About a year ago Alex Klein got in touch with me:
Hello, have been perusing your website for a while now, and I’m pretty impressed. I will be in NYC the first week in June, and would love to visit your lab. Some background: I worked for Bussard for a few years around the turn of the century, also worked for MIT on big Tokamaks, and have built plenty of fusors. I think you would get something out of a visit (e.g. : technical advice), and I hope I would learn a thing or two as well. We could even start collaborating on a regular basis, although there would be some complications that I can explain if/when we meet.
I though to myself WOW.
This guy had actually worked with Bussard.
Alex came to visit my lab soon after. We had a blast. He told me stories of Bussard. One story involved a massive short circuit which spewed molten copper all over the walls! Bad ass!
Before working with Bussard from 1999 to 2002, Alex conceived of a fusion device with similarities to the Polywell. In 2005 Alex went on to found his own fusion research laboratory: FPGeneration. Here he would run the Multipole Ion-beam Experiment.
A few months later Alex asked me if I’d like to interview to work at FPGeneration! I was so excited. HOT DAMN.
But before any of that I had to sign an NDA. No blogging this story… until now.
In September of 2010 I went to Boston to meet the team and see the lab.
Alex explained how the MIX device worked and showed me around. The lab is amazing. Huge radiation cave, huge sperical vacuum chamber with huge turbo. A whole high voltage section above the radiation cave. Not to mention a supercomputer on site. It was awe inspiring.
They explained their situation was tenuous: they only had enough money to go to April 2011. Additionally the MIX device wasn’t working as hoped. Unfortunately I did not get the job. I was so bummed.
Since then Alex has abandoned MIX:
Two problems: A) Main problem: space charge limitations are such that individual beams can never exceed a few Amperes. Even with 10 crossed beams, total fusion power < 1 Watt. With trapping a plasma in the core that serves as a target, possibly 10 Watts produced – not useful for energy B) Big Problem: Ions from external ion sources cannot be efficiently introduced into the trapping phase space. Some fundamental physics make it so this will never provide more than a few ions, and those ions are subject to large probabilities that they are quickly lost. “Internal” ion introduction is required.
Since Jan 2011, FPGeneration has been working on the MARBLE device.
One of the major obstacles that limits the fusion output in IEC devices is the result of repulsive electrostatic forces arising from the ions themselves. This limits the amount of current that can be injected/contained, and is related to the well-known Child-Langmuir current limit for unneutralized particle beams. In 2010 FPGeneration invented an approach that circumvents such limitations, by overlapping multiple ion beams at different energies on the same axis. This is a significant breakthrough which has the potential to impact a number of technologies (wherever space charge limitations arise).
But sadly FPGeneration’s funding has been exhausted. Alex is currently looking for investors to continue his research. The MARBLE experiment was only partially completed. Alex had this to say about the MARBLE based on the data gathered so far:
don’t have too much data so far, hopefully I get some this week (was waiting for an amplifier). The current MARBLE could conceivably do breakeven, but at ridiculously low power levels. Distance to worthwhile machine (>10 kW) is quite far: requires souped up MARBLE with 20 stages, and 20 of these crossed over a common core, and some engineering things involving gas jets…
Several years and tens of thousands of man-hours, I would say
I’d say fusion research is a rough road littered with the dead. But we keep trying. Some day… some day.
Alex can be reached at email@example.com.