An Australian-led team of researchers is homing in on a novel approach to nuclear fusion it says suffers from none of the shortcomings of the deuterium-tritium fusion approach currently being advanced in the USA and France.
Hydrogen-boron fusion produces no neutrons and, therefore, no radioactivity in its primary reaction. The fusion is achieved using two powerful lasers in rapid bursts, which apply precise non-linear forces to compress the nuclei together.
The technique has been described in a paper in the scientific journal Laser and Particle Beams. The lead author is Prof Heinrich Hora from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and the patent on the process is owned by Australian company HB11 Energy, of which Prof Hora is a director.
Unlike just about every other form of power generation, from coal to nuclear fission, the energy generated by hydrogen-boron fusion converts directly into electricity.
The key is in recent advances in laser technology. Experiments have shown that an ‘avalanche’ fusion reaction could be triggered in the trillionth-of-a-second blast from a petawatt-scale laser pulse, whose fleeting bursts pack a quadrillion watts of power. If scientists could exploit this avalanche, says Prof Hora, a breakthrough in proton-boron fusion would be imminent.
“It is a most exciting thing to see these reactions confirmed in recent experiments and simulations,” says Hora. “Not just because it proves some of my earlier theoretical work, but they have also measured the laser-initiated chain reaction to create one billion-fold higher energy output than predicted under thermal equilibrium conditions.”
Warren McKenzie is MD of Sydney-based HB11 Energy. He says: “If the next few years of research don’t uncover any major engineering hurdles, we could have prototype reactor within a decade.”
“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,” he adds.