The Future of Fusion: 1-MW Cold Fusion Plant Now Available!

fusion_energyIt’s actually here: the world’s first fusion power plant that is capable of generated a single megawatt of power and is available for pre-order. It’s known as the E-Cat 1MW Plant, which comes in a standard shipping container and uses low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) – a process, often known as cold fusion, that fuses nickel and hydrogen into copper – to produce energy 100,000 times more efficiently than combustion.

E-Cat, or Energy Catalyzer, is a technology (and company of the same name) developed by Andrea Rossi – an Italian scientist who claims he’s finally harnessed cold fusion. For just $1.5 million, people can pre-order an E-Cat and expect delivery by early 2014. With this news, many are wondering if the age of cold fusion, where clean, abundant energy is readily available, is finally upon us.

E.Cat1Cold fusion, as the name implies, is like normal fusion, but instead of producing fast neutrons and ionizing radiation that decimates everything in its path, cold fusion’s Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) produce very slow, safe neutrons. Where normal fusion requires massive, expensive containment systems, it sounds like E-Cat’s cold fusion can be safely contained inside a simple, pressurized vessel.

And while normal fusion power is generated by fusing hydrogen atoms, cold fusion fuses nickel and hydrogen into copper, by way of some kind of special catalyst. Despite the rudimentary setup, though, cold fusion still has the massive power and energy density intrinsic to atomic fusion. In short, it produces far more energy than conventional chemical reactions – such as burning fossil fuels. The only challenge is, the massive amounts of power that are usually required to initiate the reaction.

e.cat2According to E-Cat, each of its cold fusion reactors measures 20x20x1 centimeters (7.8×7.8×0.39 inches) and you stack these individual reactors together in parallel to create a thermal plant. The E-Cat 1MW Plant consists of 106 of these units rammed into a standard shipping container. Based on the specs provided by Rossi, the fuel costs works out to be $1 per megawatt-hour, which is utterly insane. Coal power is around $100 per megawatt-hour.

But before anyone gets too excited about the commercialization of cold fusion, it should be noted that Rossi is still being incredibly opaque about how his cold fusion tech actually works. The data sheet for the 1MW Plant shares one interesting tidbit: Despite producing 1MW of power, the plant requires a constant 200 kilowatts of input power — presumably to sustain the reaction.

E.Cat5_-1030x858The spec sheet also says that the fuel (specially treated nickel and hydrogen gas) needs to be recharged every two years. One of the science community’ biggest sticking points about Rossi’s cold fusion devices is that he hasn’t proven that his LENR is self-sustaining. Despite a huge amount of output energy, the device still needs to be connected to the mains.

What’s more, due to a lack of published papers, and thus peer review, and a dearth of protective patents, the scientific community in general remains very wary of Rossi’s claims. And of course, we should all remember that this is not the first time that researchers have proclaimed victory in the race to make cold fusion happen. Whenever the words “cold fusion” are raised in conjunction, the case of the Fleischmann–Pons experiment immediately springs to mind.

NASA_coldfusionFor those who remember, this case involved an experiment made in 1989 where two researchers claimed to have achieved cold fusion using palladium rods and heavy water. Initially, the scientific community treated the news with exciteent and interest, but after numerous labs were unable to reproduce their experiment, and a number of false positives were reported, their claims were officially debunked and they relocated their lab to avoid any further controversy.

At the same time, however, one must remember that some significant changes have happened in the past three decades. For one, NASA’s LENR facility has been working on producing cold fusion reactions for some time using an oscillating nickel lattice and hydrogen atoms. Then there was the recent milestone produced by the National Ignition Facility in California, which produced the first fusion reaction using lasers that produced more energy than it required.

Who’s to say if this is the real deal? All that is known is that between this most recent claim, and ongoing experiments conducted by NASA and other research organizations to make LENR cold fusion happen, a revolution in clean energy is set to happen, and will most likely happen within our lifetimes.

Addendum: Just been informed by WordPress that this is my 1400th post! Woot-woot!

Sources: extremetech.com, ecat.com

News From Space: The NASA-Funded Fusion Rocket

fusion-rocket-university-of-washington-640x353NASA scientists have been saying for some time that they plan to send a manned mission to Mars by 2030. At the same time, space adventurist Dennis Tito and his company Inspiration Mars want to send a couple on a flyby of the Red Planet in 2018. With such ambitions fueling investment and technological innovation, its little wonder why people feel we are embarking on the new era of space exploration.

However, there is one sizable problem when it comes to make the Mars transit, which is the wait time. In terms of Tito’s proposed flyby, a trip to Mars when it is in alignment with Earth would take a total 501 days. As for NASA’s round-trip excursions for the future, using current technology it would take just over four years. That’s quite the long haul, and as you can imagine, that longer transit time has an exponential effect on the budgets involved!

Mars_landerBut what if it were possible to cut that one-way trip down to just 30 days. That’s the question behind the new fusion rocket design being developed at the University of Washington and being funded by NASA. Led by John Slough, this team have spent the last few years developing and testing each of the various stages of the concept and is now bringing the isolated tests together to produce an actual fusion rocket.

The challenge here is to create a fusion process that generates more power than it requires to get the fusion reaction started, a problem which, despite billions of dollars of research, has eluded some of the world’s finest scientists for more than 60 years. However, researchers continue to bang their head on this proverbial wall since fusion alone – with its immense energy density – appears to be the way of overcoming the biggest barrier to space travel, which is fuel weight and expense.

spacecraft_marsUltimately, the UW fusion rocket design relies on some rather simple but ingenious features to accomplish its ends. In essence, it involves a combustion chamber containing rings made of lithium and a pellet of deuterium-tritium – a hydrogen isotope that is usually used as the fuel in fusion reactions. When the pellet is in the right place, flowing through the combustion chamber towards the exhaust, a huge magnetic field is triggered, causing the metal rings to slam closed around the pellet of fuel.

These rings then implode with such pressure that the fuel compresses into fusion, causing a massive explosion that ejects the metal rings out of the rocket and at 108,000 km/h (67,000 mph) and generating thrust. This reaction would be repeated every 10 seconds, eventually accelerating the rocket to somewhere around 320,000 km/h (200,000 mph) — about 10 times the speed of Curiosity as it hurtled through space from Earth to Mars.

NASA_fusionchamberHowever, things still remain very much in the R&D phase for the fusion rocket. While the team has tested out the imploding metal rings, they have yet to insert the deuterium-tritium fuel and propel a super-heated ionized lump of metal out the back at over 100,000 kilometers and hour. That is the next – and obviously a very, very – big step.

But in the end, success will be measured when it comes to two basic criteria: It must work reliably and, most importantly, it must be capable of generating more thermal energy than the electrical energy required to start the fusion reaction. And as already mentioned, this is the biggest challenge facing the team as it is something that’s never been done before.

However, most scientific minds agree that within 20 years at least, fusion power will be possible, and the frontiers it will open will be vast and wonderful. Not only will we be able to fully and completely lick the problem of clean energy and emissions, we will have rockets capable of taking us to Mars and beyond in record time. Deep space flight will finally become a possibility, and we may even begin considering sending ships to Alpha Centauri, Bernard’s Star and (fingers crossed!) Gliese 581!

daedalus_starship_630pxSource: Extreme.tech

NASA’s Cold Fusion Technology

cold_fusionIn 1989, two scientific researchers – Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons – announced the achievement of cold fusion. In a press release that garnered massive amounts of publicity, they stating that their experiment, involving a electrified palladium rod placed in a solution of heavy water, had succeeded in absorbing hydrogen and compressing it within the rod to the point that individual atoms began to fuse and helium was formed.

Naturally, other labs began to test their method and found that the same did not happen for them. With time, the experiment was revealed to be the result of a false positive as more and more labs claimed they unable to replicate the results. In the end, their announcement appeared premature and their claims unscientific. Still, the men never retracted their claim and moved their labs overseas.

NASA_coldfusionAnd interestingly enough, the declaration that they had achieved the dream of clean, abundant, cheap energy fueled the public’s imagination. Henceforth, the concept of cold fusion, as they had preached it, was featured in numerous movies and stories, even though it was now believed to be something of a pipe dream. And for some, the idea of the technology never died. Cold fusion remained a scientific dream similar to a Grand Unifying Theory or the elusive Higgs Boson.

One such organization is NASA, who continues work on this science through the development of their low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology. It is their hope that one day the technology will be sophisticated enough to become commercially viable, making cold fusion reactors that could power everything  – from homes, to cars, to planes – a reality.

lner-nickel-hydrogen-latticeAnd unlike previous attempts that sought to harness basic fusion, the technology behind the LENR is really quite revolutionary. Rather than rely on strong nuclear forces to meld atoms and produce energy, LENR harnesses the power of weak nuclear force.

This is done by using an oscillating nickel lattice that takes in hydrogen atoms and then exchanges electrons with them. This has the effect of forming slow-moving neutrons which are absorbed, making the nickel unstable. To regain its stability, the nickel strips a neutron of its electron so that it becomes a proton — a reaction that turns the nickel into copper and creates a lot of energy in the process.

The big upside to this process is the fact that it produces zero ionizing radiation and zero radioactive waste, making it the safest and cleanest nuclear process to date. In addition, NASA claims that relying on reactors like these, it would only take 1% of the world’s nickle production to meet the world’s current energy needs, and at a quarter of the cost of dirtier fuels like coal. On top of that, they’ve also indicated that the same process can be done using a carbon lattice instead of nickel, making it even more versatile.

???????????????????????????????So the question remains, why isn’t every household running on a LENR reactor already? Well, two problems. For one, the amount of energy needed to get the ball rolling is quite high. Initially, the LENR requires a 5-30THz frequency burst of energy to make the nickel lattice begin oscillating, which is difficult to efficiently produce.

Second, other labs have experienced a few… uh, accidents… trying to reproduce the process, which included a few explosions and some melted windows. No deaths were reported, mind you, but it does demonstrate that the process can generate a LOT of power if not properly controlled.

Still, other means of generating electricity, such as nuclear fission, have experienced some bumps along the way (i.e. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island) and we still rely on them. And oil and coal are what we’ve come to think of as “dirty means” of generating power, meaning they cause tremendous amounts of pollution or can lead to environmental debacles, such as oil spills. And natural gas can only last so long. So realistically, there may be hope for LENR and cold fusion yet.

Fingers so very crossed! And be sure to check out NASA’s video explaining the process:


Source:
Extremetech.com