Authors: Colin Jack
There is a practical way to generate energy from fusion. The basic method is well known: a hollow fuel capsule implodes within a hohlraum. However the hohlraum is heated not by lasers, but by the impact of charged micropellets fired at ultravelocity. This technique has long been used to test spacecraft micrometeoroid shields, and has been suggested for fusion. The key novel step is that it is now possible to track and guide each pellet individually during flight, using COTS-available technology. This opens up options never before considered:
- The pellets catch up together during flight through a long vacuum pipe, so an accelerator of modest power can provide a very high peak input pulse. A train of pellets launched over a period of milliseconds arrives at the hohlraum within a span of nanoseconds: a ‘temporal compression’ factor of one million.
- Successively smaller course corrections fine-tune the pellet trajectories to ever-increasing precision. The pellets are progressively discharged as they travel, so mutual repulsion at convergence is eliminated. The pellets impact the hohlraum in a precisely specified pattern.
The method is ideally suited to standoff operation. Detonation can take place completely surrounded by flowing lithium, which extracts the energy while also breeding tritium to close the fuel cycle. There is no need for a large vacuum chamber, and no unwanted radioactives are produced.
The only net input is deuterium and lithium. Capital cost is modest. Equipment life is indefinite. It will be possible to retrofit existing coal-fired generating plant for fusion.
Overall length of the accelerator and standoff pipe is substantial, several kilometres. However even if the whole length has to be placed in a tunnel, its cost is small compared to that of a power station. The pellets travel at only a few hundred km/sec: the accelerator is driven at RF frequency, by inexpensive solid state switches.
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