Steve Krivit on excess energy in fusion experiments

Steve Krivit wrote (see , Krivit’s December 15 comment):

Thank you for your letter. I have changed one sentence in my article to read as follows: “ITER is not likely to produce any excess power, let alone excess energy.” An additional clarification would, I think, also be helpful: Because there has never been any excess power in fusion experiments, there has never been any excess energy, nor a need (in this article) to report duration of power.

Krivit was responding to Peter Osman, who had written:

If discussing the power needed to heat a plasma then one should also quote the time for which that power was used or else talk about energy. The article is very difficult to interpret as the key information about duration of power usage is often missing. The author makes an important point but it would be better if energy or duration of power use were described in more detail.

Indeed. Summary: all fusion experiments that actually cause fusion produce excess power and excess energy. There is utterly no controversy on this. A home fusor produces excess power and energy. Just not very much, and the energy density is low, which would make practical application of this energy very difficult or impossible. However, it’s still excess energy, and is required by conservation of energy combined with mass-energy equivalent.

So, first, some basic physics. Citing Wikipedia, “In physics, power is the rate of doing work. It is the amount of energy consumed per unit time.” It is so freaking hard to find good help. “Consumed” could be misleading. What is happening is that, generally, one form of energy is converted to another. The potential energy of a fuel may be converted to heat, for example. The basic unit of energy is the Joule, which is “the energy transferred to (or work done on) an object when a force of one newton acts on that object in the direction of its motion through a distance of one metre (1 newton metre or N·m). It is also the energy dissipated as heat when an electric current of one ampere passes through a resistance of one ohm for one second.

A Watt is a watt-second, or a power of one watt for one second. We are mostly familiar with the kilowatt-hour, or a power of one thousand watts for a duration of one hour. The electric company bills us for the number of kilowatt hours “consumed.” That mostly means that it ended up as heat. It might be something else first, like motion of a motor, but all that — but for very little that might escape as, say, light — as heat.

In studying LENR — and this comes into focus in looking at the claims of Andrea Rossi — the power and energy are often confused. And then there is “excess power’ and “excess energy.” This is energy that is released in an experiment (almost entirely as heat) that is “anomalous,” “excess,” not coming from ordinary processes, such as electrical input or chemical process. Obtaining excess power is almost trivial, if we can use chemical or other processes, or if we can hide electrical input, for example. So, often, in “demonstrations,” the total electrical input will be measured. However, in many experiments, much of the electrical power is being used to maintain the experiment at an elevated temperature.

That maintenance is not intrinsic to the experiment, as to looking for anomalous power. If one could, for example, release energy by arranging for some Nickel powder and Lithium Aluminum Hydride (the Parkhomov concept), in a capsule, to be heated, perhaps under pressure, we routinely consider that heating as part of the input power, in considering “C.O.P,” or coefficient of performance, an engineering term. This is not intrinsic to the experiment, because imagine that one has the capsule inside a “bomb calorimeter,” which is well-insulated. To raise the temperature of the interior of the bomb calorimeter will take a certain number of joules, or so many Watts for so long.  It will then stay at that temperature. In the real world, insulation isn’t perfect, and it would gradually cool to room temperature.

We do not consider the power necessary to heat the room to room temperature (in the winter, perhaps) as part of the power input to an experiment, even though it is part of what might may be necessary. I will come back to this.

JET achieved a fusion power release rate of 16 MW. This is what Krivit wrote:

… a more accurate summary of the most successful thermonuclear fusion experiment is this: With a total input power of ~700 MW, JET produced 16 MW of fusion power, resulting in a net consumption of ~684 MW of power, for a duration of 100 milliseconds.

Where did Krivit get the “total input power”? Here. Because Krivit does not understand the issues, he does not know the necessary questions to ask, and doesn’t understand the answers. It appears from that source that 700 MW is peak input power, and most of this is used to “energize” the magnets. Because these are, for JET, not superconducting magnets, they substantial require power to maintain the field as well, though not peak power. These are, I assume, DC magnets, which will store power in a magnetic field. If you try to cut the current from such a magnet, it will attempt to keep the current going, and strongly. An ordinary knife switch would probably explode….

We can see in this the confusion between power and energy, and, as well, what might be called an “environmental investment” of energy to create an environment were fusion will take place is being thought of the same as “input power.” Input power is probably what is used to create the hot plasma itself, and that is why 16 MW was considered to be “65% of input power.”

That 16 MW is “excess energy.” That is, if we had the whole system in a calorimeter and could measure all power, and suppose, arguendo, total system input power is 700 MW, then the calorimeter would measure 716 MW. (Calorimeters don’t measure power, directly, but the energy of temperature increase, but for simplicity….) The facility was heated more than by the “input power.”

That is real excess energy. Not terribly useful, except for scientific research, which was the purpose of JET. The problem with JET is those magnets, which is being addressed with ITER using superconducting magnets. Those magnets still take power to set up the field (that 700 MW, perhaps,) but once the field is set up, it stays put. All that is needed is to keep the magnets cold enough, and that will continue forever. It’s energy storage! (You could get most of it back, shutting down the magnets. Make sure you are ready for it!)

Krivit shows he has very low comprehension of what was written to him, and what the sources say. He doesn’t really have the information yet, from what he cited, to determine an energy balance, because he has only input pulse power for the system, very little time-related data. 16 MW was produced for a tenth of a second (which more or less matches my memory.) So that was 1.6 million watt-seconds, or 444 KWh. I would imagine that the magnets were powered up, setting up the field, then there was an injection of plasma, and creating and maintaining that plasma could be (necessary) input power.

Back to cold fusion experiments. It is now indicated, by some recent work, consistent with older work, that the reaction rate increases with temperature. That suggests running the experiments at higher temperatures. With PdD electrolytic work, that would suggest running not far below the boiling point, and, as well, raising the boiling point by pressurizing the system. This creates some safety hazards, but … those can be handled.

Most gas-loaded NiH work is now running at elevated temperatures, not far below the melting point of nickel. COP is a huge distraction, because you can make unlimited COP by using strong insulation, and the problem then becomes cooling the reactor if there is excess energy. That is also addressable. However, for testing purposes it is only necessary to measure excess energy (or excess power combined with duration). The attempt to create “proof” by having high COP wastes researcher time. Having well-controlled and calibrated heat capacity allows using rate of temperature change as a fast measure of power, which is more or less what Pons and Fleischmann did (they ran their experiments in a Dewar flask, half-silvered, with the bottom portion, being submerged in a constant-temperature bath, and being maintained — except in their boil-off experiments — as internally submerged in their heavy water electrolyte, could make for greater precision in testing materials, and the main focus at this time deserves to be testing materials and conditions.

For a particular experiment, the input power necessary to maintain a cell or capsule at a particular temperature can be determined, and input power necessary to maintain that temperature against the heat losses in the experiment, assuming those are controlled and constant, then becomes the control and background power and is not part of COP. Because controlling temperature is so desirable, this power would be backed off if there is apparent anomalous energy, to maintain a constant temperature.

If there is good insulation, it does not take input power to maintain temperature. It stays the same until or unless the heat is allowed to leak.

To summarize, all fusion experiments, if they generate fusion, which they know from the neutrons and other radiation, generate excess power and energy. Because energy may be stored, and power is converted to energy, the input power does not necessarily match the output.power. JET probably inputs quite a lot of power, and then the energy released by that power ends up as heat, and also the energy released by fusion adds to it.