Eric Lerner’s Focus Fusion team let go a little information at on the progress. While not a milestone, for those watching with interest the posting is welcome news.

The Lawrenceville plan for the current course is made of eight steps: Get the machine to pinch, i.e. achieve a focusing of the input energy – that’s competed, boost power to 25kV and 1MA and learn what the optimal gas pressures would be – the team has reached 30 kV and continues to optimize gas pressures, and third, test the theory of the axial shaped magnetic field which has shown clear evidence an initial axial field increases fusion yield.

Coming up is another power uprate to 45 kV and 2 MA using deuterium gas, then confirm the results Dr. Lerner obtained years back at the university of Texas with today’s better instrumentation.  These two steps are planned to get the tighter operating conditions measured and understood so that the next steps can be set with more precision.

That’s brings the research to step 6, optimizing for heavier gasses with scenarios including the boron-11 gas, the theoretical best fuel to recover electricity as an output.

Bob Steinke writing at the Focus Fusion Society writes an explanation saying, “Deuterium has an atomic weight of 2.  A 50/50 mix of hydrogen and boron-11 has an average atomic weight of 6.  There are some plasma parameters that depend on the atomic weight of the particles in the plasma.  As we shift to heavier atomic weight we will need to adjust the length of the electrodes, the initial fill pressure, shot timing, etc. to maintain optimum plasmoid conditions.  We will do this by mixing in helium (atomic weight 4) and nitrogen (atomic weight 14) to add weight without adding the complexity of nuclear reactions.”

With Steinke’s explanation in mind it seems certain that the 6th step is going to take awhile – actually the longer and more thoroughly the better.

At step 7, the one step that does seem the be milestone of the set of steps – Steinke says, “This is an important step where we switch from the nuclear-inert gasses helium and nitrogen to boron that can fuse with protons.  If we achieve our previous milestones and create plasmoids with high enough temperature and density then fusion should just happen and this milestone won’t require any additional adjustments, but it will still be nice to finally see it happen.”  Nice seems like an astonishing understatement should the boron-11 come flying apart into the desired massively energized helium.

Step 8 could be a history maker – “Achieve positive Net Energy”. One wants to read Mr. Steinke comments closely, “Here’s how we plan to do this.  The capacitor bank in FF1 holds about 100,000 Joules of energy.  When we flip the switch that energy goes in to the electric currents and magnetic fields in the plasma.  The energy isn’t gone, it’s just in a different form.  Then fusion reactions add energy to the plasma.  For this milestone we hope to create 33,000 Joules of fusion energy with each shot.  Then that 133,000 Joules of energy has to be converted back to electricity.  But it can’t be converted with perfect efficiency.  There will be some losses.  If we can get 80% of that 133,000 Joules back into electricity then we will have 106,400 Joules of electricity.  That’s more than we started with.  100,000 Joules can be sent to the capacitors for the next shot, and 6,400 Joules can be siphoned off as power output.  This experiment won’t actually convert the plasma energy back into electricity, but by measuring the plasma energy we can show that we could create a power producing reactor.  That is what we mean by the term “demonstrate scientific feasibility” and that’s the goal of this milestone.”

That would in fact clear the current ‘breakeven’ mountaintop.   It leaves lot of engineering to do, further focus fusion optimization and a vast array of other topics.  Should those helium atoms arrive and be charged up as expected from the boron –11 fuel – then a full rethink across the entire fusion arena will be needed in considering the paths to commercialization of fusion.

Aaron Blake also updated on June 12th with information on the yields by peak power.  The main point Mr. Blake makes is the Lawrenceville effort is quite far along for the power they’re using.  As one looks at the chart the Lawrenceville effort is already quite high, at 100,000 million neutrons at just over 600 kA.  The chart can be a little misleading without realizing the spacing for the units are compressed.

Dense Plasma Fusion Yield Chart. Click image for more info.

Mr. Blake also covers the progress on yield with a chart, explores the thoughts and progress on the ‘spark plugs’ that emit the energy that becomes plasma.  The best news is the innovations have produced excellent plugs for use and to have on hand.

Perhaps the very best news is that two physics graduate students from Kansas State University have arrived for a month of work at LPP’s lab. The two students, Mohamed Ismail and Amgad Mohamed, have worked for six months at the small dense plasma fusion facility run by Professor Ali Abdou, a former classmate of Dr. Subramanian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  While the students are doing useful work they are acquiring very important experience.  This news is the best of the week – the participation of young minds and the potential to involve more add greatly to the chances for success and further development.

For all nuclear physics students the note is out, dense plasma physics is one developing field to keep an eye on.


7 Comments so far

  1. Chirpir News | A Focus Fusion Update About the Lawrenceville Plasma Physics … on June 17, 2010 8:32 AM

    […] Read full story […]

  2. Matt Musson on June 19, 2010 7:31 AM

    This really is Garage Mechanic fusion. They have been using automotive spark plugs!

    The latest upgrade will include purpose made plugs for the machine.

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