back to article NJ lab claims plasma fusion breakthrough

A private laboratory in New Jersey is claiming to have fulfilled two key conditions of a workable fusion energy system: it’s confined atomic nuclei in an ion “bottle”, and heated them to 1.8 billion degrees Celsius. The Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Inc work, published in the American Institute of Physics’ Physics of Plasmas …

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  1. Ketlan
    Alert

    'The Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Inc work, published in the American Institute of Physics’ Physics of Plasmas journal, reports that the high-density deuterium ion fusion reactions were confined “for durations of 7-30ns in the cores of plasmoids with typical radii of 300-500 μm”.'

    Sounds great. I wish I knew what it meant.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Basically, Ketlan ...

      ... They touched a very small match to a very small campfire in an itty, bitty fire pit, watched it produce less heat than that provided by the match, and couldn't figure out how to refuel the campfire to make it sustainable enough to make more heat than provided by the match, nor how to take advantage of the heat.

      Still, it's a start ... and no radiation side affects, either.

      Onwards & upwards ... I'm hoping to see usable fusion reactors in my lifetime.

      1. DerekShannon-LPPhysics
        Go

        Re: Basically, Ketlan ...

        You're right that the amount of fusion energy released was very small, Jake. This is why we need the 3rd criterion, density, in addition to the high energies and confinement time already achieved. A few dozen nanoseconds doesn't sound like a very long time, but for a very dense plasma it will be long enough to have a good pB11 burn.

        A future generator would use a pulsed power cycle, so the key issue is to generate enough power to keep the cycle going with a bit extra to the grid, as we try to explain with this diagram: http://bit.ly/HLvja6

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Basically, Ketlan ...

          Thanks for the posts here, Derek. Appreciated.

      2. schubb
        Happy

        Re: Basically, Ketlan ...

        Might I just say, thank you very much!

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Joke

      Means I'm going to have to continue to plug my HTC Desire into a wall socket every other day.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It went bang.

    More money is required for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    Then we can all have flying cars!

  3. Jaap stoel

    Flying cars?

    Forget flying cars! I want my own fusion-powered atomic rocket!

    Fly me to the moon etc...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Haven't we met before?

    So, in about another 20 years we'll have a viable fusion reactor then?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So, in about another 20 years we'll have a viable fusion reactor then?

      You got one already. Try looking up during the daytime.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Happy

        Re: So, in about another 20 years we'll have a viable fusion reactor then?

        Nope, looked up and all I can see are greyish fluffy things that seem to be dropping water on my head.

        1. fishman

          Re: So, in about another 20 years we'll have a viable fusion reactor then?

          Just be glad they are clouds and not pidgeons.

        2. Bob H
          Coat

          Re: So, in about another 20 years we'll have a viable fusion reactor then?

          Damn those Koalas!

          I'll get my raincoat.

        3. darkmage0707077

          Re: So, in about another 20 years we'll have a viable fusion reactor then?

          Oh, your planet must be broken then. Have you tried rebooting yourself?

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Note *where* this is being reported.

    This looks like a *peer* reviewed journal.

    Which suggest some *serious* questions have been asked and answered satisfactorily.

    Given this is one of the never-tried-because-on-paper-its-too-damm-tough fusion reactions this actually *is* quite a significant development on a budget of what I'll guess is the thin end of not much.

    Yes it's early days. Yes energy extraction is likely to be difficult. Yes they are orders of magnitude away from decent containment times but just getting this far in a new *route* and a new fuel combination is a *major* achievement.

    Thumbs up.

    1. annodomini2

      Re: Note *where* this is being reported.

      The energy extraction concept is actually simpler than tokamak and the like, they are proposing to use direct generation (the reaction should produce a stream of helium ions) vs steam turbines. Which, in theory, should be much more efficient.

      This has a benefit as the net energy gain can be smaller.

      Tokamak needs about 5x energy gain to be cost effective.

      Focus Fusion needs about 2x energy gain to be cost effective.

      They haven't actually achieved pb11 reaction yet, but this demonstrates they can achieve the temperatures required with their reactor design for a pb11 reaction to occur.

  6. Jock in a Frock
    Mushroom

    Hang on!

    "According to the lab’s chief scientist Eric Lerner" - wasn't he the main bad guy in the X-Men movies? ;-)

    “The denser it is, the faster it will burn” - better keep Katie Price away from any naked flames, then....

    1. schubb
      Unhappy

      Re: Hang on!

      Sorry, but no, Eric Lenscherr was Magneto's real name in the movies.

  7. Neal 5

    1.8 bn c?

    Why didn't just ask Apple for the thermal specifications of the iPad 3.

  8. Yag
    Mushroom

    No radioactivity?

    By looking up this hydrogen/boron fuel, I wandered to this page :

    http://focusfusion.org/index.php/site/article/deuterium_tritium_vs_hydrogen_boron/#hb

    My old and basic physic knowledge have some trouble with the following sentence :

    "The energy from fusion reactions is released mainly in the form of a high energy helium nuclei. " (in the "Hydrogen-Boron process generates electricity directly" section)

    I wonder where the poor electrons of the original hydrogen/boron atoms went.

    Also, what is the difference between "high energy helium nuclei" and "alpha particle"?

    Thanks for any explanation :)

    1. squigbobble

      Re: No radioactivity?

      Essentially, there's no difference except that the term 'alpha particle' is only used when the helium nucleus is ejected from another atomic nucleus as a form of radioactive decay.

      I've been following DPFF myself and the electrons from the hydrogen and boron atoms supposedly fly off in the opposite direction due to the magnetic field in the fusion chamber. In the DPFF concept, the electrons and helium nuclei are meant to fly off in opposite directions along the axis of the fusion chamber and pass through particle decelerators (yes, that's a particle accelerator but working the other way round) which is where the energy is extracted from the reaction. I assume they're just a set of solenoids and the charged particles induce currents in them electromagnetically but I'm a CompSci graduate...

    2. That Awful Puppy

      Re: No radioactivity?

      No difference between helium nuclei and alpha particles, other than the energy they have, but alpha radiation is stopped by a bit of air, and as the helium nucleus slows down, it acquires two electrons from a reputable donor, turning it into delicious He, which is a good thing, because we're running awfully short of the stuff.

      As to the atoms, well, the enormously high temperature makes the electrons go "I'm outta here!", leaving just the nuclei. In case of H, this is just a single proton, and in 11B, there are 5 protons and a 6 neutrons. Combine the two, as the article you linked to explains, and you end up with a single nucleus of 6 protons and 6 neutrons. These, however, are unstable for reasons far beyond my comprehension (and that of most mere mortals, top boffins excluded), and split into 3 He nuclei with 2 protons and 2 neutrons each + a rather decent amount of energy. As mentioned above, the alpha particles thus created are then slowed down and turn into lovely helium, making this almost too good to be true, if they ever manage to scale it up.

      1. annodomini2

        Re: No radioactivity?

        @That Awful Puppy

        Squigbobble is correct, there is a stream of electrons from the reaction, travelling in the opposite direction to the alpha's. They fly into the anode on the FF DPF and produce high energy xrays.

        Another of the energy recovery methods is to use Xray voltaics to recover more energy.

        1. DerekShannon-LPPhysics
          Go

          Re: No radioactivity?

          Thanks for the great replies to Yag here.

          I just wanted to add that this animation shows how the two beams of ions and electrons exit the plasmoid: http://youtu.be/jVif4hUAJ8c

          And it's sort of cool that you can see the divot created by the impact of the electron beam on the anode, here is a pic: http://bit.ly/I09aUe

          1. Shakje
            Thumb Up

            Re: No radioactivity?

            I just wanted to thank Derek for making an appearance, it's quite refreshing to see someone linked to the story putting in a stint on the forums. You're also one of those unique people who is clearly technical, but great at communicating (in the same way as, without wanting to make a dangerous comparison for your ego, Feynman was).

            Thanks for the posts, also the divots are very cool :)

            1. DerekShannon-LPPhysics
              Happy

              Re: No radioactivity?

              Thanks for the kind words!

    3. Ru
      Boffin

      Re: No radioactivity?

      The key thing is the absense of stray neutrons, which require a hell of a lot of shielding and have a lamentable habit of transmuting things they collide with into radioactive isotopes. Charged particles on the other hand are positively benign; alpha and beta radiation is much more easily shielded and is rather more tractable to work with.

      Course, neutron sources are useful if you're doing other things, like transmuting radioactive waste into less unpleasant radioactive waste, or perhaps breeding some new plutonium for all your deep space RTGs having carelessly given up production of the stuff years ago. The LPP technique should be quite useable with 'conventional' deuterium and tritium reactions which would produce enough neutrons for these purposes.

      1. mhenriday
        Boffin

        «... or perhaps breeding some new plutonium for all your deep space RTGs

        having carelessly given up production of the stuff years ago.» Not to worry, Ru ; according to the World Nuclear Association :

        «Total world generation of reactor-grade plutonium in spent fuel is some 70 tonnes per year. About 1300 tonnes have been produced so far, and most of this remains in the used fuel, with some 370 tonnes extracted.»

        Given that about 2 % of that plutonium takes the form of Pu-238, which is used in radioisotope thermal generators, and that the amount such an RTG requires is in the kilogramme range, this should suffice for quite a lot of deep-space craft. If we are not seeing quite so many of these latter as some of us would like, the problem problably lies elsewhere than in the supply of Pu-238....

        Henri

      2. GreenJimll

        Re: No radioactivity?

        From reading the AIP paper they did use deuterium and got a load of neutrons out. The aneutronic experiments are mentioned at the end of the paper, in the "bit we'll try next" section when they talk about using pB11 instead of DD.

    4. annodomini2

      Re: No radioactivity?

      Not entirely no radiation.

      You do get some neutrons from reactions occurring with other products inside the reactor, but nothing like what you get in a tokamak.

      Aneutronic, isn't completely without neutrons in the real world.

      You get a lot of high energy x-rays from the reaction as well.

    5. Yag
      Thumb Up

      Re: No radioactivity?

      Thanks again for all those very interesting explanations!

  9. Thesheep
    Mushroom

    Excellent - Fusion is only 20 years away!

    Again.

    As it has been for my entire life.

    1. stucs201

      Re: 20 years away!

      I can't remember where (some TV program) but I once saw a fuller version of the 20 year theory. Its not 20 years from now. Its 20 years from when we start spending real money on the problem. The same program pointed out we currently spend more on novelty ringtones.

      The journey time from London to New York is measured in hours, but only once you get on a plane. If you insist on swimming then its going to be longer.

  10. Lloyd
    FAIL

    So no different to normal then?

    JET was making roughly similar claims 20+ years ago, but still no one has managed to get more energy out than they put in, I'm inclined to believe we're looking at quite a way off on that one (100+ years).

    1. annodomini2
      FAIL

      Re: So no different to normal then?

      JET's highest temperature is about 100million C, so 18x less than this.

      JET is also a tokamak, completely different reactor design.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Would this power a laser, be impervious to salty water and fit on the head of a shark?

    1. annodomini2

      The theoretical production reactor would probably fit in a shipping container and produce about 5MW.

      You do the math! ;)

      1. Tim Parker

        Re : "Would it ... fit on the head of a shark?"

        annodomini2 quoth

        "The theoretical production reactor would probably fit in a shipping container and produce about 5MW.

        You do the math! ;)"

        So we're talking about a fairly sizeable shark then ?

        1. That Awful Puppy

          Re: Re : "Would it ... fit on the head of a shark?"

          Yes, a fairly sizeable one, though I imagine it would be thoroughly cooked as well. I think my non-sexual fantasies will start shifting towards "sharks with friggin <jolly destructive technology with almost no waste heat>". Alas.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up

        "The theoretical production reactor would probably fit in a shipping container and produce about 5MW."

        that sort of puts it on a par with gas turbine systems used by large companies or hospitals for on site power generation.

        Obviously the fuel package is rather smaller and likely to last *considerably* longer.

        And it's *much* smaller than the ITER or NIF designs.

        1. annodomini2
          Thumb Up

          "And it's *much* smaller than the ITER or NIF designs."

          Missed a key point, cheaper! ;)

          The other plus point is size, for efficiency reasons, where steam turbine generation is required.

          It's cheaper and more efficient to build big, i.e. big power stations.

          This allows for a much more distributed generation model.

  12. Tom Reg
    Thumb Up

    These guys live on less than the lunch money at your local Tokamak

    Its all private, and a million buck investment to them feels like, well a million bucks!

    Whether it works or not, this should be funded so they can move the reactor out from the basement bedroom.

  13. Dave 126 Silver badge

    LIBYANS!

    http://backtothefuture.wikia.com/wiki/Mr._Fusion

  14. Martin Budden Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    I wondered when El Reg would pick up on this.

    I've been following the Focus Fusion forum and LPP's progress for at least a couple of years and it is very promising. The theory behind it seems sound and the forward progress has been steady - and yes they do know what else needs to be done to make it all work, it's all in their plan. Good to see that El Reg is reporting on this at last, and I look forward to seeing more. Go FoFu!

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