Thursday, October 16, 2014

Big advancements in nuclear fusion

We need alternative energy sources.

Right now our world is hopelessly dependent upon energy resources that are finite, that don't burn clean, thus polluting our world and leaving far-reaching consequences. Wouldn't it be great if we had a resource that burned clean and was nearly limitless? Good news: we might be closer to that than we think. Bad news: right now it's being developed for military use. Well that's not really bad as it does help us and the energy source should eventually filter out for civilian use, but you know what I mean.

Lockheed Martin announced it has made great progress towards nuclear fusion. Fusion is the process that fuels the stars. Atoms are smashed together at high temperatures, thus producing new particles and tremendous amounts of energy. Many a science fiction spaceship has been powered by a fusion reactor, but the idea Lockheed is after is to have Navy ships, submarines, and drones be able to operate for a nigh unlimited amount of time before conking out and doing so on a very tiny amount of fuel.

One of the obstacles to fusion reactors, aside from the high temperatures required to have a sustained reaction, has been magnetic confinement. When atoms break apart into separate particles inside the high temperatures of the reactor, high-energy plasma is released and it would need to be kept away from the metal edges of the reactor. It is this very magnetic field generator that Lockheed claims to have developed. An important point in this story is not that a sustained, controlled fusion reaction has been achieved, but rather that we now have the magnetic gear for containing the plasma once we get the reaction business sorted.

But it wouldn't have been the first time somebody claimed a fusion reaction. In 1989, the team of Drs. Pons and Fleischmann announced that they had developed "cold fusion," a fusion reaction at temperatures far lower than what was thought to be needed. Too bad it turned out not to be true. Not that the men hoaxed it or perpetrated a fraud. Certainly not. They were simply mistaken.

Fusion claims still persist. Coast to Coast AM recently featured Sterling Allan of Pure Energy Systems. On C2C, Allan talked about a cold fusion reactor that has run for 32 consecutive days, producing 3.5 times more energy than what was put into the system. He speculates we could make "refrigerator-sized" cold fusion reactors available to power houses in the next five to ten years. Wouldn't that be nice?

If that's the case, then both Lockheed Martin and DARPA are seriously wasting their time. After all, if fusion power is just sitting around and about to be marketed for personal use, then why continue their research? Guess we'll have to see.

Because that's the dream, right? Enough energy to leave my computer, my smartphone, and multiple gaming platforms plugged in and active at all times without worrying about the electric bill? Or the guilt over the environment? Might even get me to actually hang outdoor Christmas lights.

Here's to hoping.

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