Kickstarting Fusion?

We all know that the Polywell prototype is going to cost roughly 200 million dollars to build.

How much is 200 million?

Not a lot.  Not a lot at all.  We’ll run some numbers– an average Mcdonald’s lunch costs about, oh say 5 dollars, or 10 dollars for two people.

 

About 30 million people at at Mcdonalds every day.   At five dollars per meal on average, that’s 150 million dollars.  Per day. Two days worth of McDonald’s food sales could pay for and more than pay for the Polywell prototype.

Americans spend billions per year on make up, food, movies, just about anything you can name, and do so even as the need for something like the polywell becomes more important every day.  And yet the polywell can be funded–without any hardship on the part of American, for the cost of a few fast food meals.

What makes this worse is that today, beyond almost any other time period in history, we have more tools to get to the people directly. Wiki, goodle, the internet– the days of only being able to communicate via expensive TV ads are over.

So let us assume a kickstarter style program manages to reach 10 million americans. Of them, one million provide 100 dollars each, over the course of the year.

You’ve just hit the half way mark– in one year.

In fact, the publicity almost writes itself: For the cost of two gallons of gas, you can free us from high energy prices– forever.

The problems of government funding or corporate funding have been spoken of for years.  Maybe the time has come to find another source– to go directly to the people. You might be surprised at what happens.

 

 

 

Why is there a sucker born every minute?

The E-cat fiasco isn’t that important from the view point of the pathological science it represents– that’s happened many times before and will likely happen many times later. But there is another question, one that is fairly important to the entire field of LENR.

But why are so many people jumping on the bandwagon?  I mean, a secret test, not letting scientists look at your magic box, a history of fraud and legal action…it’s right up there with offers to sell you a certain bridge or beach front property in the everglades.

Well part of the answer is that today, the number of people who are well educated, even to a layman’s standards in the hard sciences is not a very large number.  When trying to evaluate a scientific scam, after all, it’s wise to have at least some knowledge of science (though the opposite does apply– the layman should always be firmly aware that he is just that– and not an expert).

But most importantly, any layperson should remember, and remember firmly, that Great Claims Require Great Proof.  To say that you have invented a new process of fusion, one that produces no neutrons, or any other dangerous radiation, that produces megawatts of power, and does so with desktop equipment– that is a great claim indeed.

And the proof is not found in youtube displays, or magical clients that wish to keep their identity secret and seem to often vanish away, or forever be “just about” to show off their new power units.  It is found in the rigorous testing of these claims by people who are not the friends of the inventor, who infact have no interest in seeing him successful– or unsuccessful.  Who are simply interested in verifying “Was this event properly documented, and does it represent something new?”

Now, the true believers will immediately claim that the scientific conspiracy will work against them.  Beyond the question of whether such a conspiracy exists, that should spur advocates of new discoveries to more, not less, in the way of strict adherence to the measures predicted to convince even skeptics that something is occurring that cannot be explained by chemical or other known reactions.

Rossi’s “work” is in fact a text book example of how not to do it.  By this time, the lack of careful documentation and factual support of his claims points to pathological science at the best, fraud at the worst.   The mindless rush to excuse these failures, especially considering his history, does advocates of non-traditional fusion no favors, making it plain that once again, many have let their hopes run away with their skepticism.

The best way to deal with skepticism is not to excuse shoddy work– it is to be more critical and demand more proof.  Every advocate of alternative energy should be looking at claims and asking themselves : “What would a skeptic think?”  “If I was trying to disprove this, what would I seize as evidence that something wasn’t right?”

Excusing poor testing, or dicey claims, does the quest for alternative energies no good. It simply allows critics to point to those instances and argue that once again, we’re seeing a community that has allowed a laudable enthusiasm for a new source of energy run away with its ability to be skeptical and detached.

Don’t be that community.

Rossi and The E-cat: Haven’t we been down this path before?

The online world is alive with amazement over the “cold fusion” being currently trumpeted (with very little evidence) by Andrea Rossi.

It is in fact very likely bad science at best, or outright fraud, and the fact that the alternative energy community has leaped upon it with such uncritical (one might even say, fanatical) joy, says very poor things about the state of critical thinking among many alternative energy advocates.

The Energy Catalyzer supposedly fuses protons to copper atoms in a low temperature reaction, producing heat with no (or very little radiation).  Or at least that’s what it is supposed to do.  As yet, nobody has seen it actually work.  Oh there have been shows, but that’s all they were– shows.  No proof was shown.

And that’s the first strike against this rather strange story.  At no point have any outside scientists been allowed to examine the unit.  Much like the mythical 200 MPG carburetor, or any one of a dozen (or hundred) other advances to science that briefly entice the gullible, before vanishing, the secret is so important that nobody can be allowed to view it.

In fact, it would be wise to note some common unifying factors about the various scientific scams that have existed throughout history:

1.  The discovery is something that is beyond the current ken of mainstream science.

Also, it suddenly produces real and impressive results.  This is usually something you can contrast with the fact that most scientists tend to, if anything, underplay their results, preferring to avoid the risk of individuals getting the wrong idea.

Rossi here of course is claiming that he will be shipping out one megawatt units, “Very soon.”  (Very soon has changed, as we will see below).

2. There are demonstrations, but they are controlled demonstrations and not peer reviewed.

If you’re running a scientific scam, the last thing you want is real scientists free to examine your discovery.  They tend to ask inconvenient questions and are far more capable of poking holes in the demonstration than a reporter, even a science reporter is.  At no point has the E-cat had anything like a rigorous review by qualified scientists.

3.  But that’s okay, because the inventor needs to protect his invention!

The only patent issued for the E-cat is currently Italian– a European patent application was rejected due to the deficiencies in description, but much of the concern held is that if anyone looks inside the magic box they will suddenly steal the invention.

Well yes– one can look inside a car and steal that invention, because it is very difficult to patent a natural process, and in any case when the magic box goes on sale, all one will have to do is purchase it, open it up and get a look. Contrary to many pulp novels, there are very few reactions that are dependent on a truly “Secret” ingredient that cannot be detected and duplicated. Of course as you’ll see below we have an answer to that…

But… Once again it serves the scam artist well– because obviously it has to be real, otherwise, why would he be concerned about it?

4.  Anonymous  customers.

This is an old one.  You have someone who is just about ready to purchase, or who has signed a letter of intent, or is about to get in on the ground floor.  They’re always secret, and they somehow never materialize.  A very old scam is pointing to some group who won’t say anything or who you can say  “are involved.”  In Rossi’s case, we’ve heard that anonymous buyers have purchased, or are in the process of purchasing or are very, very serious about purchasing the 1 MW “e-cat” units.

Now, Let’s hold up here.  Everyone has seen shows on TV about how important the environment it, and how many companies are making attempts to reduce their carbon and environmental footprints.  A fusion generator, especially one that mysteriously produces neither gamma radiation nor neutrons, or for that matter any dangerous ionizing radiation isn’t just a holy grail for power, it’s a PR win of the first magnitude.

And yet all the purchasers are secret.  They want to ah, keep their energy lights hidden under a bushel.

Let’s also point out that at this point  Rossi is claiming that he will be selling units or has already sold units.  That means, that if this is real, the design is either finalized or very close to it.

And yet we have a few “Secret” clients.

Remember, a buyer means its real and a secret buyer means its even more real– best get in on the ground floor.

The other possibility, mind you one that only comes to nasty suspicious sorts, is that their are no buyers– what their are are people who are pretending to be buyers– if you’ve been involved in Ebay you’ve probably ran in to them, phantom bidders who turn out to be the very same people who put the item up for auction, trying to drive the price up.

5.  The qualifications of the scientist do not stand up to close examination.

There are many scammers out there with so many letters behind their names that you have to wonder how they found time to go to all those schools, often schools that are quite prestigious sounding– say the Oxford Institute for Genetic studies or some such. Sounds almost like Oxford, doesn’t it?  Well, it isn’t.  That’s something called a “Diploma Mill” or a school where you can get a degree without the hard work in actually going through the effort. Rossi has a degree in engineering from Kensington University.

Rossi is an engineer, right?

Well, no. While he has an earlier degree from The University of Milan, his work isn’t exactly what one expects, and in fact his earlier biography states that he appears to have been self taught.

But he got a later degree from the University of Kensington, in Engineering. Unfortunately, the University of Kensington is a diploma mill, or was, since it was shut down by both California and Hawaii.

6.  Somehow, units never get sold– the great day of unveiling is always just in the future.

Two companies have claimed to be just about to purchase the Ecat, yet both have backed out.  The first company was Defkalion, a Greek company which was supposed to start production in 2011.  Now, note this, it was supposed to start production. However, in August, this announcement was made:

EFA – Energia da Fonti Alternative S.r.l., the Italian company through which the rights for the production of Andrea Rossi’s E-CAT were granted to PRAXEN Defkalion Green Technologies LTD, publicly announces that the License and Technology Transfer Agreement between the two companies has been recently terminated. All business relationships with PRAXEN, the Cyprus based company that owns the Greek company DEFKALION Green Technologies S.A., have been cancelled and as of today neither PRAXEN nor DEFKALION, nor any other Greek company whatsoever holds any rights for the production of the E-CAT of for any other exploitation of Andrea Rossi’s technology.
Furthermore Andrea Rossi and EFA announce that no information, nor industrial secret nor any technology whatsoever has been neither transferred nor disclosed neither to PRAXEN nor to DEFKALION, nor to any other Greek Company whatsoever and currently Andrea Rossi and EFA are not planning to deal with any other project in Greece.

Now Defkalion claims to be creating their own ecat based devices…with a similar lack of proof, but regardless, lets look at this announcement. This company which was theoretically almost to the point of producing E-cats, had no information?  No technology? Starting production lines doesn’t work that way, but…it’s another excellent case where the E-cat– our magic box, is suddenly a no show at the party.

Another company, AmpEnergo supposedly obtained the rights to make use of the technology in May, but due to ” Contractual difficulties” the magic box wasn’t shipped to them. Now note, this is all happening before the demonstrations in October–in other words, the claim is that production level units actually exist– yet nobody has seen them.  Their website is also sparse, very sparse in fact.  They appear to have no factory, no large employee list– no nothing in fact.  An oddly small group for a company that was supposedly ramping up to produce these E-cats.   The claim from Rossi was:

“We had a preliminary agreement with a very important party in the U.S., but when we received the final draft, it included conditions that our lawyers said that we should not accept”, Rossi told Ny Teknik.

Shipment of the plant was then blocked; according to Rossi, however, the launch will still take place in October as earlier promised, though he could not yet disclose where this will take place.

Again, a very convenient controversy– one that effectively puts the “put up or shut up” point in the future.  The technology is working, but, horror of horrors, those kill joy lawyers aren’t letting things go through.

7.  A previous history of …unusual events.

Many scammers have a long history of great developments that somehow didn’t happen–and like cobra commander, they chose to never revisit their last “world changing invention” in favor of finding new world changing inventions.  In Rossi’s case it was thermoelectric generators. His company Leonardo Technologies, Inc., was contracted to produce these generators to convert heat to power for the Department of Defense in order to reduce the use of other fuels.  What happened?  The test unit produced vast amounts of power at a very high efficiency.  Rossi in fact claimed that full up units would produce 800-1000 watts.  The actual units, those that worked, produced 1 watt of power.

The entire story is here:

LTI was incorporated as a response to the thermoelectric power generation research
by Dr. Andre Rossi. Dr. Rossi indicated that his devices would produce 20
percent efficiencies, a vast increase from the current science of 4 percent conversion
of waste heat to electrical power. Dr. Rossi believed that he could increase
the physical size of the TE Devices and maintain superior power generation. In
furtherance of his research, in early 2000, LTI had tests conducted at the University
of New Hampshire (UNH), Durham, NH, using a small scale LTI TE Device.
Over a period of 7 days, the UNH power plant staff recorded voltage and
amperage readings every 1/2 hr. The TE Device produced approximately 100
volts and 1 ampere of current, providing 100 watts of power. After this initial
success, and a fire that destroyed his Manchester, NH location, Dr. Rossi returned
to Italy to continue the manufacture of the TE Devices. In Italy, Dr. Rossi
believed that LTI could manufacture more cost-effective TE generating devices
with lower labor and assembly costs. Accordingly, Dr. Rossi engaged a subcontractor
to fulfill the requirements of manufacturing and assembly.

Unfortunately, the Italian subcontractor was unable to provide secondgeneration
TE Devices with satisfactory power generation. Nineteen of 27 TE
Devices shipped to CTC, Johnstown, PA, were incapable of generating electricity
for a variety of reasons, from mechanical failure to poor workmanship. The remaining
eight produced less than 1 watt of power each, significantly less than
the expected 800–1000 watts each.

There is no information on the ultimate disposition of the prototype that did so well, but well, suffice to say the promises of incredibly efficient TE devices has remained unfilled.

8. Bizarre claims and excuses for not deploying the technology.

Evidently another problem with the E-cat is that as yet,  Rossi hasn’t figured out a way to put an effective self destruct device in it.

No. I’m not kidding.

Dear Mr Riccardo:
I think that the household targeted items will arrive later. We have to resolve the problem to make them self-destructive in case of opening the reactors. Otherwise, with few thousands of dollars anybody has access to the confidential aspects of the technology. In industrial plants this issue is more easy to afford and has been resolved.
Warm Regards,
A.R.

Now, there are two problems to this.  First of all, Marvel comics has already done this plot, and so you can’t sell it.  But more importantly, such devices are fantasies.  If you can open a device to maintain it, you can get it open to have a look inside it.  The Chinese, Russians, Americans, etc, will all have it open.

But there are some other problems with this, ones that make this even more insane.

First of all, nobody is going to buy a reactor that they can’t look into.  Beyond safety issues, only a madman would tie himself to a single supplier.  Secondly, a self destruct device would be illegal in just about any jurisdiction outside of oh, say, Somalia.

Thirdly, even if you could invent a fool proof self destruct device, no government would let you ship it without looking at it. And that means a serious look, especially if they believe the magic box involves any form of nuclear reaction.  OSHA, EPA, FCC (because they do check for things like EM interference), many agencies are going have it opened and look at  it.  That’s not negotiable, because they’re not going to trust your good word that your seeeecreeet machine isn’t going to explode, or start spraying ionizing radiation, or just suddenly decide to catch fire.   They sure as shooting aren’t going to accept your word that a self destruct device is perfectly safe and friendly.

But…and here we come to the brilliant part– maybe that’s the point.  After all, if that mean ‘ol government is keeping you from sharing your bounty with the world, save for wise investors who will pay you, it’s not your fault.  You can’t possibly be expected to do what every other corporation on the planet does, now can you?  And so, once again, outside factors intervene to prevent that simplest method of proving your system of all– putting up a unit, away from the lab, away from any ability to play with the readings, and running it, for days and weeks, well beyond the point that any chemical reaction could explain it.

How…convenient.

Finally, for those interested, Steven Krivits has an appendix with a time-line and link to the Rossi affair.

The 372 million dollar paperweight

Over at the Polywell Blog, we have the story of a fusion system that was designed, built…and never turned on.

    It seems the DOE funded the idea without being totally sure it would work.  John Clarke remembers his boss – the head of the U.S. fusion energy program – saying: “’they are good people at Livermore, they will figure something out.'”[6]   The closing of the project marked a major fall in magnetic mirror machines and the rise of the tokamak as the premier fusion reactor idea.  This was not inevitable.  Many voices, both inside and outside the science community, kept pressing for an alternative idea – in case the tokamak proved unworkable.  “All kinds of ideas were bouncing around: solar, ocean, thermal, wind, synfuels.  And we had only one for a fusion reactor, the tokamak.  What we wanted was a strong design to be number two” said Stephen Dean former director of magnetic confinement at DOE [6].  This implies that at the outset, the funding managers were not sure the tokamak was the only path to fusion.  They authorized 372 million dollars to a promising fusion idea without being certain it would work.  Today, we could test the Polywells’ viability with just 1/5th of those funds.

So what does this mean for the Polywell?  Well for one thing, it means that make no mistake, being cheap may not save it– in fact often, esepcially during budget cutting periods, such as we’re in right now, the cheap projects go first– they don’t have enough of a lobby to be saved.  The suggestions for helping the Polywell along via private investment are good, but maybe don’t go far enough. If the US fails to pursue the polywell, then another possibility is seeking foreign investment– or foreign partners.  India for example spends over 80 percent of her energy budget important material. Japan is in the process of giving up fission powered reactors, or at least claiming she will.

It is unfortunate, but if the US decides to cut funding, then it might be wise to seek out other regions for investment, however painful it will be to see the US having to buy a reactor design that we pioneered– but did not finish.

Dense focus fusion

http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/2005/11/powered_by_chan.html

Developers, led by Eric J. Lerner, are developing Focus Fusion, a fusion process to generate electricity that is expected to be relatively cheap, highly efficient, and small enough to fit into a garage.  The process which channels hydrogen-boron fuel through a plasma focusing device, uses a smaller, more elegant approach than is currently being pursued by conventional fusion researchers.  This device could be fired up and shut off with the flip of a switch, with no damaging radiation, no threat of meltdown, and no possibility of explosions

Focus Fusion reactors are small and decentralized, ideally suited for distributed power generation. Focus Fusion reactors can fit into a garage.  Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) Focus Fusion project aims at developing an electric generator with a projected output of about 5 MW, sufficient for a small community.  The Focus Fusion process can produce electricity directly without the need to generate steam, use a turbine or use a rotating generator. The reactors are extremely compact and economical, with expected costs of $300,000 apiece. As the fuel is an insignificant cost, electric power production is estimated at about one tenth of a cent per kWh, fifty times cheaper than current costs.  Because it can be shut off and turned on so easily, a bank of these could easily accommodate whatever surges and ebbs are faced by the grid on a given day, without wasting unused energy from non-peak times into the environment, which is the case with much of the grid’s energy at present.  On-site personnel are not needed on a daily basis, maintenance would be rare.  One technician could operate a dozen facilities by themselves.

This is a quite interesting concept, although like all reputable fusion researchers, the people behind it are being fairly quiet until they have some firm information and evidence for it.  This is something important to remember– just because you don’t hear a lot about it doesn’t mean nothing is happening– but in the aftermath of the Cold Fusion fiasco, every researcher in this field wants to be damned certain that he or she has pretty much unassailable proof before making claims of fusion.

So, what does this mean in practical terms?

The biggest thing of course is that fusion decouples our energy budget from fossil fuels or fissionable nuclear systems.  Ditto for hydroelectric or wind power– in other words it dramatically reduces our “energy footprint” on the planet.  That’s the first big difference, and it’s a pretty damned big one– just take a look at your average oil field and what that does to the local environment, or hell, try to breath in many cities with severe air pollution.

Then there’s the political question– many nations will be able to stop spending money on foreign fuel (India, for example, imports just over 80%  of their fossil fuels), and plow that money back into other needs.  Once the systems are built, they only need to be maintained– so instead of spending a billion dollars a year on crude, you’re just spending whatever it costs to maintain your fusion plants.

But that’s not the only advantage– if you can build a 5MW power plant, then you can get away from the one big power plant model.  I doubt we’ll ever see “Mr. Fusion” at home, because 5MW isn’t anything for non-professionals to be screwing around with, but town and even neighborhood stations isn’t out of the question.

This has two advantages.  1.  It reduces the environmental footprint even more as we no longer have to have big power lines snaking everywhere. 2. It reduces our vulnerability. If every neighborhood, town and even large building has it’s own, independent power source, it becomes impossible to knock out, by malice or natural disaster, the entire power system.  That’s a big deal for places like California that are in danger of earthquakes, or parts of Texas that get visited every year by Mr. Tornado.

In the third world, well, decentralization is probably the best way to go– it’s less vulnerable to corruption and is more organic– instead of trying to come with some ten year plan, that may or may not work, you can add generating capacity as needed– and again, you don’t have to pay for fossil based fuel imports.

Is it going to save the world?  Nah, Homo the Sap will no doubt figure out some way to screw things up even more– but it will hopefully make the world a better place.

Now all we have to do is make it work…

Update:

In a breakthrough in the effort to achieve controlled fusion energy, a research team at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. (LPP) in Middlesex, NJ, announced that they have demonstrated the confinement of ions with energies in excess of 100 keV (the equivalent of a temperature of over 1 billion degrees C) in a dense plasma. They achieved this using a compact fusion device called a dense plasma focus (DPF), which fits into a small room and confines the plasma with powerful magnetic fields produced by the currents in the plasma itself. Reaching energies over 100 keV is important in achieving a long-sought goal of fusion research—to burn hydrogen-boron fuel. Hydrogen-boron, (also known by its technical abbreviation, pB11) is considered the ideal fusion fuel, since it produces energy in the form of charged particles that can be directly converted to electricity. This could dramatically cut the cost of electricity generation and eliminate all production of radioactive waste.

That’s a VERY big deal and a big milestone in the process.  So we’ll have to keep watching.

Saturday Blog of the week!

http://newsicare.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/building-the-open-source-bussard-fusion-reactor/

 

Do you think it is impossible for a person or a small team to build the Bussard Fusion Reactor? Actually, it is happening. Famulus is building his own Bussard Fusion Reactor. He also showed the early products on the Kickstarter project page. The project has sucssfully raised the first round funding.

 

Why is this the Saturday Blog?

 

Well for one thing, It’s about fusion– one of my favorite subjects.

It’s about someone working on building a fusion reactor himself.  And that’ s really damned kick ass.