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New Jersey firm claims nuclear fusion triumph

Posting in Energy

Electrifying. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics' "aneutronic" fusion does not require a turbine. It directly yields electricity via x-rays and ion beams, as shown in this slide from LPP's Google Solve for X presentation.

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A small New Jersey firm claims to have trumped other nuclear fusion companies including giant Lockheed Martin at a recent bake-off run by Google.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) of Middlesex, N.J., said in a press release that its novel fusion technology greatly exceeded the "density-time-temperature" performance of the other three companies who presented at the Google Solve for X event in June, including Lockheed Martin, Tri-Alpha Energy, and General Fusion.

Many people regard fusion as the ultimate source of safe, carbon-free, efficient energy. Unlike today's nuclear fission, which splits atoms, fusion combines them.

Scientists began chasing the fusion dream in the 1950s. So far, no one has developed a fusion machine that can deliver more energy than it requires on a steady basis.

The "density-time-temperature" goal is one measure of reaching that goal. Fusion requires a combination of confining fuel at high temperatures for a period of time. The value for each criterion can vary. Most of the participants at the Google gathering in Mountain View, Calif., use a much higher density of fuel than does the "conventional" tokamak approach such as the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), a 20-story tokamak under construction in Cadarache, France in which fuel is confined in a large space and is not dense.

LPP is developing a type of fusion called "aneutronic" that does not require a turbine because its direct product is electricity - charged ions. Today's fission reactors as well as "conventional" fusion devices under development such as ITER yield heat that drives a turbine to generate electricity.

Aneutronic requires significantly higher temperatures than "conventional" fusion, which theoretically operates at around 100-to-150 million degrees C. Last year, LPP reported achieving a record temperature of 1.8 billion degrees C, and said it next needed to increase densities. LPP fuses hydrogen and boron.

Tri-Alpha, a stealth company based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., is also developing aneutronic fusion, with a team of what tiny LPP claimed is 150 researchers (not bad for a stealth company!). Tri-Alpha's financial backers include Russia as well as Goldman Sachs, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and venture capital firms Venrock, Vulcan Capital and New Enterprise Associates.

"LPP reported a density-time-temperature product over 2,000 times higher than that of Tri-Alpha," LPP said in its release.

LPP, which has less funding than the secretive California outfit, is collaborating with scientists from Iran, a country with advanced knowledge in peaceful aneutronic fusion. LPP calls its device the Focus Fusion machine.

Competition aside, the four fusion companies agreed at the Google Solve for X event to push Congress to broaden its fusion funding away from what LPP president Eric Lerner said is a current emphasis on tokamaks, and to include unconventional approaches such as those under way by the four companies, including aneutronic technology.

Google Solve for X is an initiative by Google to help solve global issues. Lockheed Martin's fusion project first came to light at a Solve for X event. Two different videos of Lerner's presentation are available here and here.

Image is a screen grab from video of presentation by LPP president Eric Lerner at the Google event.

Note: Post updated at 6:43 PDT with additional temperature information.

More fusion on SmartPlanet:

All sorts of alternative nuclear stories here, including thorium, molten salt, pebble beds, fast reactors, modular reactors, fusion and more.

— By on August 25, 2013, 10:00 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure