March 04, 2004
Method To Do Desktop Fusion Discovered?

Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory may have found a cheap way to cause hydrogen atoms to fuse. (same article here)

The researchers expose the clear canister of liquid to pulses of neutrons every five milliseconds, or thousandths of a second, causing tiny cavities to form. At the same time, the liquid is bombarded with a specific frequency of ultrasound, which causes the cavities to form into bubbles that are about 60 nanometers or billionths of a meter in diameter. The bubbles then expand to a much larger size, about 6,000 microns, or millionths of a meter large enough to be seen with the unaided eye.

"The process is analogous to stretching a slingshot from Earth to the nearest star, our sun, thereby building up a huge amount of energy when released," Taleyarkhan said.

Within nanoseconds these large bubbles contract with tremendous force, returning to roughly their original size, and release flashes of light in a well-known phenomenon known as sonoluminescence. Because the bubbles grow to such a relatively large size before they implode, their contraction causes extreme temperatures and pressures comparable to those found in the interiors of stars. Researches estimate that temperatures inside the imploding bubbles reach 10 million degrees Celsius and pressures comparable to 1,000 million earth atmospheres at sea level.

At that point, deuterium atoms fuse together, the same way hydrogen atoms fuse in stars, releasing neutrons and energy in the process. The process also releases a type of radiation called gamma rays and a radioactive material called tritium, all of which have been recorded and measured by the team. In future versions of the experiment, the tritium produced might then be used as a fuel to drive energy-producing reactions in which it fuses with deuterium.

Whereas conventional nuclear fission reactors produce waste products that take thousands of years to decay, the waste products from fusion plants are short-lived, decaying to non-dangerous levels in a decade or two. The desktop experiment is safe because, although the reactions generate extremely high pressures and temperatures, those extreme conditions exist only in small regions of the liquid in the container within the collapsing bubbles.

The ability to sustain nuclear fusion could provide a way to produce enormous quantities of energy. If this could be done very cheaply then the age of fossil fuels would come to an end.

The research paper reporting this work went through intense review before being approved for publication.

Although no one has tried repeating the latest work, Lee Riedinger, deputy director for science and technology at Oak Ridge, says that, it went through an "extraordinary level of review" before being accepted for publication by Physical Review E.

By the standards of plasma physics research the money needed to try to repeat this experiment is peanuts.

For decades, physicists have dreamed of harnessing the ferocious alchemy of the Sun as a clean, limitless energy source. Most experiments have been conducted in giant, expensive reactors using magnetic fields to confine the ultrahot gases.

In contrast, the new experiment, which cost less than $1 million, uses the power of sound to create energy comparable to the inside of stars.

Hopefully granting agencies will allocate the money needed to for other labs to check this result. If this result holds up then our future could take a really big turn.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 March 04 03:13 AM  Energy Tech

Patrick said at March 4, 2004 11:22 PM:

Wouldn't that just piss off the greenies AND the arabs?

Peter said at March 18, 2004 9:46 AM:

There are two problems with "desktop fusion". One is the obvious one from "cold fusion", that you have to make sure that your signal is more than the noise of your measuring instrument. The other is more fundamental.

That problem is that you can, right now, buy commercially for a few thousand dollars devices that cause fusion reactions. Do a search on "neutron generators" and find out. Using simple electrostatics, they generate neutrons via hydrogen isotope fusion. The devices are used for generating neutrons for inspection purposes. They are even small enought to lower down oil well pipes.

The point is that it is not "news" that you can cause a fusion reacion for a few thousand dollars. The only real news is that no one reporting on this new result seems to know about current technologies. What these researchers have done is to do it in a novel way (ie, by other than electrostatic means).

What would really be new is to show that a "desk top fusion device" has some hope to being on a road to generating more energy than it uses. There is not a lot of activity around electrostatic fusion because there is currently no way to figure out how to advance it so that it can even come close to any energy in / out break even state. The people who make neutron generators are only interested in generating neutrons, and for them the energy balance is a non-issue. To simply come up with a new hopelessy inefficient way to cause a fusion reaction is not much more than media manipulation. It makes a name for you academically, but doesn't solve anyone else's problem.

It is a nessary first step to show that a new process has been found. The equally necessary second step is to show that something can be done with it. Until that shoe drops, it would pay everyone to keep abreast of the current technology.

SmartAss said at May 13, 2005 6:20 PM:

hey smartass, do you know what is a chemical reaction is?

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