Fusion Energy: When might it become economically feasible?


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These slides discuss the technological trends that might make fusion energy economically feasible in the future. Steady improvements in superconductors are improving the economic feasibility of magnetic confinement, which can be measured by the "triple product." this triple product includes temperature, plasma density, and controlled reaction time. these superconductors are currently being improved for other applications such as MRI and energy transmission. Improvements in inertial laser confinement are also occurring through improvements in lasers, which are also being used in other applications. What does this mean for policy?

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Fusion Energy: When might it become economically feasible?

  1. 1. A/Prof Jeffrey Funk Division of Engineering and Technology Management National University of Singapore For information on other technologies, see http://www.slideshare.net/Funk98/presentations
  2. 2. This is part of the Eighth Session of MT5009 Session Technology 1 Objectives and overview of course 2 3 Two types of improvements: 1) Creating materials that better exploit physical phenomena; 2) Geometrical scaling Semiconductors, ICs, electronic systems 4 5 6 7 MEMS and Bio-electronic ICs Lighting and Displays (also roll-to roll printing) Nanotechnology, 3D printing and DNA sequencing Human-computer interfaces 8 Superconductivity, fusion, energy storage 9 10 Solar cells, wind turbines Telecommunications and Internet
  3. 3. http://larouchepac.com/node/14726 The Sun is a natural fusion reactor
  4. 4. Controlling Fusion is the Challenge  Very hot temperatures are required and the temperatures will vaporize any containment vessel  So must use more sophisticated methods of controlling fusion  Main two methods  Magnetic Confinement (most widely used); sometimes called Tokamak  Inertial Laser Confinement
  5. 5. As Noted in Previous Session, Two main mechanisms for improvements  Creating materials (and their associated processes) that better exploit physical phenomenon  Geometrical scaling  Increases in scale  Reductions in scale  Some technologies directly experience improvements while others indirectly experience them through improvements in “components” A summary of these ideas can be found in 1) forthcoming paper in California Management Review, What Drives Exponential Improvements? 2) book from Stanford University Press, Technology Change and the Rise of New Industries
  6. 6. Both are Relevant to Fusion  Creating materials (and their associated processes) that better exploit physical phenomenon. Create materials that  Better exploit superconductivity: Tokamak  Enable higher power lasers: Inertial laser confinement  Geometrical scaling  Increases in scale: larger reactors probably lead to lower cost  Some technologies directly experience improvements while others indirectly experience them through improvements in “components”  Better superconductors and lasers can lead to better fusion
  7. 7. Magnetic Fields are the Primary Method of Controlling Fusion Strong magnetic fields and thus better superconducting magnets are an important part of making fusion economically feasible Source: http://www.plasma.inpe.br/LAP_Portal/LAP_Site/Text/Tokamaks.htm
  8. 8. One Way to Measure Progress in Controlled Fusion  ―When I started in this field as graduate student we made 1/10 of Watt in pulse of 1/100 of second. Now record in range of 10 million Watts for second. improvement by an overall factor of 10 billion. The ITER project will produce 500 million Watts for periods of 300 - 500 seconds.‖ Rob Goldston, Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, 2009?  According to Michio Kaku (2011)  Current record is 16 MW, created by European Joint European Trust  Target date for breakeven in energy is now set to be 2019  DEMO expected to continually produce energy in 2033; two billion watts of power (2 GW) or 25 times more energy than it consumes  March 12, 2013 article  JET in UK generated 16 MW for a few seconds  Global fusion research including ITER construction <2 billion USD/year
  9. 9. http://www.fusionenergyleague.org/index.php/blog/article/fusion_v._moores_law
  10. 10. Progress in Triple Product (Temperature, Density of Plasma, Time o Controlled Reaction) for Fusion http://www.fusionenergyleague.org/index.php/blog/article/fusion_v._moores_law
  11. 11. Improvements in Superconducting Magnets are Important: Lead to Higher Magnetic Fields and thus Higher Triple Products (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) Note: Open symbols represent the magnets operating below 3 K. Source: Fusion Engineering and Design, Volume 81, Issues 20–22, November 2006, Pages 2411–2415
  12. 12. Fusion Engineering and Design Volume 81, Issues 20–22, November 2006, Pages 2425–2432
  13. 13. Improvements in Superconductors  Mostly financed by private companies and being driven by their use in MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and in energy transmission  Thus, the improvements may not require expensive government investments in fusion systems  Instead, other kinds of government investments may be more effective
  14. 14. New Fusion Designs Are Also Being Implemented Source: Fusion Engineering and Design Volume 83, Issues 7–9, December 2008, Pages 983–989
  15. 15. Tokamak: an assembly of coils produces a magnetic field in the direction of the torus, to which is added the magnetic field created by an intense axial current flowing in the plasma itself. Stellarator : the magnetic field is entirely based on currents flowing in helicoidal coils.
  16. 16. Benefits from Increases in Scale http://www.energyresearch.nl/energieopties/kernfusie/achtergrond/techniek/hoe-groter-hoe-beter/
  17. 17. Look at the size of the humans in the pictures Source: F.F. Chen, An Indispensable Truth: How Fusion Power Can Save the Planet, 2011
  18. 18. Design of ITER Note size of person http://nextbigfuture.com/search?updated-max=2013-1007T23:47:00-07:00&max-results=7
  19. 19. But Governments Don’t Like Expensive Projects
  20. 20. And Still a Long Way Off  Even if things go well, the economic feasibility of magnetic confinement is still at least 20 years in the future  Many other technologies may become economically feasible by then  and these technologies may cost much less to develop than will magnetic confinement  And even if we make these improvements, other problems may prevent magnetic confinement from being economically feasible  Such arguments are made by Robert Hirsch, former head of US Fusion Program http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/19/aveteran-of-fusion-science-proposes-narrowing-the-field/
  21. 21. Robert Hirsch, former head of US Fusion Program  ITER’s approach to fusion is too expensive  Size similar to fission reactors and thus just as expensive  Structure will incur radiation damage from neutrons that are emitted by fusion  Regulators will be concerned about system power failures  A low probability but still possible  E.g., superconducting magnets might release a large amount of energy if they fail  Thus system regulators will demand regulation for safety reasons, including a large containment building  Remote operations will be required and radioactive materials must be deposed  All of these things will raise the cost of fusion
  22. 22. How about Inertial Laser Confinement? (1)  Will it be less expensive and more safe than magnetic confinement?  Lasers can be used to generate very high temperatures within a confined space  High-powered lasers can focus the energy in a small space and thus provide confinement  High-powered lasers must be fired 5-10 times per second in order to achieve constant electricity generation  Current rates are once every 4-8 hours with newest facilities achieving once every few minutes Source: https://www.llnl.gov/str/Payne.html
  23. 23. How about Inertial Laser Confinement? (2)  Existing fusion facilities use flashlamp-pumped neodymium-doped glass (Nd:glass) lasers  But maybe arrays of semiconductor lasers will be better  Higher firing rates and potentially lower cost  But can the necessary energy levels be achieved?  And can costs be reduced from current "dollars per watt" to "dime per watt" Source: https://www.llnl.gov/str/Payne.html
  24. 24. Much higher energy levels are needed NIF: National Ignition Facility Source: https://www.llnl.gov/str/Payne.html
  25. 25. Conclusions and Relevant Questions for Your Group Projects (1)  For magnetic confinement  Improvements in triple product continue; improvements in superconductive magnets are one reason for them  How many further improvements are likely to be made in superconductors and in fusion?  How many are needed before fusion becomes economical?  Will increases in scale lead to further improvements?  For inertial confinement  How about improvements in lasers? Will they make inertial confinement economically feasible?
  26. 26. Conclusions and Relevant Questions for Your Group Projects (2) • What is best way to make fusion economically feasible?   Expensive development of fusion systems? Less expensive development of better superconductors and lasers that can be used in other applications before they become economically feasible in fusion energy systems? • Like other examples in this course/module  Improvements in components such as superconductors and lasers will probably make new systems economically feasible  Similar stories in this module for ICs and many forms of electronic systems
  27. 27.  Appendix
  28. 28. But others are not as Optimistic: Robert Hirsch, former leader of US Fusion Program  He believes that ITER’s approach to fusion will be too expensive just based on the size of the reactor    As big as fusion reactors and thus just as expensive Structure will incur radiation damage from neutrons that are emitted by fusion Regulators will be concerned about system power failures   A low probability but still possible Thus system regulators will demand regulation for safey reasons,  might occur It is known in engineering and technology development that the cost of a finished machine or product is roughly proportional to the mass of the device. Eyeballing ITER compared to a fission reactor core, it’s obvious that an ITER-like machine is many times more massive. Yes, you can argue details, like the hollow bore of a tokamak, but the size of the huge superconducting magnets and their heavy support structures provides no relief.  Bottom line – On the face of it, an ITER-like power system will be much more expensive than a comparable fission reactor, so I believe that tokamak fusion loses big-time on cost, independent of details.  Next, consider the fact that deuterium-tritium fusion inherently emits copious neutrons, which will induce significant radioactivity in adjacent tokamak structural and moderating materials. Accordingly, a tokamak power system will become highly radioactive as soon as it begins to operate and, over time, radiation damage will render those same materials structurally weak, requiring replacement.  In the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, we have a Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will almost certainly be given the task of ensuring that the public is safe from mishaps associated with tokamak power system failures. Expected regulation will require all kinds of safety features, which will add further costs to tokamak power.  While the character of the plasma in a tokamak power reactor will not likely represent a large energy-release safety issue, the superconducting magnets would contain a huge amount of stored energy. If those magnets were to go normal – lose their superconducting properties – the energy release would be very large. It can be argued that the probability of that happening will be small, but it will nevertheless not be zero, so the regulators will require safety features that will protect the public in a situation where the magnets go normal, releasing very large amounts of energy.
  29. 29. Scale Brings Higher Capital Costs of Experimental Reactors http://linux06.dnspropio.com/~fusionvic/Home1.htm
  30. 30. Hirsch, Continued  Accordingly, it is virtually certain that the regulators will demand a containment building for a commercial tokamak reactor that will likely resemble what is currently required for fission reactors, so as to protect the public from normal-going superconducting magnet energy release. Because an ITER-like tokamak reactor is inherently so large, such a building will be extremely expensive, further increasing the costs of something that is already too expensive.  Next, there’s the induced radioactivity in the structure and moderator of a tokamak power reactor. Some tokamak proponents contend that structure might be made out of an exotic material that will have low induced radioactivity. Maybe, but last I looked, such materials were very expensive and not in common use in the electric power industry. So if one were to decide to use such materials, there would be another boost to cost, along with an added difficulty for industry to deal with.  No matter what materials are chosen, there will still be neutron-induced materials damage and large amounts of induced radioactivity. There will thus be remote operations required and large amounts of radioactive waste that will have to be handled and sent off site for cooling and maybe burial. That will be expensive and the public is not likely to be happy with large volumes of fusion-based radioactivity materials being transported around the country. Remember the criteria of public acceptance.  http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/19/a-veteran-of-fusion-science-proposesnarrowing-the-field/
  31. 31. Response to Hirsch’s comments by Steward Prager      The Way Forward with Magnetic Fusion Energy, By Stewart C. Prager, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory As budget negotiations heat up, so does the debate over the balance between investments in the long-term future and shortterm necessities. Fusion is a long-term opportunity that will transform how we energize our society. The fact that ignition in a large American experimental inertial confinement fusion facility did not occur as hoped by Sept. 30 has sadly raised questions about the scientific legitimacy of that pursuit. That the scientists did not meet their goal by that day probably has little bearing on that field’s ultimate success. Importantly, this non-event should not bear any relation to the fate of other vital work centering on an entirely different approach known as magnetic fusion. We need to keep our eyes on fusion as a transformative source of energy for the world. There are many powerful reasons why we need to forge ahead. The magnificent lasers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility are aimed to compress a pellet of fusion fuel such that it ―ignites‖ – converts the energy of the lasers that bombard the pellet into fusion energy. The lasers work spectacularly well but the problem of fusion ignition is scientifically rich and complex. So far at least, the pellets have not yet behaved as expected and the milestone of ignition has not yet been achieved. This, of course, should not dull interest in the American inertial confinement fusion program: Not achieving a major scientific result by a pre-determined and artificial deadline is far from a failure. Further, the fact that conquering this complex problem in laser fusion has not been ―on schedule‖ has nothing to say about progress in magnetic fusion – it has been and continues to be remarkable. Those with a long memory will recall the very early optimism about fusion energy that existed in the late 1950s and 1960s. On the heels of the quick success in moving fission energy forward, it was thought practical fusion would follow closely behind. Instead, the world’s scientists ran into an unexpected barrier — the immense physics complexity and seeming impossibility of taming fusion plasmas. The ensuing decades have seen an intense scientific focus on what is truly a grand scientific challenge. Scientists now are teasing out the secrets of complex multi-scaled layers of turbulence in plasmas, the movement of particles through those plasmas, their interaction with magnetic fields, and numerous other phenomena that impact the plasma’s ability to be harnessed as an energy source. This focus in magnetic fusion has driven the development of a new scientific field, plasma physics, with huge benefits for science in general – from understanding cosmic plasmas to employing these hot, ionized gases for computer chip manufacturing.
  32. 32. Prager, Continued    On the energy front, we have advanced from fusion energy production of milliwatts in the 1970s to 16 megawatts (for a duration of 1 second) in the 1990s. With our existing underpowered machines, magnetic fusion scientists are producing and producing close to fusion energy-grade plasmas around the world on a daily basis. We are confident that abundant fusion energy can be produced on a very large scale and are now focused on the remaining physics and engineering challenges to make it practical and attractive. The next major experimental step in magnetic fusion is ITER – the international experiment that will generate 500 megawatts of fusion power, at a physical scale of a power plant. Under construction in France, ITER will begin operation within ten years. It involves participation of the entire developed world, with the ITER partners representing the governments of half the world’s population. The scientific basis for ITER was separately scrutinized and approved by scientific panels in each of these nations. ITER is large, complex, and full of challenges. But, the likelihood of scientific success is high. Most nations involved in ITER have robust fusion research programs that are essential to tackle other key scientific and technical issues. With these accompanying programs, we would be ready to operate a demonstration fusion power plant following ITER about 25 years from today. The charge by some that both inertial and magnetic fusion have been beset with failure is unwarranted. These include remarks in a commentary by Dr. Burton Richter in the Oct. 18 Dot Earth blog: ―Both approaches have gone from failure to ever larger failure, but each time a great deal has been learned…‖ In fairness, the comment is preceded by brief, informative technical capsules. As a fusion-knowledgeable scientist who does not work in fusion energy research, Dr. Richter includes some supportive comments for the fusion program, tempered by discerning skepticism. But, for fusion scientists, Dr. Richter’s comments on failure are difficult to understand. We are unaware of any major project failures in magnetic fusion research. Quite the opposite: One of the key reasons that ITER was funded across the world is that a series of ever larger experiments have been so successful as to provide confidence that the yet larger ITER will be similarly successful.
  33. 33. Prager, Continued    Other commentary has appeared, offering incorrect information. In a separate Dot Earth commentary concerning magnetic fusion on Oct. 19, Dr. Robert Hirsch, an administrator of the fusion energy program at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in the 1970s, offers views reflecting the state of the field at the time of his departure from the AEC some 35 years ago. His view is framed by stating that fusion must be made practical, which means economically and technologically attractive. This is certainly correct and indeed, the criteria for such practicality have provided significant guidance to fusion research for decades. Dr. Hirsch cites a series of challenges that he thinks are roadblocks, but are not. He worries that the energy stored by superconducting magnets poses a serious threat and regulatory burden. This is not so. ITER has proven otherwise. France’s strict nuclear regulatory authorities have concluded the magnets pose no radiological safety concerns for the public. Dr. Hirsch states that the radioactive materials of a fusion reactor will be a major problem. This also is not so. The amount and toxicity is orders of magnitude less than for fission. Dr. Hirsch would be interested to learn that the rigorous French licensing regime is very successfully nearing completion. Licensing, although requiring significant efforts, will not be a barrier to fusion. Some, like Dr Hirsch, have suggested that fusion machines are so large and complex that they will never be cost competitive. No one knows the ultimate costs, but our best engineering analyses indicate that, with some luck, fusion can indeed be cost- competitive. As an alternative to the mainline approaches to fusion energy, Dr. Hirsch puts forth his research idea from the 1970s of inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). I agree that the fusion program very much needs to pursue multiple approaches, even within magnetic fusion. But extensive peer review has found IEC far more difficult to achieve than the ITER and related approaches in magnetic fusion. Fusion is a nearly ideal energy source – essentially inexhaustible, clean, safe, and likely available to all nations. When proven practical, it will transform our energy future. At this moment, research investment by the rest of the world – China, Korea, the EU – is surging in magnetic fusion, while the U.S. investment is stagnating. The U.S. is at a turning point. We either maintain our longdeveloped leadership position in this energy and science frontier, or slip behind as other nations take the fruit of decades of scientific research – much of it from the U.S. – and convert it into a practical energy source for powering the world.