Mr. Fusion?

David C. Holzman
by David C. Holzman
mr fusion

Nuclear fusion is the preferred deus ex machina in the minds of some who long for cheap, abundant energy, although fusion will never be either. The challenge: containing the plasma fuel that heats to millions of degrees inside a “bottle” made of magnetic fields produced by a superconducting magnet kept at absolute zero a few feet away. The concept’s been likened to trying to hold water inside rubber bands. A press release from MIT News entitled “New Insights on Fusion Power” celebrates the kind of esoteric advances that indicate that fusion lies somewhere beyond the Hubble Deep Field in the cosmology of future energy sources (i.e. just as distant as when I first wrote about it in 1978).

MIT scientists have discovered a way to “push the plasma around inside the [reactor] vessel” with radio-frequency waves. With this, they can prevent heat loss to the vessel walls, as well as the “internal turbulence that can reduce the efficiency of fusion reactions.” That, they say, could be crucial to the planned International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), currently being constructed in France. But these are just a couple of a number of issues preventing fusion reactors from producing more energy than they consume.

Another recent development which could help the ITER: a new way of injecting a blast of argon or neon into the reactor vessel– to quench “a kind of runaway effect that could cause severe damage to reactor components” (uh-oh)– by turning plasma energy into light. For the ITER, such a blast would require, for a mere thousandth of a second, the equivalent of the total electricity production of the United States. I can smell the grid frying from Caribou, Maine, to San Diego.

So, for the near future, EVs will depend on coal (which produces slightly less than half of US electricity), natural gas (21 percent), nuclear (19 percent), hydro (6.9 percent) and “other” (includes wind, 3.3 percent) and oil (1.1 percent).

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  • CarnotCycle CarnotCycle on Dec 04, 2008
    Imagine what a fusion reaction gone bad could do (hint - create the sun on planet earth). There is no way a fusion reactor of any kind could create a disaster of that magnitude in a failure. Fusion reactors and reactions are totally different than their fission analogs. Fusion is actually much like chemical combustion in its behavior, its just the fuels and their products are nuclear instead of molecular in energy-density. That also means it takes an very hot "spark plug" and high compression to both ignite and burn the fuels respectively.
  • JEC JEC on Dec 05, 2008

    I say we hand it over to Elon Musk. He'll have a car running on fusion before the end of next year, priced at 100 000$, with a trillion mile range, 800 million horsepower, and a transmission made of diamond. Taking deposits now.

  • CEastwood Seven mil nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight for oil changes and such and the thicker heavy duty gripper gloves from Wally World for most everything else . Hell we used to use no gloves for any of that and when we did it was usually the white cloth gloves bought by the dozen or the gray striped cuff ones for heavy duty use . Old man rant over , but I laugh when I see these types of gloves in a bargain bin at Home Cheapo for 15 bucks a pair !
  • Not Previous Used Car of the Day entries that spent decades in the weeds would still be a better purchase than this car. The sucker who takes on this depreciated machine will learn the hard way that a cheap German car is actually a very expensive way to drive around.
  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.