How the Sun Will Power Your Home | Dr. Dennis Whyte | EP 424

How the Sun Will Power Your Home | Dr. Dennis Whyte | EP 424

Tour info 2024 (00:00:00)

  • Jordan Peterson announces his 2024 tour, starting in early February and running through June.
  • The tour will visit 51 cities in the US.
  • More information and ticketing details are available on his website,
  • Peterson will discuss ideas from his forthcoming book, "We Who Wrestle with God," to be released in November 2024.

Coming up (00:00:41)

  • Fusion energy is pursued because it uses few raw materials and has an essentially inexhaustible fuel source that is freely available.

Intro (00:01:03)

  • Dr. Dennis Whyte is a world authority on nuclear fusion and has led technical and commercial projects to make fusion technology a reality.
  • Fusion offers the potential for unlimited energy at a low cost, making it a transformative technology.
  • Recent advances in materials and computational technology have facilitated progress in fusion research.
  • A milestone was reached last year when one variant of fusion technology produced more energy than it consumed.
  • The discussion explores what fusion energy is, how it differs from standard nuclear energy, and the progress towards a future of endless clean energy at an extraordinarily low price.
  • The potential of fusion energy to lift all the remaining poor people in the world out of poverty is highlighted.
  • The discussion is technical but appealing to engineering and science enthusiasts, while also relevant to anyone interested in energy and the future of science fiction becoming a reality.

What fusion is and how it differs from fission (00:03:00)

  • Fusion is the process of fusing hydrogen into heavier elements, changing the element.
  • Fusion powers the universe and stars, including the sun.
  • Fusion is the fundamental energy source of the universe.
  • Fusion is effective because it changes the element, resulting in a mass difference that is converted into energy.
  • Fusion releases 10 million times more energy per reaction than chemical reactions.
  • Fusion allows stars like the sun to last for 10 billion years, compared to a few thousand years if they ran on chemical processes.
  • Fission also changes elements but is the opposite process, splitting unstable heavy elements like uranium.
  • Fusion is the energy source of the universe, but the challenge is harnessing it on Earth.

The conditions under which fusion is possible (00:07:06)

  • Fusion reactions occur in the center of stars like the Sun due to extremely high temperatures and pressures.
  • Jupiter lacks sufficient size and heat to trigger fusion reactions despite having a similar composition to the Sun.
  • Inducing fusion reactions on Earth is possible but challenging due to the need to maintain high temperatures and overcome electrostatic repulsion between hydrogen particles.
  • The Sun's gravity contains its hot core, allowing fusion to continue, while fusion on Earth relies on magnetic force to replace gravitational force.
  • Fusion systems have high temperatures but very few fuel particles, making them inherently safe, but the fuel tends to leak heat rapidly into any terrestrial medium, causing it to cool down and stop fusion.

Does fusion rely on chain reactions? (00:15:34)

  • Fusion reactions do not rely on chain reactions like fission.
  • Fusion works through a thermal process.
  • In fission, a neutron triggers the splitting of a uranium nucleus, releasing energy and more neutrons.
  • In a controlled fission reaction, the released neutrons trigger subsequent fission reactions, maintaining a chain reaction.
  • If not controlled, the chain reaction can become runaway, leading to an explosion.
  • In fusion, the products of the reaction (helium) are very stable and do not readily fuse further.
  • Fusion is an energy-efficient process because the released heat from the reaction increases the fuel temperature, promoting more fusion reactions.

It’s temperature, not energy (00:19:00)

  • Fusion is more likely at higher temperatures because the particles have a higher average energy and are more likely to overcome the electrostatic repulsion between them.
  • Accelerators can trigger fusion reactions by giving individual particles a high average energy, but this cannot produce net energy because most of the energy is lost as heat.
  • In stars, fusion occurs in a contained thermal system where the particles have a distribution of energies based on thermodynamics.
  • The temperature of a plasma is a measure of the average energy of the particles in the medium.
  • As the temperature increases, the average energy of the particles increases, which increases the probability of fusion.

What is actually happening to the atoms during fusion? A different phase of matter (00:21:27)

  • Plasmas are the fourth state of matter, created when matter is heated to extremely high temperatures, causing electrons to be stripped away from atoms, resulting in freely moving charged particles.
  • Plasmas exhibit unique properties due to the interactions between charged particles through electromagnetic forces, leading to complex collective behaviors.
  • The study of plasmas, known as plasma physics, has been ongoing for over 100 years to understand their behavior and properties.
  • The sun is an example of a plasma, as its temperature exceeds 5,000 degrees Celsius, causing all matter in it to exist in a plasma state.
  • Diversifying investments into gold can provide financial stability during times of crisis, and Birch Gold Group offers assistance in converting existing IRAs or 401Ks into gold IRAs without incurring out-of-pocket expenses.

Calculating how much power results from fusion (00:27:54)

  • Fusion occurs when interacting particles collide hard enough to fuse, and the probability of this increases with temperature and pressure.
  • The probability of fusion depends only on temperature and is called the rate coefficient.
  • The denser the medium, the higher the probability of fusion.
  • For terrestrial fusion sources, a minimum temperature of about 45 million degrees Celsius is required to achieve net energy output.
  • The reactivity of fusion depends on both temperature and density.
  • The amount of fusion power that can be generated in a fixed volume of fuel can be calculated from the density of the fuel and the temperature of the fuel.

How to recreate the Sun’s temperatures on earth (00:31:13)

  • Fusion requires extremely high temperatures (approximately 45 million degrees) and density to occur.
  • On Earth, electromagnetic containers and laser beams are used to increase fuel density and attain the required temperatures.
  • Confinement is crucial in fusion systems to isolate the fuel and allow non-fusing reactions to occur without significant energy loss.
  • The Lawson criterion states that for a given temperature, a minimum amount of containment is required to achieve net energy gain from fusion reactions.
  • Fusion can be achieved through various methods, including magnets, electrodes, and lasers, each with its own challenges and opportunities.
  • Magnetic fusion uses very low-density fuel and requires a longer energy confinement time, while laser fusion achieves higher densities but has a shorter energy confinement time.

Magnetic fields and condensing hydrogen into plasma (00:39:30)

  • Magnetic confinement uses the Lorentz force to confine charged particles in a circular orbit around a magnetic field. The magnetic field's strength must be proportional to the average speed of the particles, so higher temperatures require more powerful magnetic fields. Magnetic fields are designed with closed topologies to prevent the particles from escaping.
  • The confinement space is an enclosed magnetic field with relatively low-density hydrogen that becomes hydrogen plasma when heated sufficiently.
  • The confinement time is varied using different technologies, and the density is varied using various technologies.
  • Controlling the strength of the magnetic field allows for a smaller engineering system and potentially higher fuel density.
  • The optimized temperature for fusion on Earth is approximately 100 million degrees.

With physical isolation of the systems, where is the energy and how do we access it? (00:48:39)

  • Magnetic confinement, using electromagnets, is employed to control the heat generated by fusion reactions.
  • Fusion energy is released as kinetic energy when heavy hydrogen forms like deuterium and tritium collide, with lighter particles carrying more energy.
  • Neutrons, being chargeless, can escape the magnetic confinement immediately, while helium nuclei, due to their net charge, are trapped within the magnetic field.
  • The heat generated by fusion reactions is distributed among the fuel particles, sustaining the fusion process.
  • Helium, the byproduct of fusion, is a harmless neutral gas, unlike the radioactive isotopes produced by fission.
  • To harness fusion energy, the heat generated is captured using a blanket that absorbs neutrons and transfers their energy to atoms, which can then be used for various applications, including electricity generation and industrial processes.

Fission and fusion are not competing power sources, we need both (00:58:30)

  • Fission energy is a reliable and safe energy source that can be deployed now to meet energy security demands.
  • Fusion energy has different properties and long-term consequences compared to fission, making it a distinct energy source.
  • The free market will likely play a role in determining the prevalence of fission and fusion energy due to their inherent differences.
  • Fusion energy has the potential to be a scalable, globally deployable, and long-term energy solution.
  • Unlike fission, fusion does not require uranium or plutonium, reducing the risk of proliferation, and its physical process does not produce radioactive waste.
  • Fusion requires minimal raw materials and utilizes an inexhaustible fuel source that is freely available.

Where are we really at with fusion? Timeline and likelihood (01:06:56)

  • Fusion technology is still in development and has yet to produce more energy than it consumes, despite continuous announcements of viable fusion in the future.
  • Recent progress in artificial intelligence highlights the potential for sudden breakthroughs in technology.
  • Decarbonization efforts require massive amounts of carbon-free energy, and renewables alone have limitations.
  • Fusion's potential lies in its ability to provide large-scale, carbon-free energy.
  • Advances in computational power, scientific understanding, and superconductor materials have contributed to recent progress in fusion research.
  • Fusion energy research has made significant progress in the past two decades, demonstrating the potential for fusion as a viable energy source through breakthroughs in laser fusion and magnetic confinement devices.
  • The increasing demand for clean energy sources creates a favorable landscape for the commercialization of fusion technology.
  • The company has built the necessary infrastructure to produce the magnets needed for the fusion reactor, which aims to achieve commercially relevant scale, generating hundreds of millions of watts of fusion power with a net energy gain in the plasma.
  • Investors are willing to commit resources to the project, indicating their belief in its potential for commercialization.

What happens to the electrons? (01:19:18)

  • Electrons are contained within the plasma as negative charge particles, balancing the positive charge of the nuclei.
  • Electrons do not fuse together and remain as fundamental particles.
  • Electrons have much less mass (2,000 times less) than the other particles in the plasma, creating a complex fluid with different spatial scales and behaviors.
  • In an Earthly fusion system, the electrons exchange energy with the nuclei through collisions.
  • During a fusion reaction, the energetic particle ejected transfers most of its energy to the electrons, heating them up.
  • The heated electrons then exchange energy with the fuel through collisions, causing the fuel to undergo fusion.
  • The rate of fusion fuel determines the rate at which energetic particles are released and interact with electrons.
  • The complex physical coupling involves three independent species (electrons, nuclei, and energetic particles) interacting through collisions and power balance.

The end of abject poverty? (01:22:13)

  • Fusion energy offers significant environmental sustainability benefits beyond decarbonization and has the potential to revolutionize the energy sector.
  • Access to affordable fusion energy can drive economic progress, alleviate poverty, and address future water shortages through desalination.
  • While scientific viability has been demonstrated, the focus has shifted to determining the cost-effectiveness of fusion energy.
  • Engineering challenges include optimizing heat extraction, component reliability, and system longevity.
  • Fusion energy has the potential to be a scalable and potentially limitless energy source, unlike solar and wind energy.
  • The challenge lies in developing practical and cost-effective methods to harness fusion energy and integrate it into existing energy systems.

Breakthroughs and optimism: “We have quite a world waiting for us if we’re sensible and fortunate” (01:30:03)

  • 3D printing technology enables the inexpensive production of complex objects, revolutionizing fusion energy research.
  • AI systems have the potential to personalize education and revolutionize power plant operations, assisting in fusion reactor design and analyzing data from fusion experiments.
  • Synergies between new technologies, such as superconductors, magnets, and AI, drive technological advancements in fusion energy research.
  • Dr. Dennis Whyte, an expert in fusion technology, emphasizes the importance of accumulating knowledge and collaborating with students to drive innovation.
  • Fusion technology involves combining atoms to release a significant amount of energy, offering a clean and potentially limitless energy source.
  • Dr. Whyte's interest in fusion technology stems from his childhood fascination with the subject, highlighting the importance of personal interests and curiosity in driving scientific advancements.

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