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The Polywell Fusion technology marches on

EMC2, the company founded to advance Dr. Bussard’s fusion technology to a practical state, has been flying so under the radar that you really have to hunt to find out what is going on. They are still moving ahead and the technology has not hit any major road blocks that I have been able to find out about. The US Navy ONR is still funding them and is the reason for keeping the profile low. This bit on Wikipedia is the only bit of really current news I have been able to find:

During 4Q of 2011, EMC2 modified the electron injectors to increase the plasma heating. The higher plasma density in WB-8 prompted the need for higher heating power. They plan to operate WB-8 in high beta regime with the modified electron injectors during 1Q of 2012.

This game is still afoot.

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13 comments to The Polywell Fusion technology marches on

  • They better get crackin’. 1Q-12 is about over.

  • Ken

    WB-8 was supposed to be the breakeven iteration, wasn’t it? At any rate, I’m glad they’re still at it.

  • Every few months I hunt for information, pointlessly, because if anything real comes out it will be highlighted at the usual well informed websites.

    I am heartened by the fact that there has been no announcement to the effect that the project is ongoing; there have been no project killing obstacles encountered so far.

  • Ken,

    My understanding is that WB-8 is still too small to be break even, it will still be a net consumer of power. However, if WB-8 is a success the next iteration (WB-9?) is supposed to be a test 100 MW generator.

  • PeterT

    Clearly a project funded by the government, no doubt immensely expensive, tying up precious intellectual resource, with very uncertain (if potentially very large) payoff is something that can be loved by all libertarians.

    Unlike smoking, just ’cause its cool doesn’t mean its ok.

  • Dale Amon

    You have obviously not been following the story. First, they are not getting immense funding. it’s a tiny operation with only a few million in budget. I think the final phase is only $10M. The funding is from the US Navy for defence reasons. If this pans out it has enormous applications for things which travel far from power stations: ie Navy ships. It delivers the power needed for rail guns and lasers as defensive armament, which gets rid of much the dangerous high explosive load (think ‘HMS Hood’). It gives energy for catapults on super-carriers. It might even be able to supply power for large aircraft, gunships and troop transports that do not need refueling for years.

    Oh, and btw, if it works the Greens are going to have to simply go away and shut up. Small power plants anywhere; no CO2 footprint, no waste products, radioactive or otherwise that are worth talking about…

    And… the big win for us… if it works we have the means to get a group of people together and pretty much go off grid, whether on the planet… or elsewhere.

  • Surellin

    Dale, you hit it on the head. And the social implications could be immense. Safe, cheap, non-polluting PORTABLE MW+ electrical generators. Truck them in, or fly them in, and every village and neighborhood can declare energy independence, more or less. Decentralizing that much of the economy (and supplying power to places that don’t have it) is very good stuff indeed.

  • PeterT

    Sorry not convinced. Maybe there’s more to it but from your post and reply to my comment I can’t tell.

    Just because it has a defence angle to it doesn’t mean its ok.

    Nor does the fact that it might have long run consequences that libertarians deem desirable.

    ends/means and all that.

    The left shows as much enthusiasm for their projects.

    I shared a car with a left wing scientist once. He was going on about how we should invest more money in fusion power (he also mentioned something about how wind turbines generate a serious amount of energy, but that’s another story). I objected to this waste of my tax money. His counterargument: “but without fusion power we’ll never be able to get into space!”. That made me feel better as it did all those who have to have one meal less per day because of other’s enthusiasm for cool projects that must have funding.

  • PeterT, I am not sure what your beef is about this. The research cost is very inexpensive, compared to the potential payout. So far, the research hasnt hit any major roadblocks. If made viable, it is distributed, non-polluting, scalable, cheap energy. Best of all, the Greens would indeed have to shut their collective cake holes. That alone makes it worth 10 million.

  • PeterT

    I find the lack of perspective about this surprising. And very slightly disappointing.

    You could easily rewrite the paragraphs hailing this research, replacing ‘fusion’ with ‘education’, changing a few words as appropriate, and boom, you have a left wing project on your hands.

    Try the below:

    (sorry Surellin, borrowing bits of your text)

    “Dale, you hit it on the head. And the social implications could be immense. Safe, cheap, non-polluting electrical cars. Truck them in, or fly them in, and every village and neighborhood can declare carbon independence, more or less.”

    “Dale, you hit it on the head. And the social implications could be immense. Safe and cheap hospitals. Install them in every village and give them freedom from disease, more or less.”

    Not perfect but I hope serves to illustrate my point.

  • John McVey


    The key is the fact that the Navy is doing it. Regarding government funding, military expenditure on R&D is legitimate while NASA-like science is not, never mind leftists’ social projects.

    The same thing applies to Air Force rocketry, btw. Indeed, NASA should be abolished and what legitimate defence aspects there are to US govt expenditure on rocketry should be run chiefly by the Air Force (with the likes of the NSA riding on USAF coattails or something, perhaps).


  • PeterT: I understand your point – principle.

    However, if the State is going to be rationally dismantled rather than it just collapsing in one fell swoop… then there is a question of priorities as to which bits get put through the shredder first. That something like this is worth salvaging is, to me at least, obvious.

  • James Anderson Merritt

    The minimum waste operational mode currently contemplated for the Polywell device involves fusing Boron to produce helium and electrons. This appears to be a long way from being proven feasible, but if the Polywell can do it, that will be a great advance. It won’t be as if the reactor can run “without fuel” indefinitely, however. The thing will essentially guzzle refined borax. Some calculations I did a long time ago suggested that the 100MW reactor could run for an hour on the boron in a large supermarket package of borax; I invite those with better command of the physics involved to correct or refine that estimate.

    A likelier reaction in the short term involves Deuterium. This, unfortunately, generates radioactive waste and depends upon reaction heat to drive conventional steam turbine generators that produce electrons. Still an advance, this mode of Polywell operation will be more controversial. But assuming that Polywell works as inexpensively as predicted in either mode, objections about Polywell radiation or waste products may be drowned out by our practical need for energy. We’ll see. We should be hearing something, one way or the other, “real soon now.”