Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Power For The Planet': Company Bets Big On Fusion by Richard Harris

A section of the fusion machine being tested at General Fusion's facility outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. General Fusion is hoping to implement a long-shot strategy that could produce fusion energy in the next few years.

The world would be a very different place if we could bottle up a bit of the sun here on Earth and tap that abundant and clean energy supply. Governments have spent many billions of dollars to develop that energy source, fusion energy, but it's still a distant dream. Now a few upstart companies are trying to do it on the cheap. And the ideas are credible enough to attract serious private investment.

One such company is hidden away in a small business park in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia. Nothing seems unusual here — there's a food distributor, an engineering firm and small warehouses. But on one door there's a sign suggesting that all is not normal.

The sign says "General Fusion" and warns people with pacemakers to proceed with caution.

The reason for that caution can be found behind bulletproof walls that surround an experimental machine. This gleaming metal structure could be out of a science fiction movie set. It stands 15 feet tall, is crisscrossed with wires and is covered with aluminum foil. Two men are hunched over an instrument, troubleshooting.

The machine is flanked with banks of electrical capacitors, which hold — and release — the amount of energy you find in a stick of dynamite. A siren warns to stay clear: The system is charging up, and with all that electric charge, some piece of hardware could go flying.

This plasma ray gun is part of a bigger instrument, which is still under construction. The goal, simply put, is to create a small piece of the sun and harness that energy.

"This is an insanely ambitious project," says Michel Laberge, the brains behind the project. He's a physicist and inventor with a rusty beard and a college-casual wardrobe.

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