Focus Fusion, the process name of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. the company of the estimable and innovative Eric Lerner is first to reach a noteworthy milestone in fusion research. Mr. Lerner’s research, well on its way to developing a breakeven fusion process, has a product being readied that benefits humanity as the fusion research continues.

The Focus Fusion effort has produced a derivative device that produces extremely intense hard x-rays using a design of the dense plasma focus machine used for research into fusion for power production. With a size projected to mount on a truck the x-rays are of such intensity that they can be used in a Compton Scattering Method, which permits the x-rays to be generated, flowed to the target for imaging and reflected back to the source rather than completely through. This means the emitting and the detection takes place on the same side of the object.

That development offers some huge advantages. In large objects or objects that have no readily available “other side” to mount a detector an inspection can now take place. For roads, airport runways, bridges building foundations and other infrastructure objects that should be much more carefully inspected, the possibility and the methodology is now an inspection process that could be used to prevent such things as bridge collapses and post earthquake determinations of structure integrity. It seems the impact of fusion research has ancillary benefits and the “spin off” could go far to assist in getting the basic research for Mr. Lerner’s concept of focusing plasma to drive fusion closer to and beyond breakeven and perhaps the early testing and commercial designs.

Focus Fusion Graphic

Focus Fusion is so named as the reaction location is at the focal point of intense discharges of plasma. The fusion event takes place at what could be in my visualization compared to as the “business end of a spark plug” or as analogous to the combination of several spark plugs combined onto one and running continuously rather than intermittently sparking. That’s just a visual sense, as much more sophistication is involved than a spark plug.

The dimensional issue and the scale of such a device is the technology’s major problem. As its small, the construction and facility requirements are also of a small scale which means the financial requirements are lower than most funding organizations are accustomed to. That “small” albeit elegant and practical when compared to technological efforts with sometimes orders of magnitude larger budgets, personnel requirements and other attributes tends to put the “big deal” ahead of the quality of the concept.

I have long admired Eric Lerner and his take on how to make the physics of fusion a working reality. The Lawrenceville Plasma Physics site has a great deal of material for review and offers enough for a sound sense of how this concept to drive fusion fuels into fusing can be made to get to breakeven. There are also many web site pages that look into the technology.

Both Mr. Lerner and the late Dr. Bussard have been keen on fusion methods that drive to direct to electrical generation over simple nuclear heat engines. They both have shown that the step out to generate heat is a hard waste of power when fusion can offer output that goes straight to electrical power. While funding from governments and private sources have shown a propensity to look at this level of deep basic research without considering the efficiencies and the resultant benefits to humanity the hard realities will catch up over time leading granting groups to reassess proposals with goals of efficiency and social and economic impacts with much more importance.

In the meantime, the spin-off aspect of Eric Lerner’s early research can be seen to be paying its own way soon. And for those with the quality of mettle and quantity of financial resources, that misapplication of funding resources has kept a door open to those who wish to have some money on the very tip of the leading edge of energy research.


1 Comment so far

  1. David Pace on June 5, 2008 1:08 PM

    As great as this x-ray device sounds, this is not the first derivative result of fusion research. Many technologies, devices, and even private company profit have been derived from past fusion research. Some of these are highlighted in the following brochure (Dept. of Energy, 1993):

    This recent advance by Focus Fusion should add to the long list of scientific results and technology development gained through fusion research. A strong argument can be made in favor of supporting fusion research across a range of different methods precisely because of the ability this research has to produce useful results outside of the energy production realm.

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