for humanity,” he said, adding that expected changes in rainfall patterns could have serious impacts on access to water and food.”

    I might suggest that human civilization has been developing for much longer than “several thousand years”
    and that adaptation to the ‘ever changing climate’ has been on pace with the ‘ever changing climate’ that entire time.
    Of course a 1 meter rise in sea level in a day would cause disruptions and delays, but any changes DO NOT OCCURR in day. The changes are not sudden if at all noticeable in any short time scale.

    • “Of course a 1 meter rise in sea level in a day would cause disruptions and delays, but any changes DO NOT OCCUR in a day. The changes are not sudden if at all noticeable in any short time scale.”

      I’ve commented about this before. It was this scare tactic that got governments involved from the beginning, when the AGW ideologies came around. Every country with a coastline thought about how much property they could lose if it was under water. That’s land they can’t tax and their GDP depends upon the industrial financial profit that would be lost. The probability of lost land scared them. Although no proof was available — and there still isn’t — they found that taxing fossil fuels was extremely profitable. No amount of proof that AGW is a lie, will make government’s give up the profit’s, that are made from the Price Distortion’s, taxing fossil fuel’s has created for them. It is their “golden egg laying goose” that has increased their GDP multifold. When the movement for alternative energy sources came around the amount of oil needed increased. This made government’s even happier. The few hundred billions they give to researchers for alternative energy is nothing to the profit they rake in from the fossil fuels it takes to make those thing’s.

    • How could anyone argue that a 1 metre sea level change is disastrous for us all but the 400 foot change after the LIA had no effect at all even though it was part of the several thousand years of ‘exceptional stability’.

      He night also wish to liaise with Dr. Ryan Maue regarding “the impacts climate change will have on the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and other storms. ” as Ryan’s graphs show these are reducing in power and frequency. – https://www.policlimate.com/tropical/

      It’s a good job the science is settled or we would all be confused by these disparate views of what is occurring

      • With respect, I believe LIA is conventionally used for ‘Little Ice Age’, where the change was ~ 70 cm, rather than ‘Last Ice Age’, where the change was ~120 metres.
        My figures are provided by Google, and as such, must be taken with a grain of salt.

      • John,

        Maybe you meant LGM (Last Glacial Maximum, ending ~17 Ka) rather than LIA (AD ~1400 to ~1850).

  11. After decades of well-funded research experiments, I am comfortable saying unequivocally that controlled fusion will never be practically realized on Earth. Fusion proponents are trying to contain the fusion reaction with magnetism, whereas the stars (actual fusion reactors) are chiefly contained by gravity.

    You can’t engineer gravity on Earth’s surface.

    If all the money squandered on fusion research had been directed to developing molten-salt thorium-breeder fission reactors, we’d all be swimming in unlimited energy today. We can still do in in about 5-10 years, with appropriate attitude change.

    Thorium is vastly abundant, can be handled without special precautions (its native radioactivity is very low), but it becomes a Super Fuel when bombarded with neutrons and transformed from Th-232 to Th-233. From there, the fission reaction is self-sustaining and can also consume (neutralize) various transuranic atoms to produce more energy and reduce dangerous/weapon-capable materials.

    John Holdren (Obama’s idiotic National Science Advisor) said in the 1970s that unlimited energy in the hands of humanity would lead to catastrophe. Wrong then, and just as wrong as Paul Ehrlich (Population Bomb idiot) has always been. Hard to find two bigger doofusses in the history of Western Civilization.

    Available, reliable energy leads to freedom, liberty, and growth of human achievement. Just look at the historical record, starting with the steam engine, electric motors, telegraph, telephone, television, and computers. Energy = True Progress for Individuals

    • Exactly. If the idea is to go to fusion to get us off fossil fuels, the then transition will be from fossil fuels to traditional nuclear fission reactors and THEN to fusion reactors, not directly to fusion from fossil fuels.

      But I guess it’s hard to instantly go from having spent a lifetime opposing nuclear power and putting up roadblocks against the technology to now saying that we need to accelerate its adoption. (I want to ask the Greenies if they think they might have doomed mankind through 40 years of knee-jerk opposition.)

    • For all of the thorium skeptics I like to post this video from Oak Ridge explaining what they actually did and how the next project was going to use thorium.

      • Thanks david.
        When there are 10 grid scale ones operating,
        10 more under construction,
        and 10 more with secure financing;
        wake me.

        • Probably won’t happen in the US. Probably will happen in China. Probably wouldn’t bother you if China leapfrogs us in yet another technology.

    • GeologyJim,

      I hadn’t ever seen doofus as plural, so I needed to verify that you did it right … most sources agree with your usage.

      Although I think the competing and (more) correct plural is “liberals”.

    • No need for Thorium for a long time and it has its own headaches. Either you need reprocessing which poses a proliferation risk, or a much larger fissile load to run the whole thing with a poorer neutron economy. There’s plenty of 235U in the meantime, especially with the significantly higher burn up in an MSR.

    • GGJim, I thought the Thorium-232 transformed to Uranium-233 which in turn provided the neutron source to maintain thorium fission. The amount of U233 generated (and required) is not very large and it is consumed steadily while the thorium reactor is operating. Of total fissionable material in a thorium reactor, U233 is a very small percentage. (I’ve seen as little as 5%.)

      Please correct me if I am in error.

  12. Forty to fifty years ago they said we desperately needed fusion because we didn’t have enough oil to burn. Today, they say we desperately need fusion because we are burning too much oil. I think in both cases they desperately needed more funding.

    And he rather missed the point saying a one meter rise today would be catastrophic whereas a four hundred food rise when people were still nomads was not, implying we must stop burning oil. The point is, the ocean WILL rise and fall, with or without Man, and there is nothing we can do about it but adapt.

    • Kind of like in the 70’s we had to do something ( spend lots of money) to fight global cooling and th next ice age. Now we have to do something (spend lots and lots of money ) to stop rising CO2 and global warming on the other side of climate change. Climate changes over centuries and millenia and will continue with or without our help as long as that big yellow ball in the continues to have variable output. We have only relatively recently, in geological time, been able to piece together the multi-decadal oscillations that contribute greatly to our everchanging weather.

  13. We will have a prototype fusion device in fifteen years.
    You don’t understand the planet only has twelve years!
    Yeah that’s a problem but I’m still not working weekends…

  14. MIT’s Endowment at the end of 2018 was valued at $16.4 Billion. It seems to me that a combination of investments from the Endowment and matches from private sources could go a long way toward the funding goal. If MIT joined with Princeton, CalTech, U. Texas and other well-funded Universities with leading-edge physics, math and engineering talent, they could make a huge contribution. Further, success in the venture would make all of them fabulously wealthy. Alternatively Michael Bloomberg (new worth near $50 B), George Soros ($25+B), the Kochs ($25 B), Buffet ($40 B) and Gates ($50+ B) also have money to fund fusion and molten salt/Thorium nuclear ventures. I believe that Gates has invested some of his fortune in fusion;others should join.

  15. I love fusion reactors. I particularly like the one we have had this past 4.5 billion years. I love the spin off stored energy products it produces. That liquid store of fusion called oil is wonderful. The gas store of fusion is even better, as it burns without much particulate matter. The solid fusion store of energy is also great particularly when burned in the living room grate, keeping us warm during the winter.
    I am a bit puzzled why we feel the need to produce another fusion reactor here on Earth? While we still have all the energy available from our current one we should make full use of it. The added plus is it will add much needed CO2 into the atmosphere to help plants and all life grow faster stronger and healthier.

  16. Um…? So their “progress to date” is that the “project is taking shape.” ???

    Well, that sounds about on par with most Fusion Energy projects I guess. In other words, they are getting close to deciding how to spend people’s money once they can get hold of it, but have nothing new on the “how does this work?” front.

    Fusion Power, much like Green Energy, needs to be placed in the background and allowed to simmer for 50 or so more years, until they MIGHT be mature enough to be useful. Meanwhile, let’s design a standardized nuclear unit that can be built in standardized nuclear power plants, and develop safe ways to recycle the wastes back into fuel, and decide on where the final wastes are going to be buried. Real opportunities with Real problems that produce Real results.

    It would be relatively easy to convert to 80% nuclear generated electricity in 50 years. All we got to do is make the decision and stick with it.

    • But the fossil fuel people don’t want electricity generated by nuclear. They are worse than greens when it comes to sabotaging nuclear. Nuclear hurts their pocketbooks of fossil fuel advocates much more than it hurts the pocketbooks of greens.

  17. They are under some pressure to beat the century mark on the wait time.

    Go ahead and hook it to the grid in South Australia to make them the early adopters.

  18. Fusion has always been the new turning lead into gold. I would like for fusion to be realized but anyone counting on a time line will be disappointed.

  19. ‘Greenpeace Aus Pac’ is now claiming on Twitter that coal plants caused blackouts in Victoria and it’s time to replace coal with “reliable renewable energy!”

    Patrick Moore’s head is exploding.

    • In a sense they could be correct.
      Renewables are absolved from guilt at the time of the blackout for the simple reason that they were contributing nothing and the grid depended on the coal plants, without whose contribution the blackout would have been far worse.
      I thought that Nick Stokes had fingered transformer failure as the cause of the blackouts, which would have affected any power source, and irrespective of whether the power companies are public or private.. So is the failure due to the engineers running the grid?
      Probably not. I imagine they are doing the best they can with the resources they are provided with by the federal and state politicians .
      So is the guilty party the group of politicians who , over the years have instituted a fragile and expensive system of unreliable renewables and poorly maintained thermal stations ?
      I say , No! and Poirot -like, swivel round and point the finger of accusation at the people who convinced the politicos, dumb as they are , to set up such a teetering structure ie Greenpeace itself and all its infernal associates.

      • They’ve spent the last few years building up renewables while closing down coal plants. They’ve ignored maintenance on aging coal plants and aren’t building new ones. So when renewables can’t keep up during extremely hot weather, they blame the few remaining and aging coal plants for failing to keep up!

        Circular reasoning … or is it Pot Meet Kettle?

  20. Alternative dense energy sources are close. Rossi’s roll out of his E-CatSK is set for Jan. 31 (https://www.prweb.com/releases/leonardo_corporation_to_introduce_revolutionary_new_e_cat_sk_heating_technology_in_worldwide_broadcast/prweb16046298.htm)

    Mill’s Sun Cell is producing much more than it uses. (https://brilliantlightpower.com/)

    LLP focus fusion is making reasonable progress. (https://lppfusion.com/ )

    Brillouin has funding to move towards commercialization. (http://brillouinenergy.com/)

    Every one of these has more potential than wind or solar. This is going to be an exciting year.

    • Wasn’t it about 5 years ago now that Rossi said he was ready to market a commercial E_Cat system.

      When I can into a Rossi E-Cat store and buy one then I’ll believe him again.

      (Those are my initials BTW).

      • The skeptic in me almost made me not include Rossi but it’s only three days this time and I have to admit I do want it to work. I use the initials to save having to type my whole name with just two fingers.

        • “I use the initials to save having to type my whole name with just two fingers.”

          On a Mac one can create short items that will get autocorrected when one types into Safari or Mail or Notes or any other Mac app. I use it all the time.

    • Ha Ha. Let’s revisit these in a year and see if any of them rolled out anything that was economically viable.

    • Correct DMA.

      Let’s get this straight: Commonwealth hasn’t actually built anything; they don’t actually have designs in place for an real reactor; their concept of magnetic confinement to achieve fusion (tokamak configuration) has a 65 year record of failure; and the power generation system for a tokamak depends on century old boilers and turbines technology. Seems as though this is doubling down on failure.

      Even if Commonwealth could achieve net energy, a commercial reactor based on tokamaks, would never be commercially viable.

      Robert Hirsch, Director Fusion Research, DOE (1972-1976) notes not long ago: “Tokamak fusion…will not be close to being economic and has inherent safety and radioactivity problems… ”

      https://issues.org/fusion-research-time-to-set-a-new-path/

      Hirsch was commenting on the ITER program, a mega-sized tokamak, but all his issues are applicable to the Commonwealth compact, super-conducting reactor concept.

      What Hirsch decries is the way tokamaks hog up attention and resources from approaches to fusion other than magnetic confinement.

      “…there are other approaches to fusion power that may hold great hope for the future.” I am a fan of fusion, but there are other very promising and advances on non-tokamak designs (in the US private sector) that deserve more funding and attention.

      • Does the Tokamak design indicate that the errors of Russia are spreading throughout the world?

      • “the power generation system for a tokamak depends on century old boilers and turbines technology”

        What nuclear reactor or Rankine cycle engine does not depend on boilers and turbines? It doesn’t have to be steam but you still need turbine or piston to convert heat to mechanical energy. Or you can use thermoelectric generator but efficiency is only 5 to 8%

        • Wrong. New designs such as LPPFusion entail DIRECT electric generation by way of ion beams and also the photo-electric effect from X-rays that are generated from the Hydrogen-Boron fuel.

          See LPPFusion.com for further explanation and details.

    • A few weeks ago I did some internet browsing on LPP Focus, and if the chief scientist guy is being straight up, it really looks like they are getting real close to nothing but reasonable engineering problems to solve.

      And have gone a long way with only $5M (give or take) invested so far.

      And, it being aneutronic, truly fulfills the absolutely clean energy the world wants.

      • Correct Thomas. That’s why many people see LPPFusion as the frontrunner design for a commercial reactor in the short term… The next nine months are expected to be decisive about whether the Dense Plasma Focus approach to fusion is viable or not. So far, so good.

        We should have a much better idea sometime in the Fall.

  21. MIT: How could you fall so low with your hysteria, false and crooked IPCC ‘s climate change propaganda?

  22. It is telling that Dennis Whyte thinks that “climate change” is the greatest challenge they face. Such delusions indicate that he doesn’t understand either “climate change”, or the difficulties his spinoff faces, or both. This is not reassuring.

    • Sure it is. We’ve done hundreds of positive energy-out/energy-in demonstrations since the 1950s. The first was Ivy Mike, the first thermonuclear detonation conducted on November 1, 1952.

      Getting a steady-state fusion reaction is much more difficult. However, when I did a stint as a DARPA program manager, I took a tour of the General Atomics Tokamak, kindly guided by their chief scientist. The GA Tokamak is the only operational one in the Western Hemisphere. It is used by a number of countries and research institutions to conduct experiments on the control of fusion plasma, and runs continuously for hours at a time. It consumes more energy than it delivers, but here’s the catch: they only run it on deuterium. The chief scientist told me that they weren’t “licensed” to use tritium (I wasn’t aware of such a requirement until then), and that the facility is not equipped to handle the 14.1 MeV neutron flux from a D-T reaction. It does reach D-D fusion temperatures, which are much higher than D-T requires. The fact that D-T requires significantly lower temperature, but yields three times the energy, means that the GA Tokamak is probably a breakeven reactor already.

      They have made an astonishing amount of progress, not only in control of the plasma (the biggest task), but developing materials to handle the heat and radiation flux. ITER uses this facility heavily, and has been shaped by its technology.

      I believe that ITER will prove to be an engineering breakeven reactor, based on what I’ve seen. Whether it can be made into an economically feasible powerplant is another matter. Solar photovoltaic cells have been around for over a century, and the “fuel” is free. But the devil is in the details, and the details of solar PV are so overwhelming that it can never (for terrestrially based solar PV) be a viable source of energy.

  23. “…global sea level rose by 400 feet at the end of the last ice age ….”So? How much of humanity is going to be around at the end of the next ice age when once again the 400 feet that retreated to form ice melts? Surviving the ice age will be the challenge, not the aftermath. If the world population is foolish enough to keep spending $trillions on worth-less-than-nothing wind and solar we’ll run out money long before we drown our coastal cities or “choke to death on CO2″(famous less-than-wise quote from former Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid).

  24. Every state university needs a fusion power program to stabilize their funding, including agri schools, teacher colleges, and vo-tech schools. The online education schools could also benefit.

  25. Belgium is a larger country? I don’t think so. It certainly has the largest network of lit roadways in the EU.

  26. Progress, monotonic, maybe. Evolution, or perhaps development, certainly, which may or may not be viable.

  27. If MIT was really, really, really convinced that we are all going to die if we don’t stop using fossil fuels, they would be putting their research money into improving fission reactors. So all their hype just makes it look like they are lying to get more funding. Which, of course, they are.

    • I think he was talking about Norway. It’s been independent of Sweden since 1905. He may not have heard.

  28. …new kinds of funding mechanisms… meaning the venture capitalists and banks (I’m guessing that what they mean by other traditional sources) are to smart to invest in something so risky so “government funding” via higher taxes (including but not limited to a carbon tax) on US taxpayers. Well, thanks for your efforts – – but I’ll pass on this one.

  29. “. . . a fusion reactor capable of producing more power than it consumes . . .”

    Ahhh, those crazy scientists . . . will they never learn that that is a rather meaningless stand-alone goal in terms of PRACTICAL power generation? The fundamental question: Is the output power such that it can overcome the basic Carnot-cycle efficiency constraints? As was once remarked about the possibility that “cold fusion” was confirmed by reported warming of a water bath something like 0.5 K, the last thing the world needs is another source of unusable waste heat.

    • It is far worse than that. Even if they succeed in making a fusion reactor that can produce 100 times the power out versus power in, it will have to be economical viable over the reactor’s many billion dollar price tag and operating lifetime.

      The fundamental physics of D+T fusion, which is the only viable pathway due to confinement time and temperature considerations, produces a high energy neutron. Most neutrons will penetrate the confinement vessel and be absorbed by a coolant fluid to capture the energy. The inside of the reactor is held in a high vacuum of course, so there is considerable pressure on the reactor walls. However there will be neutron capture by the reactor wall metals. This will chemically change their properties, inducing defects in metal crystal structures. Eventually micro-cracks will form. The metal also gets brittle. With continued bombardment (use) larger cracking to millimeter size will occur. Eventually the reactor walls will catastrophically fail unless they are replaced. These reactors cost many many millions of dollars to fabricate. And to replace them in current designs is an extensive tear-down and highly complex rebuild due to the many cryogenic (liquid helium) cooled magnets that are part of the reactor walls design.

      The LHC helium explosion incident of 19 September 2008 is of some note since many of these systems will be quite similar in a fusion reactor. In that incident, an electrical arc punctured a liquid helium pipe that cools the magnets. The released helium rapidly expanded in the confined spaces and into the beam tube causing a small explosion. But the damage was severe.

      So the fusion reactor will have to be regularly replaced (something like every 3-6 months). That completely destroys the commercial viability of useful fusion -power electrical generation for a grid application.

      • “D+T fusion .. is the only viable pathway” – then you show that it is not viable. I hope that an aneutronic fusion might prove viable – but I agree that a tokamak looks like a waste of effort.

        • No. D+T fusion done in some sort of Tokamak (ITER, Lockheed’s design, MIT/CFS) design may indeed get past break even power generation in the next few years. That is a technical point. Yes, a milestone. But that is a long, long way from a commercially viable fusion reactor power station connected to the grid.

          First off, it’ll have to economically compete with natural gas and fission nuclear to get private investment funding without a massive government subsidy. Then with massive government subsidy, the investors would be investing *not* in fusion power, they’d be mainly harvesting the subsidies, just as wind and solar does today.

      • The fast neutron is 14 MeV. It’s an ionizing radiation. You need a moderator or else it can vaporize the unprotected reactor wall metal. 80% of energy released by D-T fusion is fast neutrons.

    • “The fundamental question: Is the output power such that it can overcome the basic Carnot-cycle efficiency constraints?”

      You have to change the 2nd law of thermo. Kelvin and Clausius derived the 2nd law from Carnot efficiency

  30. Energy from Nuclear Fusion is always just far enough in the future that no one is really investigating the researchers as to what they are actually doing right now and close enough in the future that people do not lose hope and create a threat to the continued funding and grants for Nuclear Fusion.

  31. Are there any bets being taken on when they finally get it working, will the first generation fusion technology be able to compete economically with current generation nuclear?

    If all the money being spent on wind, solar, batteries, and fusion were instead invested in making plasma furnaces and traditional nuclear less expensive, how much further ahead would we be?

  32. Questions:
    1. How do you get the heat out to run a generator?
    2. How do you get the fusion waste products out?
    3. How do you get new fusion fuel in?
    4. How do you all the above while maintaining the fusion reaction?

    • Well, think about internal combustion engines. The power comes from explosive detonation of a petroleum/air mixture. Now, now do you make this actually work? How do you get the combustion products out and the new fuel/air mixture in?

      A hard problem …

      Not exactly the same for a fusion reactor, but similar in concept.
      The trick is that it is not a continuous process like the sun.

      However, the engineering problems are significantly harder, but probably not impossible.

  33. Whether this MIT stuff, or the Lockheed high Beta confinement stuff, fusion is just very difficult because the Colomb barrier (like charges repel) must be overcome, which equires enormous pressures/temperatures.
    Stars do this very easily using gravity. The Sun is an example. Jupiter is an excellent example of ‘just missed’ not enough mass/gravity.

    For all these fusion efforts, I am reminded of the quote from French physics Nobelist de Gennes:
    “We say that we will put the Sun in a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don’t know how to make the box.”
    The quote is from essay ‘Going Nuclear’ in ebook Blowing Smoke, leading into the section on fusion that covered Skunkworks, NIF, ITER, and several fusion wildcats not including MIT.

    • “Rud Istvan January 28, 2019 at 2:59 pm

      Stars do this very easily using gravity.”

      Quite right. And we will never have that box to put a star in to IMO. A term coined by G. E. Smith (Have not seen a post from him in ages, hope he’s ok) was “Gravity Sucks”, it sure does and is how Stars (Fusion) work. The only fusion device I know made by humans that has any practical, albeit very destructive use, is a thermo-nuclear bomb.

      • Only because of extremely transient extreme pressure/temperature gradients generated by the nuclear fission core pit, obviously neither confinable nor sustainable. And the resulting fusion is a fraction of a reflected radiation shell microsecond (before it vaporizes) sustained by tritium, not by ordinary hydrogen as in the gravity ‘powered’ Sun.

        • Fission >Fusion >Fission >Fusion I think, IIRC, is the sequence…maybe another “fission” squirt in the last “fusion” reaction. It’s the only fusion “product” humans have made that actually works. Controlled fusion power? Yeah, tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes.

    • It’s much worse than that.
      The fusion reaction in stars is actually pretty slow. Stars are very, very big, so only very small percentage of their matter has to participate in the reaction to produce all that power.
      Man-made fusion reactor requires much higher temperatures and plasma densities then what you’d normally find inside stars.

      • Yes, and that is the problem. How to, in effect, “miniaturise”, the gravity of mass. Not doable on earth IMO.

    • It isn’t the particular energy ranges that are the problem but the fact that thermal fusion is just that, thermal, i.e. Boltzmann. You waste a tremendous amount of energy because only a tiny fraction of your reactants have the correct energy to fuse. That’s the beauty of electrostatic confinement like Polywell. The problem with Polywell is that it has too many electron losses at the cusps. Too bad really, but like so many things it’s the perfect solution except for one major problem.

  34. Maybe MIT could use some of the mental horsepower to determine if climate change is really a problem at all.

    • Without the climate change lie, they’d have no incentive in the form of grants or investor funding. And No virtue signaling investors to bilk.

  35. I stopped reading the article after I saw the words “the greatest challenge we have now, which is climate change.”

  36. We have viable nuclear fission technology the greens won’t let us use. What makes them think fusion won’t be blocked be similar protests?

  37. One big problem with Fusion is what safety factors are to be built in.

    After all it needs a lot of electrical energy to using electro magnets to contain the bubble which is converting the hydrogen into Helium. So what happens if the power r fails. I suspect one big bang.

    Lets stick to the nuclear which we do know a lot about. Lets ask the French engineers how they managed to tame the nuclear genie before we get carried away with this version ” of “Free Energy

  38. “A 1-meter change today, in either direction, would be very problematic for humanity,”

    Over what time period”

    he said, adding that expected changes in rainfall patterns could have serious impacts on access to water and food.

    There’s that handy word again, “could”.

  39. Lots of hand-waving about the imminent doom of climate change and the need for more money, but little in the way of details on how they are going to spend that money to achieve the goal of a fusion reactor that produces more energy than it consumes. Seems like an Underpants Gnome explanation to me ($ = breakthrough = fusion). Although, I do admit it would be handy to have practical fusion power when the current interglacial period ends and the ice returns. Perhaps we should hedge our bets though and develop cheap fission (probably based on Thorium) in the mean time. Always good to have a plan B when the failure of plan A is assured death.

  40. I was impressed with the last talk I saw from the MIT group a year or two ago. It certainly seemed like something more than just the usual incremental improvement at enormous expense. Much interesting stuff about how much better the magnetic containment had got from both a practical and theoretical perspective.
    And they also did seem to be focusing on issues related to cost-containment as well as plasma-containment.

    But I had to shut my ears at the point when they resorted to the global warming theory as justification for the need. They need to drop that sh!t. It only makes them look silly. The long term need already exists, whether cAGW is true or not.

    • The MIT group should not be funded. If they think CAGW is proven science and that the CAGW measurements and statistics are valid science and math, they are not qualified to design and build fusion reactors.

  41. “Emanuel countered the claims by some skeptics who say that climate has always been changing, pointing out that human civilization has developed during the last several thousand years, which has been a period of exceptional climate stability.”

    Low credibility Emanuel detracts from any claims MIT makes about their fusion program.
    A) Emanuel abbreviates and drastically simplifies mankind’s history into a convenient summation that suits his purpose, then conflates that simplification with climate assumptions.

    B) “exceptional climate stability”: Apparently Emanuel has never bothered studying historical and reconstructed climate. Otherwise, Emanuel might have noticed humans prospering during climate Optimums.

    C) Emanuel apparently ignores how the Dutch have dealt with oceanside property.

    D) Emanuel degrades his dismal credibility further.

  42. Hmmm isn’t easy to get free energy, or more energy out than is put in.
    When you have to create a working real time/world model.

    Easy when you can create the free energy by conjecture as in the thermalise-ation of”back radiation”.

    Can they not get any back fusion mathemagiged in there, the nuclear bomb effect ?.

  43. We invested that much cash in regulatory house insulation and can’t afford a the bills to keep it warm. Hurry up guys, we’re freezing.

  44. Princeton freshmen in 1956 were treated to a lecture by Professor Lyman Spitzer about the Stellarator which would produce cheap abundant and clean power from nuclear fusion. It was the energy of the future. 63 years later it still is.

  45. A picture is worth . . so the atricles illustration of the greatest technology in the history of the world will have ten workers climbing and touching The Machine like a bunch of car geeks looking at a carburetor of a 57 chev. A real tell and the how the geniusses feel about the people.

  46. If it doesn’t work out, how about low=tech nuclear fusion? Use an underground thermonuclear bomb to heat up a large volume of some choice formation of heat storing rock and get some dispatchable geothermal energy. It would actually be hybrid fission/fusion. I understand that H-bombs pack their punch from using the neutrons from the fusion to create fission in low grade uranium.

  47. Research in fusion is a good thing, the payoff could be huge. Let’s not be too negative just because the people are saying stupid things.
    Just as research in many other technologies is good.

    Here is the issue as described in the article:
    “A 1-meter change today, in either direction, would be very problematic for humanity,” he said, adding that expected changes in rainfall patterns could have serious impacts on access to water and food.

    If the issue is what is claimed, I suggest that research on 1-meter tall dikes and on lower-cost transportation would be more likely to pay off in solving the problems they imagine.

    Since we know the sea has been rising since long before humans were emitting any noticeable CO2. My solution would work even on the wild chance that the natural sea level rise did not suddenly stop in 1980 (or whatever year they are using now) and that all sea level rise is now due to man’s influence.

  48. Fission is where a small push yields a big reaction. Fusion is where a big push yields a small reaction. Fusion is headed in the wrong direction unless you have a mass to work with on the scale of the sun where the force of the collapse is still larger than the force of the thermal release…I’m off to the beach to make some vitamin D.

  49. “Only three large countries have successfully shifted their economies away from fossil fuels, Sweden, Belgium, and France. ”
    THIS IS AN OUTRIGHT LIE
    France still consumes 53.5% of their total energy consumption with fossil fuels.
    In Sweden the figure is 46%
    In Belgium it is close to 70%.

    • Not to mention that his concept of a large population is kind of off the mark by a few 100 millions.

  50. Good point, it will be too late to save us from the CORTEZ extinction. Don’t waste any more money!

  51. No technical project should ever talk about “the narrative.” Those two words tell you everything you need to know about this group.

  52. “This is a vibrant, evolving system,” he said. Rather than a static landscape, he said, “there’s a lot of interplay — it’s more of an ecosystem.” And MIT and CFS, with their innovative approach to designing a compact, lower-cost power plant architecture that can be built faster and more efficiently, “have changed the narrative already in that ecosystem, and that is a very exciting thing.”

    My dad went to MIT, graduated ME and Applied Mathematics. I went to Michigan, graduated ME. Neither one of us would have ever had our names associated with such a comment.

    Get it to work, tell us about it. They have not gotten it to work.

    Results first, publicity second.

    Wow, MIT should look into this…

    Moon

  53. I am sorry, nuclear fusion is not done until it is done. When it is done, front page news.

    The super-conducting magnets will be a big part of it, once again, when it is done.

    The Re-creation of the process of the Sun, weighs more than the rest of the Solar System by far, Trillions of times heavier than the Earth, the gravity at the center of the Sun is not achievable on Earth. They might be sniffing around the edges of this.

    I would love this to happen, only way to escape our Solar System and explore the Galaxy.

    Not yet though, not even close yet.

    Superconducting magnets could possibly contain a plasma hot enough to create Fusion self-sustaining. These new ones, 32 Tesla, which is 32 times more powerful than what you experience with an MRI, closer.

    But, think about it, the gravity at the center of the Sun, so large.

    We will see…

    Moon

  54. It doesn’t matter the “environmentalists” will make up some reason why it’s “bad for the environment”. Reality won’t enter into the discussion. If they cared in the least about carbon emission we could easily have replaced coal fired generation with nuclear and geothermal by now. Instead they lie about those and give us windmills.

    Does anyone really think they won’t do all they can to block fusion?

    • I don’t think they oppose it. The problem is the vast amounts of taxpayer money that is being funneled into these black hole “research” scams that promise the universe but never deliver. They are always NNN year away with NNN ranging from 15 to 100 to Never.

      The article brings to mind something my Chief Engineer told me once – The definition of an Engineer: A guy who sits on the side of the bed and keeps telling his girlfriend how great it’s going to be.

      Fusion “experts” are “Engineers”

  55. So we’re still “15 years away from fusion”? Hmm. That’s 5 years better than the old “20 years away”! I wonder how many years fusion will be only 15 years away?

  56. “We need to get the narrative right,” he said, to make it clear to people that investments will be needed to meet the challenge. “We need to make fusion real,” which means something on the order of a billion dollars of investment in various potential approaches, to maximize odds of success, Lo said.”

    Yeeeeeeeah, that’s been the holdup for fusion, they haven’t done enough work on the “narrative”.

  57. “Only three large countries have successfully shifted their economies away from fossil fuels, he said: Sweden, Belgium, and France. And all of those did so largely on the strength of hydropower and nuclear power — and did so in only about 15 years.”
    Belgium is closing all of its nuclear plants and replacing them mainly with natural gas plants.

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