Lasers could soon trigger fusion energy, researchers predict

"It is a most exciting thing to see these reactions confirmed in recent experiments and simulations," researcher Heinrich Hora said.
By Brooks Hays  |  Dec. 13, 2017 at 2:06 PM
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Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Laser-driven fusion energy is a realistic goal and one within reach, according to a new paper published this week in the journal Laser and Particle Beams.

An international team of scientists argue laser and fusion technologies are advancing at such a pace that self-sustaining hydrogen-boron fusion reactions will become a reality sooner rather than later.

The quest for hydrogen-boron fusion, the researchers posit, is more likely to prove fruitful than related efforts, such as attempts to trigger deuterium-tritium fusion.

"I think this puts our approach ahead of all other fusion energy technologies," Heinrich Hora, a researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney said in a news release.

Researchers at the U.S. National Ignition Facility and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France are working to trigger fusion by heating plasma inside a doughnut-shaped toroidal chamber to the temperature of the sun using high-powered magnets.

The authors of the newest paper believe hydrogen-boron fusion could be more easily triggered with a laser. In their preferred model, brief but powerful laser pulses trigger non-linear forces, which squeeze the nuclei together.

Unlike nuclear energy, hydrogen-boron fusion yields no atomic waste, toxic or otherwise. And unlike fossil fuel energy, hydrogen-boron fusion, which converts directly to electricity, is carbon neutral.

Despite its potential, scientists have been skeptical that laser technology can yield the high temperatures and intense pressures necessary to trigger hydrogen-boron fusion.

In the latest paper, however, scientists argue advancements in laser technology prove such dramatic capacities are within reach.

"It is a most exciting thing to see these reactions confirmed in recent experiments and simulations," said Hora, a professor of theoretical physics at UNSW. "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."

In addition to detailing the latest relevant technological breakthroughs, the new paper lists the kinds of research necessary to bring hydrogen-boron fusion to fruition.

Barring an unforeseen challenges, a spin-off company working with Hora believes it could build a working prototype within a decade.

"From an engineering perspective, our approach will be a much simpler project because the fuels and waste are safe," said Warren McKenzie, managing director of HB11 Energy. "The reactor won't need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf.

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