Heavy Ion Fusion the only Solution to the Energy and Environmental Problem
by Harold Helsley
Heavy Ion Fusion Reactor Diagram Courtesy of Fusion Power Corporation
The World Energy Need and a Real Solution
Energy is the lifeblood of modern society. Energy is the slave of modern man but somehow energy has also become his master for he is totally dependent upon the ubiquitous presence of abundant energy to do the work that the slaves of earlier times did. With recent supply disruptions clearly in mind, modern man has begun to wonder what an energy limited future might be like. Clearly, there is a need for a more stable energy supply especially one that is political boundary independent.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that abundant low-cost energy is an essential component of the 'American way of life'
. Hydro-power is one such energy. It is generally available, except during periods of drought. But almost all hydro-power sites are currently being exploited and even these often have unintended environmental problems such as disruption of fish migration, flooding of scenic corridors, etc . Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels such as coal and oil can no longer be considered to be a reliable source of low cost energy. Fossil fuels are finite resources and one can identify when the peak production is likely to occur by examining the rate of discovery and the rate of consumption data. These data allow a prediction to be made that is fairly robust for our ability to consume these products greatly exceeds our ability to discover more supply. For almost all fossil fuels, the resource is known to first order as is the consumption rate. Knowing these two factors, one can rapidly conclude that a peak production will be reached in the near future. For oil this peak has probably been reached and for coal it is not more than a few decades away at most – some projections show it to be about a decade away. Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear power (fission) was brought to the world about 5 decades ago and in that period of time we have learned first hand of its benefits and of its dangers. But we have never been able to come to grips with three of it's consequential issues – the storage of its radioactive waste products, the ability of its fuel and its waste to be used as bombs, and the danger to the surrounding area should a mishap occur and spread radioactivity. Thus, even though many safety standards have been introduced by rule and policy making, the hazard, at least in the eyes of the public, remains high.Renewables
Renewable energies such as wind, solar, biomass, etc. have been touted as the energy of the future. Unfortunately, the rhetoric is not very factual for many renewable energies consume as much energy as they produce or produce seasonal or cyclical energy that is not really what our society needs. Society needs a base-load power supply that is not carbon based and available 24/7.Some Limitations
But let us look at these renewable energy sources a bit more closely nevertheless. Our political leadership looks to 'renewable energy' (solar, wind, wave, biomass, and geothermal) as the new source and many groups have promoted these energy sources. But none of these 'renewable energies' have an energy output that is a hundred times as much as the energy input to acquire the energy. Only old oil and coal have such a multiplier. We urgently need a new energy source that has a similar high multiplier. Energy Multipliers
Many of our so-called 'renewable energies' have extremely low multipliers. Ethanol has a multiplier of near 1. This means that it takes as much energy to produce a unit of product as is contained in that unit of product. A multiplier of 1 means that the substance is not an energy source, only a novel storage media. Thus ethanol cannot be considered an energy source. Hydrogen is similar, an energy storage, not a source.Costs
Marine biomass (oil or fuel from marine algae) is said to have value as an energy source only if oil has a cost of $1000 or more a barrel. Wood and agricultural waste have essentially no value as a fuel if they have to be transported more than 50 miles. Of all the so called 'renewable energies', only wind and solar have promise as positive sources of energy, i.e. they produce more energy than is consumed in the process of making the equipment to extract the energy but both are not base-load energy sources for they are not available to be called upon any time of day or night, day after day. Solar fails at night and on cloudy days, even with salt storage, which only effective lasts a few hours and the wind does not always blow. Yes, one can make storage systems, but these systems cost energy to build and run and thus the value to the energy being stored is greatly reduced. For modern society and the 'American way of life'
to survive and continue it is essential that a new base load source of non-carbon based energy be brought on line as quickly as possible. We believe that energy source is fusion.Fusion Power
Fusion is the energy released when two or more light elements (Hydrogen, Lithium, Boron) are combined to make a heavier element. This is like the process that the sun uses to make the energy that reaches us as sunlight. But it takes very special conditions to make the fusion process take place.
Fusion as an Energy Source
Fusion of elements with low atomic number can be accomplished in a number of ways. Most of these do not create usable energy but some are useful for they do allow for the creation of special isotopes that have useful properties in medical and analytical science. Currently, we use these at many locations all over the world today.
For fusion to take place the nuclei of two light elements have to be brought into very close proximity. This is accomplished by simultaneously confining them in a small volume and then heating them to very high temperatures (tens or hundreds of millions of degrees). Very few processes allow this to take place.Some Methods For Fusion
Two mechanisms have stood the test of time as possible ways to make the fusion reaction produce more energy than is consumed by the preparation process. These are Magnetic Confinement Fusion (MCF) and Inertial Coupled Fusion (ICF). MCF (or tokamak research) has been conducted for the past 50 years and is currently proceeding as part of the ITER program. But most estimates of when this technology will be ready for application indicate that at least another 30 to 50 years of research will be needed. Our need for a new source of energy is much more immediate, so this is not a viable base load energy technology.
That leaves ICF as the only viable approach for timely solution to the energy problem. ICF has two technologies that have been considered in some detail. The first solution, pursued in the 1970's, involved the use of beams of heavy ions, accelerated to high velocity and thus energy by a large accelerator. These beams were then focused on a target and the sudden stoppage of these packets of ions resulted in creating the conditions for simultaneous compression and heating. This work progressed to the formulation of a proposal for a proof of concept experiment in the late 1970's but has lain dormant since that time. It is this old construct that we are resurrecting as the FPC Single Pass Radio Frequency Driver (SPRFD) system. Laser-Based Fusion
At the same time as the initial formulation of the predecessor to the SPRFD system was being discussed, the science and technology of lasers was making rapid progress and lasers were proposed as a less expensive means for providing the high compression and temperature. This line of endeavor received the nod of approval and has resulted, nearly thirty years later, in the construction and testing of the National Ignition Facility operated by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This facility tried to make a fusion reaction take place in 2009. However, insufficient energy got to the target to create the conditions for fusion. Although these tests were unable to provide the conditions for ignition, they did provide some useful and definitive data on the matter density and temperature that is necessary for fusion.
Even if NIF is successful in achieving the conditions for ignition at some time in the future, it will be many years before the technology can be used to make power for the lasers being used simply are not robust enough to be fired repeatedly day after day. Thus, if we want fusion energy in the near future we must use a driver that has the characteristics of the SPRFD system.Heavy Ion Fusion
The SPRFD HIF system of today is much more mature than its 1970's version. Accelerators are much better known and have been built in many laboratories of the world, computers and process control systems have advanced greatly, automated manufacturing is much more mature, and new patentable techniques have been developed.
The goal of an essentially unlimited supply of clean and safe energy is now at hand. Using currently known technology, the first delivery of fusion energy from a power plant could be less than a decade away. The SPRFD system is energy efficient in that its output energy is 50 to 100 times as great as the energy required by the driver and ancillary systems. This would yield the abundant supply of low cost energy that is essential for the needs of our world’s modern urban society. And it is the only new source of energy available to us to remove the environmental damage that is becoming increasingly apparent due to our continued burning of fossil fuels. Only a fusion source can produce enough energy fast enough to restore balance to the earth’s climate system.