Solar energy is revolutionizing how we power houses, cities, and even cars. The energy we get from the Sun, however, is just a tiny fraction of what actually powers the solar system’s star. Enter nuclear fusion, which for the longest time now, has been rather difficult to stabilize. A nuclear fusion startup based in New Jersey called LPP Fusion thinks we might have been going about this process the wrong way, and they suggest a different approach.
To harness nuclear fusion energy, one needs to stabilize the reaction, which in itself is already difficult to produce. Fusion relies on hot plasma, which requires huge amounts of pressure and very high temperatures. On method scientists have devised is called “magnetic confinement” — where hot plasma is contained using magnetic fields.
Still, the method isn’t without great difficulties. “Guide the plasma’s instability; don’t fight it,” LPP Fusion president and CEO Eric Lerner told the Digital Journal. To do this, their scientists are developing a Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) device.
Encased in a ring of cathodes, the DPF’s hollow central anodes use electromagnetic acceleration and compression to produce short-lived plasma that’s hot and dense enough to produce nuclear fusion. Simply put, the DPF produces a reaction that’s enough to generate a tiny dense plasma ball called plasmoids, which sustain nuclear fusion using self-generated electron beams. The concept works in theory, and LPP Fusion scientists have submitted their research to the journal Physics of Plasmas for peer review.
LPP Fusion’s method is one amid a number of research endeavors focused on stabilizing this “holy grail” of renewable energy. Among these, a team from MIT is working on adding an extra ion to the usual two-ion plasma mix, while nuclear fusion company Tri-Alpha Energy has recruited Google’s Optometrist algorithm to figure out a solution.
Compared to its fission cousin, nuclear fusion is a cleaner and truly renewable source of almost unlimited energy. For reference, a single fission event generates around 200 MeV of energy, or about 3.2 x (10^-11) watt-seconds, and nuclear fusion can produce four times that. Understandably, scientists have long since pursued nuclear fusion. Today, as renewable energy becomes the norm, scientists are even more keen on controlling nuclear fusion, which some suggest could replace fossil fuels by 2030.