The source of endless energy for all humankind resides just off Government Street in Burnaby, British Columbia, up the little spit of blacktop on Bonneville Place and across the parking lot from Shade-O-Matic blind manufacturers and wholesalers. The future is there, in that mostly empty office with the vomit-green walls -- and inside the brain of Michel Laberge, 47, bearded and French-Canadian.
According to a diagram, printed on a single sheet of white paper and affixed with tape to a dusty slab of office drywall, his vision looks like a medieval torture device: a metal ball surrounded on all sides by metal rods and bisected by two long cylinders. It's big but not immense -- maybe 10 times as tall as the little robot man in the lower right corner of the page who's there to indicate scale.
What Laberge has set out to build in this office park, using $2 million in private funding and a skeletal workforce, is a nuclear-fusion power plant. The idea seems nuts but is actually, he says, not at all far-fetched. Yes, he'll admit, fusion is generally considered the kind of nearly impossible challenge undertaken only by huge universities or governments. Yes, fusion has a stigma to overcome; the image that it is fundamentally bogus, always and forever 20 years away, certainly doesn't help. Laberge would probably even admit that the idea of some Canadians working in a glorified garage conquering one of the most ambitious problems in physics sounds absurd.
But he will also tell you that his twist on a method known as magnetized target fusion, or MTF -- to wildly oversimplify, a process in which plasma (ionized gas) trapped by a magnetic field is rapidly compressed to create fusion -- will, in fact, work because it is relatively cheap and scalable. Give his team six to 10 years and a few hundred million dollars, he says, and his company, General Fusion, will give you a nuclear-fusion power plant.
If (and this is a truly serious if) Laberge and his team succeed, the rewards could be astounding: nearly limitless, inexpensive energy, with no chemical combustion by-products, a minimal amount of extremely short-lived radioactive waste, and no risk of a catastrophic, Chernobyl-level meltdown. "It's an astonishing story," says Mike Brown, the founder of Chrysalix Energy, the venture-capital firm that provided the angel funding for General Fusion, and who now leads the company's search for backing. "If Michel makes it work, he's a Nobel Prize winner."
On the mad-scientist appearance scale, Laberge is maybe a 4 out of 10; he's a little rumpled and wears out-of-style wire-rimmed eyeglasses. But get him a little agitated, and he starts to tug at his hair and slips to maybe a 5 or 6. Discussion of spending money on something other than research will do it. Office supplies! Hotel rooms! Human Resources! These are necessary costs for operating a company but irritating distractions for a physicist with big dreams and limited capital.
Laberge and his business partner, Doug Richardson, an engineer who also studied physics, met at Creo Products, a Vancouver-based developer of prepress-imaging technology now owned by Kodak. They worked together for 11 years on thermal printer heads and other highly precise mechanical devices, making a very comfortable living, until Laberge found himself staring at 40 and had a midlife crisis.
"I said, 'What am I producing here?' " he recalls, leading the way to the warehouse area of General Fusion's small and decidedly unfuturistic headquarters. "I am producing a machine that makes printing so cheap that it can fill your mailbox with lots and lots of junk mail. The main use of my productivity is to cut down the forests. And I look at the energy situation, and it's going down the drain at pretty high speed. So I knew I had to do something. Now, I know about fusion because I did my Ph.D. in fusion physics. So I said, 'OK, we're gonna do fusion here.' "
It was, to say the least, a questionable career swerve. But after some soul-searching, Laberge quit Creo, retired to an island off the coast of British Columbia, and set out to master nuclear fusion. Four years, several failures and $800,000 later (half from friends and family and half from matching government research grants), Laberge surfaced with a contraption that provided a proof-of-concept for his idea. It's a shiny steel orb the size of a basketball from which dozens of cords protrude. Imagine those cranial caps from old science-fiction movies, and you'll get the idea. The cords extend out to two dozen capacitors, and the whole thing is wired up to a tower of controls that could have been pulled from a 1950s battleship. It is the definition of low-tech, and that's precisely the idea.
I do agree. The s*** will hit the fan. And we will all have ourselves to blame for not thinking we needed this wonderful technology sooner. We aren't speaking to our government to push technologies like this to save ourselves FROM ourselves. We humans are too busy with our own lives. We don't care how it works, as long as it works.
I also put partial blame on the Big oil companies. Keep in mind this is my own personal opinion. But think about it. Who do you think pays the lobbyists to tap the Bill makers on the shoulder to say no to and to cut the funding to, such technologies as Fusion reactors.
As long as the Big oil companies continue to get rich off of the current and future markets. They can still have a say in an avenues that could possibly hurt their wallets by any means necessary.
But that's just my opinion.
What's not opinion and is, indeed fact is, we do need this technology, and soon.
Now, everyone knows that people can never be presented with a path that leads to portable, free, and independent energy. They would no longer be under anybody's control. Can you imagine, let's say Gaza, with their own source of energy?
Well, this is the wrong place to do it, but arrrghhh, did you ever consider the idea of putting all the pages into one when one clicks 'Print'? Not 4 pages for the 1/7th of an article. That and pop-up ads, this website sucks.
Wow, now THAt is some pretty cool stuff dude. I like it!
There is also another cold fusion project, from Pierre Corbeil, another French-Canadian guy.
I saw a prototype a few years ago (2004) and it was really simple to build. The "generator" produces more energy than he needs to work (in a ratio of 4 for 1)
They are actually working with "public raised funds" and have chosen, since the beginning, to give the results of their research to the "public domain". No company patent. No secret. Just put on the Net. The initial objective was to create an appliance that could be built by anyone, with easy-to-find materials and simple technology. (This is important for the 2 final comments I will post.) The first prototype really responded to this objective. Now it is more complicated to build with electronic regulator and starter but keeps doing the job.
Just search for "hydro-plasmol" in Google.
These people don't care about marketing and buzzing around their idea. They certainly do not target Nobel prize... They just do applied research as they get money from the public. Consequently their web sites are not very "sexy" and most of the information is in French.
But once again: they started researching long time before cold fusion was "seriously" considered as an alternative to fossil energy.
====== 2 final comments now: =======
<b>1- To "dontbother" : </b>In order to not waste 7 pages with ads and bad page setup... Simply don't print such articles! Just save them or email them! ;-)
<b>2- About "portable energy", in response to "visiblepulse".</b>
<b>2-a) </b>Until now, "Who owns energy owns control over people" ==> energy = power.
Civilizations have used energy to build more, harvest more, transform more and be more powerful to win more wars and get more countries... with more resources.
This was a question of survival and a response to raising populations: need for more space & more food ==> need for control over other populations and their country.
With this paradigm broken down (energy = power over people), there is no more reason to continue having such control... And only if rich countries start by giving such energy to the poorest ones...
Most conflicts are actually because countries want to rule others, because of their reserves of fossil energy...
Being able to give individual portable energy to any people, just for him to have a decent way of life (eat and access to clean water) would remove a lot of problems (jealousy, diseases...) But this could be sufficient to eradicate conflicts for power-trips...
Well... May be I'm a little bit idealistic... This is because I'm a humanist. :-)
And it seems that human being needs to grow a little bit more. Let’s say human being is at the beginning of the “school age” <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychosocial_development">stage of development</a>…
<b>2-b) </b>The last comment but not least… a) is also true for the a government willing to keep control of its population : Having the control of the energy = controlling the population...
Actual energy is produced in one localized point and distributed across the country. This ensures control of the energy, in the way that its distribution is controlled… Not to mean that government can decide to turn off power, but in the way that it is taxable… No tax paid ? . No energy : In that way, people depends on government.
Imagine one moment that each home is completely self-sufficient with cold fusion, wind mill, solar panels, or any mean … No more need to be connected to an electric network and pay for it…
Now imagine that water is not polluted, you can have your own local water well. No need to be connected to a water network, where only gov. & industry provides drinkable water and are remunerated for this…
May be you’ll understand why some industries don’t put too much effort to not pollute water, and some others invest in pumping and selling water…
(North American) capitalism has a huge step to do before accepting this and give back people their true liberty…
Hope this will make you think a step further.
Sorry for poor English …
One thing Ive been wondering, they have built fusion bombs havnt they, These bombs release a hell of a lot more energy then is put in them to make them go off so we know it can work. How hard could it be to create little mini fusion bombs and set them off in a controlled explosion kinda like how a car engine is powered.
Who knows they just might be the Wright brothers of fusion.
The Wright brother did make a working aircraft while Samuel P. Langley's much more expensive and complex Aerodome did not work at full scale.
The 1903 Wright flyer had a crude 12hp engine while the far better funded Aerodrome had a 52hp engine.
We all know which one worked.
Wait until the big government, nanny-state NIMBY's in the Peoples' Republic of Canada find out that a private enterprise is doing something that may be slightly risky, but could have a significant pay-off. They'll stop it in a heartbeat. The socialists would never tolerate a successful free-market enterprise. Especially one that would take away their perennial election issue boogeyman of global warming.
riff_raff I'm from Canada and that's offencive comment The Canadian Government works for it's people and if most people in Canada like it and they should since it doesn't provide a risk... This article is interesting keep up, now let's not make this an article on Canadian government
If maintaining high pressures is the concept here.... couldnt we save energy by using free pressure from the deepest parts of the ocean. The intense pressures would decrease the net amount of energy required to maintain a constant Fusion rate. In real world applications power can be transmitted from offshore facilities. The oil industry does it, the infrastructure is already present.
riff-raff, these guys are building a NUCLEAR FUSION reactor, do yo really think the government doesn't know about it yet? Why would they stop it? Do you really think a government of any country would not want to be the one to usher in a golden age of limitless energy and potential for mankind? Don't you think that might secure a reelection? And on another note, we Canadian socialists do appreciate enterprises that make money, like our banks.
Forgive me if I am wrong, but doesn’t lithium in a neutron flux have an isotope that is very unstable and is responsible for the bigger than expected yields of the hydrogen bomb tests of the 1950’s?
Is everybody forgetting that what was described is little more than a 3D internal combustion chamber for an exotic fuel? That's my reading of of what this company is trying to produce. Instead of a piston providing direct pressure, they are using a shock wave to compress the plasma. The heat produced creates steam somewhere in the system that is used to drive a standard turbine, thus producing the electricity of which, hopefully, more will be produced than was used to generate the reaction.
Think of the engine in your car to which you add a couple of one-way check valves, and a generator turbine mounted in front of the radiator. The major differences are the source of heat and the cycle rate, not to mention the possible pressures used and produced.
riff_raff: Like pendragon_25, I am Canadian, and our zoning laws are much the same as those in most U.S. municipalities. Until the risk of explosion ranks greater than that found on most high-pressure production processes employed by maufacturers in municipal commercial facilities, it is unlikely that any government body is likely to intercede. Furthermore, the type of radiation produced and the given half-life of the byproducts is so short that it is unlikely if any major regulations are being impinged upon. At most it will be only after a successful test of the larger reactor that a move to a more remote facility might be considered or required.
If you spin a liquid mass of lead and lithium, wouldn't the lead get flung to the outside and the lithium go to the center of the blob? I am not sure if this stratification of metals is what you want. Are you going to inductively spin the mass though a steel reactor vessel? Wouldn't it be great if you could inductively pulse shrink hydrogen plasma like you can shrink coins on you-tube? Some of the coins appear to have a symmetrical shrink.
I know a lot of people don't like big oil, being a part of big oil myself I can say this:
I personally would love to see technology like this succeed as soon as possible. I would love to see funding from the Canadian government on this project. Unfortunately being a close follower of the ITER project I understand that Canada doesn't really fund fusion research.
Looks great though, and to have a proof of concept model is great.
To Micheal Laberge: I do not know if your system will work as configured, but just so you know, my wife asked me what the hubbub was with fusion, cold or otherwise. I explained in basics what it has been up till now. As I read the article, I could`nt believe my eyes. What I had just got done telling her what I thought would be the methods employed in the early years of this new tech was written almost word for word about your efforts. This is nowhere near the first time this has happened to me, and I`ve come to enjoy the early developments of an idea that was only concept so recently. Best of luck to us all. P.S. Whatever you are channeled into regarding containment and stripping/collection, STICK with the pressure inducement as well as the plasma. Maybe we will have to bind the core magnetically as I anticipate to produce significant power, but to prove concept vacuum may suffice, although not for long. Too passive to generate a good friction/heat induced sustained chain reaction, in my view. The obvious benefit being isolation of the core material, right? I suppose then that the problem becomes removing, containing and utilizing those purified, freshly bonded H3 molecules while still in their highly agitated state, should this premise prove valid.
Seems to me that we might also be well served by paying close attention to the by product. We would consider clean what? Iridium? At least we have use for it. Palladium? We wish. More likely still something we have to dispose of, like tritium, or maybe full circle back to deuterium, ready to strip electrons at your neighborhood nuclear reactor.
One point of clarification on my earlier stated opinion. When I spoke of using magnetics to bind the plasma core, I was not thinking that the plasma be the magnet. I consider the nature of the matrix, by which the plasma is being contained, and through which any useful material must therefore be extracted. I would suppose forcefields to be the more efficient matrix, as they can easily be shaped to suit particle extraction, or even monitored to force and regulate flow once a stable reaction is sustainable. BUT. Has anyone figured the specific gravity of H3? Can anyone say how, other than by forcefields, we can hope to contain even 1 H3 atom? Then it follows that something more is called for. Can a field be generated inside another?
Quote: "michael taylor
12/24/08 at 1:10 pm
One thing Ive been wondering, they have built fusion bombs havnt they, These bombs release a hell of a lot more energy then is put in them to make them go off so we know it can work. How hard could it be to create little mini fusion bombs and set them off in a controlled explosion kinda like how a car engine is powered."
In the Hydrogen Bombs created and tested by the US and Russia (and assumedly in all H-bombs) the fusion stage is detonated using a fission reaction. That is, a fission bomb is used to compress and heat the hydrogen sufficiently for fusion. Though more energy is liberated by the fusion reaction than is input by the fission reaction (in the tests that were successful), it would obviously not be acceptable to use fission reactions (especially extremely high power chain reactions such as those in an atomic bomb) to produce fusion in a power plant.
While a 12 year half life is vastly improved, there is still a storage concern.
12 years of half life just means the stuff is 50% as toxic in 12 years. After 24 years it is down to 25%. 36 = 12.5% 48 = 6.25% etc.
Since you can't just dump out half-life depleted fuel, you can expect to sit on it for decades. Assuming that 3.125% is acceptable to reintroduce material to the environment, you would need room to store 60 years worth of spent fuel. Of course, this is much better than traditional nuclear power which must, for most purposes, store spent fuel forever, it is likely to be a good deal of stored waste (not in my back yard).
i dont under stand much about nuclear fusion if they ever do succeed in sustaining a fusion reaction what would the risk of it eventually going supernava be????
None whatsoever. There's not enough mass present to reach critical density of 2 x 109 g/cm3. Or at least, that's the density required in stars.
that maybe the mass required for stars but this is smaller so are you sure there isnt a risk for like a "mininova" or something????
p.s what about the risk of nuclear fallout or something of that sort????
Before I ask another question im just gonna say that im a 10th grade student in high school which is why i dont understand the process completely.
now for the question: what is the point of the liquid lithium lead mixture?
Readers might be interested in an independent review of the US fusion program that might help put the work of General Fusion in context. Click
First, good question overall, and especially for a 10th grader.
The lithium-lead fluid does at least five things for you. First, it's rotating fast enough for the vortex to make a hole down the middle (like in your bathtub). The plasma is shot down both sides of this tube to collide & stop in the middle, so the lithium-lead fluid acts as a wall to guide the plasma. Second, when the pneumatic drivers are fired, the pressure wave collapses that vortex onto the plasma to compress it, so the lithium-lead fluid couples the driver energy to the plasma. Third, when the fusion burn happens, a lot of energy is released that would tear a solid wall to tiny bits, but it amounts to a splash in the fluid. Fourth, the lead takes the high-energy neutrons from the fusion reaction and slows them down to make heat in the fluid (rather than hitting more neutron-sensitive solid wall materials). Finally, the lithium in the fluid captures some of those neutrons and then decays to tritium, which is one of the two plasma fuel components (the expensive one).
It seems that by combining motion with the premise of a spherical design, one might augment the force at which the field is distributed and posibly even control or acelerate the rate of fusion. One should consider the aplication of motion in the creation of this design. For example, would not both magnetic hemispheres (which already produce a substantial field) have the ability to move againts one another? Consider that in the mechanics of it, both hemispheres have the ability to operate seperate from each other. So why not use the premise of an alternator to enhance your field? Certainly, with the right "ground" in place it should not collapes. I envision this ground to be something that surrounds and stablizes the field. Any physisist out there to do the math on this one?
Could you use sound waves to compress the plasma like use some sort of tuned waveguide or something? Just a thought.
That's essentially what's going on here. The pneumatic drivers create a sound wave that travels inward to collapse the central vortex onto the plasma. You could look at the whole gadget as a waveguide I suppose, but you don't set up a standing wave as in a normal waveguide so that analysis wouldn't be too enlightening.
01/06/09 at 11:03 am
that maybe the mass required for stars but this is smaller so are you sure there isnt a risk for like a "mininova" or something????
p.s what about the risk of nuclear fallout or something of that sort????
End of Quote
In a sense, a mini-nova is precisely what is wanted. Unlike a supernova, a nova usually involves the detonation of a layer of mostly hydrogen that has been acquired by a white dwarf from a companion star. Since, as far as I know, the method these guys are experimenting with does not involve a continuous fusion reaction, they intend on detonating a small amount of hydrogen (like a hydrogen bomb) every time they need more energy.
The US and Russia both tested Hydrogen Bombs that fused more hydrogen than this process will (per cycle.) Thus, there is no reasonable chance of a gigantic explosion.
As for nuclear fallout, I don't know the specific radioactive isotopes (radioisotopes) that would be formed in the process, but Tritium and most Lead radioisotopes have a shorter half-life than many of the ones produced in fission (thus they are more dangerous immediately after they are produced, but go away faster.) In order to function, the vessel containing the Lead-Lithium liquid would have to be able to contain the energy released by the detonation of the hydrogen. With reasonable safety measures, the process would be extremely safe (a chain reaction, such as the controlled one in a fission reactor, cannot occur using this process, since hydrogen only fuses at extremely high temperatures and/or pressures (in the process reported in the article above) and both temperature and, more importantly, pressure would decrease exponentially if something were to happen to the vessel containing the reaction.)