New Jersey firm claims nuclear fusion triumph

Rivalries aside, competitors in Google Solve for X nuclear bake-off agree to push Congress for broader fusion funding.

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.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com