Whorled View

July 3, 2007

Bussard’s Polywell, Part 1 (of 2): the greatest invention of all time?

Being deeply interested in the future of Energy, and knowing the interesting fact that what 99% of the public hears is pure baloney, I’m always on the lookout for the latest and greatest new energy technology and this one is worth mentioning. A little background for you non-physics-types first …

E=mc^2 means that if you could convert matter directly to energy then you could get an unbelievable amount of energy from it. One ton (think of a dump truck full of dirt) could power 3 Million homes for a year. Or it can provide the propulsion for space tourists to cheaply fly around the solar system and beyond, and at much higher speeds than is currently possible. The Polywell EIF (Inertial-Electrodynamic Fusion) device, invented by Robert Bussard who was a former Assistant Director to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), can do just that. It seems to have overcome all the major obstacles facing fusion.

The Polywell Reactor
The Polywell Fusion Reactor

That said, don’t confuse a fusion (fuse atoms together) reactor with a fission (tears atoms apart) reactor. Dangerous and dirty fission is what all contemporary nuclear reactors use. If it helps you, think “fusion = fuse together, or build up”, “fission = tear apart, destroy”. Fusion is usually good because it produces safe byproducts, fission is bad because it usually produces dangerous byproducts and requires radioactive fuel.

The proposed fusion-based energy generator uses Boron of which we have enough reserves to last us 200,000 years (at our current energy usage). What’s more is that the only byproduct is unreactive (safe) helium which harmlessly vents naturally to space, where it is the 2nd most abundant element in the universe.

Sounds better than Solar CSP of which I’m such a huge fan. Time will tell.

I’m convinced Einstein would love it Why not us?



  1. If you want to follow the engineering you might like here:

    NASA Spaceflight – Fusion

    Bussard Fusion Reactor
    Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion
    IEC Fusion Newsgroup
    IEC Fusion Technology

    Comment by M. Simon — July 3, 2007 @ 6:03 pm

  2. Good stuff. Thanks M Simon.

    Comment by lullabyman — July 3, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

  3. I would have said, “Time and money will tell”. Dr. Bussard’s inability to get further funding for another test reactor is truly depressing — especially when I look at all the crazy things our government throws much larger sums of money at. With all the hand-wringing these days over energy and the environment, I would have expected this to be a high priority. Why is it being ignored?

    Comment by Tony Belding — July 4, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  4. Don’t be depressed Tony. Do something about it! Post the good news in as many forums as you can. Tell all your friends. Donate here!! http://www.emc2fusion.org I have my receipt framed. Do it yesterday!!

    Comment by Jeremy — July 6, 2007 @ 12:47 am

  5. Dr Bussard passed away a few months ago. Apparently the funding he was searching for was awarded by the Navy just before he passed away. It’s unknown how far though his research will go now that he and just about every other physicist with the appropriate training and knowledge has passed away.

    Comment by lullabyman — March 6, 2008 @ 9:07 pm

  6. Fission is not inherantly bad. Remember, there are other methods of fission, such as the Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor (look it up). That said, fusion is definatly a superior source of energy.

    Comment by Nitpick — January 23, 2013 @ 6:04 am

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