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.
This process reminds me a little of bubble fusion. There's a company in Grass Valley California that tries to do it with sound waves and cavitating liquid called Impulse Devices.
There's pobably some paper on self-similar inwardly propagating shockwaves locked in an old filing cabinet in Los Alamos that would really boost the yeild and save the world.
I hope general fusion gets more neutrons from their pistons. I am playing megamillions lotto just so I can venture capitalize them when I win.
This process sounds quite interesting. It would be nice if this energy source could change the world! I have been tracking some new developments in Cold Fusion. I recently discovered a company called Energetics Technologies. They have a process called SuperWaveFusion, which could be a possible breakthrough in Cold Fusion. Using an interaction between palladium and deuterium they have reported an excess heat reaction. I am trying to learn more about this process and would like to hear from others about what they think.
Their website is SuperWaveFusion.com, let me know your thoughts.
im not sure i get the thing about the acoustic waves being used to compress the plasma. is it kinda like how at a concert i went to recently it was hard to breath through my nose because every time i tried the bass was so strong that it was either compressing the air or closing my nostrils? (it may sound weird but im just trying to find something i can relate it to so that i can actually understand it)
You're on the right track, although I don't think the bass at the concert is actually compressing your nostrils as it's too fast for that, so there's probably some anatomical or acoustic effects that are further off-topic.
The acoustics in the device mentioned in the original article aren't really all that important to understanding its principle of operation. Just think of the pistons as squirting in more of the liquid metal. Adding more liquid makes the hole in the middle close up, compressing whatever's inside.
Some differences between this concept and "bubble fusion" are:
1. This device creates the plasma by electric discharge and moves it into place for compression, whereas "bubble fusion" uses the collapse of the bubble as the only energy source.
2. This device relies on the magnetic field to keep the plasma particles and thermal energy confined to the plasma. Bubble fusion doesn't have that.
Both these features make the compression requirement less stringent, in terms of compression ratio and speed.
And since oldgeek64 asked, I'll give my opinion of "SuperWaveFusion", with the disclaimer that I'm much less studied in that area than I am with magnetized plasmas. It seems to me if one has a platform whose behavior can only be described by extensions to quantum theory that aren't broadly accepted, then one could better serve the greater good by using the experiment to refine our understanding of the quantum world rather than pitching it as a reactor concept ready for commercial investment. In that case government grant money might also flow faster than the venture capital.
I hope they are better at physics then making cheap printers that always break.
- Jenna Beth Noveau
single sheet of white paper and affixed with tape to a dusty slab of office drywal http://www.crazypurchase.com
On the scale, mad-scientist appearance Laberge is maybe a 4 out of 10; he's a little out-of-style wire-rimmed rumpled and wears eyeglasses. This technique is used in glasses is very advanced, shortly before a glasses up similar explained that interested can go to see http://www.firmoo.com/
this definitely looks like an amazing machine. I hope they get it off the ground. www.whitenightstands.net
Nuclear fusion concept involving electrostatic acceleration is able to use the energy more efficiently. Electrostatic acceleration consumes much less energy and can reach very high temperatures. www.crossfirefusor.com
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The amount of money already sunk into this is huge, compared to the fusion initiative that is actually going to work. Check out focusfusion.org . It uses a tiny reactor (about the size of your palm with fingers pointing up) in a vacuum chamber with decaborane gas at 1/10 atmospheric pressure. A tiny "plasmoid" of hydrogen and boron is generated in a central tube, and it magnetically collapses, producing 3 He4 atoms. No radioactivity or neutrons, just a high-power alpha and beta beam. The alpha beam is directed through a solenoid which generates electricity directly. Some X-rays are also generated, and they are "caught" in surrounding foil layers, and the photo-electric process generates more electricity.
It is currently in testing with Deuterium fuel, and will graduate to the hydrogen-boron fuel late this year or shortly thereafter. It should attain unity ("net gain") within a year after that, or sooner. Total cost by that point, about $3 million.
The prospective generator design produce 5MW continuously, at a capital and output cost about 1/20 of best current conventional sources. No waste or radioactivity.
General Fusion, ITER and the rest will be economic roadkill.
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fusion is more or less the holy grail...so there is a ton of money to be made. if there is a viable product, VCs will be jumping all over each other trying to invest.
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If this is not working, there is still hope... www.nuclearfusion.be
With this concept you don't have heavy elements that cool down the plasma.
“To the great frustration of people like Laberge and Richardson, fusion’s good name has been besmirched by a handful of highly publicized failures, most prominently the cold-fusion experiments of Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann and the "bubble fusion" experiments Rusi Taleyarkhan conducted at Purdue University."
Yeah, except... in both cases, you’re wrong.
The Pons and Fleischmann results have been duplicated many times, and Tritium has been found in the electrodes.
And recently, it turns out that Taleyarkhan was sabotaged with a bad review.
The following attacks were disappointingly political.
Just as Pons and Fleischmann had been pilloried, Taleyarkhan was as well.
The investigation ignored the actual science, and attacked him for variations in protocol that had nothing to do with the experiment.
The punishment was HARSH. He lost his Professorship, was barred from being an advisor to graduate students for three years, and was barred from receiving government funding.
I believe the Author of this piece used the phrase “Tokamak Mafia” ?
How appropriate ! Any sign of progress in a different field gets hammered down.
Meanwhile, the General Fusion approach is the SAME thing in a different media !
Liquid lead rather than deuterated acetone.
Both cavitation-based Fusion.
It’s disappointing when an article diverges from presenting the facts and begins castigating researchers.