It looks like a prop from a very old Sci Fi movie. But this bizarre assemblage of a metal sphere, metal rods, canisters and rubber hoses could be the very first step on the road to nuclear fusion. Or at least this is what Mike Brown believes. He is the founder of Chrysalix Energy, the venture-capital firm that provided the angel funding for the company now called General Fusion, and he believes that General Fusions's chief scientist Michele Laberge is onto something. Given another $100 million or so in capital, he could have the makings for the cleanest and most abundant source of energy on earth.
Labrge had a wake-up call when after decades of perfecting high-speed printing components, he realized that his main contribution to society was creating a printing system so fast that it would increase junk mail exponentially requiring even more of Canada's forests to be felled. He quit his job and went back to the work he started when he received a Ph.D in fusion physics. Several years and $800,000 later, he successfully produced fusion energy... in very, very tiny quantities.
General Fusion uses a technique known as MTF or magnetized target fusion in which plasma is trapped in magnetic field and violently compressed using shock waves. Many such experiments have been made, but General Fusion has added a twist which might make the technology cheap enough to scale. Normally the plasma is compressed using very expensive high-powered electrical systems (a $20 billion prototype is currently being developed in France). In this case, the metal plasma container (which looks a bit like two fancy hubcaps bolted together) is struck using pneumatic rams, thus compressing the ionized gas inside.
It's a long, long way off. Currently it takes several thousand times more input energy then the 'net energy' produced. But early successes have made General Fusion one of the few hopes for the seemingly unattainable dream of nuclear fusion. Read the full story and watch the video on PopSci.
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