Sander Olson has interviewed Eric Lerner who is famed for his leadership and innovations that form the Focus Fusion Society. The society is a charitable organization attempting to develop the focus fusion technology ideas and concepts into commercial reactors.

Focus Fusion Nuclear BP.  Click image for the largest view.

Focus Fusion Nuclear BP. Click image for the animated view.

Sander Olson is a journalist with a good, and it seems to me, quirky reputation.  But I’m a known skeptic on journalists.  Mr. Olson has the trained journalist’s gift for questions.  But the quirky thing is the questions are so light and not in depth.  Truthfully, Mr. Lerner’s site is way more informative – unless you seek to get to know Mr. Lerner.

Brian Wang is posting Mr. Olson’s interview and has assigned a page for a full reading. It’s not long and Olson edits the piece such that one can get through it enjoyably in short order.

To review, Lerner is trying to use pulses of plasma to burn boron so it fuses throwing off highly energized electrons, which could be loaded directly into the grid -so to speak in the shorthand version.  This is the same method of releasing energy and gathering fusion energy production as Bussard and Rostocker are attempting in much larger devices.

Animated Focus Fusion. Click image for the animated view.

Animated Focus Fusion. Click image for the animated view.

Bussard is pretty much out with most details for those looking and has a strong reputation in both the physics and the engineering. Rostocker’s group is much more quiet and is well funded.  One can see at all over the Internet a wealth of information about Bussard’s concept – its elegant, simple and using physics principles of sheer speed to drive the fusion events.

Rostocker isn’t so well understood, but one can see the patent, which offers clues as to how the device might work.  I simply am puzzled, but others conclude the device also uses velocity as Bussard does, yet sort of has the fuel “rear ending” itself as it whizzes about.  I’m enthused but bewildered, so time will tell someday.

Lerner though is like the Bussard group – much more up front.  The idea isn’t speed or velocity but raw heat for the fusion conditions.  The engineering is in the control or perhaps the condition of the plasma.  Lerner’s project has a classy and innovative means to concentrate the heat such that the fuel gets extremely hot.  Lets hope it works as these devices need not be huge and might well miniaturize over time.  Lerner and Bussard both have concepts that can be envisioned, so they both earn our attention.

Back to Olson’s interview, its only 10 questions. But the answers are informative.  Lerner expects the burn a hydrogen boron compound known as PB-11.  Of course that disallows any form of “meltdown,” (there’s that quirky trait).  Lerner is performing experiments now for feasibility testing and plans to build a new device within weeks with data coming this fall.

Lerner knows, as do the Bussard team and the Rostocker people that PB-11 is difficult to burn.  But Lerner is counting on instability of the fuel for more complete burnup.  He believes that aspect will get his project to net energy output before either Bussard or Rostocker.

Olson gently challenges Lerner about the cost of electricity.  Lerner’s site is said to claim a 2/10th¢ production cost.  Lerner explains, “We are planning on building a 5 megawatt generator that when in mass-production should cost approximately $300,000. So that comes out to about 6 cents per watt for the equipment. Second, the fuel itself is virtually free, and each generator only consumes about 5 pounds of fuel per year.”  OK, then.  Lets hope so.

Of note Lerner is thinking that 5 MW units are the upper limit for his devices.  But they could be ganged together for large-scale generation.

Lerner next explains that the plan is to get through three stages, a feasible lab device that produces net energy, a functional prototype, and the stage of implementation of licensing for the building of units for sale.

Closing up Lerner notes that other fuels may be tried, but realizes that the PB-11 path is the only likely prospect.  On the money side Lerner and his people have attracted support in the past such as NASA and currently runs on a grant from the Abell Foundation.  A very smart guy, Lerner is planning to license the technology for others to build saleable units.  One note to everyone should Mr. Lerner come up with marketable and low cost production of electrical power saying,  “we intend to ensure that the price of focus fusion power is as close as possible to the cost of production.”   Admirable, but Lerner’s whole life has been that way.

I sure hope he succeeds.  Both the concept and the man deserve a history making success.


6 Comments so far

  1. Matt on July 2, 2009 5:54 AM

    Lerner has a very good Google Tech Talk available. It’s a little dated now. But, it give great background information.

    Won’t the ITER engineers be p#ssed if one of these Showstring funded fusion concepts hits?
    The ITER plan is for 10 more years of billions in and nothing out. Where can I get a job like that?

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