American aerospace and technology company Lockheed Martin has unveiled a new invention, one which could change civilization as we know it. The company announced the creation of a new nuclear fusion reactor that’s 10 times smaller than any other on Earth. The compact fusion reactor measures just 3 metres by 3 metres, a size considered small enough to fit in many widely used machines. The research team that developed the project, has been working quietly on the concept they believe has the potential to decrease the world’s insatiable request for energy.
Considering its measure, it can fit into an airplane or a ship while supplying enough power for a city filled with 80,000 homes.
Skunk Works expects it will be ready for use within 10 years. The company said in a statement that it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.
Researchers said that the device, which works depending on fission, is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, similar nuclear systems. Also, it is completely different as the types of design that everyone else is using nowadays. To put this in perspective, Gizmodo made a comparison between the Soviet-derived tokamak and the new Compact Fusion Reactor.
Aviation Week succeeded in getting exclusive entry to the secret laboratories of Lockheed Martin, and recorded a conversation with Dr. Thomas McGuire, the leader of Skunk Work’s Revolutionary Technology division. McGuire, whoearned his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said:
“The traditional tokamak design can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit. [Their plasma ratio is] 5% or so of the confining pressure. […] We should be able to go to 100% or beyond.”
What makes the fusion idea both desirable and applicable is its ability to reduce the radioactive waste which is usually released during the process. The reactor uses deuterium as a principal fuel, which is an isotope of hydrogen that can be found in water and that’s why it is unlimited.
The compact fusion reactor (CFR) could resuscitate the idea of big, nuclear-powered aircraft that practically never need refueling. This concept was widely rejected more than 50 years ago because of the risks and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.
McGuire commented on the difference between using tritium and deuterium:
“We already mine enough lithium to supply a worldwide fleet of reactors, so with tritium you never have too much built up, and that’s what keeps it safe. Tritium would be a health risk if there were enough released, but it is safe enough in small quantities. You don’t need very much to run a reactor because it is a million times more powerful than a chemical reaction.”
The company estimates that less than 25 kg (55 lb.) of fuel would be required to run an entire year of operations.
Dr. McGuire also added that the company had several patents pending for the work and was looking for partners in academia, industry and among government laboratories to advance the work.
Aviation Week also reported:
“The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber.”
Since the 1950′s, there have been many attempts to use the type of reactions that power hydrogen bombs to generate electricity. The device known as ITER was the latest, and it’s still under construction in France. According to Reuters, Lockheed Martin has been involved in many alternate energy projects in the recent years -including several ocean energy projects. Although still potentially insufficient for combatting current environmental problems, its increased efficiency and small size means its strategic use could major solve problems. Reuters added:
“If it proves feasible, Lockheed’s work would mark a key breakthrough in a field that scientists have long eyed as promising, but which has not yet yielded viable power systems. The effort seeks to harness the energy released during nuclear fusion, when atoms combine into more stable forms. Lockheed sees the project as part of a comprehensive approach to solving global energy and climate change problems.”
You can watch the following video, released by Lockheed Martin, to learn more: