Bussard on safe cheap fusion

Dr. Robert Bussard, best known in the sf world as inventor of the Bussard ramjet, has spent the past 15+ years working on building a cheap, safe fusion reactor. He spoke at Google last week about the project, and the video of his talk is now available on Google Video.

His proposed process "converts hydrogen and boron directly into electricity producing helium as the only waste product" (to quote the video description). His talk was fast-paced and highly technical; I didn't understand more than a tenth of the technical details, and anyone who's not a physicist or an engineer may want to skip a lot of the technical parts. But even if you do skip most of it, it's worth watching the introduction and the less-technical parts, and the cool photos of the prototype machines.

If you don't have time to watch the (90-minute-long) video, there's a posting from June at randi.org (written by Bussard, posted by someone else) that provides a brief summary of what happened.

Bussard's group had what appeared to be a huge breakthrough late in 2005, literally days before they had to shut down the lab because their funding had run out. Their prototype more or less self-destructed in the final test.

Bussard now says he needs about $150M-$200M to turn this into viable technology. Part of his talk is an extended utopian discussion of what effects cheap energy would have on society; that segment starts around 1:01:30 in the video and runs to around 1:06:30. (It's pretty much what you would expect, but it's fun to watch his enthusiasm and, yeah, hyperbole.)

I certainly can't judge the science here on its merits, but I found the talk fascinating.

8 Responses to “Bussard on safe cheap fusion”

  1. Michael Mansell

    I would like to get involved with this technology. Does anyone know how I can get in contact with Bussard’s team? Or does anyone know of a graduate school that works with this technology? I am a soon to graduate physics and mathematics major; going to graduate school soon.

  2. Kent M Farnsworth

    I am Philo T Farnsworth’s son and I grew up in a house with a breakfast and dinner table discussion which centered around fusion and misc physics. There was a reverance about science and a skepticism towards any fixed, unchallenged notions.

    I was fascinated with the 90 minute lecture for Google.

    In 1998 I traveled to Salt Lake City and moved a large copier into the Marriott Library there and copied every scrap of Phil’s notes, and some of the lab journals and photos. It was my intent to fire up a fusor which I obtained which has a useful anode shell structure of the early Hirsch design which only needs a different cathode to render it useful for study.

    I brought in some business types which I have known for decades to draft a finance plan from startup to exit strategy, but getting that in front of people who fund projects like this is difficult. We could have advertised for capital but that would have opened us up to “fringe” types, and we ruled that approach out for that reason.

    I still talk with folks about the project and its goals.

    I am interested in linking fusion-minded researchers into an email ring, to assess thinking about inertial electrostatic confinment fusion.

    It might be that a loosely formed net of interested types could motivate an “angel” to fund some kind of group. This relationship is easily misunderstood, the nature of the people actually involved in the physical lab research and the panel (short list) of email participants would come together a lot like soap bubbles introduced to one another: it just happens.

    You made a few kind remarks about my father, and having witnessed his work and listened to his daily monologues, I think they are well-placed.


    Kent M Farnsworth

  3. Mark Duncan

    I enjoyed the Google lecture by Dr. Bussard as well. I got a bit carried away and wrote it up as an article.

  4. Mark Simms

    If the World does not go down the tube(s) then we got an incredible ThanksGiving present. As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Bussard’s talk at Google is IT.

    He isn’t some lame brain Fleshman and Ponds with Cold Fusion.

    In Bussards patent he gives recognition to Farnsworth and I consider that to be totaly apropriate. On the other hand I’m suspicous of the other post by Kent M Farnsworth.

    One thing in Dr. Bussard’s talk confusess me. The Space company that rescued his equiment. Isn’t that the company that gets financial assistance by the guy who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He has plenty of money. Sorry I don’t want to guess at his name.

  5. Jed

    Michael M: Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know how to contact Dr. Bussard. I’ll try and remember to see if I can find out.

    Kent F: Thanks for the comments, and I hope your fusion list goes well. But it kinda sounds like you were expecting that Dr. Bussard would read your comment here, so I should mention that I don’t have any association with Dr. Bussard; I just liked his talk. In particular, it was probably Dr. Bussard, rather than me, who made kind remarks about your father. (I’m sorry to say I know very little about your father, beyond what I’ve read in Wikipedia and the like.)

    Mark D: Thanks for the link! For those who didn’t follow the link, note that Mark transcribed the video and has posted it as a PDF file, so if you want to skim without having to watch the whole video, you now know where to go. However, I do recommend watching at least some of the video, because Dr. Bussard is a compelling speaker.

    Mark S: The company that rescued some of the equipment and hired some of Bussard’s lab people was SpaceDev, the company that built the motor for SpaceShipOne. I don’t think they’re connected to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen; he’s an investor in Scaled Composites, the company that designed and built SpaceShipOne, but Scaled Composites and SpaceDev are different companies.

    Addendum: anyone who doesn’t want to read the abovementioned PDF transcript might still be interested in Canadian sf writer Karl Schroeder’s high-level summary of the Bussard talk.

  6. Torulf Greek

    There actual is a site for hombulding fusors.

  7. cristian perte

    Mr. Bussard`s EMC2 website, through which you can also donate to his research..


    I am also providing a link to a forum that is frequented by one of Dr. Bussard`s aides(Mr. Tom Ligon), if you ask him i`m sure he will forward to you Dr. Bussard`s email address… You will have to register with the forum though.


  8. M. Simon

    Here are some bits I have written on the subject:

    Bussard Fusion Reactor
    Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion

    It has been funded:

    Bussard Reactor Funded

    I have inside info that is very reliable and multiply confirmed that validates the above story. I am not at liberty to say more. Expect a public announcement from the Navy in the coming weeks.

    The above reactor can burn Deuterium which is very abundant and produces lots of neutrons or it can burn a mixture of Hydrogen and Boron 11 which does not

    The implication of it is that we will know in 6 to 9 months if the small reactors of that design are feasible.

    If they are we could have fusion plants generating electricity in 10 years or less depending on how much we want to spend to compress the time frame.

    BTW Bussard is not the only thing going on in IEC. There are a few government programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, MIT, the University of Wisconsin and at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana among others.


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