Tiny NJ laboratory produces most-read fusion advance of 2012


Middlesex, NJ – March 12th, 2013 – On March 6, Physics of Plasmas, the leading international journal for scientists working on the long-sought goal of controlled fusion energy, released its “Listing of the Most Read Articles in 2012 Published in Physics of Plasmas,” a sort of “greatest scientific hits” list for the year.  The number-one, most-read article—out of the thousand published by the journal—was neither from a giant national laboratory nor from a large university group. No, it was a paper titled “Fusion reactions from >150 keV ions in a dense plasma focus plasmoid,” from a tiny team of researchers at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc., a start-up whose laboratory is shoe-horned into a storage facility in Middlesex, NJ. The paper described the confinement of ions in a tiny plasmoid, or blob of hot plasma, at a temperature of 1.8 billion ºC (200 times hotter than the center of the sun) for tens of nanoseconds. This was exciting news to the many physicists who downloaded this article from the journal’s website for several reasons.

First, the extremely high temperatures reported in the paper are hot enough to burn the “ideal” fusion fuel, hydrogen and boron. This is an aneutronic fuel, producing no neutrons when the hydrogen and boron nuclei fuse together and then instantly split to form three helium nuclei. “Without neutrons, no radioactive waste can be produced,” explains LPP Chief Scientist Eric J. Lerner, the lead author on the paper. (The other authors were S. Krupakar Murali, Derek Shannon, Aaron Blake and Fred Van Roessel.) “Equally important, with no neutrons, you can make a power source that is very small and very dense and therefore very cheap, without worrying about the damage the neutrons can do. Finally, with aneutronic fuel the energy of the reaction is carried away by the nuclei themselves—which are charged particles. Moving charged particles are electricity already, so you can take the energy out by a direct conversion process using a high tech transformer.  This reduces costs radically since it means we can avoid making steam and driving a turbine as with today’s fossil fuels or nuclear fission plants.”

Second, the paper reported that ions with these high temperatures had been confined within a tiny millimeter-sized plasmoid for tens of nanoseconds. This was very good news, because for many years, researchers had debated if the fusion reactions observed in the plasma focus device used for the experiments were just produced by a high energy beam passing through a dense target. But the LPP paper showed that the ions in this device are indeed trapped, so that the energy they release by fusion can build up, potentially leading to enough energy to make commercial fusion generators feasible.

The fact that the new results were produced with the small and simple plasma focus device was in itself a reason for great interest. The plasma focus device, which fits into a small room, is far cheaper to make and to experiment with than the giant tokamaks and lasers that the US fusion program has been concentrating on.  In a year in which no major progress was made with tokamaks, and the National Ignition Facility announced that it could not yet reach its namesake goal of ignition, the results from the tiny plasma focus research group were a welcome development.

“For us, the interest of our peers validates our own view of the importance of this work, which achieves two of three conditions—temperature and confinement time—needed to produce net energy from hydrogen-boron fusion,” says Lerner. “We are hard at work to achieve the third condition—density. We’re confident we can lift our density thousands of times higher than we have yet achieved, because other plasma focus groups have already achieved that.”

In the past few days, the LPP team announced another advance in the form of a record high power ion beam.  The LPP team hopes that later this year, their results will again capture the attention of the plasma physics community, and perhaps the whole world.


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Author:NJ Tech Council

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One Comment on “Tiny NJ laboratory produces most-read fusion advance of 2012”

  1. September 12, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity concerning unpredicted feelings.

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