Boron and Nuclear Fusion
In today’s podcast, we’re going to look at boron and nuclear fusion. Is boron the key to unlocking energy via nuclear fusion? For the past 80 years, scientists have been exploring ways to capture energy, to provide an inexhaustible supply of quasi-free green energy. Boron via laser technologies may finally provide the key to moving beyond the laboratory to commercialization.
The production of large-scale, sustainable energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen and other very light nuclei, similar to the energy source of the galaxy is a kind of holy grail for many scientists involved in research in energy.
60 years of worldwide research for the ignition of heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium have provided near breakthroughs for ignition. However, this DT fusion research produces radioactive waste. There is, seemingly, an alternative with a clean fusion process without neutron production in the fusion of hydrogen with the boron isotope B11. Boron 11 plays a vital role in creating the conditions necessary to release energy in fusion experiments.
Today we look at three research projects, which show different approaches to using boron in the quest for nuclear fusion.
Fusing Protons and Boron 11 Nuclei Using Lasers.
In 2013 physicists at the CNRS laboratory succeeded in producing fusion at an accelerated rate in the laboratory led by Christine Labaune, the research director of the CNRS laboratory for the use of intense lasers in France. Previous laser experiments generated fusion by aiming the laser at a boron target to initiate the reaction.
This provided low levels of energy but the infrastructure needed to provide that energy meant that any commercialization would require more energy to create the energy than that produced. Labaune claims the laser generator, and proton beam in her setup produces a tenfold increase in boron fusion because protons and boron nuclei are smashed together directly.
The two-layer system fuses protons and boron 11 nucleii. One laser creates a short-lived plasma, or highly ionized gas of boron nuclei. by heating boron atoms. The other laser generates a beam of protons that smash into the boron nuclei releasing slow-moving helium particles, but no neutrons. The researchers describe their work in nature communications today.
Lasers have previously been used to crush a tiny pellet of two hydrogen isotopes deteriorium and tritium containing two and three neutrons, respectively to the point of initiating fusion. But in addition to producing neutron,radiation crushing the pellets evenly for the reaction requires a large array of lasers.
There are nearly 200 at the world’s largest laser facility, the national ignition facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
If the boron infusion method was successfully scaled up, and I quote, “We expect that it will reduce significantly the total laser energy” says Labaune. “Timing was crucial for the success of the experiment”, says study co-author Johan Rafelski, a theoretical physicist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
The boron plasma generated by the laser lasts only about 1 billionth of a second. And so the pulse of protons, which lasts 1 trillionth of a second must be precisely synchronized to slam into the boron target.
The proton beam is preceded by a beam of electrons generated by the same laser that pushes away electrons in the boron plasma, allowing the protons more of a chance to collide with the boron nuclei and initiate fusion.
H B 11 fusion for a reactor may be used instead of the DT option. Several key research studies summarized below show how scientists are making significant progress in accelerating the ability to harness power through hydrogen boron fusion.
In a study in 2017 into laser beam ignition of boron hydrogen fusion, the roadmap to clean energy using laser beam ignition of boron hydrogen fusion follows the following process. Acceleration of a plasma block where the laser beam with the power and time duration of the order of 10 petal watts and one picosecond accordingly. plasma confinement by a magnetic field of the order of a few kiloteslas created by a second laser beam with a pulse generator, with a pulse duration of a few nanoseconds. The highly increased fusion of HB 11 relative to present DT fusion is possible due to the alphas avalanche created in this process.
The conversion of the output charged alpha particles directly to electricity. To prove the above ideas simulations in the lab show that 14 milligrams of HB11 can produce 300-kilowatt hours of energy if all achieved results are combined for the design of an absolutely clean power reactor producing low-cost energy.
Let’s have a look at generating power with boron and giant lasers. HB 11 energy has just raised $20 million to develop a laser fusion process using boron HB 11 energy. This Australian startup has completed groundbreaking laser equipment, which can potentially provide limitless electric power generation via nuclear fusion.
The Sydney startup is working with Japanese researchers in Japan who give access to the petawatt class laser needed for fusion experiments. There are only a few lasers worldwide, which can provide the level of energy needed to carry out the experiment.
HB 11 Energy’s approach uses the laser beam to smash hydrogen atoms into boron to produce a nuclear fusion reaction. The resulting energy is released. albeit in smaller amounts today, may be stabilized and converted to electricity.
And what’s more, this is a safer approach than current nuclear energy procedures. Traditional nuclear reactors or fission reactors, split larger elements, such as uranium into smaller elements. This releases energy together with radiation and plutonium, which takes a very long time to degrade. None of these negatives are found in the fission process, using a laser with boron and hydrogen.
In the case of HB 11, these smaller elements of hydrogen and an isotope of boron, boron11, are smashed together under extreme pressure. The new element formed releases energy, but any waste created has a very short afterlife and critically there’s no radiation released.
Professor Heinrich, Hora also involved with HB 11 energy, has been working on laser ignited fusion since the 1960s. She says the positive charge is harvested to produce electricity and helium gas, which makes it an ideal technology for decarbonizing the electricity grid. Using just 3.4 kilograms of boron the fusion process with hydrogen when commercialized, has the potential to meet the power needs of an individual for their entire lifetime.
The boron reserves of the world’s largest producer, Eti Maden, estimated to be over 1 billion tons could power the planet for about 3,000 years. Despite the promise of a new source of safe and clean energy, research into fusion has been going on for decades, however, and some scientists still believe it is as far away from commercialization as ever.
Dr. Daniela Margarone, a laser acceleration physicist at Queens University Belfast, who also collaborated with HB11 on its latest fusion experiment, describes the results as a big step forward, but not a breakthrough. Results of the experiment were published in January in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Sciences.
Dr Margarone says:”For the first time, a large amount of proton boron fusion reactions were demonstrated using a short pulse laser that can be potentially scaled up, by large laser fusion facilities using an approach known as fast ignition.”
There was no similar experiment done earlier so this new approach could open a new research field for future net energy production.
Net energy production where the energy gathered from the fusion reaction is more than the energy required to ignite the reaction in the first place, is one of the stumbling blocks for the fusion industry. Commercializing laser facilities, which require petawatts of power, can be as large as a football stadium, which in itself will require more power than that generated from the reaction.
Then we can look at real progress to net energy gain, dr. McKenzie estimates HB 11 needs to produce around 10,000 times more power from hydrogen boron fusion than in current experiments.
For more information on boron and nuclear fusion, please refer to the Borates Today website. And that’s all for today. Thanks for listening.