Muon catalyzed fusion is another interesting process that could well bring nearly unlimited low cost electrical power to market.
Muon catalyzed fusion has been observed for decades, inconsistently and at productivity insufficient to be considered a viable energy source.
At least three efforts are underway, in Australia, Japan and Canada. One, which seems well funded and has some of the wraps off, is the Australian Firm Star Scientific Limited.
Star Scientific says it follows the natural process where a muon displaces the electrons in a deuterium pair. A muon has mass and orbits much closer to the nucleus pulling them together until the Coulomb Barrier is overcome and the strong nuclear force fuses the two atoms. That’s the current explanation greatly simplified.
Its also known the muon isn’t finished at one pair, a muon can go on to drive a fusion better than 300 more times. The product for a fusion is energetic neutrons that can be converted to heat for making steam to drive turbine generators. The waste is helium gas.
The catch has been getting the muons.
Star Scientific is working towards perfecting a world-first technique to economically and constantly produce pions, which immediately decay into muons – an innovation that would finally make sustained, controlled muon catalyzed fusion a reality.
Conventional thinking has it that that pions (which decay into the muons required for muon catalyzed fusion) must be manufactured in large particle accelerators, at massive energy costs. That thinking has run into a number of problems leading many scientists to abandon the idea of muon catalyzed fusion in favor of other methods.
Meanwhile Star Scientific Limited has remained focused on developing a method to efficiently and consistently produce pions – and hence the muons – by the hundreds and thousands. Star Scientific isn’t saying they have the problem aced, nor saying they are at a wall, but the website uses the word breakthrough in one page’s title.
The numbers are attractive. To match a one-gigawatt power station that would annually use nearly 5 million tons of coal or nearly 1.5 tons of U-235, a muon catalyzed deuterium station needs only about 150 kilograms or 331 pounds. For depth, a cubic kilometer of seawater contains enough deuterium to equal the energy of “all the known oil reserves”.
It looks like the idea is well worth the chase.
Star Scientific’s future and perhaps ours depends on perfecting a method to constantly produce pions that immediately decay into muons cheaply and reliably.
For now the intellectual property is, obviously, closely guarded and protected. So far there are the firm’s own testing program and some leading, independent global experts from around the world doing testing. Its not being said if the firm seeks validation or research assistance, it’s just “testing”.
Star Scientific is out with some information now, a very interesting site. The premise to use the muon to drive fusion via a catalytic action is a bit of a license on the language, its more metaphoric than literal. Still, the phenomenon is very real indeed.
Should Star Scientific or either of the two others get to muon injection into deuterium cheaply the electrical power world will be faced with a huge drop in investment and operating costs. Moreover it wouldn’t take long to drive other fuels out and generation plants into conversion.
The technology isn’t here yet. The firms are pretty quiet. No wild claims. Maybe there will be some great facts someday soon.