Here’s a brief rundown of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc.’s experimental program, which consists of 8 goals to be accomplished in late 2009 and 2010:
1. Assemble and test the machine, get a pinch. Done deal. The machine didn’t blow up when it was plugged in, and it demonstrated its ability to “pinch”- transfer the magnetic energy into a magnetic bottle where fusion will happen. The pinch was expected after 20 shots, but was achieved on the second shot.
2. Produce 1 MA (million Amperes) at 25kV (thousand volts), and find the best fill gas pressure.
3. Test the critical theory of axial magnetic field.
4. Switch to Deuterium fill gas and reliably achieve 2MA at 45kV.
5. Confirm the University of Texas (2nd scaling experiment- this is the 3rd, full scale experiment) results using better instruments.
6. Heavier gasses such as Deuterium + Helium + Nitrogen, using shorter electrodes.
7. Switch to pB-11 fuel and show that some fusion is taking place.
8. Increase pB-11 burn to achieve net energy.
The first 5 goals were scheduled for the last quarter of 2009. The major challenges with meeting this timeline present opportunities for entrepreneurs in the extremely high voltage and current power storage and switching areas.
The capacitors and spark gap switches are built in a job shop manner due to the low demand and high prices for these parts. The lack of a market at present has allowed these suppliers to get away with intolerable quality and service levels, as you can read on the Focus Fusion Society forums.
It took 5 months to get the machine to fire all 12 capacitors’ switches within the required timeframe of a few billionths of a second (the pulse only lasts around 1 millionth of a second) to concentrate the power on the electrodes, where the fusion cycle actually begins.
As of this writing in early April, 2010, LPP is performing the Step 6 experiments, which will hopefully confirm that the shorter electrodes and heavier fill gasses significantly increase the magnetic field and thus confirm their predictions that the increased field limits the plasma cooling due to X-rays cooling the plasmoid (magnetic bottle) more than the fusion reactions can heat it.
Classic physics doesn’t teach the high field effect, although McNally did some preliminary, small scale experiments on it in 1975. This is why most physicists are highly skeptical that pB-11 fusion is even possible.
Steps 7 and 8 still have over 8 months left to accomplish.
Since many physics departments can build a FoFu-1 clone for around $50k to $100k using mothballed parts, and a DPF fusion lab could galvanize an entire student body to figure out what has to be done in what order to use this to power their campus before any other school grabs the glory, I believe that a step of faith is in order, M. Simon.
That we need to build a network of these machines that anticipates LPP’s success- lead the target, if you will- rather than playing catch-up ball once LPP announces that they believe they’ve accomplished energy breakeven and are looking for scientific confirmation.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.