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A Breakthrough In American Energy Dominance? U.S. Navy Patents Compact Fusion Reactor


The USS Enterprise with Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence on its flight deck

The USS Enterprise with Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence on its flight deck

USN Official Photograph

President Donald Trump’s energy dominance narrative – fueled by the prolific production of oil and gas from America’s Shale Gale – recently got a boost from the United States Navy. The US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division filed a patent for a compact fusion reactor (CFR) last month, one that claims to improve upon the shortcomings of the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks CFR that uses similar “plasma confinement” technology.

The man behind the state-of-the-art design is US Navy researcher Salvatore Cezar Pais, who received major publicity for patenting room-temperature superconductors and a suspiciously UFO-like aircraft that uses “anti-gravity” technology.

If it sounds like science fiction, that’s because it sort of is.

Nuclear fusion, the reaction that powers the sun, has been the elusive dream of the scientific community for decades. Theoretically, a fusion power plant would be able to produce near limitless amounts of clean, safe energy from a small amount of electricity and a handful of hydrogen isotopes.

A fusion reaction is impossible to replicate in its perfect form because laboratory conditions cannot recreate the gravitational force of a star, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from trying. The US Navy patent claims that it can achieve these enormous amounts of energy in a compact device through the use of spinning dynamic fusors – plasma containment devices – which keep nuclear plasma stable in a way that mimics the mass of the sun.

The patent also states that the resulting fusion reaction would produce a net energy gain (more energy emitted than enters the system), which would be an unprecedented first for manmade fusion reactors.

Theoretically, Pais’ concept could produce upwards of one gigawatt (one billion watts) to 1 terawatt (one trillion watts) of power from just a megawatt (one million watts) of energy input. For reference, a large nuclear power plant produces around 1 gigawatt of power, enough to supply some 700,000 American homes. 

If it works, the Navy patented CFR could replace the fission nuclear reactors used in almost 150 naval vessels – most of which operate under the 100 MW range. In fact, a CFR the size of a small car could be utilized in any peaceful or wartime scenario where energy is needed, from ships to jets to tanks to remote military bases.

It is no wonder, then, that the US Naval patent claim has come under scrutiny from the scientific community, especially given that the device only measures 0.3 to 2 meters in diameter. Instead of using superconducting magnets in larger, more traditional fusion plants, Pais’ design uses conical dynamic fusors that spin at extremely high speeds to produce a sustained, concentrated magnetic flux that could in theory sustain the plasma state needed for power production. This powerful magnetic flux then compresses an isotopic hydrogen gas mixture to form a plasma core in the vacuum chamber, which can achieve temperatures high enough to achieve true fusion with breakeven energy.

Achieving an energy gain at all, much less from a compact device, would be an enormous achievement not just for the US Navy, but for the entire planet. It would be a technological revolution similar to the discovery of coal-based steam engine and the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, only with orders of magnitude more energy. It would also be safe and emissions free.

And while fusion has been called a technology that is “always going to be thirty years away”, the threat of climate change has increased the impetus to achieve success. Energy giant Eni SpA recently invested a $50 million towards Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a company founded by six MIT professors. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are backing Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a group committed to funding nuclear fusion research.

Fusion occurs at temperatures exceeding 15 million degrees Celsius, which can only be achieved by feeding fuel (unstable isotopes like uranium and deuterium) into a plasma field. The Soviet Union provided the initial blueprint for achieving nuclear fusion through plasma with the first Tokamak reactor, which was ultimately unable to sustain fusion conditions for more than a few seconds.

Today a number of such tokamak fusion projects exist around the world. China is working on its China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) to become operational in the 2020s, and South Korea has its KSTAR project, a tokamak which reached a record 70 seconds of plasma operation.

The largest project by far, however, is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which is a collaboration of the EU, India, Japan, China, South Korea and the United States. ITER is a massive fusion reactor facility that aims to produce around 500 MW of fusion energy when complete with an input of only 50 MW – ten times its energy input as opposed to the millions-fold increase in the Navy CFR. The ITER project represents the international commitment to finding alternative clean energy in the face of climate change.

It is unclear whether this patent represents a monumental scientific breakthrough. Some even said that this may be a disinformation operation, an attempt to divert America’s peer competitors to pursue a technological dead end.

What is certain is that nuclear fusion technology development is gathering pace. While the Navy’s design may not be immediately operational (or even realistic), a major shift towards harnessing clean fusion energy is already on the horizon.

All the better if the United States harnesses it first.  


With Assistance from Zuhair Khan and James Grant

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President Donald Trump’s energy dominance narrative – fueled by the prolific production of oil and gas from America’s Shale Gale – recently got a boost from the United States Navy. The US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division filed a patent for a compact fusion reactor (CFR) last month, one that claims to improve upon the shortcomings of the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks CFR that uses similar “plasma confinement” technology.

The man behind the state-of-the-art design is US Navy researcher Salvatore Cezar Pais, who received major publicity for patenting room-temperature superconductors and a suspiciously UFO-like aircraft that uses “anti-gravity” technology.

If it sounds like science fiction, that’s because it sort of is.

Nuclear fusion, the reaction that powers the sun, has been the elusive dream of the scientific community for decades. Theoretically, a fusion power plant would be able to produce near limitless amounts of clean, safe energy from a small amount of electricity and a handful of hydrogen isotopes.

A fusion reaction is impossible to replicate in its perfect form because laboratory conditions cannot recreate the gravitational force of a star, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from trying. The US Navy patent claims that it can achieve these enormous amounts of energy in a compact device through the use of spinning dynamic fusors – plasma containment devices – which keep nuclear plasma stable in a way that mimics the mass of the sun.

The patent also states that the resulting fusion reaction would produce a net energy gain (more energy emitted than enters the system), which would be an unprecedented first for manmade fusion reactors.

Theoretically, Pais’ concept could produce upwards of one gigawatt (one billion watts) to 1 terawatt (one trillion watts) of power from just a megawatt (one million watts) of energy input. For reference, a large nuclear power plant produces around 1 gigawatt of power, enough to supply some 700,000 American homes. 

If it works, the Navy patented CFR could replace the fission nuclear reactors used in almost 150 naval vessels – most of which operate under the 100 MW range. In fact, a CFR the size of a small car could be utilized in any peaceful or wartime scenario where energy is needed, from ships to jets to tanks to remote military bases.

It is no wonder, then, that the US Naval patent claim has come under scrutiny from the scientific community, especially given that the device only measures 0.3 to 2 meters in diameter. Instead of using superconducting magnets in larger, more traditional fusion plants, Pais’ design uses conical dynamic fusors that spin at extremely high speeds to produce a sustained, concentrated magnetic flux that could in theory sustain the plasma state needed for power production. This powerful magnetic flux then compresses an isotopic hydrogen gas mixture to form a plasma core in the vacuum chamber, which can achieve temperatures high enough to achieve true fusion with breakeven energy.

Achieving an energy gain at all, much less from a compact device, would be an enormous achievement not just for the US Navy, but for the entire planet. It would be a technological revolution similar to the discovery of coal-based steam engine and the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, only with orders of magnitude more energy. It would also be safe and emissions free.

And while fusion has been called a technology that is “always going to be thirty years away”, the threat of climate change has increased the impetus to achieve success. Energy giant Eni SpA recently invested a $50 million towards Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a company founded by six MIT professors. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are backing Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a group committed to funding nuclear fusion research.

Fusion occurs at temperatures exceeding 15 million degrees Celsius, which can only be achieved by feeding fuel (unstable isotopes like uranium and deuterium) into a plasma field. The Soviet Union provided the initial blueprint for achieving nuclear fusion through plasma with the first Tokamak reactor, which was ultimately unable to sustain fusion conditions for more than a few seconds.

Today a number of such tokamak fusion projects exist around the world. China is working on its China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) to become operational in the 2020s, and South Korea has its KSTAR project, a tokamak which reached a record 70 seconds of plasma operation.

The largest project by far, however, is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which is a collaboration of the EU, India, Japan, China, South Korea and the United States. ITER is a massive fusion reactor facility that aims to produce around 500 MW of fusion energy when complete with an input of only 50 MW – ten times its energy input as opposed to the millions-fold increase in the Navy CFR. The ITER project represents the international commitment to finding alternative clean energy in the face of climate change.

It is unclear whether this patent represents a monumental scientific breakthrough. Some even said that this may be a disinformation operation, an attempt to divert America’s peer competitors to pursue a technological dead end.

What is certain is that nuclear fusion technology development is gathering pace. While the Navy’s design may not be immediately operational (or even realistic), a major shift towards harnessing clean fusion energy is already on the horizon.

All the better if the United States harnesses it first.  

With Assistance from Zuhair Khan and James Grant


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