According to Wavewatching's Henning Dekant, the problem with fusion power is not only creating (and maintaing) a plasma ball as hot as the sun's core, but also compensating for the lack of gravitational pressure. Canadian company General Fusion, is currently working on developing fusion power that works something like this:
This device is following the age-old engineering adage that if you want compression you use a piston, and if you want large compression you use a large piston which focuses all the energy into a tiny space. The trick is to be able to do this in such a precise fashion that you can coordinate it with the injection of fuel gas along a central axis, so that you can get a succession of pulsed fusion ignitions with each coordinated firing of the pneumatic pistons.
But the lackluster progress of the conventional approach to fusion does not deter the people behind this project, but rather seems to add to the sense of urgency. What struck me when first coming on site was the no-nonsense industrial feel to the entire operation. The company is renting some nondescript buildings, the interior more manufacturing floor than gleaming laboratory, every square inch purposefully utilized to run several R&D streams in parallel. Even before talking to co-founder Doug Richardson, the premise itself sent a clear message, this is an engineering approach to fusion and they are in a hurry. This is why rather then just focusing on one aspect of the machine, they decided to work in parallel.
When asked where I wanted to start my tour, I opted for the optically most impressive piece, the scaled down reactor core with its huge attached pistons. The reason I wanted to scrutinize this first is because, in my experience, this mechanical behemoth is what casual outside observers usually take objection to. This is due to the naive assumption that so many moving parts under such high mechanical stresses make for problematic technology. This argument was met with Doug's derision. In his mind this is the easy part, just a matter of selecting the right material and precision mechanical engineering. My point that a common argument is that moving parts mean wear and tear, he swatted easily aside. In my experience, a layperson introduced to the concept is usually uncomfortable with the idea that pistons could be used to produce this enormous pressure. After all, everybody is well acquainted with the limited lifetime of a car engine that has to endure far less. Doug easily turned this analogy on its ear, pointing out that a stationary mounted engine can run uninterrupted for a long time, and that the reliability typically increases with scale.
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