Series of Fusion Experiments that Could Lead to Cheap, Clean, Abundant Fusion Energy

The bootstrapped LPP Fusion dense plasma focus nuclear fusion project will be starting a potentially big year of testing. They are completing work on their beryllium electrode. If everything goes smoothly on four critical steps then this could be the beginning of world-changing clean nuclear fusion power. If they can get within a factor of four of their targets then they would be in the clear lead for nuclear fusion. This would provide them with a lot more funding. LPP fusion wants to build small, decentralized 5 Megawatt nuclear fusion generators that will use hydrogen and boron fuel, both of which are essentially unlimited in nature, to allow direct conversion of energy to electricity without expensive turbines or radioactive waste. The cost will be 10 times cheaper than any existing energy source, meaning Focus Fusion technology can change the world. The dense plasma focus device (DPF) based on the known physics has a fusion output that increases sharply with electrical current—approximately as current to the fifth power. If the current is doubled then the fusion yield goes up by 25 or 32. This scaling law, which works for smaller DPF devices, has been interrupted for larger ones. They don’t get the yield expected from the scaling law. LPP Fusion thinks that is due to the larger impurities that powerful DPFs have produced. If LPP Fusion succeeds in lowering impurities from initial experiments with pure deuterium should get our fusion yield up from about ¼ Joules—LPP’s best result with tungsten electrodes—to over 2 Joules. Nextbigfuture thinks they need to get to at least 1 Joule with the Berrylium electrode. There is both strong theoretical reasons and abundant experimental evidence that impurities affect plasma characteristics, such as electrical resistivity, in proportion to the product fz2, where f is the fraction (by number) of ions with an atomic charge z. They are switching our electrodes from tungsten, with a z of 74, to beryllium, with a z of 4. This means that, when fully ionized, each beryllium ion in the plasma has 340 times less effect than each tungsten ion. We don’t expect a lot more beryllium ions to be vaporized, because the energy to vaporize and ionize one beryllium ion is already ¾ the energy needed for one tungsten ion. So the contribution of the electrodes to impurities will be hundreds of times less in the new experiment. After the initial experiments with pure deuterium, LPP will introduce a mixing gas, either nitrogen or neon, to start simulating the mixture of gases that we will have with our ultimate hydrogen-boron fuel. They expect that this mixture will lead to higher fusion temperatures than with pure D, as the heating mechanism involves the viscosity of the plasma, which also increase with atomic charge. These experiments will be a bit trickier to optimize, as too much higher-z mixing gas will cause the filaments to blow up again. They expect fusion yields to rise above 10 Joules if they can get an optimal gas mixture. Nextbigfuture thinks they need to get to at least 3 Joules with the fast mixture. Later in 2019, they will upgrade their switches to increase the peak current which would further increase fusion yield. This can now do this without opening up their redesigned vacuum chamber. Late in 2019, they will start experiments with hydrogen-boron, pB11 fuel. This fuel burns faster and more energetically than deuterium, that will again boost the fusion yields and put us on the track to our goal of getting more energy out of the device than they put into it—net energy. Nextbigfuture thinks that if they can at least get the impurities away to the point that scaling is not prevented, then LPP could make it up with even stronger switches. If they had to make $25 million devices that had 2 cents per kilowatt hour, then the world would still change with clean and abundant energy.

Boron-11 Isotope

A reaction of hydrogen and boron-10 would produce radioactive beryllium-7. With a half-life of two months, this isotope would certainly complicate any work with the device. LPP calculated that 99.99% pure boron-11 would be needed. Naturally, occurring boron is only 80% boron-11 with 20% boron-10. Fortunately, due to the large 10% difference in mass between the isotopes, separating B-11 and B-10 is not that difficult. LPPF has already located at least one provider of 99.99% B-11. They are able to get the required gas at $600 per gram. They have 93 grams which is enough for their experiments. If this works they will arrange for mass production at $6 per gram or less.
SOURCES – LPP Fusion Written By Brian Wang.

67 thoughts on “Series of Fusion Experiments that Could Lead to Cheap, Clean, Abundant Fusion Energy”

  1. District heating and desalination/sanitation of water seems like a good use that wouldn’t require an extremely more complex set up. – Ryan Gibbons

  2. Remember these will have a lot higher power to weight ratios than regular small fission reactors I’m guessing. So maybe the vehicles could be lighter and require less power in general or just use two or three of these.

  3. It just takes years to test, i can imagine that. Because they dont know how things will react, but one would like not to break anything, and thus progress is very carefully taking its time. Even with a milionaire like Bill Gates funds or so, it would still take a long time to make perfect berilium stuff. Usually in good hands an minds such time is well spend and brings progress and novelties to ideas. They allready have several promising results who are better then their competitors.
    In my opinion for as far i watched this fusion game, its Wendelstein or this, while itter spin offs will not get economical (to much hope on a to complex expensive solution), others like laser heating etc are also to complex. The main problem is containing such enormous heat, here a the magnetic vortex containment is how it works at the suns corona, and its been often in engineering that nature provides the best examples.

  4. Everyone still refuses to get this simple point, the core interest of nations cannot depend on the continued existence of some private business. Companies fail more frequently than nations. If you’re willing to put your country’s long term well being or existence at the mercy of some company staying afloat, your countrymen should be thankful you have no say in the matter.

    Put the interest of money above all other concerns at your own peril.

    ITER is the only fusion project in existence that is capable of net fusion power on paper, it’s worth 10 times the cost. Stop crying over the $20 billion cost for the decade long project , the US alone should be spending $20 billion a year on fusion.

  5. Well Musk is saying full self driving including finding the owner in 2020.

    Maybe he means the year 12020?

  6. Nah. Autonomous cars were a joke, remote science fiction that nobody took seriously…. and suddenly they were working (albeit in prototype form under close supervision).

    There was no promises of “only 20 years away” that just continued, decade after decade after decade.

  7. I’m worried about much before “the onion”. Personally if LPP can get 9/10 pinches to produce more energy (electron beam, ion beam, x-rays) than the input energy then every penny of my investment was well spent even if a viable reactor is impossible. It will be a Chicago pile moment for alt-fusion.

    I’ve hardly invested my life savings in this and i’ll readily admit that i’m in it for the science.

    As for the onion Lerner treats it as something of an implementation detail to be worked out. From the perspective of LPP as a reactor producer this is a problem but if LPP is an IP patent holder then it becomes someone else’s problem.

    And 1%? These guys did 75%.

  8. And that they have been peddling that magic onion lie this long doesn’t give you any pause about their prospects?

  9. LPP might have done better looking for a billionaire investor, so they would not have been rate-limited by funding. Their years-long saga of incremental advances has been painful to watch.

  10. They hit break even at 21% x-ray conversion efficiency.

    At which point the reactor is a self heating water heater that produces 80 kJ of waste heat per pinch.

    So you need to harvest the heat using traditional means (more cost) or you just take over much of the process heat market or do both.

  11. In conclusion: If QM is broken then they get a Nobel, if QM isn’t broken then they may get a Nobel.

    Pretty good gig.

  12. That “magic onion” cannot work. It’s not just an engineering problem, but a quantum physics problem.

    It is impossible to directly convert x-rays to usable energy at 80%, and that is required for this design to work.

  13. Something’s broken with QM if they can reach the required magnetic field, and it doesn’t work.

    They might encounter some new instability before they reach those field levels.

  14. Can they remove produced helium from the p-B gas mixture while pinching?

    My solution: have a large-ish attached vessel pumped empty of air so that it is a good vacuum. Attach the vacuum chamber to the reactor and put a layer (or two or four) of graphene to act as a barrier. Helium will readily move through the graphene barrier, Decaborane gas not so much.

    You can attach multiple reactors to the same vacuum chamber and periodically pump out the Helium.

  15. There is an awful lot of risk still:

    • Can they limit x-ray production?
    • Can they pinch dense gases?
    • Do things work as expected when they pinch with two mega amps of current?
    • Can they harvest x-ray energy efficiently?
    • Can they prevent anode erosion?
    • Can they remove produced helium from the p-B gas mixture while pinching?
  16. No, it’s not going to be cheaper energy. Sure, the fuel costs will be low, but the fuel costs for fission are low, too.

    The problem is that the hardware is massively expensive and delicate, and no way is it going to just run and run and run. The up front investment for a fusion plant is going to be hugely greater than fission, and THAT is high.

    Unless LPP works out. I rate their chances as poor because they’ve picked the hardest fuel to make work, but if they can get it to work, it’s the only approach that won’t be insanely expensive to build and maintain.

  17. Well if they can’t exploit QM then something is broken with QM (more so than usual).

    The QM “exploit” was a bit of an “a-ha!” moment for me. QM has “weird” rules and we should exploit them more often.

  18. In fact, the only reason LPP thinks they can get it working is by exploiting a quantum magnetic phenonmenon that would suppress those x-rays at insanely high magnetic fields. Without that the only place you’re going to see P-B reach breakeven is in a bomb.

  19. Were I him and I got the Nobel I would wear that shirt under my suit and on stage I would take off my suit shirt and send those prone to hysterics to their fainting couches.

    Gotta be me.

  20. From their sankey diagram: per pinch they are hoping to produce 24kJ of electricity but still have 42kJ of losses, mostly heat.

    You can’t just let that sit around, you will need to move it or the device will overheat at 200 pinches per second.

    And 42kJ is a good deal of energy, might as well harvest it. If you can get 25% efficiency then you get a bonus 10kJ to bump your electrical output by almost 50% at the cost of extra hardware.

  21. It is an ideal fuel for lots of reasons but the big ones are:

    • Produces very few neutrons (based on purity of B11 and secondary He reactions)
    • The energy of the fusion reaction comes out not as neutrons but as charged alpha particles (Helium nuclei) which can be directly converted to electricity as they move through the coil at the bottom of the reactor

    It is also a less than ideal fuel in that you need to get your plasma much, much hotter than what you would need for a D-T reaction and in the process of heating your plasma to the necessary temperatures you lose much of your energy to x-rays.

  22. [sic] Could drive interplanetary class of plasma rockets and provide power to the colonists.

    Comrade! Is bad when you drop pronouns, yes?

    Joking aside yes LPP’s DPF certainly has the potential to transform both Earth and Space. That’s why I invested in it.

    That and because Putin told me to 😉

  23. Iter is just such a waste of all these scientists. Old, obsolete design, bureucratic nightmare.
    That just doesn’t get things done. All that renewables are a waste in the long run.
    Make a 200 billion fund and give money to private companies after they achive a milestone, with award based system and we will have fusion in 2 – 5 years. I would place my bet on lasers, since they are getting stronger and we are almost there.

    But the problem is why is so little money invested in fusion – potential benefits are huge. Cheaper electricity, almost solve global warming, prevent all those problems, gdp boost because cheap electricity,…

    Oil, coal, renewable lobbies are just too strong.

  24. I have been reading news on their website. These guys are really “funny”.
    They usually post news on their website, that they will start experiments with beryllium electrodes in next few months. After a few months they delete the old post, and post a new one that they will start experiments with beryllium electrodes in a few months. Then after a few months they delete the old post on their website and post again that they need to install the glove box. And then they waiting and installing that glove box for 6 months,… Just on and on.

    in March 2018:

    march 2018: “LPPF is preparing actively for both the experiments with beryllium electrodes expected in the spring and for the shift to hydrogen-boron fuel expected before year-end.”

    march 2019: same mantra repeated again, no beryllium experiements yet?I wonder what will they come up with when start experiements with beryllium if they will start them,…
    At least they make a living out of crowfunding money.

    I would place my bet on some more serious private companies, not on Iter or these guys.

  25. Helion is planning direct conversion for their hybrid D-D/D-He3 reactor, saying it nets only 6% of its energy release as neutrons.

    Lerner once explained to me why boron was actually the ideal fuel for focus fusion specifically, but I forget the details.

  26. Well, there was that guy who landed a probe on a comet who groveled and apologised because he had an ‘offensive’ shirt on…

  27. Which they learned from. How many launches did NASA have in the ’50s that ended up with ‘expedited self-disassembly’?

    But once they got the kinks worked out, their record’s been amazing in both frequency of launch and re-use of their stages.

  28. And a jobs plan. “I’ve spent thirty years on this thing!”

    “Really? Do you have any plans to retire?”

    “Oh, yes. Next year, in fact.”

    “But what about getting ITER going after that?”

    “Damn thing will never work – but I sure made my career off it! And that’s what’s important, isn’t it?”

  29. Wished i had the investment money, i’m following them a long time.
    And in my opinion they are (by far) the most realistic road towards fusion.
    They’re on the edge of material science, while others want to be on the edge of plasma control. They need to be exteme carefullwith their materials
    (you can spoil it only once and for ever)
    Their vortex contains itself alike sun flames, very clever design.
    You did a good investment thumbs up.

  30. I thought the the whole point of the direct conversion approach was that P-B fusion was so marginal in terms of energy in, energy out, even if everything runs right, that mere steam turbine Carnot efficiency would never be enough to reach engineering breakeven. That’s why they’ve also got that “onion” planned to extract energy from the x-rays. They can’t let even the tiniest amount of energy escape untapped.

    Recirculating energy is going to be pretty high in their reactor, if they can get it working.

    I wonder if their direct conversion approach would work with some other, less aneutronic, but higher yield reaction; It could be a fallback approach if they can’t quite hack it with P-B.

  31. I find I must concur with your premise. 

    “Direct conversion, (doesn’t scale the same way). (Its) rules will be completely different. There (is no reason to expect) that the optimum size will (be the same)”

    You are spot-on-the-money, Doc. 
    What will doubtlessly work best for gnarled fusion …
    Won’t be really large, really stable, fission reactor piles. 

    It’ll be something totally different.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  32. Cue someone to leap in and say

    “Oh you fool! People have been complaining that fusion is always 20 years away, and they’ve been complaining about it for 70 years! Therefore the complaint isn’t valid.”

    Which is one of the most self refuting statements I’ve heard, but there you go.

  33. This would be perfect for space exploration. Could drive interplanetary class of plasma rockets and provide power to the colonists.

  34. When we say that civilian power plants work best at 500 MW, that’s based on a history of plants running on steam power, with boilers and heat exchangers. Or at best gas turbined, with their own heat losses and cooling systems and associated “big, hot things”, where being bigger gives direct benefits in terms of the surface area (heat loss, gas leakage) versus volume (power).

    The whole point of their “direct conversion” approach is that it doesn’t need all that stuff. So the scaling rules will be completely different. There isn’t any reason to think that the optimum size will work out the same.

    Now whether the direct conversion actually works, and works better than the traditional heat engine systems, that’s another story.

  35. What LPP really needs to get done (this year-ish) from an an actual LPP investor (me):

    • Demonstrate that fuel impurities have hamstrung DPF devices and that they can get scaling back to the fifth power of current
    • Demonstrate that they can predict and successfully pinch in a high(er) pressure environment

    Yeah that’s it for 2019. I’m a realist and those two things would be great.

  36. They would run in to real issues getting enough current to the plasmoid without melting the Beryllium.

    5MW requires dumping almost 3 mega-amps of electricity.

  37. By comparing ITER to SLS, I hope you are not comparing LPP to SpaceX.
    Because they have not done anything yet.

  38. Given the scaling law, I doubt they’ll stop at 5 MW. The first military marine applications are a few tens of MW. Civilian power plants work best around 500 MW.

  39. Don’ worry, before the Nobel acceptance speech they always get a haircut and a new suit. He’d be fine.

  40. ITER wouldn’t die even if LPP is successful.

    Yup. Just like SLS won’t die no matter how successful SpaceX is.

    Hence why I made the comparison.

  41. ITER wouldn’t die even if LPP is successful. We are talking about the bureaucracies of multiple countries.

    In the end Bussards quip about Tokamaks being bad for fusion but wonderful for science would ring true enough to keep ITER going and DEMO on the drawing board.

  42. Here is my judgment: do you think the guy in the second video could win a Nobel (when you look at him, based on how he talks and what he looks like)? No, he could not. Would he win if he succeeds? Yes. Therefore, he is not going to succeed.

  43. I want LPP to pull this off simply because I just want to see them expose ITER to be the SLS of the fusion research community that it is.

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