Since the 1940s science has been mesmerized by the potential of nuclear fusion to gain energy.  Ideas have came and went, some will not go away, and a small number of innovative thinkers have ideas that are gaining credibility with real results.  The world community has tossed tens of billions of dollar-valued wealth into the fusion maelstrom with little to show, even for hope.

But that has changed over the past year and the prospect for an even more productive result is in sight.  One prime idea comes from a maverick thinker, mostly private investment, a dedicated staff and international collaboration reaching back decades to find the theories to explain extraordinary results.

Eric Lerner and Ahmad Talaei Visit Princeton Physics Library. Click image for the largest view.

Scientist Eric Lerner who is leading Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in the Focus Fusion technique to obtain net fusion energy has had a banner year with results out performing his basic theory.  Staff, collaborators and digging into history are strongly suggesting that the Focus Fusion design may well become the first successful fusion energy producer, but a more thorough look shows a reversal of fusion research fortune has been achieved – the Focus Fusion over produces the theory and is a method that offers exciting potential instead of ever delaying problems.

Not only does the Focus Fusion work, it works better than predicted.  That begs some important questions and valuable answers, which will need addressed very soon.

On that point, quotes from the Lawrenceville Plasma Physics June 26th Report are in order.  Its also thoughtful and considerate enough most of us can follow it without a “writedown”.

Here is the problem, too much energy, “Since we first observed the 160 keV energies of the ions (equivalent to 1.8 billion ºC) over a year ago, we had been puzzled as to why they were so much higher than the 40 keV we had predicted. We knew that the earlier predictions, based on theories developed by Australian physicist Heinrich Hora, were only approximate and needed a better physical foundation.  But we had not, until now, come up with an improvement.

The writer of the report explains, “The first big step to the solution came May 15, with the publication online in the Journal of Fusion Energy of a paper by the Iranian team, S.  Abolhasani, M.  Habibi, and R. Amrollahi,  ‘Analytical Study of Quantum Magnetic and Ion Viscous Effects on p11B Fusion in Plasma Focus Devices’.   The paper studied in greater detail the quantum magnetic field effect originally applied to the DPF by Lerner, for the first time independently confirming our calculations showing that ignition and net energy gain can be achieved with pB11 (hydrogen-boron) fuel, the key to obtaining aneutronic fusion energy.”

Continuing, “But in addition, the paper applied to the plasma focus device a process studied by British physicist Malcolm Haines to explain high ion energies achieved in the Z-machine. That process, called  “ion viscous heating” works like this:  as the plasmoid contracts, ions moving inward at different velocities start to mix together, so that their ordered velocity of motion is converted into the random velocity of heat. By analogy this is a bit like trying to rapidly stir a vicious liquid like honey.  The resistance of the liquid to rapid changes in velocity—its viscosity—converts kinetic motion to heat and the liquid warms up. The formulae derived in the paper indicated that this viscous heating could possibly explain FF-1’s high temperatures.”

That opens another matter – the report continues, “But there was a second puzzle to be solved. The viscous process heats only the ions—the heavy nuclei—not the electrons. If the electrons are too cold, collisions between them and the ions would rapidly cool the ions. So what heated the electrons up hot enough so they would not cool those ions too fast?”

”On June 10, Lerner thought of a possible solution. The electron beam will induce currents in the plasmoid electrons, just as any rapidly changing current induces other currents in a surrounding conductor (we intend to use this same process to capture the energy of the ion beam with a coil of wire). But since the plasmoid has a much greater density of electrons than the beam, the same current will be distributed over more electrons, and they will be moving much slower than the beam electrons. These slower electrons will have the time to undergo collisions and convert their kinetic energy to heat. Following up on this hypothesis, Ahmad Talaei of Utah State University, found a dozen important papers on this same process of electron beams heating plasma by induced currents, although none applied directly to the plasma focus. Curiously, all the papers dated from the 1970’s, the same fertile period that gave rise to the first research on the magnetic field effect.”

That suggests more experimentation and data collection is in order as the report says, “Interestingly, the effectiveness of the ion viscous heating declines rapidly with increasing density of the plasmoid and smaller plasmoid size, while the effectiveness of the induced current heating rises for smaller, denser, plasmoids. So as we increase plasmoid density we expect to see a temporary decline in temperature, and then a subsequent rise back to the levels needed to burn pB11. Fusion yield will continue to rise, as the higher density and thus higher burn rate will more than compensate for the temporary decline in T.”

The rest of the Lawrenceville Plasma Physics report is about the mechanical construction matters, in particular getting the electrical resistance squared away to free up energy for the fusion, some good cheer on some major media coverage, a few presentations to political folks, and the logistics of producing one of a kind, very high tech, sophisticated parts and the bright young man, Mr. Talaei.

Reading the six-page pdf is a few minutes well spent.

Lerner and his team, including investors, collaborating other researchers, interns, and those of us just cheering – deserve congratulations.  It looks more with each passing month that fusion will come from the innovative mind, taken forward with patience and perseverance, openness and raw, calm, honorable and civilized audacity.


6 Comments so far

  1. Matt Musson on June 28, 2012 8:30 AM

    It is worth pointing out once more that Lerner and his Focus Fusion team started this project in a garage using Automotive Grade Spark Plugs! They did not spend 5 years trying to get a government grant. They just started scraping together whatever they could.

    Now, they have achieved two of the three parameters necessary to achieve positive energy fusion – heat and speed. Once they achieve the proper density – we will be able to move from Commodity based energy production to Information based energy production. And, the world will change forever.

  2. Bryan on June 30, 2012 12:49 AM

    The world really will change forever with this new discovery.

  3. Sam on June 30, 2012 6:14 PM

    We need a billionaire supporter. How about it Sir Richard??? This will be perfect for your space endeavors. We also have the support of Dr. Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society. No radioactive waste either, since our fuel is boron and hydrogen.

  4. Mohammad Ghanbary on July 2, 2012 6:10 PM

    Ahmad jan aasheghetam.

  5. Joe V on July 11, 2012 9:07 PM

    Matt Musson,
    What evidence do you have that they started in a garage with car spark plugs? Dense Plasma Focus devices existed long before Lerner and his group.

  6. Joe V on July 12, 2012 8:49 PM

    The spark plugs are only to initiate the capacitor discharging… so they aren’t really part of the reactor itself. So using car spark plugs aren’t any indication of an amateur project as you suggest.

    The lab is small, but it is NOT a garage. They are building a Fusion device that may one day FIT inside a garage-sized space.

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