Energy Nuclear Fusion
It is an age-old science, long thought to be useless and therefore buried deep inside physics books. But a relatively more recent development has breathed life into it—and the result could well be an answer to mankind’s long search for unlimited supply of practically zero cost energy.
For long physicists have been toying with nuclear fusion, which typically yield high amounts of energy without the attendant problem of radio activity seen in nuclear fusion. But you need heat of the order of tens of millions of degrees Celsius to set off a nuclear fusion, though once you do, it carries on, on its own.
Among the easier nuclear fusion reactions is the one in which protons (or nuclei of Hydrogen atoms) are bombarded into an isotope of Boron, called Boron-11. Boron-11, as the name indicates, has five protons and six neutrons—giving it one more proton will result in 6P and 6N, or three alpha particles (an alpha particle is a lump consisting of two protons and two neutrons—which is also the nucleus of Helium.)
This reaction was first demonstrated by the noted British physicist, Ernst Rutherford and his colleague, Mark Oliphant, way back in 1933. But the problem was efficiency. The reaction took more energy than it yielded. Useless to mankind, it remained in the text books.
But a German theoretical physicist called Heinrich Hora has been saying since the 1960s that it should be possible to make nuclear fusion reactions possible with high energy lasers. Only, back then laser technology itself was nascent.
In 1985, two physicists—Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland—developed a method of producing a beam of high intensity, ultra short pulse laser. The laser technology, called ‘chirped pulse amplification’, or CPA, has many applications, including in eye surgeries. The names Mourou and Strickland might ring a bell–the two got Nobel Prize just two years back—in 2018—for that discovery.
Now, Heinrich Hora and his team have formed a company called HB11 Energy, which aims to produce energy using proton-Boron 11 fusion, using CPA. The result is net positive energy. Both Hydrogen and Boron-11 are abundantly available in nature. The entire reaction is non radio-active. The produce is very low cost Direct Current. Problem solved.
Here is the story of HB11 Energy, in its own words. Please do check out their website, www.hb11energy.com
Few researchers had studied this reaction as it was considered scientifically too difficult given temperatures required to ignite the reaction are more than 100 times higher than that of the sun.
Theoretical physicist and expert on lasers and fusion energy, Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora, explained since the 1960’s that there may be an alternate means of achieving the fusion reaction without high temperatures (tens of million degrees. C) by an approach using high power lasers. At the time, laser technology was in its infancy and the laser properties required did not yet exist.
This changed dramatically after Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou demonstrated “Chirped Pulse Amplification” (CPA) of lasers in 1985 at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. This experiment set a direction of high-power laser technology development, which has more recently reached the requirements predicted by Hora to achieve the HB11 reaction. It also won Strickland and Mourou the 2018 Nobel prize in Physics.
Since 2005, there have been several measurements of HB11 fusion reactions ignited by CPA lasers validating Hora’s prediction from the 1960’s. These results alone put the HB11 reaction ahead of most other fusion technology companies who are yet to demonstrate any reactions.
Unexpectedly, many of these experiments observed much higher reaction rates than expected which was explained as a chain or “avalanche” reaction. This is important as it is a means by which the HB11 reaction can achieve the biggest challenge amongst all fusion approaches, to achieve a net-energy gain.
HB11 Energy’s concept was first reported in a publication by Hora, Mourou and others. It is radically different from the focus of the fusion research community for the last 70 years, which all aim to generate fusion via “thermal equilibrium,” heating the fuels to tens of millions of degrees C to achieve ignition. Challenges of using this approach have led to fusion projects involving the biggest and most complex science experiments in the world (such as NIF and ITER), excessively large investments ($10’s billions) and ever-expanding timelines. They have never achieved “breakeven”, where a higher energy output is generated than that put in for ignition.
In contrast, the HB11 concept offers a simple alternative as it does not require heating fuels to such excessive temperatures, thus, it will not encounter anywhere near the level of technical and engineering challenges faced by all other fusion approaches. As it converts nuclear power directly into electricity, plants can be much smaller as they do not need steam turbines and generators required for coal or conventional nuclear power. A patent family protects the concept/design of the reactor. The first patents have been granted in the USA, Japan and China with more jurisdictions pending.
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