Eric Lerner’s Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LLP) is developing a dense plasma focus fusion reactor, to use proton-boron (pB11) fuel. Lerner’s work was initially funded by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is now investor-funded. The project is aiming to produce an extremely economical, compact, environmentally safe and essentially inexhaustible source of energy. The projections can get to 10% of the current cost for electrical power production.
Earlier in the experimental program Lerner’s team had already achieved major experimental milestones, including the achievement of plasma confinement at energies equivalent to two billion degrees, high enough to fuse hydrogen and boron. They are carrying out new experiments with their “Focus-Fusion-1” (FF1) experimental device in Middlesex, NJ.
The current story begins in December 2008 as Lerner and his new team initiated its planned two-year experiment after receiving $1.2 million from private investors and The Abell Foundation. Two plasma physicists joined Lerner on the experimental team, Dr. XinPei Lu for a period and Dr. Krupakar Murali Subramanian.
Dr. Subramanian was Senior Research Scientist, AtmoPla Dept., and BTU International Inc., in N. Billerica, Massachusetts. He worked for five years on the advanced-fuel Inertial Electrostatic Confinement device at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he received his PhD in 2004 and where he invented new plasma diagnostic instruments.
To help in the design of the capacitor bank, LPP hired a leading expert in dense plasma focus design and experiment, Dr. John Thompson. Dr. Thompson has worked for over twenty years with Maxwell Laboratories and Alameda Applied Sciences Corporation to develop pulsed power devices, including dense plasma focus and diamond switches.
By January of 2010 the first preliminary evidence appeared that Focus-Fusion-1 is producing high-energy ions. This evidence indicates that, even operating well below its intended current, FF-1 has produced ions with an average energy of at least 45 keV, the equivalent of half a billion degrees C.
The “shot” with 10 torr of deuterium yielded first, a very sharp peak that was the X-ray pulse, caused by radiation from hot electrons in the plasmoid and arriving at the FTF detector at the speed of light, 30 cm per ns. The second group of peaks was the neutrons, traveling much slower and arriving later. The team knows that the neutrons produced by deuterium/deuterium fusion reactions should have a velocity of 2.2 cm per ns and should arrive 719 ns after the X-rays. They also know that the fusion reactions only occur once the electrons have heated up the ions.
But in the January trial shot, the first burst of neutrons arrived only 682 ns after the beginning of the X-ray pulse. These neutrons, traveling faster than would be expected from the fusion energy alone, must have additional energy imparted to them by the motion of the nuclei that collided to produce the reaction. From this data the team is figuring that the average ion in the plasmoid had at least 45 keV of energy. If the neutrons actually originated later in the pulse, then they traveled faster and the average ion energy could have been higher. More energy out than anticipated – a very good sign.
Late February saw the first preliminary evidence that the injection of angular momentum into the dense plasma fusion considerably increases the efficiency of energy transfer into the plasmoid, the size of the plasmoid and thus the fusion energy yield. During some shots the angular momentum coil (AMC) was connected to the power supply, so current could flow through it. In other shots, the coil circuit was left open, so no current could flow. The shots with the AMC connected have a neutron yield 8-10 times that of those with the AMC disconnected, so this is a large and very promising effect.
A factor of ten improvement in yield through the use of the AMC is very encouraging and is an initial confirmation of the proposal that LPP VP Aaron Blake made four years ago. The team thinks that the current in the coil is producing a small magnetic field along the axis of the device. The interaction of the currents with this field induces angular momentum (spin) in the plasma sheath.
This in turn diverts the current in the sheath in the same direction as the current in the coils, amplifying the field. The angular momentum, conveyed ultimately to the tiny plasmoid, creates a centrifugal force that balances the compressive magnetic forces. The bigger the centrifugal force, the bigger the magnetic field that can be balanced and in turn the bigger the formed plasmoid. However, if the centrifugal force is too big, it will prevent the plasmoid from forming at all. Thus only small fields are effective.
By mid March the device was operating at 90% good shots. In the best shots, ion energies were measured in the range of 40-60 keV (the equivalent of 0.4-0.6 billion degrees K). The electron beam carried about 0.5 kJ of energy and the plasmoid held about 1 kJ of energy, nearly half that stored in the magnetic field of the device. So, this is evidence that a substantial part of the total energy available is being concentrated in the plasmoids and transferred to the beams.
The testing shows that the control shots (with the magnetic coil turned off) were increasingly producing more neutrons (up to about 10 times) as the control shots at the beginning of testing. Also it seems the steel flanges that attach the vacuum chamber to the inner lower bus plate and the bus plate itself were both becoming permanently magnetized. This provides unintended additional evidence that the predicted angular momentum effect is working.
All this seems well, esoteric and sort of obtuse. Not by intent, I’m certain, the news writer is deep into the science and hasn’t a clear idea where the usual observer is in the perspective of the news. An extended stay on the Lawrenceville Plasma Physics site teaches that these news reports show the device and the experiments being done are giving results a bit better than predicted.
Dr. Lerner and his team are getting along very well indeed. If the funding keeps coming we might well see the pB11 fuel test later this year or next. As the experiments proceed in testing the theory working so well, the prospects for a pB11 fuel success seem quite good.
For accredited investors this might be the chance of a lifetime. It’s a shame and an insult to everyone else to be cut out by a stupid law meant to protect the ill informed that regular folks can’t get a small part in this. Yes, there is a mountain of sophisticated due diligence involved to be sure, the risk of loss very high – but imagine if Lerner can fuse proton-boron 11 and throw off massive electron energy . . . Odds very seldom get this high in real life.