The "Polywell" Approach to Fusion
Over the last 15 years, Dr. Robert Bussard -- one of the fathers of U.S. fusion energy research -- has developed a new approach to fusion power that is quite different from traditional approaches. In brief, magnetic fields are used to confine electrons to a small volume, creating an electrostatic potential; and this potential well is used to accelerate ions towards the center of the device, where they undergo fusion, releasing energy.
This approach neatly side-steps several of the difficulties that have kept fusion always the "energy source of tomorrow." Theoretical and experimental results suggest that this "polywell" approach to fusion can not only generate net power, but do it in a clean way, with no radioactive byproducts, using fuels (hydrogen and boron) that are abundant environmentally friendly. It's just a matter of confirming the results with a few more experiments, and then working out the engineering details for a full-scale power plant.
For more details, please see the links below.
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Here I'm attempting to gather a complete list of web pages that discuss polywell fusion in anything more than a passing mention (except for blogs which are simply quoting other sources without adding value).
- Should Google Go Nuclear? A video of a lecture given by Dr. Bussard at Google in November 2006. This is a must-see. It is 90 minutes long; if in a hurry, see:
- Highlights of the Google talk. Presents just the key excerpts from the above video in three minutes. For more detail, see the full lecture above.
- A write-up of the Google lecture by a third party. Note that it contains some glaring mistakes, in particular, misidentifying the machines shown in the pictures. Still a useful read though.
- EMC2 Inertial-Electrostatic Fusion (IEF) Development: Final Successful Tests of WB-6; October/November 2005. A report on the final WB-6 tests, hosted by the University of Wisconsin.
- The Advent of Clean Nuclear Fusion: Superperformance Space Power and Propulsion. A nontechnical (and hastily assembled) paper by Dr. Bussard describing the work done under the Navy contract. This is the first published summary of that work, and gives a good feel for the history of the project, as well as space applications thereof.
- Wikipedia: Polywell. A good introduction to the topic (including some interesting discussion).
- Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Overview. A brief overview of IEC fusion by John Santarius of the Fusion Technology Institute. Also available (with better formatting) in PDF format.
- Hydrogen-Boron vs. Deuterium-Tritium. A nice overview of these two fusion reactions (the polywell reactor would run the hydrogen-boron reaction, though not by generating tremendous temperatures, but by colliding ions at just the right energy).
- The Space Show: March 4 2007. Podcast in which Jim Benson talks mostly about his new space venture, but at about 1 hour in, he spends 10 minutes or so on Dr. Bussard's research. (Benson is the founder of SpaceDev, which now has Dr. Bussard's lab equipment and three of his lab techs.)
- The Space Show: May 8 2007. Podcast interviewing Tom Ligon and Dr. Robert Bussard. A very interesting and rare opportunity to hear from Dr. Bussard himself.
- EMC2 Fusion Development Corporation, the non-profit organization recently founded to collect donations (through the New Mexico Community Foundation) to further Polywell research.
- Blog commentaries (in reverse chronological order; also see "Discussions" below for blog entries that led to significant discussions):
- Research articles:
- R. W. Bussard, 1991. "Some physics considerations of magnetic inertial-electrostatic confinement: a new concept for spherical converging-flow fusion." Fusion Technology Vol. 19, p. 273-293 (Mar. 1991).
- N. A. Krall, 1992. "The Polywell: a spherically convergent ion focus concept." Fusion Technology Vol. 22, p. 42-49 (Aug. 1992).
- N. A. Krall et al., 1995. "Forming and maintaining a potential well in a quasispherical magnetic trap." Physics of Plasmas 2 (1), p. 146-158 (Jan. 1995).
- T. H. Rider, 1995(a). "Fundamental limitations on plasma fusion systems not in thermodynamic equilibrium." Ph. D. Thesis, MIT, Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (1995).
- T. H. Rider, 1995(b). "A general critique of inertial-electrostatic confinement fusion systems." Physics of Plasmas 2 (6), p. 1853-1872 (Jun. 1995).
- W. M. Nevins, 1995. "Can inertial electrostatic confinement work beyond the ion-ion collisional time scale?" Physics of Plasmas 2 (10), p. 3804-3819 (Oct. 1995).
- Patents on early polywell devices:
- U.S. Patent #4,826,646: "Method and apparatus for controlling charged particles" (granted May 2, 1989).
- U.S. Patent #5,160,695: "Method and apparatus for creating and controlling a nuclear fusion reaction" (granted Nov. 3, 1992).
- News articles:
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