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By: Charles Rhodes, P. Eng., B.Sc., M.A.Sc., Ph.D.
WHAT IS MICRO FUSION?
Micro Fusion is a micro-nuclear process that outputs heat without producing green house gas or long lived radio isotopes. This heat can be used for commercial heating, absorption cooling and production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from biomatter.
WHY IS MICRO FUSION IMPORTANT?
The survival of mankind rests on the development of non-fossil fuel energy systems. Micro Fusion can be used to displace fossil fuels in many stationary heating and cooling applications. Micro Fusion can also be used as a source of heat for producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels from biomass. This liquid fuel production process operates without net emission of either green house gas or particulate matter. The resulting liquid fuels can be used in place of gasoline, diesel oil and fuel oil.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF MICRO FUSION?
The physics and technology underlying Micro Fusion are the result of many years of theoretical and experimental work by numerous parties. Some of the parties providing essential materials, technology or services relating to Micro Fusion are listed in the Links section of this web site.
Micro Fusion, as a potentially practical heat production process, was first recognized by Dr. Charles Rhodes in November 2002. During the years 2003 to 2011 inclusive a number of essential developments were made relating to implementation of Micro Fusion. This implementation is being propelled by increasing concerns relating to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increasing long term costs related to both fission reactor and renewable energy technologies.
WHAT IS A MICRO FUSION UNIT?
A Micro Fusion Unit is an apparatus that uses the Micro Fusion process to generate heat. A Micro Fusion Unit consists of an assembly of equipment about 8.0 m high X 1.5 m wide X 2.0 m deep within which electrically initiated nuclear reactions generate up to 300 kWt of heat. Each Micro Fusion Unit outputs about 250 kWt of recoverable heat that is delivered to an external thermal load via a heat transfer fluid and an isolation heat exchanger. The heat transfer fluid operates in the temperature range 190 C to 260 C.
WHAT IS A MICRO FUSION SYSTEM?
A Micro Fusion System is a fully functional combination of Micro Fusion Units and related auxiliary equipment. The Micro Fusion Units are installed in underground vaults. Much of the auxiliary equipment can be installed above grade. Each operating Micro Fusion unit and its related auxiliary equipment consume about 30 KWe of electricity.
WHAT ARE THE APPLICATIONS OF MICRO FUSION?
Micro Fusion heat output can be used for space heating, water heating, steam generation, absorption cooling, industrial distillation, and liquid hydrocarbon fuel production.
HOW DOES MICRO FUSION PROVIDE COOLING?
An absorption chiller is a well known central air conditioning system component that normally uses steam heat to produce chilled water. The typical coefficient of performance (COP) of a 2-stage (double effect) absorption chiller operated with a 170 degree C heat source is about 0.9, so 250 kWt of heat provides about 0.9 X 250 = 225 kWt (63.75 tons) of cooling with an effective COP of:
COP = (225 kWt/ 30 kWe) = 7.5.
Note that if an existing electric compression chiller is replaced by an absorption chiller the requirement for a larger cooling tower and a larger cooling tower water supply must be taken into account.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE ELECTRICITY REQUIRED BY A MICRO FUSION SYSTEM IS GENERATED USING NATURAL GAS?
Assume that the electricity required to drive a Micro Fusion heating system is generated using a 50% efficient combined cycle natural gas fuelled generator. The useful thermal output from the Micro Fusion equipment is 7.5 times the electricity energy input, which in turn is half the thermal energy content of the natural gas consumed. Hence there is an overall:
7.5 X 0.5 = 3.75 fold
reduction in natural gas consumption and corresponding carbon dioxide emissions as compared to a 100% efficient natural gas heating system. A real natural gas heating system has a typical efficiency of 0.83. Hence the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions enabled by the Micro Fusion system is:
3.75 / 0.83 = 4.52 fold.
WHAT ARE THE SIZES OF AVAILABLE HEAT LOADS?
Most apartment suites have average potable water heating requirements in the range 0.5 kWt to 1.0 kWt. Most apartment suites in Canada have annual peak space heating requirements of less than 7 kWt. For well insulated high rise apartment suites with thermal windows and air-to-air heat exchangers the peak space heating load is about 4.2 kWt per suite. Most single family homes in Canada have daily average potable water heating requirements of about 1 kWt and have annual peak space heating requirements of less than 30 kWt.
HOW DOES MICRO FUSION DIFFER FROM OTHER NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGIES?
1. Micro Fusion does not involve fissionable materials such as uranium or plutonium.
2. Micro Fusion cannot be used to breed fissionable material.
3. The neutron emission associated with Micro Fusion is minimal.
4. The solid reaction products of the Micro Fusion process are either stable or have relatively short half lives. A properly fabricated Micro Fusion fuel assembly can be safely handled without radiation shielding after two years in storage.
HOW MUCH REAL ESTATE IS REQUIRED BY A MICRO FUSION SYSTEM?
The Micro Fusion equipment vaults generally extend about 48 feet (14.6 m) below grade level. The above grade Micro Fusion equipment space requirement is application specific but typically extends about 3 m above grade level. The dedicated below grade land area includes a 10 foot (3.0 m) wide exclusion zone around each vault. At grade level the exclusion zones can be used for driveways or on grade automobile parking.
A Micro Fusion System with a 250 kWt thermal output requires in plan view a dedicated below grade land area 32 feet (9.75 m) wide X 50 feet (15.24 m) long. Due to overlapping exclusion zones a Micro Fusion System consisting of four Micro Fusion Units with a total thermal output of 1000 kWt requires a below grade rectangular land area 54 feet (16.46 m) by 90 feet (27.4 m). This area is approximately the size of one lot in many single family residential areas.
To allow future installation of Micro Fusion systems to meet the heating requirements of high rise residential buildings, the building code should be amended to require that for all new high rise residential buildings there must be sufficient unused below grade space adjacent to each building to allow installation of at least one Micro Fusion unit per 50 suites. This unused space must be free of buried utilities and below grade structures such as underground parking. Furthermore, the building's space heating and domestic hot water supply and return riser pipes must be configured such that they can readily be connected to the contemplated Micro Fusion system location.
IS MICRO FUSION SAFE?
The Micro Fusion nuclear reaction rate is limited by the rate electricity is fed to the Micro Fusion process. The significant heat producing Micro Fusion nuclear reactions stop instantly when this electricity feed is cut off. This characteristic makes the Micro Fusion nuclear reaction inherently safe and allows Micro Fusion Systems to be installed adjacent to major buildings to displace load from existing boilers. Micro Fusion installations are subject to Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Class II Nuclear Facility regulations.
IS RADIATION AN ISSUE?
The major radiation safety concern is that when a Micro Fusion Unit is operating, it emits x-ray and gamma radiation. To comply with radiation safety requirements each Micro Fusion Unit is installed underground in a dedicated reinforced concrete vault. Each vault is surrounded by an exclusion zone consisting of at least 3 m of high density fill. This inter-vault spacing is sufficient to allow safe maintenance work in a vault while Micro Fusion units in adjacent vaults are operating.
WHAT ABOUT RADIO ISOTOPES?
While a Micro Fusion unit is operating it produces relatively short lived radio isotopes. In normal operation these isotopes are completely contained and kept in safe storage until they naturally decay into stable isotopes. However, one of the safety issues is providing systems to safely contain these isotopes both at the installation site and during subsequent transport. This is an area of current Micro Fusion system development. A related issue is provision of reliable standby power for safety system operation and remote monitoring.
WHAT ABOUT DECOMMISSIONING?
The Micro Fusion Unit decommissioning process involves the following steps:
1. The Micro Fusion Unit is locked off and left in its vault for two years to allow the gamma ray emitting isotopes contained within the unit to decay to a stable state.
2. The Micro Fusion unit is disassembled into several sealed sections for transport.
3. The sealed sections are transported to a central facility where a chemical process is used to recover the remaining radio isotopes.
4. These radio isotopes are kept in above ground dry storage until they naturally decay. Depending on regulations then in effect, this storage period may be one to two centuries.
5. It is possible that the storage period could be eliminated by harvesting the remaining radio isotopes for use in other nuclear equipment. However, the practical economics of such isotope harvesting are uncertain at the present time.
WHAT ABOUT VAULT ACCESS?
Normal service access to each vault is via a manhole that also serves as a fresh air intake vent. When anyone enters a vault access manhole the Micro Fusion Unit in the vault automatically shuts off. When the Micro Fusion Unit is off a lead shield mounted on the Micro Fusion Unit allows safe work inside the vault. In the event that the vault access manhole is obstructed, personnel can escape from the vault via the vault exhaust vent.
WHAT ABOUT A VAULT FLOOD?
Each vault extends above grade level to ensure that this vault will not be flooded by surface water above grade. Even if water inside a vault is 10 feet deep, there is no danger of pollution. The radioactive material is separated from the flood water by double walled steel pressure vessel containment. The vault sump pumps are duplicate and are fitted with individual standby power systems. Micro Fusion systems should be located well above the levels of nearby lakes, rivers and seas to avoid damage due to floods and tsunami.
WHY USE A SEPARATE HEAT EXCHANGER ROOM?
The thermal load heat exchanger is located outside the vault so that if there is a heat exchanger or related piping failure the circulating water from the thermal load will not enter the vault. Similarly, if there is a heat exchanger or related piping failure which leads to a heat transfer fluid fire, this fire will not spread to the building where the thermal load is located.
IS FIRE SAFETY AN ISSUE?
A Micro Fusion System contains toxic flammable substances that must not be exposed to water. Piped water should not be used for any purpose in the vault. The Micro Fusion System design uses non-aqueous means for fire containment and fire suppression.
CAN MICRO FUSION BE USED IN DISTRICT HEATING SYSTEMS?
The relatively low power density and the relatively high capital cost per net kWt generated by Micro Fusion make Micro Fusion a questionable choice for large central district heating applications. However, Micro Fusion can be effectively used for distributed heat generation.
WHAT ARE THE APPLICATION CONSTRAINTS OF MICRO FUSION?
1. Cold starting a Micro Fusion Unit requires a 30 kW external source of electricity and takes significant time.
2.The catalyst used in Micro Fusion is expensive. Measures should be taken to prevent its loss or theft.
3. The relatively low power density of Micro Fusion equipment and the weight and size of the equipment and the required shielding preclude almost all mobile applications.
4. The weight of the required shielding causes Micro Fusion Units to be installed below grade. This requirement can complicate heating piping connections to existing tall buildings that have roof top central heating systems.
5. Micro Fusion Units are intended to be operated close to their rated thermal power level. The Q of a Micro Fusion unit diminishes as its operating power level is reduced, where:
Q = (recoverable heat output) / (total electricity input)
WHAT IS THE MICRO FUSION PATENT STATUS?
World-wide patents relating to Micro Fusion technology are being sought.
WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPAL MARKETS FOR MICRO FUSION SYSTEMS?
The principal market for Micro Fusion Systems is for displacement of fossil fuels for stationary base load: heating, cooling and liquid hydrocarbon fuel production.
WHAT ABOUT ENERGY PRICES?
Successful marketing of Micro Fusion technology is dependent upon the price at which heat produced by the Micro Fusion process can be sold. This price is affected by governmental taxes, rebates, subsidies and incentives in the energy sector. Micro Fusion is presently aimed at applications that require a nearly continuous supply of heat.
HOW DOES MICRO FUSION ENHANCE LIQUID HYDROCARBON FUEL PRODUCTION?
An important application of Micro Fusion is in production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels. There is potentially a huge market for synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels to displace fossil liquid hydrocarbon fuels.
Practical liquid fuel production processes all require large amounts of heat in the temperature range available from Micro Fusion equipment. The relatively small size of Micro Fusion units permits these units to be located close to where the biomass feedstock is grown, which minimizes feedstock and residue transportation costs. Feedstock residue remaining after removal of the plant carbohydrate should be recycled for soil fertilization to sustain ongoing agricultural biomass feedstock growth.
WHAT TRAINING IS REQUIRED?
Almost all the work required to install a Micro Fusion System can be done by conventional general/electrical/mechanical contractors with little or no special training. However, Micro Fusion System design, commissioning, approval, maintenance and problem diagnosis should only be done by suitably trained personnel with appropriate test equipment. An extensive training program will be required to provide technical support for Micro Fusion and related biofuel production technology. Micro Fusion work is unsuitable for persons who suffer from claustrophobia.
WHAT ONGOING SERVICE IS REQUIRED?
1. A Micro Fusion System contains fans and pumps that operate continuously when the system is on. This equipment needs normal lubrication and mechanical maintenance.
2. A Micro Fusion System contains several fluids that need periodic maintenance.
3. A Micro Fusion Unit contains several electronic modules. These can be field serviced by module exchange.
4. A Micro Fusion Unit contains a high vacuum system. If this system develops a leak a portable helium leak detector will likely be required to pin point the problem.
5. A Micro Fusion Unit contains an inexpensive component located within the vacuum chamber that will wear out with normal use and that must be replaced every few years.
6. A Micro Fusion unit contains some elastomeric sealing gaskets that will degrade under long term exposure to gammma radiation and that will need periodic replacement.
7. A Micro Fusion System has several safety devices. The proper operation of these safety devices must be checked annually.
8. A Micro Fusion System contains cumulative meters to measure unit run times, heat output, electrical energy input and ionizing radiation output. The readings from these cumulative meters should be continuously recorded and analyzed to ensure that the Micro Fusion system is functioning properly and to allow calculation of the economic benefit that the Micro Fusion System provides.
WHAT ARE THE SITE REQUIREMENTS?
1. In practical applications multiple Micro Fusion Units may be installed on the same property to minimize the system cost and to provide a high degree of heating or cooling reliability.
2. A Micro Fusion installation must allow sufficient clearances for practical field replacement of every component.
3. The property must have sufficient dedicated below grade land area.
4. There must be 3 phase grid supplied electricity available at the property.
5. There must be reliable Internet service available at the property to allow continuous remote monitoring of the equipment.
6. There should not be any conflicting underground services such as natural gas, potable water, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, electricity, cable TV or telephone in the below grade area and exclusion zone dedicated to Micro Fusion equipment.
7. It is helpful if bed rock is at least 16.0 m below grade level.
8. It is helpful if, during the excavation period, the water table is at least 16.0 m below grade level.
9. There must be a thermal load available sufficient to absorb the entire thermal output of the operating Micro Fusion unit(s).
DOES AN INVESTMENT IN MICRO FUSION MAKE BUSINESS SENSE?
1. It will realistically take several years to bring Micro Fusion to the market.
2. The price that can be obtained for a Micro Fusion System is limited by the tax-in price of the lowest cost alternative fuel or electrical energy delivered to the proposed installation location. Currently in Ontario there is no fossil carbon emissions tax on competitive fossil fuels and electricity prices are subsidized by the taxpayers. If an investor believes that the tax-in cost of fossil fuels will increase over the next few years then an investment in Micro Fusion is prudent.
3. Any legislation or tax regime that imposes a fossil carbon emissions tax or that otherwise forces reduction of carbon dioxide emissions should benefit an investment in Micro Fusion. The economics of Micro Fusion will be greatly enhanced when governments implement a fossil carbon emissions tax to stop further carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere.
4. Large scale implementation of Micro Fusion requires implementing on a large scale certain isotope production and separation processes that to date have only been implemented on a comparatively small scale.
5. Large scale implementation of Micro Fusion will be subject to delays relating to personnel training and development of new safety guidelines for regulatory and inspection authorities.
HOW DOES ONE INVEST IN MICRO FUSION?
Serious investors may contact the author at: Charles.Rhodes@microfusion.ca regarding investment in Micro Fusion International Limited. At this time a favourable Capital Cost Allowance ruling (CCA Class 43.2) for Micro Fusion systems is being sought from Finance Canada. Such a ruling would allow investors with high taxable incomes to use investments in Micro Fusion systems to defer payment of income tax. Investment in a Class 43.2 asset allows claiming 50% per annum depreciation on the equipment as compared to 4% per annum for investment in a building.
This web page last updated November 10, 2011.
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