A Question For the Physicists: Is Lockheed’s Hydrogen Fusion Real or Vaporware?

This is way outside of my expertise, but, if real, this seems like a critical technological breakthrough (boldface mine):

At Google’s Solve For X, Charles Chase describes what his team has been working on: a trailer-sized fusion power plant that turns cheap and plentiful hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) into helium plus enough energy to power a small city. It’s safe, it’s clean, and Lockheed is promising an operational unit by 2017 with assembly line production to follow, enabling everything from unlimited fresh water to engines that take spacecraft to Mars in one month instead of six.

Lockheed’s fusion power plant uses radio energy to heat deuterium gas inside tightly controlled magnetic fields, creating a very high temperature plasma that’s much more stable and well confined than you’d find in something like a tokamak.

Chase didn’t give a whole lot more technical detail, but he seemed confident in predicting a 100mW prototype by 2017, with commercial 100mW systems available by 2022, implying that all global energy demands will be able to be met by fusion power by about 2045.

To put this in perspective, Las Vegas uses about 7,400MW, and these reactors aren’t very large, so 75 or so is a pretty small footprint (though I’m not sure what the hydrogen requirement would be).

Like I mentioned, I can’t evaluate the feasibility of this project, but if it’s real, this solves, or at least dramatically reduces, many problems including global warming, pollution, and energy shortages.

It would arguably be the greatest technological breakthrough of the last fifty years–and I’m including the computer revolution in that statement.

And there has been no mention of this at all in the mainstream press.


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13 Responses to A Question For the Physicists: Is Lockheed’s Hydrogen Fusion Real or Vaporware?

  1. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

    with commercial 100mW systems

    Las Vegas uses about 7,400mW

    U suspect you mean MW, rather than mW, which would change the number by 9 orders of magnitude.

  2. Sean says:

    Sorry, always drives me crazy:
    mW is milliwatt
    MW is megawatt

    Off by a factor of 10^9, or, more roughly, a lot.

  3. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

    From the DVice article:

    Until someone figures out a way to manufacture antimatter…

    This is done fairly routinely at physics research labs around the world. It’s not economically viable though.

    into helium plus enough energy…

    Actually, a more reliable source of helium would be a very pleasant side benefit. It’s expensive and hard to get right now, a situation which can be traced back to the Helium Privatization Act of 1996.

  4. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

    This appears related:
    Improved Confinement and Collective Behavior in Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Devices
    I ran across this by search on the name Tom McGuire, mentioned in the Chase talk.
    Undated; McGuire is listed as a “Grad RA.”

  5. I know practically nothing about physics, but I know is needed a pretty hight temperature for deuterium-tritium fusion. A quick glance to wikipedia says is necessary 800 million K for that.

  6. Lynn Dewees says:

    Fusion power has been “just around the corner” since at least the 1980s. Hard to believe this company has achieved such a break-through but not published anything anywhere.

  7. dr2chase says:

    D+T is also kinda neutron-y (at least, that’s what Wikipedia said). I think some of that trailer needs to be shielding.

  8. joemac53 says:

    The simulations have been done and analyzed, according to the article cited by BB. Let’s hope the experiment holds up. I sent a lot of kids to MIT and asked all of them to keep an eye on that fusion lab (standard visit for high school seniors). They have not had a lot to report. Maybe this is it! It has better prospects than fusion in a cup.

  9. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

    Having heard a prominent MIT fusion researcher babbling on with Christian apologetics which are not indicative of higher brain functioning, I am not surprised that fusion research seems not to be going anywhere.

  10. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

    New Clean Nuclear Fusion Reactor Designed

    Jan. 14, 2013 — A researcher at the Universidad politécnica de Madrid (UPM) has patented a nuclear fusion reactor by inertial confinement that, apart from be (sic) used to generate electric power in plants, can be applied to propel ships…

    I see some common elements with the Lockheed video, so I gather that there is some advance in the materials science of magnetic materials which might be useful in containment vessels. There is still a long way to go from “we designed a magnetic containment vessel” to “we are able to maintain a fusion reaction which safely produces more energy than is necessary to run it.”
    A wet blanket article from Scientific American as of 2010:
    Fusion’s False Dawn
    Another point: I thought it was interesting how Chase said lithium was plentiful, while its current use in batteries is stretching sources to the limit.

  11. hrun says:

    So could somebody clarify? Do we need 75 or 75 billion of these little machines to power Vegas? And if it is 75 billion (like the text suggests) how in the world can you suggest that this ‘will be able to be met by fusion power by about 2045’?

  12. Kaleberg says:

    Inertial fusion confinement is not all that hard. Farnsworth, one of the inventors of CRT based television, patented a desktop fusion reactor back in the 1960s. The problem was that it required more energy than it produced. This new attack seems to be based on having a better design using modern computation and better control of the system. They haven’t produced a working prototype yet, so they are likely to run into a lot of the same problems other fusion labs have run into. Mainly, plasmas are hard to predict and control. My guess is they are hoping to succeed by limited the size and scaling of their reactor. Who knows, it might work, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Of course, they might actually be producing an effective 7400mW fusion reactor which would be a big breakthrough, but not likely to change our world. I suppose it could be used to power cell phones or night lights if they can get the size and weight down.

  13. A in Ca says:

    Most of the Charles Chase talk was wishful thinking; wouldn’t it be great if we all could have energy for free… The claim is that their ‘high-beta’ configuration allows easier confinement and heating of the plasma. In the talk I saw no evidence that indeed they have reached that, nor why that should be easier than in a tokomak (other than saying our system is smaller, thus easier and cheaper to build). Probably they get some grant money (from DOE or DOD) for this work; so perhaps the grant application, if public, can tell us something.– In the mean time, I remain sceptical. I also wonder why their configuration was not tried before (in the 60ies, many were tried, and abandoned for some reason or another).–

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