Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Public Plea

The Public Plea

“This is a once in a generation holy shit idea.” – Justin Timberlake

The Dream:

          In his viral TED talk: “How great leaders inspire action”, Simon Sinek argues that to inspire action around an idea, you must start with why.  This blog has reasons for publicizing the Polywell: we believe it will change the world.  But, we wanted to know what the Polywell community thought. Why is there so much interest?  Why are there 394,713 email addresses registered on talk-polywell?  Social scientists use quantitative surveys and focus groups to answer questions like this.  We aimed to do something similar.  For our “focus groups”: we re-read 409 conversations on the implications thread, going back to July 2010.  This informal survey asked the question: does the poster believe that the impact of the Polywell would be good or bad? 
          This was fascinating reading.  This community has some strongly viewed individuals.  We all agree that the Polywell has far reaching implications.  One interesting argument was between ChrisMB, Charles Kramer and skipjack over whether abundant energy will ultimately lead to the destruction of the worlds’ resources.  Another common theme was cheap energy’s connection to other frontier technologies: laser weapons, hovercrafts, space exploration.  The Polywells’ impact on warfare was also debated.  It was agreed that fusion could be a powerful tool for mankind; both creating and eliminating many problems.  But, our success will depend on how mankind wields this tool.  Below is a summary of the survey.

We attempted to group the posts into topics.  There was allot of noise in the data; the most common post has no position.  Occasionally, many posts came from the same person – analogous to someone shouting the loudest.  The truth is this: this technology is screaming to be researched.  We have been saying this for years and we will continue to say it: the Polywell is really important. 
In Their Own Words:

      In the survey, we collected fifteen quotes from people that reflected their take on the technology, these are included below:

1.  “…Biggest advantage?  No oil…” –cgray45

2. “…and ostracizing those who don't agree, pretending they know--they KNOW--when in fact, they just accepted what they were told, by others who accepted what they were told, and so on, and so on, and so on… Let’s face it, sometimes its best to say "I don't know…" – GIThruster

3. “…I think that with unlimited cheap energy, everything is possible...” – Skipjack

4. “…but I don't see fusion causing identifiable problems. It will cause unforeseeable problems…” – CharlesKramer

5. “…research enabling the quick application of such systems in space is important to overall fusion research and development…” – Zapkitty

6. “…A Polywell, like a gas turbine or diesel engine, will probably have a throttle that allows for a range of power outputs to meet demand. It could be idled, and with direct conversion, be throttled up…” – Dan Tibbets

7. “…You nonchalantly declare that interstellar travel will be easy because we'll have free energy soon. That is just total madness….” – ChrisMB

8. “…Monitors and televisions, too, would now only be limited by size and less by how much power they consume. Productivity all over the board could rise drastically…” – bennmann

9. “…I would love to see the destruction of the terrain of West Virginia stop or at least slow down to a crawl. All for the mining of coal...” – rjaypeters

10. “…We need to stop taking anything out of the ground that we can avoid, and we need to do it now…” – ChrisMB

11. “…With sufficient energy, there are no pollutants, only resources ... With sufficient energy, there are no pollutants except energy…” – KitemanSA

12.  “…The critical point that we are at is not whether cheap electricity from fusion may compensate for disappearing fossil fuels, but whether humanity will learn to understand its true impact on others as it produces and consumes all that energy...” – ltgbrown

13.  “…I think this ties into another implication for the social environment. I think that, in general, people don't trust technology, and view it as a force for evil in the world…” – MirariNefas

14.  “…What if Polywell, or Focus Fusion, or some other source of "clean" and cheap energy is discovered? Are we "ready" for it?  … By cheap, I mean so inexpensive, that people can begin to discount the cost of energy in doing any and everything.… By clean I mean it is essentially nonhazardous material producing, no radiation … and no CO2… Would having such a "cheap and clean" source of energy reduce war or increase it? …will cheap and clean energy be a catalyst to achieving peace?... While technically speaking, we cannot destroy the environment …we sure as hell can make it not as nice…” – ltgbrown

15. “….even if electricity becomes much more cheap and much more safe and universal … other resource constraints will still necessitate a change in how we live…” – CharlesKramer

The Supporters:

          In his RSA talk, Michael Lima, explains how a network of people can collaborate to get things done.  The Polywell needs to do this.  This community is growing and we need to connect it better.  Why?  We will stop duplicating our work.  For example, William Flint – over at - has written an aggressive argument for the polywell.  Bills website is impressive.  His enthusiasm for this project is contagious.  Bill is a baby boomer who had a career as a high school physics teacher.  His twitter account lists him as an advocate for the polywell since 2007.  Since 2007, Bill has generated power point presentations, built a website, and written several e-books on the Polywell, including:

1. “Safe, Green, Clean - the p-B Polywell: A Different Kind of Nuclear Energy”[22] – Copyright 2008 – This book is 293 pages long! 

2. “Earth’s Big Energy Problem and How to Fix it” [21] – Copyright 2009 - This is a children’s book. It covers our dependence on carbon based fuels and the downsides and advocates for the polywell.

   We agree the polywell is important.  However, it is not proven.  We can only be convinced by verifiable and repeatable evidence. 

The Latest News:

     One week ago, the 14th US-Japan workshop on IECF was held at the University of Maryland. This conference gave us a glimpse into the latest Polywell research. Based on his presentation, Dr. Khachans’ group has built two Polywells since their experimental paper [8] was published. Below is a picture of the first device [27].

The first device has an aluminum [27] shell, which appears to be ~4.5” by ~4.5” by ~4.5”in size. This is not much different in size to the Teflon device they used in research before [8]. Just observing, this machine appears to have wire ties holding it together – this would create problems for electron recirculation.  The second device is more impressive. This is pictured below [27].

     It is a smooth device which appears to be ~9” a side.  The base appears to be made from a white material - that may be Teflon. A discussion of the use of Teflon in these devices is included in the “modeling some real results” post. There is an electron gun which is listed as a 50 milliamp, 2,000 volt gun. This voltage is certainly lower than the drive voltage for WB6 (12,500 volts), PXL1 (15,000 volts) and the Navy teams request on March 10th 2012 [29] for (10,000 volt) e-guns. This also appears to be a new vacuum chamber. The Sydney team was using a bell jar[8]. It appears the team has more money devoted to this project. 

    The conference also gave us a glimpse into a new company, started by Dr. Joel G Rogers. The name of the company is Convergent Scientific Inc. Their presentation called for 240,000 dollars to build a test reactor. Here is a picture of their design [28].



 Nothing arises completely of its own power” –Buddhist saying

The History:
There is a simple way to fuse atoms.  It is called a fusor.  It uses metal cages in a vacuum.  Put a voltage drop across these cages and puff in hydrogen gas and you get fusion.  Here are pictures of fusor devices over the years:

The Fusor has been around since 1964 [13].  High school students have built fusors [5].  One even presented at TED.  It is an old technology.  It works.  It fuses material.  It will never make power because of ions touch the metal cages and are conducted away.  Conduction losses kill the machine.  The fusor works because it uses a metal cage to attract ions.  The polywell is the next generation fusor.  It uses a cloud of electrons to attract the ions.  But, can the polywell someday make net power?

The How:
          We have a mechanism for how this machine works.  Check out this post for a detailed description.  We need to make this into a YouTube movie.  The mechanism needs to be is verifiable and understandable for the general public.  Shown below is a cartoon summarizing the nine steps for Polywell fusion.

   There are competing reactions to the fusion mechanism, including: x-ray radiation, collision without fusion and columbic repulsion. There is a list of concerns, including: thermalisation, x-ray losses, plasma instabilities, ion injection, cloud temperature and magnetic reconnection. Rider[15, 16] and Nevins [14] have both raised these issues and their papers should be reviewed and addressed.  More details can be found in "explaining the counter argument" post on this blog.  We need to do more experimentation.  

     The top concern from the general public has been: can a collision of two deuterium ions at 10 KeV, lead to fusion?  It can; but not with high reliability. NIF’s stated goal was to get the plasma to 10 KeV, under a dense confinement [18].  The “reliability” is measured by the reaction cross section.  The cross section is a measure of the “fusibility” of two atoms.  The way cross sections have been measured, for decades, is by accelerating particles in an electric field – in much the same manner as the Polywell will attempt fusion power.  The cross section is shown below [19].

“The optimism of youth is really underrated.” – Larry Page.

Future Plans:
      Going forward, there are two classical equations which will drive Polywell research.  The first is the volumetric rate equation.  This uses the reactions’ cross section as described above.  The cross section is entered into the volumetric rate equation, which predicts the fusion power from a hot cloud [1].

If you use typical numbers for WB-6, this equation predicts a tiny 4E-9 joule per second [20].  It is a start.  The polywell may be improved by raising the cross section, reaction energy or the voltage drop.  The Polywell may also work by increasing machine size.  A larger hot volume means more energy output.
     The equation also tells us that raising the density will have a big impact.  This is due to the squared term.  Hence, for last 55 years laser fusion has tried to compress material.  The problem is: you need lots of money, energy and equipment to do that.  The polywell cannot win, if it heads in that direction.  We will have to increase the machine efficiency.
     We recognize this because of the Lawson criteria.  John Lawson laid this out in his 1957 paper on fusion [1].  This has become the standard by which we measure all reactors.  Any reactor fusing using a hot plasma cloud is subject to the following equation.

In this equation, the losses are what are important.  They are special to plasma clouds.  Conduction losses are when atoms touch the walls and are conducted away.  X-ray losses are when energy is bled away as x-rays.  In 2011, Argon National Labs found a surface that could reflect near 100% of hard X-rays [2]. Can enough of these X-ray losses be recycled to raise efficiency?  The Polywell will need to reduce these losses to reach net power; it needs to be more efficient.  

          Net power is the goal.  There is a worldwide race to get there: from the tokamak, NIF and a collection of smaller projects.  In this race, the smallest, simplest and cheapest devices have the best chance of being commercial.  That is not just common sense - it is scientific precept known as Occam's razor.  It states that: among complete solutions, the one which makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.

Research Plan:

        In research, the best work, is the work you can avoid. Hence, before we build a machine can we use simulations to
figure out if the idea will work?  Simulations are by definition, simpler than the real world.  This makes analysis of a simulated reactor clearer and cleaner than an experimental one.  Ideally, one would use details from WB6 and previous modeling work from the University of Sydney [7], happyjack [26], indrek [27] as the starting point.  Our hope is to use the MCNP code [24] from LANL to do this simulation.  We would like to couple simulations with dimensional analysis to test a wide range of Polywell operating conditions.  Dimensional analysis means varying a set of dimensionless numbers to see what effect they have on operations.  By grouping variables this way, research can be significantly accelerated.  For example, it may work better with 10:1 electrons to ion ratio or if the magnetic field is tuned to a specific strength.  Our goal would be to find a resonance condition, a sweet spot, or modes of operation for this machine.  Here is list of groups we would like to try:

This may not work.  The idea may be a flop.  If that is the case we as a community must be willing to accept this.  But, if we find a resonance condition: we patent it.  That would be the intellectual property needed for a startup.

Works Cited:

1.               J D Lawson. Some criteria for a power producing thermonuclear reactor.  Proceedings of the Physical Society. Section B, 70(1):6, 1957.

2.               Shvyd'ko, Yuri, and Stanislav Stoupin. "Near-100% Bragg Reflectivity of X-rays." Nature Photonics Letters 5 (2011): 539-42. Web. 20 Aug. 2012.

3.               Kotter, John P., and Lorne A. Whitehead. Buy-in: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot down. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review, 2010. Print.

4.               "Talk:Richard Feynman." - Wikiquote. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. .

5.               Tweney, Dylan. "High School Student Builds Fusion Reactor." Gadget Lab. Wired In., 16 Mar. 2007. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. .

6.               Khachan, J. "Spatial Distribution of Ion Energies in an Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Device." Physics of Plasmas 10.3 (2002): n. pag. Print.

7.               Carr, Matthew, and David Gummersall. "Low Beta Confinement in a Polywell Modeled with Conventional Point Cusp Theories." Physics of Plasmas 18.112501 (2011): n. page. Print.

8.               Carr, Matthew, and Joe Khachan. "The Dependence of the Virtual Cathode in a Polywell™ on the Coil Current and Background Gas Pressure." Physics of Plasmas 17.5 (2010). American Institute of Physics, 24 May 2010. Web.

9.               "The Polywell Blog." : Modeling Some Real Results. N.p., 20 July 2011. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. .

10.           "The Polywell Blog." : The Physical Basis For The Polywell. N.p., 30 July 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. .

11.           "Magnetic Field of Current Loop." Magnetic Field of a Current Loop. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2012. .

12.           Good, R. H. "Elliptic Integrals, the Forgotten Functions." European Journal of Physics 22.119 (2001): n. pag. Print.

13.           "Fusor." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Aug. 2012. Web. 26 Aug. 2012. .

14.           Nevins, W. M. "Can Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Work beyond the Ion–ion Collisional Time Scale?" Physics of Plasmas 2.10 (1995): 3804. Print.

15.           Rider, Todd H. "A General Critique of Inertial-electrostatic Confinement Fusion Systems." Physics of Plasmas 2.6 (1995): 1853. Print.

16.           Rider, Todd H. "Fundamental Limitations on Plasma Fusion Systems Not in Thermodynamic Equilibrium." MIT Thesis 1995.

17.           GoogleTalksArchive. "Should Google Go Nuclear? Clean, Cheap, Nuclear Power (no, Really)." YouTube. YouTube, 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 26 Aug. 2012. .

18.           "Development of the Indirectdrive Approach to Inertial Confinement Fusion and the Target Physics Basis for Ignition and Gain." John Lindl.  Page: 3937.  AIP Physics of Plasma. American Institute of Physics, 14 June 1995.

19.           Jarvis, O. N. "Nuclear Fusion 4.7.4." Nuclear Fusion 4.7.4. National Physical Laboratory, 2011. Web. 30 Aug. 2012. .

20.           "The Polywell Blog." : How It Works. N.p., 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. .

21.           Flint, William W. Earth’s Big Energy Problem and How to Fix It. N.p.: n.p., 2009.

22.           Flint, William W. Safe, Green, Clean - the P-B Polywell: A Different Kind of Nuclear Energy. N.p.: n.p., 2008. Print.

23.           "How Much Did NIF Cost?" Frequently Asked Questions. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - TeamNIF, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2012. .

24.           "A General Monte Carlo N-Particle (MCNP) Transport Code." Los Alamos National Laboratory: MCNP Home Page. The MCNP Group, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2012. .

25.           Mandre, Indrek. "Polywell Simulation 3D." YouTube. YouTube, 02 June 2007. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. .
26.      Happyjack27. "Polywell Sim Ion Time Scale Semi Artificial Anode, Ions Only 1." YouTube. YouTube, 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

27. Khachan, Joe. "OVERVIEW OF IEC AT THE UNIVERSITY OF." 14th US-Japan Workshop on IEC Fusion. N.p., 19 Oct. 2012. Web.

28. Rogers, Joel, and Devlin Baker. "Designing a Small-Scale D+D Reactor." 14th US-Japan Workshop on IEC Fusion. N.p., 19 Oct. 2012. Web.

29. Xiong, Helen. "Presolicitation Notice Plasma Whiffleball 8.0." NECO Synopsis Database. The US Navy - NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER, 10 Mar. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. .