Google just entered the race towards harvesting the energy of nuclear fusion by partnering with a leading U.S. company to speed up the process of developing clean, limitless energy through plasma generation.
If you’ve read our take on Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) or participated in the debates over how useful renewable energy is, you know that harnessing nuclear energy is seen as the holy grail of sustainable, limitless energy.
Yesterday, Ted Baltz, a Senior Staff Software Engineer of the Google Accelerated Science Team, announced through a blog post at Google Research Blog that the company is now venturing into fusion research. A part of the post read:
“Google is always interested in solving complex engineering problems, and few are more complex than fusion. Physicists have been trying since the 1950s to control the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium, which is the same process that powers the Sun. The key to harnessing this power is to confine hydrogen plasmas for long enough to get more energy out from fusion reactions than was put in.
All of these efforts involve complex experiments with many variables, providing an opportunity for Google to help, with our strength in computing and machine learning.”#Google is now into #NuclearFusion and has Developed the Optometrist Algorithm for study.Click To Tweet
Baltz also confirmed that Google’s research division is partnering with the American fusion company Tri Alpha Energy in developing a computer algorithm that would speed up experiments on plasma generation.
Optometrist Algorithm to Help With Fusion Research
Nuclear fusion has been hailed by many nuclear physicists and researchers as the ‘holy grail’ of clean energy production.
During nuclear fusion, scientists use an exceptionally complex process to combine atoms at extreme temperatures and release massive amounts of energy. The process involves non-linear phenomena that produce big outcomes with every small change. These events make it challenging for researchers to engineer solutions that will aid in suspending the plasma.
“The whole thing is beyond what we know how to do even with Google-scale computer resources,” Baltz said.
According to the post, Tri Alpha runs plasma ‘shot’ on a C-2U machine every 8 minutes. Each shot consists of creating two spinning blobs of plasma in the vacuum sealed innards of C-2U, smashing them together at over 600,000 miles per hour, creating a bigger, hotter, spinning football of plasma.
The physicists would then blast at it continuously with particle beams to keep it spinning. During that 8 minute period, the researchers would try to experimentally verify that the advanced beam-driven field-reversed plasma configurations behave according to theory.
However, 8 minutes is not enough to validate the theory. There are a lot of sensor outputs to look at, and before the researchers finished the task, the C-2U is already charged with enough power to fire another ‘shot.’
While Tri Alpha is said to have the best nuclear physicists in the world, they are still having a hard time sorting out what is ‘good plasma’ with only 8 minutes time per experiment.
To help the physicists with their dilemma, the Google Accelerated Science Team developed an algorithm that will “find plasma behaviors that an expert human plasma physicist thinks are interesting.” Baltz said:
“We developed the Optometrist Algorithm, which is sort of a Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) where the likelihood function being explored is in the plasma physicist’s mind rather than being explicitly written down.
Just like getting an eyeglass prescription, the algorithm presents the expert human with machine settings and the associated outcomes. They can just use their judgment on what is interesting, and what is unhealthy for the machine.”
“The key improvement we provided was a technique to search the high-dimensional space of machine parameters efficiently.”
Google Nuclear Fusion Efforts Aided by Computing Power
Apparently, Google helped the C2-U machine to work more effectively, and the algorithm turned a month’s operation to just a few hours.
According to the research paper published by Baltz and his colleagues in the journal Scientific Reports, Google and Tri Alpha’s combined efforts yielded a 50% reduction in energy losses. Michl Binderbauer, president and chief technology officer at Tri Alpha Energy, was quoted as saying:
“Results like this might take years to solve without the power of advanced computation.”
Currently, Tri Alpha has already replaced the C2-U machine with a more powerful machine named Norman, named after the company’s late co-founder Norman Rostoker. It was reported that Norman had achieved its first plasma early this month and if the following experiments are successful, Tri Alpha will next build a demonstration power generator.