Next Generation Fusion – Radiation-Free Cheap Nuclear Power
I have been following the progress of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) with great interest for some years, as they develop their ‘Focus Fusion Device’ toward the critical point at which there is more net energy generated than put into the device. Indeed I should declare that I have invested in the company.
Next Generation Fusion – Radiation Free Nuclear Power from LPPFusion on Vimeo.
Although all current approaches to fusion use extreme temperature to ionise the reactants into a plasma, LPP’s approach to nuclear fusion power differs in three fundamental ways from the hugely expensive mainstream ITER project, that is funded by governments.
Firstly the device is small – maybe desktop is an exaggeration, but the full device would sit easily inside a small room – and the vision is therefore one of distributed power generation – generation where it is needed i.e. within cities or vehicles. That also carries the advantage of eliminating power transmission loss over distance.
Secondly the device is designed to harness the inherent instability of plasma, rather than to overcome it. The massive Tokamak design of the projects like ITER try to tame and contain the plasma using magnetic fields, forming the plasma into a doughnut shape within which the fusion occurs. In contrast the Focus Fusion device allows the plasma to follow its natural tendency to curl up on itself into a tight knot called a plasmoid, within which fusion occurs, before the plasmoid collapses to stream a jet of positive ions in one direction and a jet of electrons in the opposite direction.
Thirdly LPP plan to use aneutronic fuel – the ideal aneutronic fuel is a mixture of hydrogen and boron. (Aneutronic means that the fusion reaction does not produce neutrons.) At extremely high temperatures—billions of degrees—hydrogen nuclei (protons) fuse with boron-11 nuclei to very briefly form a carbon nucleus. But the carbon nucleus has too much energy to stay together, so in an instant it breaks up into three helium nuclei – there are essentially no nasty by-products. Indeed LPP state that after turning the device off, it would be safe to handle within half an hour. The ITER project, by contrast, uses fusion of hydrogen with hydrogen to form helium, as within our sun. The disadvantage is that this fusion reaction produces high energy neutrons which damage the containment vessel walls, and produce radio-active by-products.
For more information visit the LPP website.