173: Smashing Fusion Energy in the Face

Matt and Sean talk about Matt’s visit to First Light Fusion to see their railgun-powered fusion energy generation research, and its impact on energy production.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, This Breakthrough Fusion Technique May Be The Future Of Energy https://youtu.be/jESGiT5HvoE?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi5QXLLZkicycvAZGalPxStz

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On today’s episode of Still to Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about making an impact in energy production. That’s right. We’re talking about rail guns. As was so famously said in Matt’s most recent episode, fusion hit it in the face as hard as you can. Yeah. Hey everybody, as usual, I’m Sean Ferrell.

I’m a writer. I write some stuff for adults. I write some stuff for kids such as my just recently published The Sinister Secrets of Singe, which my brother and others in our family were able to be at the launch, which took place just yesterday here in New York City at the time of recording. It’s probably a week ago now.

But yeah, as Matt and I are recording this, we are roughly. 20 hours from having actually been in the same city at the same time. So that was a nice

time, I hope, and me driving a car for eight hours. Yeah, I

greatly appreciate that. With me, of course, is my brother Matt. He’s that Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives.

Matt, how was your drive back?

It was good. It was pretty uneventful. Mom and dad in the backseat. Sound asleep of course, was the trip. Yeah. It took a lot out of us, but it was, it was well worth the trip. So glad we

could make it. Thank you so much once again. Yeah. Before we get into the discussion on today’s video, which we’re going to be, I’m springing a surprise on Matt, we’re gonna revisit his geothermal.

Video very briefly. Yeah. We’re also gonna talk about his most recent episode, which dropped on June 20th, which is this breakthrough fusion technique may be the future of energy. Before we get into that, I wanted to share some comments on our previous episodes like this one from episode 1 72, which was our talk about fusion energy production at the UK AEA’s Colhum Science Center.

And Matt’s visit to the Tokamak Fusion reactor Rojoklaz wrote Very cool trip, Matt, and I’m thrilled that still to be determined, we’ll be revisiting your geothermal project on a future episode. This may be that episode as well as another one in the future. Cause I wanna keep going back to some of the ones we’ve done pre, previously and weaving those earlier videos because they continue to generate new conversation.

Yeah, Rojo also gives me a nice little. Wave by saying sorry to miss the reading. Best of luck and correct. Congrats on the book. Thank you so much. Rojoklaz And in that vein from three weeks ago on the episode in question about the geothermal house that Matt is building, we got this comment from, I’m gonna apologize in advance for slaughtering this name.

Dear onto thank. Who wrote, I would personally love to see a video about everything having to do with this geothermal house. I’m a big house guy, really into the energy efficient buildings, how to make them, and the different products that go into them. So I would love to see you go over all the main components, your choice of sheathing, material, insulation, roofing, air, ceiling, doors, windows, and all the smart home stuff as well.

Love the series and hope the house turns out amazing. So in that vein, I’m wondering, is there your, your video goes through the ins and outs of. Choosing geothermal, why geothermal instead of other, other sources? Mm-hmm. I’m wondering if there was an element of that selection process that was surprising to you.

Was there something that you did not anticipate being the last nugget on the scale that tipped it in that direction? For

the system we actually got, yeah, two things did surprise me. I’ve heard again and again, radiant systems are like the most efficient thing and are the best thing since sliced bread.

You’re gonna wanna go radiant. Radiant floors like super luxury, super nice. And as we dove into it, it became clearer and clearer that Radiant was not the right fit for us. And radiant floors were absolutely not the right fit for us. And it came, really came down to. When you do radiant floors or radiant heating, you can’t also do air conditioning with that same exact system.

So you’re essentially having to come up with a solution if you need air conditioning that’s either on top of that or a separate type of loop. So it’s like you’d still need some kind of forced air system for the air conditioning, and then you’d have radiant heating for floors or whatever else you’re using, and it’s like now you’re kind of.

Making a very complicated setup where if you go forced air, it’s just forced air for everything. So it’s one set, two birds, one stone. Right? Right. So it reduces the number of parts and the complexity of the system, and it, it can sometimes help with costs by simplifying it like that. And then the second thing that surprised me was that the cost difference between going just a regular air source heat pump system versus geothermal was not as wide as I expected.

I, I knew it was gonna be more expensive, but when you take into, like here in the US we have the federal tax credits for geothermal, it’s kinda like solar, it’s like 30% tax credit. So it knocks off 3% of the cost. When you take that into account, the cost of my geothermal system is not that far off from what an air source heat pump system would cost.

And then when you factor in, this system’s gonna be here for decades to come, you can start to see, oh, well the, it’s gonna take a while for it to kind of earn its payback. But at the same time, it’s like my monthly fees are gonna be lower to run the system. It’s gonna be less maintenance long-term. I’m not gonna have to replace it potentially as frequently as other systems.

So it’s like all these long-term gains really started to kind of fall into place in ways I was not expecting. So that surprised me too is

the issue with radiant flooring that there’s no efficient way for it to be a cooling system as well, because you’d be, well, think about it this way, Sean. What you’d wait happens for the radiant heat in the room to soak into the floor to then take that heat away through.

Right piping and it would just be, also, think of that this point, it’d be probably the air about an inch above the floor and no more

what happens to a glass when it’s colder in the surrounding air. Get con, you get condensation. Yeah. So think about that. It’s like if your floor is cold, it’s gonna start to, yeah.

You’re gonna get condensation on the top of the floor. It’s like the moment

that’s not gonna work. You said that. Yeah. The moment you said that, I flashed back to yesterday When you were here? Yeah. We were at about a hundred percent humidity for most of the day. Yeah. It rained a little bit off and on, but it was pretty muggy during the day and in the evening.

Mm-hmm. As we turned it on our AC units, and it was so much cooler immediately, as you said, well, just what happens to a cold glass when it’s colder than the air immediately, I pictured where I am right now, which is a ceramic tile basement. Yes. It would probably have about an inch of water across the entire surface of it.

Yeah, I mean that’s, that’s very fine. It’s, the systems really are only meant for heating and there are, yeah. There are circulating systems like that that also can do cooling, but it’s very specific use cases. It’s not meant to go into your floor, so it’s, it’s heating and then it’s like, well, what do we do for ac?

That’s what kept coming up and it was like, we don’t wanna overcomplicate the system. Can we just do two birds, one

stone pretending the complication is not an issue? Yeah. Like you’re the kind of person who sees complications as one of life’s fun little challenges and pretending that cost is not an issue.

I. You’re the type of person who says, Hey, if I’m spending $1, I might as well spend 10.

We spared no expense. You spared

no expense. You’re gonna get those dinosaurs on that island. That’s


So you decide you’re going to do radiant heating. What cooling system do you pair with that because you think this is the best fit for me,

we were looking at like mini split.

A mini split heat pump system. Something like that where you’d have a couple of key locations, you’d have a wall unit somewhere, and my wife and I were like, we didn’t want wall units. It’s like, we didn’t want these giant things mounted the top of a wall. It’s kinda eyesore. We didn’t want it. Once again, comes back to the two birds, one stone and one other thing that did come up, I think I may mentioned it in the video or somewhere else.

But my mechanical engineer that we hired to design the system, he was not associated to any specific company. He was completely independent. So he was just working with us to fit, fit our needs, what we needed. And when I was talking to him about the, this quandary of like, it’s two systems versus one system, radiant floor heating, and he was a huge proponent of radium floor heating.

Huge. But he said to me, your house is gonna be so efficient and so airtight. That a radiant floor system is the kind of system where it has this like very slow sign wave of heat fluctuation in it. Mm-hmm. Because it’s, that’s how radiant is so efficient. It’s like, it just, yeah, you heat it up and then it just slowly keeps radiating that heat for hours and then it will slowly ramp down and then it slowly ramps up.

So it, it creates a very consistent level of heat output in my house. He was saying your house is gonna hit the desired temperature in a way where then the radiant heat keeps adding heat to the room. And he said there’s a possibility that your rooms can suddenly get kind of overheated. Overheated because it’s holding onto the heat too well, and then the system’s gonna have to dial back and learn this process of like, this house is super efficient.

So he said you’re gonna probably end up in situations where some rooms might become too uncomfortable. Because they’re holding on the heat too well. Wow. And so he was saying an air, forced air for you in your specific situation might actually make most sense because Right. Even a geothermal system has a slow sign wave of heat fluctuations to it, and then this airtight house is gonna maintain that heat.

So he said this system’s gonna run so efficiently, so low volume because it’s a variable speed system. So it’s gonna be running at like 20% most of the time. It’s not gonna be going up to a hundred percent. He said it’s gonna be extremely comfortable. Very consistent temperatures throughout. So he said, you’re, it’s probably a better solution for you than going radiant floor or radiant heat.

And when he said that, I was like, and this isn’t coming from a guy that was like, I love radiant floor heating. It’s the best thing. Mm-hmm. And even he was saying to me, for your house, maybe not. So I thought that was interesting too. It really,

I mean, we keep ringing this bell episode to episode the right tool for the right job.

Yep. You don’t need the system that is quote unquote the best. Yeah. You need the one that’s right. So, exactly. Yep. So onto today’s episode discussion, which is, once again, this breakthrough fusion technique may be the future of energy from June 20th, 2022. And this was another of Matt’s onsite explorations of.

A new energy production technique. This one is still in the research phase, but they are hoping to achieve some pretty remarkable levels of energy production as the result of literally firing something that looks a little bit like a coin. Yeah. Into, into another object. And then that creates fusion, which will release energy and yeah.

The sci-fi of this one is really a little dumbfounding. Cause the moment you say rail gun immediatly, I flash back to like TV shows like Evangelian, the anime, which is yeah, about giant robots that fight monsters. And so here we have, you know, the rail gun concept, electromagnetic fields being used to propel objects at incredible speeds.

And this company’s technique, Is to line multiple rail guns up effectively using each one to ramp up the speed of the object. Mm-hmm. It’s just too much for my poor little brain to really kind of.

Yes. Well, here’s, here’s the thing to clarify. That rail gun, which they affectionately call the B F G, which mm-hmm.

If you know the term B fg, it’s kind of a, yeah. Colorful language. Theirs is the big friendly gun that is a test device. That is not what’s actually used in their final version. They’re gonna be building, even the machine three, I got to see, isn’t that exact thing. It’s like that’s literally using kinetic energy to shoot a projectile.

And the one that they’ve gotten, machine three and what will be in machine four is using. Electricity to basically like, basically like electromagnetism to launch. Something. So it’s, it’s a different launching system, but the, the principles are the same. So they’re using the BFG as a testing tool mm-hmm.

To see about the, what the effects and the projectile are and what the effects are on the target and what kind of energy output they’re getting. They’re using it to test different designs before they, then they go to Machine three, machine four and start implementing some of that stuff in the other launch


So, and the name of this, this company is, is what?

First light fusion,

first light is using at the very first stage. They’re literally using gunpowder, you said? Yeah, it’s, yeah. Explosive. So they have a, it is a gun. It is, yes. Like a classic, you know, like gunpowder gun. Yep. But the model that they’ve created and effectively it, they showed the facility and it’s an, it’s.

Enormous now. Correct.

With the room we walked, it was huge. And it’s gonna be even bigger. Yeah. It’s going

to be even bigger. The final concept would be enormous. And so this, my, one of my questions with to you is how big would the final station have to be and what kind of power out output would that be able to reach?

Oh, I can’t remember the exact dimensions he gave it to me. It was like a factor of like five to 10 times the size. It was like it would be, it’s hundreds of yards in diameter of these capacitors in a circle, like a stadium sized right footprint. Like picture, some sci-fi movie where you’re like going up above like a stadium sized thing and like there’s this big circle in the middle with sparks going around it.

It’s like, yeah, that’s what I envisioned in my head. That’s not what it’s gonna be, but that’s what I envisioned in my head of like, Some sci-fi element. I’m pretend that is

what it’s gonna be. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The Stargate on its side kind of like, like launching something

with Godzilla, walking toward


Yeah, exactly. But yeah, it’s gonna be very big with a potential power output of what, I can’t remember that offhand, but it’s going to be, this is where it’s, this is their demonstrator plans, so what they actually achieve, whether it hits what they’re targeting for the theoretical amount, that’s gonna be kind of like, To be seen and to be determined as far as I’m concerned.

But if they’re in the ballpark, you’re, you’re talking significant like megawatts of output from the reaction in, in theory, it’s right. It’s, it’s big. How

consistent is the energy release from this kind of thing? Is this a system that would require like a fleet of batteries? To be able to capture the energy that’s generated and hold it because this is not a consistent power output, or is this in fact something that once a chain reaction starts is self-sustaining and keeps putting

in power out?

Oh no. This is kind of like the best way to describe it. It’s like a car engine. It’s like he even described it as a piston. So you’re having to pulse this every so often, how fast that pulse is. It might be once a minute you’re pulsing this and it’s basically the heat that you’re getting outta the system that you’re capturing and you’re turning a turbine to generate electricity.

So that’s why it doesn’t have to like pulse, you know, every half second. It’s not going that fast, right? But if it’s going every 10 seconds, three seconds, one minute. It just has to maintain a certain level of heat output over a long period of time to be able to generate a significant amount of electricity in a consistent way.

So it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be like a big engine. That’s just far enough. Which, and raised a lot of questions in the comments, which I should have gone into, but around how the target gets changed. Cuz when he showed the target, like he showed the, it gets, it gets destroyed. Oh, completely destroyed. Yeah. So it’s like how do you, how do you swap out those plates and wow, that’s a huge disc of metal and it’s like a lot of waste.

How do you do that? And I didn’t put it in the video. I did talk to him about that. I asked him like, just off the top of my head,

could I speculate? Sure. Like just see if my, like sci-fi, you know, fan brain can, I’m thinking of a giant revolver. Which would have disc after disc after disc, and then they would just click into place and there would be another mechanism that would swap out the broken ones in place.

In the the fresh ones,

you are probably going to be correct because what he described to me was right now it gets bolted into place and there’s a thick slab of metal and it’s. Big beefy thing. They’re already working on designs to drastically cut back the amount of metal that is needed. So the amount of framework will get reduced and it’ll be less metal.

And instead of cla, instead of bolting into place, it’ll be some kind of clamping mechanism. So just like you’re saying, it could be like some kind of disc that says flipping in the next thing, it clamps down, it fires, and then it opens up, slides in, next one clamps it fires. Yeah. And then it’s, they can just be swapping ’em out and because it’s just a metal.

They can easily take those spent discs, recycle them, them into new, into new discs. So it’s like, it’s not as onerous as some people might think it is. Yeah. It’s definitely a huge engineering challenge. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s not that a challenge doesn’t make it impossible. Yeah. So it’s like they’re, they’re actively working right now on the solution for that plant that can fire it at the rate that they need to be able to fire it and to use.

Less material to make sure the costs are low enough that they can make this justifiable. Yeah, it’s it’s pretty, it’s incredible. It is incredible.

It is, like I said, it’s the sci-fi of it all is just in my head. You know, looking at, like you said, the footprint of a thing that enormous, a giant donut on the ground and inside machinery that is, you know, cranking to one side and then there’s this tremendous thrum of the activation, and then the next disc falls into place in another thrum a minute later.

I can’t help. Hearing that and immediately envisioning the movie where people are scrambling inside the tunnel between Thrums and they have to get out because they’re accidentally in a parallel. Universe like it. It seems like it’s just a movie set. It doesn’t seem like it’s an legitimate. Design for a


I didn’t put it in the video cause it felt like a tangent, but I wish I’d done this. The sound that this machine makes is so sci-fi and weird. I kind of, in the production of the video, we kind of eqd it and kind of dialed it down because it, it was very loud. We were in the room talking. It was overwhelming and so I used software to try to remove it a little bit so that you can actually hear what we’re saying.

It has this like, Weird. There’s this like non, this nos really loud. And I asked him like, what is that? He said, oh, it’s the compressors. It’s like these compressors are constantly running to keep the system kind of cool and like Mm, this’s just like running nonstop in the background. And as I’m standing there talking to him like this, this is like a, a sci-fi set.

This is like something out of a mm-hmm. Sci-fi movie. This is not a real thing. This is Right. I’m standing on something that feels like you’d be seeing like, you know Bruce Willis trying to like save the world by like stopping something from exploding in this room with this thrumming that’s just going on in the background.

Yeah, it, it, it was very cool. It was very neat.

Yeah, it’s remarkable. So one of the comments that stood out for me was this one from Kenny strawn, who wrote, since most current tritium comes through the bombardment of deuterium with nut, with neutrons from another source. I’m surprised no one has thought of some sort of fission fusion hybrid power system in which the neutrons from a fuel like Uranium 2 33 produced from thorium, bombard deuterium to make the tritium.

Which then gets fed into atomic Akamak in order to produce power. The biggest benefit of this would be the neutrons from the fusion are so high energy that they allow the thorium waste to be recycled. Mm-hmm. That’s a lot of chemistry and physics in one comment. Thank you so much for that, Kenny. It.

Wrapping that all up into just one big question mark, is this, do you know of any research that is going into this kind of pairing where it’s looking at. Infusion as a sister energy production model as opposed to just leaning one or the other. The

video that’s coming out when we’re recording this video is about to come out, but it’s, I talked to a company called Astral Systems that they’re doing something with fusion that has nothing to do with fusion energy production at the moment.

It’s more about for medicine use, for medicinal use, radioactive treatments and things, their system can produce tritium. They’re talking to them about their system and. What it’s gonna be used for. We had a long conversation about the Tritium supply and how our current supply is made, and they were talking about how like in Canada there’s nuclear reactors like this.

Something called the can-do reactor. And the can-do reactors are basically producing all of our tridium supply. That’s today, but can-do, reactors are slowly getting shut down. So as fusion is starting to come up, Here’s the source that we’re making tritium with going down. And they were saying there’s gonna be a period where it’s like suddenly it’s like we could end up accidentally stifling fusion as a potential energy source because we’ve just choked off our supply.

So there is this conversation happening in the research industry about like, well how do you, how do we get ahead of this? And the UK AA has a research facility that they just spun up around Tridium to try to get ahead of this because like, what can we do? What systems can we pair together? And in every conversation I’ve had, nobody has said, when we do fusion, fission becomes meaningless.

Nobody has ever said that. It’s always along the lines of there’s gonna be some kind of mix of things, not just for power generation, but for creating supplies. So it’s like there’s different systems that are going to need to be working together. But at the same time, companies like First Light Fusion got General Fusion.

There’s other companies around the world that are all trying to figure out their tritium supply and some of them are claiming like first light that they can, they can overproduce Tritium through their own process so they can create their own closed loop cycle for what they need. So everybody is trying to figure this out cuz everybody knows the fuel supply is the limiting factor in this, right?

If they don’t figure it out. You could have the best technology in the world and it will go nowhere. So this is not a, I know from an outsider looking in, it’s like, well, it’s never gonna work cuz there’s not enough supply. Well, there’s not enough supply today. But all these people understand that and they’re all trying to figure that out because they wanna make sure that they can fuel the future of what they’re trying to build.

Otherwise, they’d be, no, no offense, they’d be the stupidest people on the planet if they weren’t trying to take this into account because, You need the tridium. You need the deuterium. And if you can’t supply it, your, your technology’s not gonna go anywhere.

It all boils down to check out the big brains on Brad.

It’s, yeah, it’s a remarkable video. It really is. And I, if people are listening to this and I can’t imagine who you’d be that you’re listening to this, but you didn’t watch that video, please go back and check it out. And Matt, I encourage you to tell our editor on this episode mm-hmm. To drop in five seconds of just the background noise of that.

Facilities. I, I think that would be fun to hear on here. Yeah, I’d love to hear people’s thoughts about what they think. It sounds like

it’s such a unique sound that it makes Those are the pumps. Yeah. The cryo cryogenic pumps. Yeah, like the heartbeat.

You can drop that into the comments below. You can also just weigh in on the conversation.

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