Dynomak fusion details and summary of other nuclear fusion projects

There has been some recent coverage of the Dynomak nuclear fusion project in IEEE Spectrum and other sources over the last few days.

Nextbigfuture had extensive coverage of the Dynomak over 6 weeks ago. Dynomak makes the claim that they will be cheaper than coal power. The Dynomak is priced out at about $2.7 billion for a 1 gigawatt nuclear reactor. Nuclear fission reactors in China are lower than that cost and China’s coal plants tend to be cheaper. China is developing a follow on to pressure water reactors which is the super-critical water reactors. The supercritical water reactor might be commercially ready around 2025 and could be about $1.5 to 2 billion for a 1 gigawatt nuclear reactor. The Canadian Terrestrial Energy molten salt reactor could have its first commercial scale unit in 2020 and could eventually be less than 1 cent per kilowatt hour.

Nextbigfuture had an updated summary of the prospects for commercial nuclear fusion. Below is a new update.

The Dynomak reactor system is the possible realization of economical fusion enabled by Imposed-Dynamo Current Drive (IDCD). IDCD could enable a spheromak commercial fusion development path.

• High CD (Current drive) efficiency improves over the tokamak.
• 30% CD efficiency enables the spheromak with high TBR and economically competitive with coal.

The HIT-SI, a cold (~10-20 eV) concept exploration experiment, has demonstrated such efficient sustainment with adequate confinement. (Reaches stability beta-limit with current drive power) IDCD.

The Steady Injective Helicity Injection method has achieved 90 kA toroidal current and current gains approaching 4.

NIMROD simulations of a bigger and hotter HIT show fluctuations may not break flux surfaces of stable equilibria

The Dynomak Reactor System Highlights

* Energy efficient IDCD for sustainment of a high beta spheromak configuration

* Immersive, molten-salt blanket system for first wall cooling, tritium breeding, and neutron moderation

* YBCO high-temperature superconductors for PF coil set

* SC-CO2 (supercritical carbon dioxide) secondary cycle (reviewed favorably by Westinghouse)

An economical fusion development path is proposed to reach Dynomak scale device

• Promising results from HIT-SI and NIMROD and an economical conceptual reactor design justifies Proof-of-Principle (PoP) experiment.

• PoP seeks to demonstrate adequate confinement at high temperature with IDCD on an inexpensive, pulsed machine.

• With successful PoP, the development path includes steady-state operation and nuclear engineering.

The Dynomak device is a spheromak with the aspect ratio of a spherical tokamak and shaped like a reversed field pinch. It is driven with only IDCD. The six inductive handle-shaped drivers use low-cost AC ( 40 kHz) power. Resistively heated to a few keV, the experiment has a 3.2 MA, 5 second pulse with a 2.5 s plasma current ramping duration. Its minor radius is 1.0 meter with aspect ratio 1.5. There is no toroidal field coil or anything linking the torus yet it has an engineering beta-limit as high as 16%. As a design-class project its reactor potential was assessed to be competitive with conventional power sources, undercutting coal and on par with natural gas with carbon capture. Costing using several ITER-developed components gave $1.2B.

• HIT-SI results indicate sustained spheromaks with pressure.
• Computer simulations indicate closed flux with large magnetic fluctuations.
• An IDCD driven spheromak enables economical fusion power [The Dynomak]
• Encouraging spheromak and RFP results and economical conceptual reactor justifies Proof-of-Principle experiment.
• IDCD driven spheromak development path may provide a cost effective approach to fusion energy.

$32 million Proof of Principle

Here is 2014 presentation


There have been several Spheromak experiments.

The spheromak is a Magnetic Fusion Energy (MFE) configuration, which is a leading alternative to the tokamak. It has a simple geometry which offers an opportunity to achieve the promise of fusion energy if the physics of confinement, current drive, and pressure holding capability extrapolate favorably to a reactor

Commercialization Targets for Nuclear Fusion Projects

LPP Fusion (Lawrenceville Plasma Physics) – the target is to make LPP Fusion with a commercial system 4 years after net energy gain is proved. The hop is two years to prove net energy gain. Then 2019-2022 for a commercial reactor (2022 if we allow for 3 years of slippage). They could lower energy costs by ten times.

Lockheed Compact Fusion has a target date of 2024 and made big news recently with some technical details and an effort to get partners.

Helion Energy 2023 (about 5 cents per kwh and able to burn nuclear fission waste)

Tri-Alpha Energy (previously talked about 2015-2020, but now likely 2020-2025)

General Fusion 2023 (targeting 4 cents per kwh)

EMC2 Fusion (Released some proven physics results, raising $30 million)

Dynomak Fusion claims that they will be able generate energy cheaper than coal. They are not targeting commercialization until about 2040.

MagLIF is another fusion project with good funding but without a specific target date for commercialization.

There is Muon Fusion research in Japan and at Star Scientific in Australia.
There is the well funded National Ignition facility with large laser fusion and there is the International Tokomak project (ITER).

General Fusion in Vancouver has its funding with Jeff Bezos and the Canadian Government. (As of 2013, General Fusion had received $45 million in venture capital and $10 million in government funding)

EMC2 Fusion results from October 2014

IEC Fusion (EMC2 fusion) had several million in Navy funding but is now seeking about $30 million in funding.

For years, EMC2 Fusion Development Corp. has had to conduct its research into what’s known as Polywell fusion outside public view because the Navy wanted it that way. Now the Navy is phasing out its funding, and EMC2 Fusion is planning a three-year, $30 million commercial research program to see if its unorthodox approach can provide a fast track to cheap nuclear fusion power.

EMC2 Fusion’s latest findings on its Polwell approach are more positive than skeptics suspected but not as positive as some supporters hoped.

“This finding … is just one step along the way,” said M. Simon, a frequent contributor to the Talk-Polywell online discussion forum. “It makes the case that further experiments are warranted. In other words, no showstoppers.”

Nicholas Krall, a plasma physicist who has been working in the fusion field for more than a half-century and has been an adviser to EMC2 Fusion, was more enthusiastic. “I think this is the most exciting experimental advance that I’ve been involved in,” he told NBC News. ‘I’m stoked.”

Arxiv – High Energy Electron Confinement in a Magnetic Cusp Configuration [EMC2 Fusion publication]

EMC2 reports experimental results validating the concept that plasma confinement is enhanced in a magnetic cusp configuration when beta (plasma pressure/magnetic field pressure) is order of unity. This enhancement is required for a fusion power reactor based on cusp confinement to be feasible. The magnetic cusp configuration possesses a critical advantage: the plasma is stable to large scale perturbations. However, early work indicated that plasma loss rates in a reactor based on a cusp configuration were too large for net power production. Grad and others theorized that at high beta a sharp boundary would form between the plasma and the magnetic field, leading to substantially smaller loss rates. The current experiment validates this theoretical conjecture for the first time and represents critical progress toward the Polywell fusion concept which combines a high beta cusp configuration with an electrostatic fusion for a compact, economical, power-producing nuclear fusion reactor.

The high-pressure confinement, also known as high-beta confinement, is what’s described in the ArXiv paper. One of the keys to solving that problem was to redesign the Wiffle-Ball to do away with the joints between the reactor’s rings, Park said.

However, the test device did not demonstrate the neutron production that would be required for an actual fusion reaction. “We tried to do it, but we just didn’t have enough equipment to do it,” Park said. “We thought that getting the Wiffle-Ball effect validated was a good accomplishment.”

Park is proud of the fact that his team proved the Wiffle-Ball design could work — confirming a theoretical claim that was first made 56 years ago by physicist Harold Grad. But EMC2 Fusion still has to show that the design can support a fusion reaction that eventually produces more power than is put into the system. Such a system would have to smash ions together in the center of a hot, magnetized cloud of electrons.

For the Navy-supported project, EMC2 Fusion concentrated on the prospects for an exotic kind of hydrogen-boron fusion known as pB11. But if the project goes commercial, the company would consider more mainstream options such as deuterium-tritium.

Park said he’s already been having discussions with potential backers for the next experimental phase.

“It’ll be great if we get funding,” he said. “But even if we don’t, I think there will be somebody who will be excited if they understand what all this means. There could be a bit of a race, too. If the race happens, I’m playing to win the race.”

Krall is anxious to see that race heat up. He acknowledged that EMC2 Fusion hasn’t yet determined whether or not a working Polywell fusion reactor is feasible — but at the age of 82, he’s counting on Park to get the answer to that question soon.

“He thinks we can reach break-even in seven years, and we can get to proof of principle in four years. Seven years, I can wait that long,” Krall told NBC News. “I’ve had a good career, but I’ll be a lot happier if I can see a break-even fusion device before I kick off.”

Tri-alpha energy has good funding.

As of 2014, Tri Alpha Energy is said to have hired more than 150 employees and raised over $140 million, way more than any other private fusion power research company. Main financement came from Goldman Sachs and venture capitals such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., Rockefeller’s Venrock, Richard Kramlich’s New Enterprise Associates, and from various people like former NASA software engineer Dale Prouty who succeeded George P. Sealy after his death as the CEO of Tri Alpha Energy. Hollywood actor Harry Hamlin, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Nobel Prize Arno Allan Penzias figure among the board members. It is also worth noting that the Government of Russia, through the joint-stock company Rusnano, also invested in Tri Alpha Energy in February 2013, and that Anatoly Chubais, CEO of Rusnano, became a member of the Tri Alpha board of directors

Helion Energy/MSNW has some University funding ( a couple of million or more per year) and NASA has funded one of their experiments

ITER is very well funded but their goal of making massive football stadium sized reactors that have commercial systems in 2050-2070 will not get to low cost, high impact energy.
National Ignition facility is also very well funded but again I do not them achieving an interesting and high impact, lowcost form of energy.

Nuclear fusion is one of the main topics at Nextbigfuture. I have summarized the state of nuclear fusion research before. A notable summary was made three years ago in mid-2010. I believed at the time that there could be multiple successful nuclear fusion project vying for commercial markets by 2018. Progress appears to be going a more slowly than previously hoped, but there are several possible projects (General Fusion, John Slough small space propulsion nuclear fusion system, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics – if they work out metal contamination and other issues and scale power) that could demonstrate net energy gain in the next couple of years.

There will be more than one economic and technological winner. Once we figure out nuclear fusion there will be multiple nuclear fusion reactors. It will be like engines – steam engines, gasoline engines, diesel engines, jet engines. There will be multiple makers of multiple types of nuclear fusion reactors. There will be many applications : energy production, space propulsion, space launch, transmutation, weapons and more. We will be achieving greater capabilities with magnets (100+ tesla superconducting magnets), lasers (high repetition and high power), and materials. We will also have more knowledge of the physics. What had been a long hard slog will become easy and there will be a lot more money for research around a massive industry.

The cleaner burning aspect of most nuclear fusion approaches versus nuclear fission is not that interesting to me. It is good but nuclear fission waste cycle could be completely closed with deep burn nuclear fission reactors that use all of the uranium and plutonium. In China it is straight up engineering questions. So there will be a transition to moderately deeper burn pebble bed reactors from 2020-2035 (starts 2015 but not a major part until 2020) and then a shift to breeders 2030-2050+. There will be off-site pyroprocessing to help close the fuel cycle.

What matters are developments which could radically alter the economy of the world and the future of humanity. The leading smaller nuclear fusion projects hold out the potential of radically lowering the cost of energy and increasing the amount of energy. Nuclear fusion can enable an expansion of the energy used by civilization by over a billion times from 20 Terawatts to 20 Zettawatts. Nuclear fusion also enables space propulsion at significant fractions of the speed of light (1 to 20% of lightspeed.) Earth to orbit launch with nuclear fusion spaceplanes or reusable rockets and trivial access to anywhere in the solar system.

General Fusion targeting commercial reactor for 2023 and funding does not seem to be a problem

General Fusion is trying to make affordable fusion power a reality.

• Plan to demonstrate proof of physics DD equivalent “net gain” in 2013
• Plan to demonstrate the first fusion system capable of “net gain” 3 years after proof
• Validated by leading experts in fusion and industrial engineering
• Industrial and institutional partners
• $42.5M in venture capital, $6.3M in government support

In General Fusion’s design, the deuterium-tritium fuel is supplied as a pair of magnetized plasma rings, known as compact toroids (CT). The CTs are delivered to an evacuated vortex inside a volume of liquid lead-lithium eutectic (atomic percentage ratio 83% Pb, 17% Li; hereafter referred to as Pb-17Li) for the duration of an acoustically-driven spherical collapse. The cavity volume is reduced by three orders of magnitude, raising the plasma density from 10^17 ions/cm3 to 10^20 ions/cm3, the temperature from 0.1 keV to 10 keV, and the magnetic field strength from 2 T to 200 T. The fusion energy will be generated during the 10 µs that the plasma spends at maximum compression, after which the compressed plasma bubble causes the liquid metal wall to rebound. Most energy is liberated as neutron radiation that directly heats the liquid metal. Using existing industrial liquid metal pumping technology the heated liquid metal is pumped out into a heat exchange system, thermally driving a turbine generator. The cooled liquid metal is pumped back into the vessel tangentially to reform the evacuated cylindrical vortex along the vertical axis of the sphere. Liquid Pb-17Li is ideal as a liner because it has a low melting point, low vapor pressure, breeds tritium, has a high mass for a long inertial dwell time, and has a good acoustic impedance match to steel, which is important for efficiently generating the acoustic pulse. The 100 MJ acoustic pulse is generated mechanically by hundreds of pneumatically- 4 driven pistons striking the outer surface of the reactor sphere. The acoustic pulse propagates radially inwards, strengthened by geometric focusing from 1 GPa to 10 GPa at the surface of the vortex.

The previous year (2012) has seen much progress towards creating and compressing plasma and the outlook is now very encouraging. In particular, plasma densities of 1016 ions/cm3 at over 250 eV electron temperatures and up to 500 eV plasma ion temperatures have been demonstrated. Indications are that the formation region of the injector has achieved closed flux surfaces and that these surfaces are maintained during acceleration allowing for adiabatic compression and heating. Piston impact speeds of 50 m/s and servo-controlled impact timing accurate to ±2 µs have been achieved. The 14-piston liquid Pb Mini-Sphere assembly for testing vortex generation and piston impact has been fully commissioned and is collecting data.

General Fusion is buoyed by recent progress on all fronts of the MTF program. Improvements in piston survival, liquid Pb handling, plasma temperature, acceleration efficiency, injector reliability, and regulatory matters have left the team and investors with a positive outlook on the coming year and the company’s ability to meet goals.

General Fusion intends to build a three-meter-diameter steel sphere filled with spinning molten lead and lithium. Super-heated plasma would be injected into the vortex and then the outside of the sphere would be hit with 200 computer-synchronized pistons travelling 100 meters per second (200 mph) The resulting shock waves would compress the plasma and spark a fusion reaction for a few microseconds.

Tri-alpha Energy – Raised about $140 million + Rusnano investment. Best funded of the smaller players

In 2013, Rusnano Group, a state-owned venture firm, invested an undisclosed amount in Tri-Alpha Energy. The Russian investment is the latest round of financing for Tri-Alpha which, prior to the Rusnano backing, is believed to have raised over $140 million from Goldman Sachs, venture capital firms including Venrock, Vulcan Capital and New Enterprise Associates, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and others.

Tri-alpha revealed some information in a 79 page powerpoint deck in 2012

The design of a 100 MW reactor is underway. Test “shots” to demonstrate plasma confinement are in progress. It is based upon field reversed research but it seems they are migrating towards a pulsed colliding beam approach that looks more similar to Helion Energy. In the picture below, look closely at the cylinder in front of the person. It looks like the Helion Energy design.

Tri-alpha is still secretive but what has been revealed about progress does not indicate a breakthrough has yet been achieved to net energy gain. Tri-alpha energy has previously talked about getting to a commercial system by 2018.

Helion Energy and MSNW – John Slough Designs

Helion Energy Fusion Engine has received about $7 million in funds from DOE, the Department of Defense and NASA. They had already received $5 million which they used to build a one third scale proof of concept. They raised another $2 million and plan to raise another $35 million in 2015-17, and $200 million for its pilot plant stage.

The MSNW LLC (sister company to Helion Energy working on Space fusion) does refer to the Helion Energy work. MSNW is working on a NASA grant to develop direct nuclear fusion space propulsion. They have said they will demonstrate net energy gain within 6-24 months.

Fusions Assumption:
• Ionization cost is 75 MJ/kg
• Coupling Efficiency to liner is 50%
• Thrust conversation ~ 90%
• Realistic liner mass are 0.28 kg to 0.41 kg
• Corresponds to a Gain of 50 to 500
• Ignition Factor of 5
• Safety margin of 2: GF =GF(calc.)/2

Mission Assumptions:
• Mass of Payload= 61 mT
• Habitat 31 mT
• Aeroshell 16 mT
• Descent System 14 mT
• Specific Mass of capacitors ~ 1 J/kg
• Specific Mass of Solar Electric Panels 200 W/kg
• Tankage fraction of 10% (tanks, structure, radiator, etc.)
• Payload mass fraction =Play load Mass
• System Specific Mass = Dry Mass/SEP (kg/kW)
• Analysis for single transit optimal transit to Mars
• Full propulsive braking for Mar Capture – no aerobraking

The Fusion Engine is a cyclically operating fusion power plant technology that will be capable of clean energy generation for base load and on-demand power.

The Fusion Engine is a 28-meter long, 3-meter high bow tie-shaped device that at both ends converts gases of deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen) into plasmoids – plasma contained by a magnetic field through a process called FRC (field-reversed configuration). It magnetically accelerates the plasmoids down long tapered tubes until they collide and compress in a central chamber wrapped by a magnetic coil that induces them to combine into helium atoms. The process also releases neutrons.

The Helion Energy Fusion Engine provides energy in two ways. Like in a fission reactor, the energy of the scattered neutrons gives off heat that ultimately drives a turbine. Helion is also developing a technique that directly converts energy to electricity. The direct conversion will provide about 70 percent of the outgoing electricity according to Kirtley.

Helion Energy new plan is to build a 50-MWe pilot of its “Fusion Engine” by 2019 after which licensees will begin building commercial models by 2022.

Lockheed Skunkworks Fusion – Targeting Commercial by 2023

Lockheed presented at Google Solve for X and recently announced technical and design breakthroughs for a 100MW compact fusion reactor concept that would run on deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). It would fit on a truck and be built on a production line like jet engines.

Breakthrough technology: Charles Chase and his team at Lockheed have developed a High Beta configuration, which allows a compact reactor design and speedier development timeline (5 years instead of 30).

* The magnetic field increases the farther that you go out, which pushes the plasma back in.
* It also has very few open field lines (very few paths for the plasma to leak out)
* Very good arch curvature of the field lines
* The Lockheed system has a beta of about 1.
* This system is DT (deuterium – tritium)

Currently a cylinder 1 meter wide and 2 meters tall. The 100 MW version would be about twice the dimensions.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics

The LPP approach uses a device called a dense plasma focus (DPF) to burn aneutronic fusion fuels that make no radioactive waste, a combination LPP calls “Focus Fusion.” LPP has taken major strides towards their goal.

Net fusion energy is like a tripod, and needs three conditions to stand (or in the LPP case, get more energy out than is lost). Despite FF-1’s low cost of less than $1 million, the results LPP published showed FF-1 has achieved two out of three conditions—temperature and confinement time—needed for net fusion energy. If they were able to achieve the third net fusion energy condition, density, they could be within four years of beginning mass manufacture of 5 Megawatt electric Focus Fusion generators that would scale to meet all global energy demands at a projected cost 10 times less than coal. While we still must demonstrate full scientific feasibility, FF-1 already achieves well over 100 billion fusion reactions in a few microseconds.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics – Progress and specific issues to be resolved to boost plasma density by 100 and then to increase current

In the past month’s experiments, LPP’s research team has demonstrated the near tripling of ion density in the plasmoid to 8×10^19 ions/cc, or 0.27 mg/cc. At the same time, fusion energy output has moved up, with the best three shot average increasing 50% to one sixth of a joule of energy. While the yield and density improvements show we are moving in the right direction, they are still well below what the LPP team theoretically expects for our present peak current of 1.1 MA. Yield is low by a factor of 10 and density by a factor of nearly 100. If we can get yield up to our theoretical expectation of over 1 joule, our scaling calculations tell us that with higher current we can make it all the way to the 30,000 J that we need to demonstrate scientific feasibility. We’ve long concluded that this gap between theory and results is caused by the “early beam phenomenon” which is itself a symptom of the current sheath splitting in two, feeding only half its power into the plasmoid. In the next shot series, we will replace the washers with indium wire which has worked elsewhere on our electrodes to entirely eliminate even the tiniest arcing. We will also silver-plate the cathode rods as we have done with the anode. Over the longer run, we are looking at ways to have a single-piece cathode made out of tungsten or tungsten-copper in order to eliminate the rod-plate joint altogether. These steps should get rid of the filament disruption for good, enabling results to catch up with theory.

MagLIF at Sandia

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are using the lab’s Z machine, a colossal electric pulse generator capable of producing currents of tens of millions of amperes, say they have detected significant numbers of neutrons—byproducts of fusion reactions—coming from the experiment.

For enough reactions to take place, the hydrogen nuclei must collide at velocities of up to 1000 kilometers per second (km/s), and that requires heating them to more than 50 million degrees Celsius.

They need to boost neutron production by 10,000 times to get to breakeven.

More Background

I just do not always cover all the background every time I update one of the projects that I am tracking. They are all available from the tags and by searching my site.

Dozens of articles on Fusion going back about 8 years.

My articles for more background on the overall general fusion work




Tracking progress on General Fusion and other approaches