Dramatic advances in lasers could get us closer to fusion energy. An international team of 11 scientists is pursuing what was once thought to be impossible, according to the University of New South Wales (UNSW): fusion power with hydrogen-boron reactions. The researchers describe this in their recently published study as the ideal clean fusion process: the technique needs no radioactive fuel elements and doesn’t leave toxic radioactive waste.
Could we be closer to better fusion energy? The world for decades has pursued igniting the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium (D) and tritium (T). But generated neutrons from DT fusion produce radioactive waste. The researchers in their paper suggest an alternative: fusing hydrogen with the boron isotope 11. And lasers could help make this hydrogen-boron fusion possible.
Instead of heating fuel to the Sun’s temperature with “massive, high-strength magnets to control superhot plasmas inside a doughnut-shaped toroidal chamber,” according to UNSW, scientists can reach hydrogen-boron fusion with rapid bursts from two powerful lasers. This process requires temperatures and densities 200 times hotter than the Sun’s core – but advances in laser technology may have reached the point where the two-laser approach actually could be viable.
Study lead author Heinrich Hora of UNSW, who in the 1970s predicted it might be possible to fuse hydrogen and boron without needing thermal equilibrium, said in a statement, “I think this puts our approach ahead of all other fusion energy technologies.”
HB11 Energy, a spin-off company in Australia, holds the patents. Managing director Warren McKenzie said in a statement, “From an engineering perspective, our approach will be a much simpler project because the fuels and waste are safe, the reactor won’t need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf…If the next few years of research don’t uncover any major engineering hurdles, we could have a prototype reactor within a decade.”
The journal Laser and Particle Beams published the research online this week. Scientists at institutions in Israel, Spain, Germany, the United States, China, and Greece contributed.
Via the University of New South Wales