1) Even if there is a low chance of success, it would be wildly profitable if successful, and investing early gets you a good share if it's successful.
2) Fusion power would make the world a better place; investing in this way, when you already have huge returns and it's someone else's money, is actually rational even if you think it's not the best financial investment.
3) This looks like an amazingly smart team; even if they fail at fusion, they might find something worthwhile in the process. Just handling magnetics and high power well could be a useful toolkit for other problems.
4) "Halo effect" -- both because it's awesome science/engineering and because it shows a willingness to take extreme risks -- boosts YC (which probably doesn't need it) and Mithril (which is maybe even more awesome than YC, but nowhere near as widely known). If it loses $1.5mm but makes it more likely the next Facebook comes to either of these funds, it's a win.
That said, I am looking forward to at least one of the fusion efforts bearing fruit. I'm something of an optimist here but I expect a durable solution to the 'energy problem' to emerge from our developing understanding of both quantum mechanics and particle physics. I am also cognizant of the fact that it also raises the bar on both good and bad things that humans can do. The tricky parts are in the transitions, pre and post event.
I think there are other paths to sustainable energy, but certainly viable fusion power is the holy grail.
What's scary is a weapon that can cause massive damage, that we are actually willing to use.
Sure, nuclear states vs. non-nuclear traditional states is the most likely use right now, but we're not that far off from non-state actors being able to make nuclear weapons. Right now the only real protection is limiting access to fissile material.
IMHO focused fusion destruction is likely to be far more humane than the indiscriminate destruction caused by the weapons currently in our arsenal. i.e. a highly focused weapon is likely to to result in instant death for the victims instead of minutes to months to years of suffering for victims depending on their exposure levels.
Just because war is bad does not mean we are forced to throw up our hands and stop making distinctions between degrees of badness. War is not simply infinitely bad... that's ultimately a very sophomoric view.
In industrialized countries, wars of aggression are usually never profitable, but the same can unfortunately not be said for less-developed societies. Even Europe didn't find this obvious until after World War 2. So I guess it ends up being a question of how you define "sophomoric".
"Wealth through superior firepower" has hardly ever been achieved. Even Rome mostly got rich through trade after its armies conquered Europe and North Africa, and a lawful peace was imposed. Had everyone been economically rational pretty much the same end could have been achieved through trade (spoiler: not everyone is economically rational.)
Simple looting of the kind the Spanish engaged in in the New World was never a very good path to wealth, partly because its first effect was to create massive inflation (if you use gold as money and inject vase amounts of gold into your economy without increased productive capacity, you get inflation, not wealth.)
So the conditions of gaining wealth by war are very, very narrowly defined. It's not impossible, but it's amazingly difficult.
There are defensible moral reasons for engaging in mass organized violence--I support the current American efforts to kill people in Northern Iraq, for example--but economic rationality (profitability) is never one of them, because the first step to creating wealth is never to engage in the wholesale destruction of everything the creation of wealth depends on.
Since you brought up Rome in discussing payback for warfare, you could also ask "Cui bono" here -- "who benefits?"
A war is potentially just like a gold rush, the people getting rich are the ones selling the tools to dig or make war.
Just look at my native Sweden, we managed to stay out of a few wars and shamelessly sold high quality steel to the countries fighting. It made Sweden go from the bottom to the top in Europe.
What this implies about lobbying and how wars starts I'll leave to the imagination.
(I might also add that IS has declared war on the democratic world. So trying to stop their expansion is arguably self defence.)
The outcome may be the same, but there's a whole lot more humanity in subjecting someone to the latter.
2. inflicting as little pain as possible: a humane killing.
I pulled it from http://thefreedictionary.com/humane which cites 'Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged'.
Suffering and harm are distinct things, and being humane is about the former.
When a democracy has a war with a dictatorship it is similar to when the police defends civilians from violence.
(So this don't get into a shouting match: Check "democratic peace theory". I am aware of that the police can misuse their position. A democracy often also do cynical realpolitik when it isn't its voters that gets harmed.)
Edit: You might want to do the distinction of a junta that do a general draft, so there are soldiers for the dictator which didn't volunteer. It isn't an easy solution, but citizens in a country can theoretically overthrow their dictator. Hopefully with more help than the Syrians got from Obama.
Edit 2: I assume that you don't think it is immoral to sell weapons to police. If you are that pacifist, then I think you should move to some place without police to protect you... I hear they have good weather in inner Somalia and southern Yemen. Both are traditional clan societies without police.
Edit 3: Ah, you have a 60s style of police racial violence discussion in the USA right now. I get the down votes.
The problem with direct-fire weapons is not something like "bullets don't do enough damage." It's aiming and range and so forth. A plasma weapon seems unlikely to have good range or good aiming, and if it does not come with a fusion reactor alongside it, it's also kind of hard to see how you'd power the damn thing.
I'm sure someone can imagine some upside to such a weapon, but in practice, the odds that that particular result would come instead of a million other variations that would be inferior to just shooting bullets at things seems deeply unlikely.
And as everyone has already said, we already have fusion bombs. And for that matter small tactical nuclear weapons for more battlefieldy uses.
Yes, using weapons is unfortunate. The decision to ever use a weapon should be made with the utmost discretion. But when it comes time to use a weapon, it seems hard to argue against having the most effective weapons that also have little collateral damage.
Maybe people are worried that a new, extremely effective weapon will be discovered which happens to have high collateral damage. That's a concern, but it's never been possible to delay the advancement of technology. If something is possible to discover, then it seems like some diligent researcher will eventually discover it. But the concern itself seems misplaced: most new weapons have less collateral damage, not more.
By a huge margin, the most plausible military application of anything this company develops is "a fusion reactor on an aircraft carrier."
And I say that as someone who regards it as deeply unlikely that this company will create any major step towards a fusion reactor.
But about right for a submarine.
The possibility of pivoting your business model to "building plasma cannons for the Navy" is less of a risk and more of an awesome opportunity. I mean, defense contracting is a bit of a drag and there's tons of red tape, but if there's anything as cool as building fusion reactors small enough to replace diesel generators, it's building plasma cannons for the Navy.
Not to mention the tremendous moral hazard. I am unclear as to how anyone can function as a reasonable moral actor when they profit from war.
Calling it "defense" does not solve that problem.
Building a better bullet can save lives.
Why is that a risk? I'd like to live in a country with that technology, because otherwise other countries will have it and we won't.
Great skill in manipulating magnetic fields would probably be useful for: MRI. Detecting landmines and UXO in a field from a UAV or otherwise safe distance. Detecting submarines, including those by terrorists or rogue states transporting NBC weapons.
While those are military applications, they're fairly unalloyedly positive.
Even the hypothetical plasma rifle isn't necessarily a bad thing; if a plasma rifle allows rich countries like US, Japan, etc. to overmatch poor countries and thus prevent war, that's kind of a plus.
You might lose some of the halo effect for one audience, but gain it from another. Not everyone things defense (or if you prefer weapons, or arms dealing) is a bad sector to be in.
A nice portable high intensity directed neutron radiation source might be pretty nasty, though.
I guess you could use it to attack people inside a building without directly destroying the building, but I would figure that if you got a high enough neutron flux to reliably kill everyone inside the building, you'd also get enough activation radiation to render the building uninhabitable for at least weeks. You might well need fancy decontamination, and possibly to demolish the building and haul away parts of it. Seems easier to just use a bomb.
"Fusors have also been developed commercially, as sources for neutrons by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor
But you're right, plasma is not the deadly weapon. Neutrons are.
On a somewhat related note. Despite the setbacks and the bad rep nuclear gets, fusion really could be a better future. The energy density is in a class of its own, compared to that of renewables. Prof David MacKay demonstrates this quite effectively here. This of course is not to take anything away from renewables or imply we shouldn't pursue funding both.
One group of companies I find particularly interesting, are those attempting aneutronic fusion.
Like many good ideas, that became bad ideas (in the 60's), it appears to now be back in fashion. Theoretical advancements have pushed the achievable temperature ceiling northwards, allowing a move towards commercialization.
Whether this particular line of fusion innovation will ultimately pan out, is perhaps anyone's guess. Personally however, I suspect there is a chance it can work. The benefits would be almost too good to pass up.
Small, modular, cheap and safe (with almost no radioactive waste)
Some examples in the industry:
Raman-budget: Focus Fusion 
Secretive and heavily funded: Tri Alpha Energy 
It sure could be a better future but the "bad rep" problem is bigger than I ever thought. The coalition of green parties in the European council (or Commission? Parliament? EU bureaucracy is confusing-) have the following in their program (paraphrased): "Cancel the funding of all nuclear power projects, like the ITER project".
This is a purely political move that is made solely to appeal to the feelings (not intelligence) of their voters. Nuclear fusion should be the project for the Green movement, but instead they are doing the complete opposite, just because of the reputation issues.
The film highlights much of the misinformation campaign about fission, with particular emphasis on Chernobyl. I highly recommend watching, no matter the what you believe about nuclear power.
> "Cancel the funding of all nuclear power projects, like the ITER project"
This is so very sad indeed. Fusion and fission are entirely different technologies, and both show immense promise to meet the energy needs of the future.
"23. Calls on the Commission, the Member States, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other public banks to freeze public funding for nuclear fusion, including ITER, or fission, except for the decommissioning of nuclear facilities;"
What the hell? I just don't understand the Green parties sometimes and could never support them while they still do rubbish like this.
However, 15% of UK energy is generated from renewables (excluding nuclear), which would mean that currently one seventh of the landmass of the UK was covered in wind turbines etc. Which it isn't. You'd be able to tell.
So, one of us has made a mistake with our calculations somewhere.
I believe he also includes the embodied energy of imports (this was in his book), where if goods are manufactured overseas and imported, it may make sense to count the energy used to manufacture them, depending on what you're measuring exactly.
For example, there's little difference between importing aluminium, or importing energy and bauxite and smelting it yourself.
Also, area use will not increase linearly with the addition of many renewables, because in many cases the best sites are taken first. Hydro can generate a lot of energy around the clock, but you quickly run out of the best locations. Wind strength varies across the country.
In a small country like the UK, solar isn't going to vary much by latitude, and you can probably build it out all over the country. But time shifting of demand isn't always possible, so even if the panels were free, using them to push from (say) 50% of energy from renewables to 100% is going to involve some kind of storage system, which is either going to be very expensive (probably exceeding GDP) and unproven (eg hydrogen fuel cells, lithium ion batteries), or require a ton of space and specific terrain, like pumped water. So that's going to cost a lot of space.
Lastly, electricity isn't always the desired final form. If you're powering jet planes, you're going to need some type of biofuel, which is very inefficient per unit area. If and when hydrogen planes are developed, this will stop being an issue (electric cars have already proven their viability).
I highly recommend his book. It's a brilliant read, he nicely boils down the issues, and is thoroughly committed to stopping global warming - it's not some doom and gloom oil industry sponsored thing. But he doesn't have his head in the sand about how hard a switch to renewables is going to be, unlike (unfortunately) a ton of the green movement seems to.
I've no idea why he would include imports. Does he exclude exports? It seems a bit mad. There's a huge difference between me buying some aluminium and having to generate the electricity at my home to smelt it myself as a kind of cottage industry! (A case of he who smelted, dealt it?)
The point about area use not increasing linearly is a good one. However, Prof Mackay doesn't do this. He consistently states that - even giving renewables every advantage and pretending they'll always work at peak efficiency - you'd still have to blanket the country with them to make them effective.
I've read his book and it's where I first started to think there was something a bit off in what he was saying. Yes, he's very full of the idea that he's the hard-nosed realist and anyone who disagree must have their heads in the sand. I've heard that tactic before.
Picture a hypothetical country that solely consists of stay at home programmers making large sums of money, powered entirely by solar, but importing vast amounts of physical goods manufactured in environmentally unfriendly ways. The country would by traditional measures be a perfect model of sustainability, but it is simply paying others to do unsustainable actions on its behalf.
The book isn't really "saying" much, for the most part. The vast bulk of it is simple, back of the envelope calculations for energy consumption which shows working. I realize you might not want to take a half hour to find specific faults in it, but it is not helpful say there is "something a bit off" with a work like that, when the source code is published for all to see.
For instance, that he counts embodied energy of imports, and you do not wish to, makes a big difference to the bottom line. Just skimming the chapter headings is enough to point out a concrete disagreement.
Fair point about the hard nosed realist tactic often being used to discredit dissenting views. That wasn't my intention, I was more trying to say that the conclusions presented should not be used to infer some political position of the author.
There are a ton of studies paid for by the oil industry that paint all kinds of pictures, I just meant it's not a book like that. If I realized you'd already read it, I wouldn't have included that part.
Including imports is wrong. In your hypothetical country, fixing those unsustainable actions is up to the country they're importing goods from. Show that they can't use wind/solar on their landmass if you want. The idea that every area of a country (or indeed the world) are equally good at generating power is obviously incorrect. Claiming that this makes wind and solar power unusable is equally incorrect.
The book reads like it was paid for by the nuclear industry (I don't think it was; it just reads that way).
So, while close it's vary misleading as going 100% renewable would take less new land than he is suggesting. Add to that you can mix wind farms and regular farms at the cost of less than 1% of the farm land. Not to mention off shore wind farms. Which further reduces the land requirements well below his calculations.
Also, Hydro is vary efficient built in storage using it 24/7 is vary wasteful.
Wind is 24/7, and solar aligns with peak demand fairly well. Anyway, rather than storage your better off with extra wind capacity that's often wasted, with solar to meet your daily peak and hydro to fill in the gaps.
PS: Adding a few peaking power plants is still a good idea, going 80% renewable is a much more reasonable goal until most of the world is at that point. It's silly to chase a few extra % when china is using so much coal power.
MacKay is the author of a book - "Sustainable Energy without the hot air" - which lays out all his calculations and the rationales behind the inputs. And it's available online . So if you want to audit his calculations, have at it!
So, electricity is about 1/3 of total energy. The 15% figure is the latest one for the last quarter of 2013 (PDF, see page 13). That means that (according to Prof Mackay) 5% of the UK is covered in renewable electricity generation.
No, it's still not.
Most likely brought in from other countries, and the wind parks in the North Sea.
Many local utilities in Germany hold stakes e.g. in a Norwegian (iirc) dam project, so they recieve a given amount of electricity output. This increases Germany's renewable-source amount even if the energy itself isn't produced in Germany.
Offshore wind was included in the impossible. There's something off in his figures. Perhaps wind turbines have become more efficient since he first made his calculations?
We also have a good few estuaries that could create electricity relatively easily - using known and proven technology, which fusion certainly isn't.
Bottom line is these figures are either incompetent or disingenuous.
I'm old enough to remember fusion being touted as the Next Big Thing for literally all of my life. Commercial containment fusion seems no closer now than it did fifty years ago.
There are alternatives, but they're highly speculative. Dropping YC cash on them makes sense as a long shot, but the science doesn't suggest it's wise to expect them to make good.
It's certainly interesting, and I wish these companies all the best. The consternation I see occasionally over a company like this getting a (relatively) small amount of funding confuses me. There are so many software startups that receive equivalent or greater funding that eventually die or pivot into something else. Here, you have physical cutting edge engineering with potential implications that blow something like Slack, or Square, or even Uber away. Personally, I love seeing companies in the physical space get in on today's Silicon Valley high.
Semi-related, but I've been to NIF (National Ignition Facility), since I spent a summer at LLNL, and the inside of that facility is like the dream vision of every little kid that was into science and science fiction. Unfortunately (as my physicist significant other who was not working there found out) the public tours are far more restricted and you don't get to see the cool stuff.
Talk about an understatement. Uber is just a cheaper cab. Commercially viable fusion is a game-changer on a planetary scale: Halting global warming by replacing fossil fuels, hydrogen fuel cells become viable by generating hydrogen through hydrolysis, energy-intensive desalinization plants deliver fresh water for drinking and irrigation.
I was giving a (very) charitable reading of the occasional claim that Uber will change the way everything works via its framework. A more tempered tone normally does better on HN, but to be totally honest, I don't think any of those companies I mentioned could even come near what Helion would achieve if successful.
Safe: With no possibility of melt-down, or hazardous nuclear
waste, fusion dose not suffer the drawbacks that make
fission an unattractive alternative.
I wonder what the service interval on an installed reactor will be? Or are they doing isotope separation on the produced helium on-site?
(Fun fact: you can get deuterium from water but helium comes from natural gas fields! It's literally a fossil gas, which is why we're running out of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium#Occurrence_and_productio... )
1: Commercially, heavy water is a byproduct of electrolysis plants: since deuterium doesn't electrolyze quite as easily as light water, it tends to accumulate in electrolysis stacks
2: The same rock formations that trap natural gas also trap helium.
You can't "breed" 3He; you have to breed tritium, which decays to He3 with a half-life of 12 years. D-3He reactors do produce some neutrons, roughly 1% of the flux of D-T, and almost entirely from D-D side-reactions.
Actually, a big problem with D-3He as of today is the lack of neutrons -- since you only get one neutron per 100 (e.g.) reactions, you can't possibly breed enough tritium to break-even. You have to come up with some other neutron source, or send rockets to Jupiter.
>After a decade, the whole reactor will be nuclear waste.
Fusion reactors are generally made from boron carbide -- a material unique for the fact that it does not become very radioactive when irradiated with neutrons. 14C which is produced can be extracted by oxidation and centrifuging, and in any case is not nearly as scary as, say, 90Sr. No other concerning radioactive isotopes exist with atomic masses between 10 and 21 (cf 22Na).
>commercial helium comes natural gas fields! It's literally a fossil gas, which is why we're running out of it:
Nope, that's 4He. There's basically no 3He in natural gas (because the helium there is radiogenic), so obtaining fuel that way wouldn't work even if we wanted to.
D-D fusion makes Tritium (that decays into He3), Helium 3, or Helium 4 through the fusion process itself, with no breeding.
We believe that there is a correct ratio called Self-Supplied in which you have a small amount of 2.4 MeV neutrons, only deuterium as an input fuel, and the majority of the energy is from the Helium 3 fusion. The hard part is how to separate out the right isotope mixture from the exhaust between pulses.
(This thread is having a hard time settling on a single isotope notation.)
How much does the initial charge of 3He cost, given that the stuff costs $7,000 a gram?
You can't "breed" 3He; you have to breed tritium, which
decays to He3 with a half-life of 12 years.
I imagine you could produce 3He by hitting deuterium with a proton beam, (or doing something exotic with 4He, or 6Li) at incredible cost per litre of produced 3He, but that's not really a "fuel" cycle, since the power reaction isn't involved in any way...
Fusion reactors are generally made from boron carbide
I have no idea.
The D-3He reaction is: D + 3He >> p + 4He + 18 MeV. The D-D side-reaction is D + D >> n + 3He. Maybe they're recovering 3He from the side-reaction? But D-D is harder to ignite than D-3He.
This would hardly be aneutronic (you'd have one neutron per two nuclear collisions, instead of roughly per 100 with exogenous 3He), but it does provide a way of making 3He. I should stress that I am only guessing.
>Are there any running fusion experiments that use internal boron carbide cladding to shield the vacuum chamber walls?
Germany's new stellarator, Wendelstein 7-X: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022311504...
Actually, ITER uses beryllium. This has the same high cross-section and low propensity to create dangerous radionuclides as B4C, but is expensive and toxic. It is, however, much easier to make things out of, because it is just a metal. Older projects use tungsten, which does create dangerous radionuclides (181W and 185W). I was mostly aware of research re: B4C, but had been ignorant of beryllium.
So I should have said "modern fusion reactors generally use first-wall materials like boron carbide and beryllium, which do not become radioactive when irradiated". In practice, it's not worth holding up experiments on containment to make safe walls (ITER isn't built to last). In any case, the question of irradiated reactor walls is slowly becoming a solved problem.
You'll get some D-T from the tritium you produced, but the pulsed reaction probably helps a lot.
"Assuming complete removal of tritium and recycling of 3He, only 6% of the fusion energy is carried by neutrons."
Just throw chunks of Californium 252 at it ;-)
(That is one of the most expensive practical materials on earth, probably hundreds of dollars per microgram)
edit: looks like it is - this is the group: https://www.aa.washington.edu/research/plasmaDynamics/phdx.h...
(1) They have a solid lead we don't know about; or
(2) Saying you are 3 years away generates hype and interest that keeps netting you the funding to work on something as long term as decades away.
Even if they secretly think it is exactly one decade away, it is in their interest and the interest of the current investors to say it's only a few years away since they will depend on other investors to get piling in on this investment in 1-2 years time.
My advice to anyone working on inventing something truly new instead of putting a startup together from off the shelf parts: Never under-estimate the value of optimism in your time frames and communicating that optimism and timeframe often. Every truly big idea I can think of has depended on a similar optimism since it's the only way to actually net you the amount of money needed to accomplish something truly novel.
Even Kennedy did this when he talked about putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It took 8 years, one month and 26 days from the date of his speech to accomplish something that was pretty far fetched in 1961. Only those willing to make bold claims are capable of taking such bold claims to fruition. That's how you raise the money you need and recruit the people you need to make that a reality. Moonshot startups require a moonshot attitude.
E.g they generate a magnetic field and they recover the energy from the same magnetic elements generating electricity instead of having to add a completely independent turbine generator with all the heat and radiation problems associated with it.
Even if they don't reach the goal, they could discover something useful.
We had a very low budget so our marketing was bare-bones.
We had a lot of excitement, but also a lot of skepticism and pushback. Our hired marketing team insisted on an extremely optimistic presentation and that turned a lot of people off. Of course I don't know whether we would have done better with a more measured approach. With LPP being such a small team and so far off the beaten path we faced a lot more skepticism to start with.
The Solar Roadways campaign ran on Indiegogo at the same time and raised over $2 million. They managed to make a video go viral.
What role did you play? Do you think a marketing team is necessary for a successful campaign?
By the way, email me if you want to chat sometime. I've been kicking around an idea for a better kickstarter.
I don't know whether they had a bigger marketing budget or were just good at it. It does seem like an easier-to-understand hook. Various people have criticized the idea's practicality but say "solar roadways" and you've got the concept. That probably helped media coverage. For us, it was complicated to explain why it was more than "here's another guy in a garage who thinks he's solving the world's energy problems."
I'm on the board of the Focus Fusion Society so I debated and voted on various decisions, got interviewed a couple times, and spent a lot of time commenting online various places, mainly reddit.
A marketing team at least helps do a lot of legwork. If you want to pay more for expert advice it can be hard to determine who's expert enough to give good advice for your particular situation.
I'll email later.
There it's also the option of getting some scientific teams(universities, institutes) to help in a crowdsourcing way. For no money, just stock and the possibility to help with a world changing project like yours.
I know it's possible because I've got some high level volunteers (NASA, European level matematic institute, Airbus ingeneers) in contact with Dirk Ahlborn (Jumpstart) to work on the Hyperloop (they got more than 80 volunteers selected).
I don't know if having ingeneering, designers and matematician teams working remotely could be helpful to you at this moment, but it's another way to get people around the world to help, and now that you have YC backing it'll be easier.
Three decades? Either this is a very long-term investment, or a very confusingly written article.
In this article, he estimates commercial viability by 2019:
I had office hours today with a co in the current YC batch whose (genuine) TAM is so big I worry investors won't be able to parse it.
There are some biotech companies too, but I don't know much about those.
Another big contender (IMHO) is Tri Alpha's aneutronic approach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri_Alpha_Energy,_Inc.
Either way, cool stuff!
Boron fusion is pretty much the ultimate of course.
Three... years? Decades? Days? Millennia?
To put this in context, even the international ITER project is 'experimental' (with a budget of € 15 billion, expected to be switched on in 2019), and is expected to be followed up with a demonstration plant in 2040...
Fusion works particularly well for stars because of gravity. We're trying to use magnets to contain superheated plasma.
The Sun generates less energy on a kg-for-kg basis that compost . And it has gravity to contain the byproducts (other than energy).
But the real problem is neutrons. To start a fusion reaction with a small amount of matter we use heavy isotopes of hydrogen (specifically deuterium = 1 neutron, tritium = radioactive isotope with 2 neutrons). The fusing material releases neutrons that damage the containing reactor.
This is using the most "promising" deuterium-tritium reaction.
Alternatives are suggesting using He3. Unfortunately that's super-rare, which kinda defeats the point of "free" energy.
I remain skeptical but hoping to be proven wrong.
Even with D-D alone the neutrons are a lot less energetic than with D-T.
Here's an article about MagLIF research using the Z Machine at Sandia Labs: http://www.nature.com/news/triple-threat-method-sparks-hope-...
Not exactly related, but this made me wonder : inside a tank full of liquid hydrogen, do the DH and DD molecules lie on the bottom? Is it possible to just siphon them from there?
The figure, deuterium fuel is confusing as deuterium is an isotope and am unsure what they mean 'extraction' (how?).
It's not a completely novel approach, and it's probably not a great investment compared to some other fusion startups, though I am glad people are investing in this rather than idiotic app companies. Kudos to the big-Y for taking on some useful risk. $1.5M is cheap, and should be dished out to many such companies.
Interestingly, the inventor seems to be interested in using the technology to build rockets. If they achieve > break-even, this might actually be a better use for the technology, as it is not obvious how to extract power from the plasma based on their patents, but it would be real easy to just shoot some plasma out one end of the thing for a dandy rocket engine. I guess MHD would work, and would not be a patentable innovation, but this really looks like a space rocket to me.
This how the German's did it in WW2.
They are all so apt -- A steampunk-sounding mechanism for combining things, a mythical element/alloy of magical powers, and a naked Helium nucleus. It just tickles something very artistic for me.
Edit:  ok fine it's actually a math function, but I like my perception of the name better.
It's possible that the reactor does two reactions: 1) D + D -> 3He + n, 3He + D -> 4He + p.
Directly how? No boiling water driving pistons, no intervening steps at all? It seems a bit like "and then a miracle occurs" to me.
For comparison, consider robotics, drones, nanotechnology, and AI. I am fascinated by these subjects (and, apparently, so are many other HN readers), but I have some concerns that these non-nuclear technologies may end up having very negative consequences. Yet these high tech areas, with which I would guess the HN readers have a better understanding than fusion, don't engender such negative reactions here.
1.) There's no chain reaction mechanism.
2.) The probability of a reaction constrains reaction size.
3.) The absurd amount of heat generated by fusion. I think I once heard it was 100M degrees.
Curious, anybody know how they design around this?
Are they using some form of magnetized containment?
Excited to see this funded.
There's something like it. Fusion happens because plasma is hot -> fusion products heat the plasma to keep it hot -> more fusion happens. A chain reaction is exactly what you don't want in a nuclear reactor.
> 2.) The probability of a reaction constrains reaction size.
Can you be more specific? The probability of reaction does constrain the design, but via the Lawson criterion .
> 3.) The absurd amount of heat generated by fusion. I think I once heard it was 100M degrees.
That's about right, but temperature != heat. Even though the plasma has a very high temperature, it is also extremely diffuse: about 3 million times less dense than air.
The main concern is keeping it hot in the proximity of colder stuff and managing the electromagnetic energy (the fields have many times more energy than the thermal energy, and has the potential to all be dumped in a single spot), not necessarily worrying about the heat.
edit: lots of silly typos
Usually the stuff is hidden in a vacuum, which is a pretty good shield for heat.
why do vcs with a specialty in software suddenly stray into completely unknown territory? nothing left to fund in software? rarely does this end well.
From the point of view of a fusion startup, if you try 100 software VCs, you might find 2 or 3 who will be interested. However, you will wait forever if you want to find a VC specializing in fusion.
They might be a little foolish expecting (and suggesting they can deliver) net positive fusion reactors in three years, but what they're doing is solid physics. It's a high risk, high reward investment and I'm glad it's happening even if I don't think it's likely to work because someone _soon_ is going to be successful in creating a commercially viable fusion reactor, and more separate groups trying makes the chances of success higher.
In general the goal is for an exothermic reaction. It should be possible. Perpetual Motion Machine would be one that could sustain itself without fuel. This one can't. It has to use heavy water and helium to form the plasma. To be an actual perpetual motion machine, the system would have to create enough energy to be converted into hydrogen (E=MC^2 and all), then feed itself with the new fuel. Even at 8 times the energy output, they can't get enough energy to create parts of the fuel.
- Lord Kelvin, 1895 http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/speeches/fg_kitty_hawk...