Lockheed Martin Shows Off Jet Engine-Sized Fusion Reactor

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Lockheed Martin Shows Off Jet Engine-Sized Fusion Reactor

Lockheed Martin Fusion Reactor 310x

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works division is five years away from a full-blown fusion reactor prototype.

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works division is responsible for some of the most important aircraft ever built, including the U-2 spy plane, SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 stealth bomber.

You can add "fusion reactor revolutionary," to its list of accolades, it seems.

A team within Skunk Works is hard at work on project "T4," also known as the compact fusion reactor (CFR), a fusion reaction experiment that was originally announced back in 2013. The CFR could, if successful, truly change the world, and how it both produces and consumes power.

Currently the size of business jet engine, the current CFR design has aircraft in mind, but could easily be reworked for use in a spacecraft, or as a power source to replace nuclear or coal power plants.

The project team is led by aeronautical engineer Dr. Thomas McGuire, an MIT alum who is using the project to combine the best nuclear fusion ideas into one, functioning device.

"I started looking at all the ideas that had been published," said McGuire in an interview with Aviation Week. "I basically took those ideas and melded them into something new by taking the problems in one and trying to replace them with the benefits of others. So we have evolved it here at Lockheed into something totally new, and that's what we are testing."

The concept of fusion reaction is nothing new -- it's been around for nearly a century, in fact -- but Lockheed's design is the first that overcomes the plasma beta rate problem. Current designs have a beta rate (the ratio of plasma to its confining pressure) of about five percent, or 20:1 (pressure:plasma). McGuire and his team think they can increase that number to 100 percent, or a 1:1 ratio. That's an exponential increase in potential power, which also means smaller fusion reactor designs are possible without being anemic. A jet engine-sized reactor for an airplane, or a house-sized reactor for a city or town. Or perhaps even a smaller model to power that crazy airplane laser Lockheed developed.

Lockheed hopes to have more complete prototypes within five years, and a commercial product in ten. For now, since I'm no nuclear physicist or aeronautical engineer, go check out the full breakdown over on Aviation Week for yourselves.

Permalink

Smelling a lot of 'if' coming off of this plan.

Click bait headline

All lockhead Martin have said is that if they get funding they may in 5 - 10 years be able to make a prototype of their reactor that may allow fusion.

http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/10/lockheed-martin-claims-technological-breakthrough-in-compact-fusion/

The key is they want military not commercial funding which gives them lots of money with minimal requirements to actually produce anything.

Me55enger:
Smelling a lot of 'if' coming off of this plan.

ITER is supposed to come online in the same timescale.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER

one way or another there's a fair chance we might have mainstream fusion in a couple decades.

its not an un-doable thing...that's the important bit to remember imo..."we" basically just haven't worked it out just yet...but "we" are getting close.

Haven't we been "5 years away" from fusion reactors for about 25 years now or so?

P-89 Scorpion:
Click bait headline

All lockhead Martin have said is that if they get funding they may in 5 - 10 years be able to make a prototype of their reactor that may allow fusion.

http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/10/lockheed-martin-claims-technological-breakthrough-in-compact-fusion/

The key is they want military not commercial funding which gives them lots of money with minimal requirements to actually produce anything.

That's not quite true. Lockheed are not trying to build an economicly viable power station. One of the problems with these kind of reactors its impossible to shield the magnets from high energy neutrons at a price that makes energy production competitive with current methods. It looks like Lockheed are not trying to build a power station but a small portable high energy power source. You can't get that kind of power currently on an aircraft easily.

Devin Connors:
Currently the size of business jet engine, the current CFR design has aircraft in mind, but could easily be reworked for use in a spacecraft, or as a power source to replace nuclear, or coal power plants.

Always saddens me to see Nuclear lumped in with coal plants. If we as a species had any sense of self-preservation and desire to maintain the civilization we've built we'd be building nuclear plants left and right to replace coal plants until fusion is actually viable and ready to roll out on a large scale. But instead we keep up the status quo and hope that we're going to find a silver bullet to fix our energy and pollution problems before it's too late and all because of an irrational fear of nuclear power.

Skeleon:
Haven't we been "5 years away" from fusion reactors for about 25 years now or so?

Actually it used to be that it was "always 50 years away". The fact that each year that time scale is coming down is actually kinda promising in my eyes. I feel like it's actually genuinely getting pretty close.

These guys at Lockheed say they'll have a proof of concept within about a year before the full prototype in 5. So we should know whether humankind will ever be the same again before Final Fantasy XV comes out ^_^

Vivi22:

Always saddens me to see Nuclear lumped in with coal plants. If we as a species had any sense of self-preservation and desire to maintain the civilization we've built we'd be building nuclear plants left and right to replace coal plants until fusion is actually viable and ready to roll out on a large scale. But instead we keep up the status quo and hope that we're going to find a silver bullet to fix our energy and pollution problems before it's too late and all because of an irrational fear of nuclear power.

Don't forget all those coal miners who will vote anti-nuclear to keep their jobs. Self-preservation doesn't usually go past the individual, and maybe that individual's immediate family.

The thing is, since nuclear fusion has "nuclear" in its name the general, uninformed public will always be doubtful of it, since nuclear fission-based reactors have had some bad incidents in the past that then give all of them a bad name. Plus, even if Lockheed Martin manages to get this to a usable degree within five years - which seems like a pretty huge "if" - it'll probably be military use only for a significant period after its introduction before getting diffused into the public. Plus there's the issue of fueling the thing, which won't come up frequently, but will still be there, and will come with the issue of creating and isolating deuterium and tritium, both of which can cause serious problems on the off-chance that they accidentally are released into the environment.

Until then, we'll still need to find alternate energy sources, some of which are readily available - like the LFTR (liquid fluorine thorium reactor), which have the benefits of abundant fuel, safety, high efficiency and relatively clean production. Sure, they have problems now, but with time and funding these could be worked out and made into a viable energy source. Unfortunately, society tends to suffer from a form of tunnel vision when it comes to alternate energy.

Vivi22:
But instead we keep up the status quo and hope that we're going to find a silver bullet to fix our energy and pollution problems before it's too late and all because of an irrational fear of nuclear power.

It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source, also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

I'd rather see solar and wind power plants, those things produce the power and have low impact. Most importantly they don't melt down causing a disaster.

EDIT:

Solbasa:
Until then, we'll still need to find alternate energy sources, some of which are readily available - like the LFTR (liquid fluorine thorium reactor), which have the benefits of abundant fuel, safety, high efficiency and relatively clean production. Sure, they have problems now, but with time and funding these could be worked out and made into a viable energy source. Unfortunately, society tends to suffer from a form of tunnel vision when it comes to alternate energy.

Interesting, it sounds like a variant of a fission reactor using a different fuel source, atleast that's what I can see from a quick skim over an article on Wikipedia, please do tell more.

RicoADF:
It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source, also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

Sure it's irrational. People don't have much trouble with coal plants, even though they produce smog, have caused a fair amount of acid rain, and have pumped more radioactive crap into our general atmosphere than the nuclear plants themselves. The "catastrophes" are also way over-hyped by media eager to score ratings by preying on ignorant people's fears of radiation.

Though, here, it should be noted that "nuclear fusion" is so very different from "nuclear fission" that there's little reason to compare them to each other. Fusion doesn't have all those wasteful biproducts and can't end up in a catastrophe like badly designed fission plants can.

EDIT:

Solbasa:
Until then, we'll still need to find alternate energy sources, some of which are readily available - like the LFTR (liquid fluorine thorium reactor), which have the benefits of abundant fuel, safety, high efficiency and relatively clean production. Sure, they have problems now, but with time and funding these could be worked out and made into a viable energy source. Unfortunately, society tends to suffer from a form of tunnel vision when it comes to alternate energy.

Interesting, it sounds like a variant of a fission reactor using a different fuel source, atleast that's what I can see from a quick skim over an article on Wikipedia, please do tell more.

It is pretty much a variant, but one designed for making power instead of the more popular design that's built more to make weapons-grade nuclear material. It's a very good option, but doesn't get much press, due to irrational fears of nuclear and being overshadowed by the promise of fusion.

Skeleon:
Haven't we been "5 years away" from fusion reactors for about 25 years now or so?

I'm pretty sure that's a well documented joke in the fusion reaction business

http://www.metafilter.com/143630/Now-just-5-years-away
Yup, others have noticed that, although even then it seems like we are getting slowly closer to Fusion, it's just taking a bit longer than Spielberg thought...

I would call mine Mr and use it to power my time machine.

Skeleon:
Haven't we been "5 years away" from fusion reactors for about 25 years now or so?

No, we have been 20 years away for 50 years. Big difference?

All sarcasm aside, 40 years ago we were 15-25 years away from understanding all the theory problems. 20 years ago we were 15-25 years away from developing techniques to solve the technical problems. Now we are 5-10 years away from building a prototype. Each time the public just hears "X years" and then makes snide comments when the time table set by their own ignorant misunderstandings is not met.

Xeorm:

RicoADF:
It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source, also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

Sure it's irrational. People don't have much trouble with coal plants, even though they produce smog, have caused a fair amount of acid rain, and have pumped more radioactive crap into our general atmosphere than the nuclear plants themselves.

Coal plants don't do that anymore, clean air act put requirements to remove 80-90% of pollutants from coal plants, except co2.

There is also the commercial intensive as gypsum is used in construction, so most plants manage to remove ~98% of the sulfur from coal burning

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flue-gas_desulfurization

RicoADF:

Vivi22:
But instead we keep up the status quo and hope that we're going to find a silver bullet to fix our energy and pollution problems before it's too late and all because of an irrational fear of nuclear power.

It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source, also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

I'd rather see solar and wind power plants, those things produce the power and have low impact. Most importantly they don't melt down causing a disaster.

The only meltdowns in Nuclear history that caused substantial damage (AKA Casualties) were caused by colossal amounts of human stupidity. Like B-movie scientist level stupidity.

Chernobyl was caused when they shut down every single safety system and ignored the reactor requirements to appease a bureaucrat. Fukushima was built on a fault line, and the foreman's advice regarding it was ignored because they didn't want the construction contract to go to a different city.

The materials used in the creation of solar and wind generators are currently wasteful as well, and that process needs to be streamlined to not cause environmental damage.

Solbasa:
The thing is, since nuclear fusion has "nuclear" in its name the general, uninformed public will always be doubtful of it, since nuclear fission-based reactors have had some bad incidents in the past that then give all of them a bad name.

Easy solution: take out the nuclear part, like we already do with nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, commonly referred to as MRI, and properly abbreviated nMRI

So how long before they rename it "Stark Works"?

Although, that would require them to ACTUALLY produce something so probably never

RicoADF:

It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source, also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

I'd rather see solar and wind power plants, those things produce the power and have low impact. Most importantly they don't melt down causing a disaster.

Its very irrational.

Nuclear power produces aboslutely no enviromental harm. It is as green as green goes. Modern reactors produce a teanspoon amount of nuclear waste per year, which can be easily stored in sealed container somewhere in a military bunker pretty much eternally. we got plenty of cold war bunkers that could be used for this.

When something goes wrong, oh, it never had. There were only two catastrophes regarding nuclear power plan in history of earth. First one, Chernobyl, was intentionally caused by something that can only be decribed as mad scientists by removing all securities and overloading the reactor. Second one - Fukoshima, didnt actually had a nuclear meltdown but merely a gas explosion for backup generators. they releaved the cooling water (steam at that point) pressure in the reactor and let some radiactivity out, yes, but it the tsunami did tenfold amounts of damage that peopel forgot to remmeber.

Even if we were to account those two non-accidents into equation, they still did up to 100 times less harm to humans per energy produced compared to ANY other energy production technique we use. So they are still 100 times safer even if we count chernobyl in.

Its also worth mentioning that the last reactor that can explode is currently being shut down in Lithuania. the fuel used in all reactors running in the world is incapble of nuclear explosion. there will never be another chernobyl unless we decide to build old style plants again.

Now, lets see your alternatives. Solar power. production of solar cells harm enviroment more than they can stop by replacing fossil fuel based energy sources. they are also very limited in scope. Wind Power. practically useless in 90% of the world due to not being enough wind. If we were to lay whole ladn surface of the world with solar panels or wind turbines we would not be able to satisfy even half of our current energy requirements, and those requirements grow every year. they grow so bad that EU actually banned high waste electrical appliances in attempt to combat it.

RicoADF:
It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source,

Coal power plants produce radioactive waste too, it's just that instead of being in a nice self-contained solid, it's spewed out into the atmosphere.

also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

You mean like Fukushima? A "catastrophe" that has caused how many deaths so far? That was only triggered by a natural disaster that killed fifteen to twenty thousand?

I'd rather see solar and wind power plants, those things produce the power and have low impact. Most importantly they don't melt down causing a disaster.

Solar and wind power plants /don't/ produce the power. Their power density is orders of magnitude lower than other forms of electricity production, and are incapable of being "dialled" to produce the right amount of power. Even if we had enough solar and wind power plants to theoretically meet 100% of our energy requirements, we'd still need other power sources to pick up the slack when cloud cover, night or wind conditions reduce your power output.

Also, fusion power plants can't melt down. They are inherently incapable of sustaining a chain reaction in Earth conditions, since you need to scale one up to stellar scale before gravity starts to outweigh the natural tendency for a pressurised gas to dissipate.

Skeleon:
Haven't we been "5 years away" from fusion reactors for about 25 years now or so?

Was gonna say that too, but it looks like you beat me to the punch

You know, between this miniature fusion power plant and that reactionless drive, we might have the beginnings of a great space ship on our hands.

Sleekit:

Me55enger:
Smelling a lot of 'if' coming off of this plan.

ITER is supposed to come online in the same timescale.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER

one way or another there's a fair chance we might have mainstream fusion in a couple decades.

its not an un-doable thing...that's the important bit to remember imo..."we" basically just haven't worked it out just yet...but "we" are getting close.

ITER is failing big time, according to my colleagues who are in the know. It's a shame, fusion power is probably the most important thing for humankind to get working at the current moment of our history.

holy fuck can we please get some editorial control over this bullshit clickbait headlines. you cant announce something of slightly more importance than the second coming and fucking lie about it!

RicoADF:

Vivi22:
But instead we keep up the status quo and hope that we're going to find a silver bullet to fix our energy and pollution problems before it's too late and all because of an irrational fear of nuclear power.

It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source, also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

I'd rather see solar and wind power plants, those things produce the power and have low impact. Most importantly they don't melt down causing a disaster.

I'd like to elaborate on this. It is true that nuclear power is not perfect, and the problem of long-lived radioactive isotopes from fission plants is not to be ignored. It has, however, the benefits of being relatively cheap and not producing CO2 of course. In a perfect world, all our energy needs would be covered by renewable energy sources like wind, wave, hydro and sunlight, but there the problem lies with cost-effectiveness and being dependent on mother nature.
Fusion is a golden middle way. It has the benefits of fission by not creating CO2, and the benefits of renewable energy sources by having a practically limitless energy source, and being very, very safe. It is literally impossible to have a meltdown of a fusion reactor, due to the reaction not being self-perpetuating as in fission reactors (the self-perpetuating process being the cause of meltdowns). A fusion reactor has a very small amount of "fuel" (less than a gram for even the largest tokamaks like ITER), heated up to become plasma. This plasma has to be extremely pure for the fusion reaction to happen. So if anything would go wrong, the very moment the plasma gets in contact with its surroundings the reaction would stop. And if the confining space somehow got a breach, air would be sucked in due to the confining space being nearly a vacuum, stopping the reaction. The Tritium fuel is very slightly radioactive, but less than a gram of Tritium is nothing compared to the extremely radioactive U-235 that fission reactors have large amounts of in their core.

Lockheed Martin Shows Off Jet Engined Sized Fusion Reactor CONCEPT. They haven't even finished the damn test reactor yet, much less a prototype.

Anyway, cool concept, but there's a lot of talk in various comment sections about problems with the design. I remain hopeful, but I'd advise not getting too excited just yet. Regardless, there are so many different fusion projects at the moment that I'm sure at some point within my lifetime I'm going to see the fusion revolution.

RicoADF:

Vivi22:
But instead we keep up the status quo and hope that we're going to find a silver bullet to fix our energy and pollution problems before it's too late and all because of an irrational fear of nuclear power.

It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source

Utter tosh, there are numerous reactor designs that produce no waste whatsoever. Few of them made it out of prototyping because in the 1950s, when most of them were first thought up, the US and USSR weren't interested in nuclear as a power source, but as a weapon.

RicoADF:
also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

Care to take a guess at the number of people, from across the world, who have ever died as a result of an accident at a nuclear plant? Feel free to google it, and while you're at it, look up the number of deaths from hydroelectric, solar and wind.
(I'll even help, "Banqiao hydroelectric dam failure" should be your first port of call).

It's not 1%, it's not even several orders of magnitude from 1%, nuclear is the safest and cleanest form of energy we have available and it's ignorance that is stopping us from using it. Fukushima took a direct hit from an earthquake AND a tsunami, suffered a catastrophic breach and didn't kill a single person ffs!

RicoADF:
I'd rather see solar and wind power plants, those things produce the power and have low impact. Most importantly they don't melt down causing a disaster.

And again, you really need to understand what you're talking about.
To completely power the UK, 11% of the UK's total area would have to be given over to wind farms.
Bear in mind, if you take every current square meter that has been developed in the UK, every road, building, car park, railway, everything, you have accounted for <2% of the UK's area. Wind farms require approximately 5 times the current total developed area of the civilization they're supplying power to, all assuming you have conditions that allow you to utilize them 100% of the time, which never happens; they cannot supply power at peak demand times; no-one has a fully realized energy storage system so masses of energy is wasted during the day when no-one needs it, exactly the same problems as for solar except that you still get some power generation from wind overnight.
Wind and Solar are not viable alone and never will be.

Also, there are literally hundreds of reactor designs that cannot meltdown.

RicoADF:
EDIT:

Solbasa:
Until then, we'll still need to find alternate energy sources, some of which are readily available - like the LFTR (liquid fluorine thorium reactor), which have the benefits of abundant fuel, safety, high efficiency and relatively clean production. Sure, they have problems now, but with time and funding these could be worked out and made into a viable energy source. Unfortunately, society tends to suffer from a form of tunnel vision when it comes to alternate energy.

Interesting, it sounds like a variant of a fission reactor using a different fuel source, atleast that's what I can see from a quick skim over an article on Wikipedia, please do tell more.

Molten Salt reactors, in various forms but all pretty much utilizing the thorium cycle, have been put into operation for more than 50 years. Last I read, Australia, China and India are largely at the forefront of this (considering it was a design that came out of the Manhattan Project, it's great how the USA dropped the ball on that one). Also, look up Travelling Wave Reactors, awesome little things that use depleted uranium as a fuel and a 5MW plant could in theory fit inside the footprint of a double garage.

I'm guessing this is not necessarily going to lead to Gene Roddenberry's dream of unlimited free electricity for everyone everywhere and an end to poverty, hunger, war, and crime in our lifetime. How many Tim Berners-Lee types are there at the Skunk Works? Is "sharing" in the military/industrial complex vocabulary?

P-89 Scorpion:
Click bait headline

As misleading as the headline may be, it's not click bait. Click bait would be more along the lines of, "You'll Never Believe How Small This Fusion Reactor Is!" or the even more ambiguous "You Won't Believe What This Engineer Developed" or some such. Click bait needs to go and die in a hole; this article's headline is just an example of poor journalism and/or misdirection.

And am I the only one getting arc reactor vibes?

Grumman:

RicoADF:
It's not irrational fear, Nuclear power produces radioactive waste so it's not a 'clean' power source,

Coal power plants produce radioactive waste too, it's just that instead of being in a nice self-contained solid, it's spewed out into the atmosphere.

That has not been true for about 60 years now.

"The average emission rates in the United States from coal-fired generation are: 2,249 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 13 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 6 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides."

http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/coal.html

which is about 2.3oz of Sulfur dioxide per year per person under coal service

Grumman:

also when something goes wrong it's a catastrophe. While yes 99% of the time they run perfectly and are safe, it's that 1% when something goes wrong (usually due to human stupidity) that people like myself have an issue with.

You mean like Fukushima? A "catastrophe" that has caused how many deaths so far?

0 funny enough
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2012/05/25/news/radiation-didnt-cause-fukushima-no-1-deaths-u-n/#.VEB3K_nF_4F
The maximum recorded exposure (670mSv) is less then what Astronaut get exposed to over there career & most people exposed in the area got slightly more then you get CT scan.

So yea Nuclear power is rather safe funny enough.

TheSYLOH:
You know, between this miniature fusion power plant and that reactionless drive, we might have the beginnings of a great space ship on our hands.

Nah we need Anti Matter drives and/or blackhole power plants.

008Zulu:
I would call mine Mr and use it to power my time machine.

GREAT SCOTT!!

OT: Is there no research iinto harnessing plasma (the fourth state of matter) as an energy source? I would like to see if that has any realistic applications. We ALWAYS harp on about fusion. How about a new direction?

I am now officially conflicted. I don't rate Lockheed's broader prospects as a company, I think the future of it's niche in the defence industry is at risk now that the US looks set to try to avoid direct exposure to war zones, it's spaceward developments are less than cutting edge and it is quickly running out of foreign markets to expand into to substitute for the failure to generate domestic growth. Overall, not a company looking like a strong investment choice.

But now... I mean, fusion, commercially viable fusion, if they get this the distance, and do it first, well they might just be in line to have ALL THE MONEY, and I mean ALL of it, hell even a few dozen shares might just fund my early retirement.

...Choices...

FalloutJack:
OT: Is there no research iinto harnessing plasma (the fourth state of matter) as an energy source? I would like to see if that has any realistic applications. We ALWAYS harp on about fusion. How about a new direction?

There is, but in order to be a viable source of power, it has to produce more energy than would take fuel to sustain it.

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