94: Re-Fusion to Give Up! Magnetic Fusion Breakthrough
Matt and Sean talk about where fusion energy production stands right now, and how a time machine might help.
Hey, everybody welcome to Black t-shirt talk no wait. That's not what we're recording right? now we're recording still to be determined. This is the podcast that follows up topics from the Youtube channel undecided with Matt farrell for those listeners who are listening completely without video. Black t-shirt joke won't make sense. But for those of you on youtube we're all having fun aren't we I'm sean farrell I'm Matt's older brother I'm also a writer I'll be asking him the questions about his latest episode and Matt of course is here Matt say hi.
Hello I'm doing pretty well how you doing.
Ah, you doing today I'm okay, it's marathon day here in New York city so there is currently tens of thousands of people running in front of my house and.
Is that unusual.
It happens every year just like this magically we end up with tens of thousands of people who run past our house and people standing in front of the house who are cheering them on because we love. We love that kind of endeavor. Everybody loves that except for my son whose bedroom is on the street. So.
Facing the people running by.
When he wakes up in the morning and people are cheering. He's not too happy about that. But for the rest of us go marathoners and I hope that the changing of the clocks with daylight savings hasn't screwed anybody up. Yeah, for the rest of the world for the United states.
For the rest world I would say no only for the United states.
Yeah, we'd like to pretend that there's a need for us to change time. So as usual, what we're gonna do is we're gonna examine Matt's most recent episode and this 1 is a fairly I mean it seems like something right out of sci-fi.
We can change time.
Oh it is.
We talk about Matt's most recent episode exploring why this nuclear fusion breakthrough matters and this is an episode that dropped on november second twenty twenty one and as of the time of this recording it already has more than a million views. This is something that has really kind of hooked.
A lot of people and right out of the gate I have to say this was an episode that I thought was interesting for 1 reason I understood everything that was being said.
Yeah, your interview with this. He's a he's at mit right? his name again. Dr. Greenwald Dr. Greenwald I thought did a terrific job of really kind of like breaking this all down into terms that.
Yes, yep, Dr. Martin greenwald.
Made it easily understood everything from the amount of material needed for this kind of reaction to provide electricity for an individual for a year being equivalent to lint in your pocket stuff like that. It's it's very.
Um, easy to wrap your head around some of the concepts while the details obviously are not within easy reach but his big picture thinking his discussion around this really does create the idea that it's. Tangibly within reach.
Yeah that's what I took away from this breakthrough was it finally feels like it's not just oh, it's some 30 years in the future kind of a thing that's always moving where it feels like oh wait. We actually do seem to see the goal post now like it actually is in vue and it feels like it's an achievable thing. But once again, it's like. We're going to have to wait 4 or 5 more years before we actually get a true sense of how close it actually is.
Yeah, a number of the comments on the video went the route of of making jokes like 1 individual's joke that stood out was we've gone from it being 30 years away to only being 3 decades away. I thought that was an interesting framing but I wonder if in part and I'm curious about your thoughts about this not just in the realm of fusion. But in other technologies. Do you think this aspect of it being of feeling like. The the length of time is shrinking is born from the fact that it felt very much like they weren't talking about theory they were talking about the physical ability to do the thing that they have planned. 1 of the things that he talked about was back in the was it the 80 s when the tape that they use now to create the magnets that they're using when that was developed. It was an interesting pretty much academic.
Exercise that nobody saw a practical application for now here we are in you know past the first fifth into the twenty first century of the now 40 years past that Mark of It's an academic exercise and into we see the practical application. We know what shape the puzzle piece needs to be in order to fit and I'm wondering not just about fusion but about other technologies that you've talked about on the channel. Is this a case where you see oh the players know all the shapes of all the puzzle pieces and they they feel like they just need to snap in them in the right places and they'll be in 1 magnificent step ahead of where they were versus other technologies that you've looked at.
And in those other technologies you've looked at looked at. Do you think that they are in ah, an equivalent footing or are they ahead of that or in some cases are they behind it.
Um I guess 1 way to answer that would be to say this ties into a video that I just did a few weeks ago. The five debunk technologies that change the world. It's 1 of those we don't know what we don't know.
Until we get to there so it's like a lot of this whole fusion's never going to happen or it's 30 years away comes from our current understanding of how we actually make something happen where the math and the physics behind fusion. They know how to do it. It's like we know that mathematically it's possible. We just hadn't didn't have the technical know how to actually make it happen. And so it's a matter of all these little puzzle pieces coming together and like the high temperature superconductor you're talking about that tape. It's like that academic wow look we came up with this high- temperature superconductor isn't this cool and then aba is like yeah, it's really cool but we can't really make it and make something useful out of it and then it takes. 40 years for somebody to go wait a minute they can actually manufacture this now and we can make it as a bendable tape which means we can create a super magnet out of it. So it's it's 1 of those you're waiting for all those puzzle pieces to come together to be able to achieve the math that we know that's possible. And we have finally achieved all those little puzzle pieces and they're starting to click together which is why it's finally starting to feel like fusion is actually within reach because we have the puzzle pieces now where we were missing 1 or 2 little puzzle pieces. They found them now. So it's elon musk has said about. Ah. Doing all these things for spacex and tesla it's always it's the hardest part about doing whatever you do is the manufacturing of it. The manufacturing is the hardest part coming up with the idea and the solution is actually the easiest part designing. The thing is easy manufacturing it at scales hard. And that's basically what fusion is doing fusion research is at the stage right now where mathematically they know it's possible. But now they're trying to figure out how to actually make it happen and they have to figure out how to make it happen in a cheap efficient ah way that they can reproduce again and again and again around the world. And that's where they're at right now just at the beginning of that stage. So. It's not like it's going to be here in 10 years because there's going to be all this stuff to come ahead when you relate this to other technologies I would say fusion is obviously way behind everybody else because like when you're talking about things like small modular nuclear reactors and thorium reactors and. Ah of using old technologies like flywheels and finding new ways to use them today because we have a better understanding of technology and putting them to use today for energy storage all of those things are further ahead, but it comes back to the same. Basic principle of here's like for flywheels here's an old technology that we've found new ways to use because we have new technologies available to us today. So it's it's like at the time flywheels. Oh interesting isn't that neat. But now it's like wait. We can actually create some crazy cool high-efficiency energy storage using flywheels.
Um, so in my my my take would be fusion is still behind everybody else because it's still so out there on the fringe compared to other things. So like there were a bunch of comments I saw about like well what about thorium technology. It's like what? yeah thorium is ahead of fusion and thorium may become a reality in the next decade but
Doesn't mean we just stop looking at fusion. It's it doesn't mean that we have to kind of set that aside.
Yeah, especially when the potential seems so remarkable. It seems like you You don't give up on trying to improve train efficiency just because planes exist and.
But at the end of the day there are cases where you're going to say the plane is going to be the much better option for this case for me to get from point a to point b as fast as possible and it seems like there is a certain point where we've used the analogy of putting the pieces together. Putting the puzzle together. It feels very much like this is an example of putting a puzzle together where all the pieces are just solid black. The point isn't to know what the the image is going to be when you're done. The point is just getting the puzzle pieces together and. Yeah, the research in the eighty s that was seen as largely. Well, that's a neat thing but it doesn't do anything practical for us where we're standing right now. The video that you produced just this week seems very much to me to be an argument in favor of. We should be funding. Scientific research for scientific research's sake as opposed to seeking to fund only those things that have a clear practical application because we don't know where that thing that somebody discovers today might end up. 50 or 100 years from now.
Yeah, oh absolutely It's like helping to give grants to universities and research facilities that are in an academic way looking into this stuff I think it's valuable and if you look at the history from I think it's from the Fifty s until now I had been looking into this just over the past weekend um the amount of money that the us government has put into fusion energy research. It's a lot you're putting in like you know, ah, 200 and fifty million dollars a year more recently. They've been funding into fusion energy research. That's a drop in the bucket based on what they're putting into solar and other renewable technologies. It's a drop in the bucket but it's. It's still money that helps to kind of kind of it's like turning the car ignition on a car. It's like they're they're trying to feed that hopper so that that you can find those new technologies that you don't know what they're going to be able to spur in the future but you have to seed it now or it's never going to happen. And then we can end up stalling innovation but at the same time There's a point where the ignition has been turned and then you can start to dial bet that back and let the free market and companies take over and what's interesting is like mit which spun this off into commonwealth fusion systems which is based here in Massachusetts it's. They have received grants from the government but they've also raised 2 hundred million dollars from venture capitalists and private companies and investors. So it's like they are spinning it now from that government funded point to the privately funded point and because they're going privately funded and they're going down that corporate structure. They're being lean mean and nimble in how they're approaching this where like government-funded projects like the eer project in France is just this monstrous slow-moving huge thing so it's interesting to see how we're at this kind of tipping point. It feels like right now where it's going to start to shift from public to private because. That's where the real that like like dumping gasoline on a fire is that's where it's going to happen so in the next I would say if companies like cfs and others that are also doing research just like this start to show a q of 1 q of 2 a q of five martin even brought it up. The end of my interview. He said that's when you're going to start to see like crazy funding coming in from the private sector because it's going to be like oh this is actually possible. Let's now race to the finish line and see who can get there first. So it's it's gonna be interesting to see how this unfolds in the future.
When it came to que do you think that the goals of getting a queue of five 108 is going to affect the way the queue deals with captain picard or do you think that it's not going to have an impact.
Ah I don't think so have an impact. Yeah, let's just do the video.
I'm sorry we'll just stick to the video. We'll just stick to the video so regarding q did did the professor have any did he give any indication if he were to say I'd be willing to bet five years ten years did he say anything along those lines as to when he sees suddenly this step forward happening.
He was very careful in how he I asked him those kind of questions He was very careful in his wording back to me I actually had a follow up with him because there's a huge disconnect between people like us who under look at fusion energy and the researchers that are doing it because they often talk about. Oh.
Get to q of 1 and it's you know power you know equal and there's a and I brought it up in the video because that actually doesn't matter that queue of 1 is not true 1 to 1 because it took far more energy still from the entire facility to feed into the process. It's only that that power thing.
Right? It's a little bit like if I if I can jump in with an analogy. It feels like it's a little bit like you can reach a point where your pedaling of a bike is effortless.
But all the pedaling you had to do to get up to that speed is also part of the measurement of how much energy did this take.
Yeah that's a good analogy but there's like there's something called q Total. It's also referred to as q engineering and that's where you start to look at well is it truly giving us more energy back than we're actually putting in. Um, we're not there yet and I when I did a follow up questions with him. Ah, few days later after the initial interview he wrote me back this very thoughtful explanation of basically saying yeah there is a disconnect between researchers and the public and he he kind of apologized to me of like I should have been a little more clear in that my wording to you but it's the way he laid it out. Why I thought was perfect which was we have to achieve this. Que of the for the power the q power that's where we have to start. It's like we can't just like be like okay we're going to work on this being totally positive for energy because we don't we haven't achieved the base steps we have to take 1 step at a time which is when I rewarded it as we have to learn to walk before we can run. It's. But the disconnect and how it's communicated. It gives a lot of the public I don't know if you saw this in the comments. It gives a lot of the public the perception that there's a fraud going on that. The researchers are knowingly trying to deceive the public and knowingly trying to deceive investors to receive grants and all that kind of stuff because. They know that that's it's not true and not possible and that is not the case at all. It's people who are in the fusion space understand all of these things. It's the people that are outside like us that look at it and don't quite grasp the the nuance. That we can then draw those conclusions that there's some kind of conspiracy or fraud at play and there's really not.
You made the comment in the video and you just reminded us of it just now the idea of you've got to walk before you can run based on everything that's been set up to this point. It seems very much like if you have to walk before you can run where we currently are is at the toddler who has to hold onto the sofa stage.
We're not even toddling yet. Um, but we're certainly not crawling and we're certainly not just sitting there like a little lump in our diaper. Some of the comments that were on this video you mentioned some of the ones that think that this is a bit of a shell game. Wasn't going to go into too many of those but I was going to share some of the thoughts that were either comparing this to other technologies or just talking about this as a interesting state to be in right now. Andy farley said of this it kind of feels like the very beginning of the computer revolution. Ah, sense of technology is falling into place and horizons opening up I thought that that was a really good frame beginning of the internet when you you know you first logged on you sent your first email and you started to think about well what is the internet as a thing and.
Yeah I like that.
Of course now here we are. We're providing video content through a platform that has billions upon billions of hours of content provided by people all around the world and little did we know in the year 2000 that that's what Youtube would become There was also this from munich fx Munich I'm right with you on this munich wrote fusion is rather simple The tough part is figuring out time travel. So we can jump forward 30 years
Ah yes I like but.
Yeah, then there was this from Aethho mulin who wrote and I'm just going to synopsize. Mr. Muellin's comment to the first 2 paragraphs he writes in the meantime molten salt reactors which by definition cannot melt down. Need to be commercialized thorium molten salt reactors have significant potential benefits including far more plentiful fuel than uranium fueled reactors without the need for enrichment and minimal proliferation issues and you've done videos before about the thorium reactors and I just wanted to. Ask you really quickly here has there been any equivalent jump forward in that sector while you're talking about here the the fusion sectors had this discovery recently where they're saying like this is a moment has there been anything equivalent on the thorium side.
I would say no I did a video on that I think it was maybe a year and a half ago and there haven't been like any like Milestones since then because they're already. They're obviously way ahead of where fusion is um, there's going to be thorium reactors coming online in the next five to 10 years hands down there's no question about that. It's just a matter of who's gonna build the first ones when they can really start to spin up and the big question Mark for me around those is cost. It's like 1 of the reasons when people leave comments that say just go nuclear when I talk about solar panels. The reason we're not just going nuclear is cost. Nuclear reactors are extremely expensive when you look at other forms of energy generation and right now thorium is in the same boat. It's like okay, it's a very promising technology but it's going to be very expensive to build those first reactors. So it's like who's going to who's going to. Like like gambling who's going to roll the dice and invest in that technology because they think it is the future. That's the giant question Mark it really comes down to cost not capability because we can do it.
Yeah that's an interesting point because it raises the issue of how many major investors are sitting on the side watching these various technologies move forward at the pace at which they they have to because of the amount of research and and experimentation that has to go on. But how many of those investors are standing. They're holding onto their money where that money if it was put into 1 or another could help push things forward a little bit and it's a little bit of a game of chicken between the the researchers who are desperate for that funding and the investors who don't want to lose by putting their money on the wrong horse and that's. That's where as you mentioned before that's where public money that's where government action is is part of the driving force and so necessary in this. Lastly, there was this from Jim simbanaia who wrote aside from the unnecessary demonization of fission energy. Which I thought was interesting because you didn't necessarily demonize it. You just talked about what it is and what would come out of it. This is an excellent video. It's specific. It's especially satisfying to see mainstream youtubers factor into the equation. The net electricity gain factor which is something that has been kept under the curtain. Created a lot of misinformation in the breakthroughs of fusion reactors I think that speaks directly to what you talked about before the idea that there's a difficulty in the lay audience of which I include not only myself but you our understanding of well if you can do this isn't.
That what you were trying to do and at this point the researchers are saying yes, we can do this but this is not all we wanted to do. We can't do the goal that we're trying to achieve until we can do it 5 times over.
Part of the problem is a lot of the media reporting that you see around fusion leaves this out so it's like it's people reporters that aren't necessarily in the know writing articles about it and they leave all this stuff out so it gives it kind of perpetuates that perception of oh we hit q 1 we got it.
Done. It's like no no this is. We're now walking when we hit q of 1
Right? I think that that demonstrate this is is a bit of a game of telephone where the researchers tell a reporter the reporter tells the public but between the reporter and the public is also an editor.
The editor is maybe going to write a headline that says we've done it fusion energy and meanwhile the researchers at home trying to eat their dinner and looking at the article pop up online and saying oh God No, That's not what I said. And that those details are often buried or left to you know the the constant um I'm amazed always at the willingness of the people who are doing this work in these videos you produce to talk to you and I don't mean that is a slight against you.
Yeah, no, no.
You're great. You're my brother I love you my point is they want to get all of those middle persons who are misconstruing misrepresenting. They want that removed. And they want to be able to say to the public look here's where we are and here's what we're trying to do and their willingness to talk to. You is a demonstration of that. So I think it's fantastic that you are first of all reaching out to these people but they're willing to do it. So my thanks to Dr. Greenwald and all the other people that you've had on.
Your videos as lead people driving very interesting fields of research and taking their time out to say to you. Let me explain so that's really that's terrific.
Yeah, no I Want to think I want to I want to thank ah Cfs Mit and Dr Greenwald They took the time to not only talk to me but they answered all of my follow-up questions and I was able to kind of send them early versions of the video to kind of make sure I didn't have any factual error or errors and things like that. So it was. They were very very helpful in producing that video to make sure I didn't mistake anything so it was It was great.
And also tip of the hat to you for saying that the name of your video was exploring why this nuclear fusion breakthrough matters as opposed to saying we did it. You didn't fall. You didn't fall into the trap.
Listeners tell us what you think about all this I think it's pretty remarkable I think it's it's making for a fascinating thought experiment to say in 50 years what sort of energy production might come out of this and not just here on earth but this kind of discovery this kind of thing i. Can't help it think there will be a satellite that has 1 of these little reactors in it pushing it out into space and heading heading in places that we've never been before because it will have a little engine that can produce energy in a remarkable way.
A little misterfusion on our cars.
Exactly just put some banana peels. What's left of a can of Coke and then get that thing up to eighty eight miles per hour. No don't forget if you're listening to us, you're doing us a favor you're supporting us just by listening.
We don't need roads.
Can support us even more by subscribing by liking by sharing it with your friends There's also a way to directly support the podcast you can visit still tbd dot fm and you'll see the support the podcast link there or if you're watching us on youtube you can. Look at the membership button which is the join button directly below the video and you can join us, please be sure to give us a rating a review and share us with your friends all of that really does help the podcast. The podcast helps the channel the channel helps Matthew and then Matthew. Yells at me we did it thanks so much for listening everybody. We'll talk to you next time.
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