Nuclear Fusion Energy
There are two billion people in the world that don’t have access to regular supplies of energy and before they will get the same quality as the people in North America and Europe, they are going to need energy. If the future of fusion was here today, it would change the way our energy systems work dramatically. Creating Nuclear fusion energy on earth is a race in which everyone is participating. Columbia University works in magnetic fusion and part of the USDOE funded national program in producing magnetically confined fusion energy. Fusion is the ultimate energy source; our own Sun and all the night stars that shine are powered by fusion. Without it, the universe would be lifeless and cold. It is the fusion that fills the universe full of light and heat. Putting in simple terms, two lightweight isotopes of hydrogen come together in a nuclear reaction producing hundred times more energy it takes in order to produce the reaction in first place. The fusion research today will lead to a future where fusion power plants can replace the coal-fired, oil-fired, gas-fired power plants.
Publicly funded fusion research and privately funded fusion research which is using investor money want to develop fusion. We have got to constantly look for ways to make this project move faster. Z-machine is a publicly funded generator used for fusion energy research. It can create a blast equivalent to a thousand times the electric current of a lightning bolt. It is the largest pulse power accelerator on the planet. The government is funding most of the work because it’s very expensive and requires very big facilities. The Z-machine or Z-accelerator first begins life in 1985 as the particle beam fusion accelerator. In about 1996 or 97, there was an opportunity to change the configuration into a z-pinch driver. The Z-machine uses the magnetically driven approach with an energy storage section which consists of 36 large capacitor banks and these banks are getting charged up over for about three minutes. These banks were charged to about 20 megajoules of stored energy and then the discharge of all 36 banks simultaneously so as to drive these targets from small spatial scales to smaller as thumbnails and compressed them with large currents, imposing an externally applied magnetic field required to compress, exploring the magnetized target fusion approach.
When the machine fires, there is a lot of sounds and the ground will roll quite effectively. In some of that energy appears as high voltages that then flash over on the surface of the water as they find their way back to the ground. Fusion in the 50s, 60s, or in 70s was oversold such that it is much harder than people imagined it to be first, trying to study plasmas which only exists for a few nanoseconds. There are a lot of ways that the process can go wrong and you have to figure out what has happened in the last few seconds. The goal of studying fusion is still physics feasibility and it may be 30 or 40 years away from practical fusion energy technology. The scientific standards that are necessary to get public funding are quite high and the projects under this tend to be the lower risks, longer timescale. Usually, the private sector tries the faster way to do fusion, find an approach to fusion that is quicker, smaller, and cost less.
General Fusion is a fusion energy start-up with high-profile investors including Amazon. It had a little more hundred million dollars invested today in private capital. Fusion has been pursued a lot by governments for many decades because of the promise of the technology. What is new there has been the advent of private companies, the science, and R&D that’s going on in the public sector combined with the pace of innovation that is seeing elsewhere in the economy. When there is new news about fusion, they naturally attract the attention. There had been decade after decade of smaller companies, trying to find a faster and cheaper way of diffusion but none of them been successful so far. The hardest game to answer in this game is how soon, but there is a good line on is that the next four or five years, the General Fusion will turn them into a large-scale integrated machine producing conditions like what is needed for fusion.