Energy Technologies
Nuclear Fusion
Edge Plasma Diagnostics

Balint Veto

Balint Veto is a 2005 graduate of the M.I.T. Nuclear Science and Engineering Department. Prior to joining M.I.T. Balint attended University College Utrecht (UCU) in the Netherlands. UCU is the international honors college of Universiteit Utrecht, a Dutch research university. Balint was among the very few ones to receive a three-year-long Fortis scholarship that was designed to attract exceptional academic talent to the first liberal arts college in the Netherlands. Besides UCU's broad general requirements in critical thinking and writing, Balint studied physics, maths and computer science and was awarded a Bachelor's degree in natural sciences in 2002.

At M.I.T. he was a graduate student in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department as well as a Research Assistant at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC). He first worked with Prof. Michael Driscoll at the Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems on post-LOCA containment pressure studies. Later, Balint joined the Alcator group to work on plasma edge diagnostics with Jim Terry. It was under the guidance of Jim Terry that Balint prepared his master's thesis on plasma edge diagnostics with Prof. Ian Hutchinson as thesis reader.

In the fall of 2005 Balint joined the MBA program at the College des Ingenieurs (CDI) in Paris, France. College des Ingenieurs is a tiny but highly selective business school that selects its 60 students from over 600 applicants. With guest professors from other business schools such as the Harvard Business School, HEC, INSEAD, St. Gall and Lausanne, CDI offers a very broad curriculum from marketing to international investments. At CDI all fellows are under a consulting contract with a different client to prove they can apply the recently acquired management skills. Balint consulted for the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). His work at CEA was centered around the client's long term energy strategy.Upon fulfilling all consulting and academic requirements, he received his MBA in the summer of 2006.

Balint is a native of Hungary, has studied and worked in Boston, Paris, Budapest, Utrecht and Santa Barbara. Besides Hungarian and English he is fluent in French and is able to communicate in Dutch.

Energy Technologies

Energy is not just a subject I have studied in the past, but it is my real interest. I joined the Alcator research group, because I believe thermonuclear fusion can be a great way to solve the global energy problem from 2040 on. Even though, like every new technology, it will be expensive in the beginning, so mostly the rich countries will be able to afford it.

In the meantime, we need much quicker ways to fight the global climate change and there are fantastic opportunities in the energy economics and in the underlying technologies. This is very good news, because — unlike fusion — one can reach tangible results in the course of a couple of years.

Developing a new technology itself will not solve any problems, actually it will create some. The newly developed energy technology has to be turned into a profitable and generally accepted way of providing energy. New policies and government regulations need to be developed and other issues will come up such as sustainability, effect on the environment, local municipal interests, national security and others.

In the end, the developers of the technology will have very little to do with the eventual success or failure of the energy technology.

Another contrast between the scientist and the policy maker is the approach. The scientist tends to know one technology extremely well and will look for opportunities where this technology can be useful. Let's call this the push approach. The policy maker will focus on a specific problem and will look around for technologies and pick the one that best seems to solve the problem. I call this the pull approach.

The best energy source in a given place, in a given time, depends on the local natural resources such as the range of available fossil fuels, wind and solar capacity, local macroeconomic indicators, cost of electricity storage, transmission, distribution and many others.

In a recent study, I compared the electricity generated from nuclear energy to other means of CO2-free electricity generation. The topics included market demand and supply for electricity in different geopolitical zones, international policies tackling the problems around the global climate change (post-Kyoto), the R&D of renewable and other carbon free electricity production technologies and the business economics of the major energy technologies.

Some of the energy technologies considered, were clean carbon (burning coal with CO2 capture followed by CO2 liquefaction and storage), generation III. and IV. nuclear reactors, solar photovoltaic , wind, biomass, and biofuel. Besides energy production technologies, energy distribution and energy storage issues were also analyzed with a special attention on hydrogen.

Nuclear Fusion

What is the universal constant of thermonuclear fusion — goes the joke. T = 30 years — goes the answer — where T is the time required to reach thermonuclear fusion. There is some underlying truth to this mean joke about the glacial progress of fusion research. In the 70's, fusion researchers promised to give the world fusion by 2000. Even though the electricity I am using now to run my computer is not generated by fusion, there has been a lot of progress.

In today's magnetically confined fusion devices, the temperature and the pressure are fusion scale. This means, they are about the right magnitude within an order. Fusion does take place in big tokamak such as the JET even in Alcator C-Mod, but the power generated is in the ballpark of Watts, not megawatts. In order words, in the 70's we were 30 years away from reaching fusion scale physical conditions inside the tokamak, now we are 30 years away from making fusion economically feasible.

Being economically feasible just means you can not be too much more expensive than other energy technologies. A little more expensive is fine as long as there are people willing to pay a little premium. According to marketing studies, 90% of consumers prefer to base their decision on something else than the price in industrialized countries. Electricity could stop being a commodity and maybe environmentally clean energy technologies could be charging considerably more than strongly polluting technologies. If there are people who are willing pay five times more for shampoo or cosmetics that make their hair smell nice, why would not be there people who are willing to pay five times as much for energy that make the planet smell nice.

Just how hard can it be?

Edge plasma diagnostics

One of the most interesting places of a toroidal fusion plasma is the edge region. All the energy and the particles that enter or leave the plasma have to do it through the plasma edge region. The outboard edge region has the easiest physical access, because it is on the outside, and it has also the lowest temperature, enabling diagnostics in the visible energy range.

As a grad student under Jim Terry, we designed and built a new plasma edge diagnostic to measure the fluctuations in the edge plasma brightness. It consists of a stainless steel nozzle that puffs neutral gas into the edge region, a viewing telescope to look at the plasma edge and all equipment needed to process the optical image from the telescope. The injected gas is needed the increase the plasma brightness profile and to localize the radial plasma properties.

The essay is geared towards a general audience, but I include the abstract for more technical readers:

Fast Photodiode Diagnostic on Alcator C-Mod Tokamak to Study the Plasma Edge/SOL Structure

The tokamak is so far the most promising magnetic confinement configuration to control fusion scale plasmas and to be a large scale source of electricity in the future. Built in the shape of a torus of major and minor radius R and r respectively, the charged particles are confined by the superposition of a toroidal and a poloidal magnetic field. In order to study the transport processes that lead to the removal of energetic particles from the hot plasma, two tangentially viewing optical diagnostics have been installed to look at the plasma edge region (0.9 < [(x)/ (r)] < 1.1) of the Alcator C-Mod diverted tokamak. The toroidally looking views are coupled to fast photodiode amplifier circuits that record the Da brightness at a rate of 1 MHz. Two plasma-directed gas puffs are employed at the inboard and outboard plasma edges to enhance the emission at the desired toroidal locations. The absolutely calibrated views yield the required data for building radial and poloidal profiles of the intrinsic Da plasma brightness. The Abel inverted radial Da emissivity profile typically peaks at 30 W/m3/ster at 1 cm outside the separatrix ([(x)/(r)] 1.05) and drops on both sides of the separatrix. For the first time, the poloidal measurements of the plasma edge brightness with and without the D2 neutral gas puff yielded an estimate for the vertical extent of the neutral gas puff. The steady state inboard and outboard D a brightness profiles are also compared during two consecutive periods of L and H mode operation. The time lagged cross correlation calculated for neighboring views revealed quickly propagating local brightness maxima (blobs). The phase velocity of these systematically moving brightness perturbations ranges from -1 to 1 km/s inside the separatrix and becomes uniform outside the separatrix at 0.5 km/s where the positive velocity indicates radially outward motion. Downward propagating perturbations are also observed in the outboard SOL.