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Power Science

Alternative to Tokamak Fusion Reactor 266

Sterling D. Allan writes to tell us OpenSourceEnergy is reporting on a "far more feasible and profoundly less expensive approach to hot fusion". Inventor Eric Lerner's focus fusion process uses hydrogen and boron to combine into helium which gives off tremendous energy with a very small material requirement. Lerner's project apparently only requires a few million in capital investment which is a far cry from the $10 billion being spent on the Tokamak fusion project.
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Alternative to Tokamak Fusion Reactor

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  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i_should_be_working ( 720372 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @02:50PM (#13958489)
    Their method of heating the plasma to temperatures hot enough for fusion seems to be by using particles accelerated by magnetic reconnection. [] (hmm.. that wiki needs love)
      Magnetic reconnection [] in traditional fusion reactors is seen as a bad thing because it shoots particles in unpredictable directions that often can't be contained by the confining magnetic fields. So it results in a loss of plasma density and also eventually puts small holes in the sides of the reactor.
    If these particles are that energetic it seems to make sense that they could be used to heat the plasma if they could be controlled. No idea if they are energetic enough to be used alone though.

    That magnetic reconnection thingy is also what causes the northern lights.
  • by arkhan_jg ( 618674 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @03:17PM (#13958597)
    For a start, this is on, which also hosts a number of articles on electromagnetic over-unity devices, i.e. the 'free energy' crowd. Not good company to keep if you want to be taken seriously.

    In addition, Eric Lerner is a believer in the plasma universe theory; he wrote a book on the matter called 'the Big Bang Never Happened', which apparently makes him popular with the evolution-denier crowd. Again, questionable associations.

    He's also criticised [] the peer-review scientific process, calling it open to fraud. Just unfortunate that peer-review has not been kind to his own research, I imagine.

    I'm no physicist, but it seems his process passes a short, extremely high current from a coffee-can sized copper electrode through a low-pressure hydrogen-boron mix.

    The current's magnetic field forms a small hot ball of plasma, a plasmoid, (without external magnets) and when the current's magnetic field collapses it induces an electric field that heats the plasmoid so much, it ignites fusion reactions that create more electrons & ions, which can be converted back into electricity via an advanced transformer that converts an ion stream to electricity.

    So basically, pass an electric current though low-density hydrogen-boron in a coffee can, and you get spontaneous fusion - so much so, you get over-unity? Somehow, it strikes me as a little too easy to be true.

    Shockingly enough, Lerner has yet to demonstrate over-unity, but that's because the government is so in bed with the oil-companies, they won't give him any money. NASA gave him some money, looked at his results, and dropped him.

    I won't call him a junk-scientist, but I think I'd like to see some peer-reviewed and repeated evidence of his results before I lend his theories much credence.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @03:23PM (#13958624)
    "When a man cannot be pleased nobody tries."

    And I certainly have no interest in pleasing Jeremy Rifkin or anyone like him. I thought once of buying him a pair of wooden clogs, like the ones a certain group of people used to throw into factory machinery.

    It doesn't seem occur to people like this that an unlimited power source would open up the entire solar system for exploitation. Regardless, countries like China and India are "using up even more of the planet even faster" without such an energy source, so in the long run we'd be better off having it.
  • by CustomDesigned ( 250089 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @03:41PM (#13958735) Homepage Journal
    Assuming the proof of concept works, I can see a number of potential hazards:
    1. Magnetic deceleration coils fail. Alpha beam disintegrates target, and parts of your home beyond it. There is probably a way to do this on purpose to create a beam weapon. However, as soon as too many alphas start escaping, the device will lose power and stop working.
    2. Fuel metering fails. Too much fuel causes a meltdown. Should not create long lived decay products, so the mess can be cleaned up. Igniting too much fuel near or even in the fuel supply should *not* create an H-bomb, because all the material to be fused must be confined. The heat from igniting fuel will simply scatter any other fuel nearby. The necessity of ionizing the fuel first prevents cramming enough fuel into the plasma to create a bomb.
    3. Shielding fails, and device leaks beta, alpha, or neutrons. There should be gieger counters nearby to turn it off in such an event. Leaking alpha particles can result in a voltage difference between your home and the reactor, which could be hazardous. This can be measured and also trigger a shutdown.
    4. Fuel is contaminated with fusable reactants that produce many high speed neutrons. Again, need gieger counters with auto-shutoff. Just like you have CO alarms for your gas furnace.
  • by PickyH3D ( 680158 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @03:54PM (#13958802)
    There hasn't been a proof-of-concept yet.

    I don't see why though, since he only needs $1.5 - $2 million dollars. With all the money we throw at such horrible research, why the NSF can't throw $2 million this way is beyond me.

    Who knows? Maybe it's literally too good to be true and scientists that know the lingo, know it?

  • by NewIntellectual ( 444520 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#13958857)
    Dr. Bogdan Maglich came up with an interesting idea that he dubbed the Migma reactor, which involves high energy particle beams that are bent by magnetic fields to constantly loop around the center of a chamber, where they would undergo high energy collisions and enable fusion of elements at much higher temperatures than Tokamaks and related concepts. This kind of fusion can occur without neutron emission, which would be much cleaner than the radioactivity-inducing fusion reactors now under development.

    Some URLs are at: [],
    with a good bio page on Maglich at: []
  • Re:Eric Lerner (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#13958858)
    While it is unsurprising that someone who thinks "intelligent design" is a relevant criticism of real science also thinks the Big Bang is "just a theory" (said as if it had been merely dreamt up by a drunk on his way home from the bar last night), it is a huge HUGE tipoff to nuttery when a supposed astrophysicst rejects one of the most successful theories ever devised in all of cosmology. And when respected UCLA physicists start pointing out the glaringly obvious mistakes [] in said anti-big bang theories, well, that's pretty much when the house of cards comes tumbling down isn't it? No your comment is not insigtful in the least. Rather, it is an appeal to ignorance. Though if you realy do require a specific refutation of this focus fusion bullshit (and that's what it is so why mince words) you need only look to this 1995 doctoral thesis [] by Todd Rider which effectively kills off any possiblity of nonequilibrium fusion reactions (such as Fusors and pyroelectric fusion devieces) of ever producing net energy. The Focus Fusion device even if it actually DID achieve the temperatures claimed (and no, it does not) would belong to this class of non-starters.
  • Re:Eric Lerner (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lucractius ( 649116 ) <Lucractius@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday November 05, 2005 @04:35PM (#13959010) Journal
    speaking of poisons... boron is a fission inhibitor by virtue of being a newutron absorber... aka a reaction poison.

    modern reactor emergency shutdown systems are usualy designed to drown the reactor core in boron to end the chain reaction immediately in the event of an "un-requested fission surplus"

    random fact for the day & Obligatory Simpsons quote all in one :)
  • Re:Maybe, maybe not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @04:42PM (#13959059) Homepage
    The world economy could *not* handle unlimited cheap energy. Just as it could not handle unlimited cheap food. We are well on our way to a "service" economy, and there are very vested interests that want to see it happen.

    Not all "services" can be economically automated, even with unlimited cheap energy. Without centralized control of life's necessities (energy, food, housing, etc.) there would be no incentive for anyone to participate in the "service" economy. Without limits on those necessities, there would be no centralized control.

    It would even be difficult to get people to work on automating any "services" that are truly necessary. Unnecessary services, (the type that the ultra-wealthy enjoy), would simply disappear. No more waiters, chefs, strip clubs, massages, nurses, plastic surgeons. Anything that couldn't be automated, or people wouldn't do for free, simply wouldn't get done.

    Even though the living standards of most people would go up, the living standards of the extremely wealthy would go down. Not by much, but they would go down.

    Of course, I don't believe all of this to be true. But it's what a majority of those in wealth and power believe. And until they are either convinced otherwise or deposed, they will fight to maintain their illusions.
  • A Dialog (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 05, 2005 @05:26PM (#13959297)
    Where is all of the dark matter?

    Well, we can't observe it. That's why we call it dark.

    Then how do we know it exists?

    Well, our cosmological model needs it to exist to make sense. Our cosmological model is very good. We know this because we can measure many aspects of the universe and our model predicts all of them.

    Except the amount of matter, for which it's badly, badly off.

    Well, yes. But it's the best we've got.

    Well, I've got a competing theory, it's not perfect, but it doesn't require the bulk of the matter in the universe to be unobservable.

    That's going to be a problem. You see, the weight of the community is behind our theory, and because it requires an acceptance of a major unobservable, unmeasurable component, it's sort of become ... ehem ... an article of faith.
  • Re:Eric Lerner (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 05, 2005 @05:37PM (#13959345)
    The Big Bang theory has problems. It came from observing a red-shift in the frequency of the color of light emitted from distant galaxies. Scientists said, "Aha! The red-shift could be from the Doppler effect, which means the galaxies are in motion moving away from us, possibly as a result of a 'Big Bang'. And so the theory looked solid for about 75 years.

    The problem is that if the red-shift is really from the Doppler effect then redness ought to be smoothly and evenly distributed across the cosmos. But it isn't.

    In the 1997 it is was observed [] that the red-shift occurs in quantum steps. An alternate theory that explains the redshift AND the quantum steps is the redshift is actually caused by a descrease in the speed of light, that galaxies are not moving away from each other, and that there was no Big Bang. This theory has other implications that also nicely explain some of the problems with the current theory quantum mechanics, such as why doesn't an electron collapse into the nucleus.
  • by Drachasor ( 723880 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @05:59PM (#13959494)
    Pretending like 40 billion dollars for a renewable, non-polluting, cheap energy source is a lot is silly. The fact is that we (America, at least) hardly put any money into fusion research. Annually we spend 13 billion dollars on oil subsidies and research, several billion on coal, but not even 1 billion on fusion power. This is one reason why fusion is alway so far off (and the other being that early predictions on how far off it was were overly optimistic). If we only diverted 3 billion from oil funding to fusion, we'd massively increase our research into fusion. As it is now we might see fusion reactors in 40 years or so, but if we spent a lot more funding on it we could probably cut that down to 20--considering the threat of global warming and other such concerns sooner is much, much better than later.

    Sad to say we are a small contributor to the international fusion effort too. Hopefully the next administration will be more forward-thinking.
  • Re:A Dialog (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Saturday November 05, 2005 @10:28PM (#13960606)
    Except dark matter is a hypothesis, not a theory.
  • Focus fusion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elerner ( 928824 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @12:42AM (#13961116)
    I'm replying to some of the hundred-odd posts on this topic. If you want to determine whether something is decent science or crackpot, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. A lot of these posts appeal to authority to determine if focus fusion is decent science, analyzing who I am, or even who people who talk about focus fusion are or who is on their board of directors. That's not the way to analyze scientific work. If it were, we'd still be back debating what the church says is the correct Aristotelian interpretation of Ptolemy--and we sure would not be doing it by Internet. The right way is to look at the scientific work and ask--does it make sense, and does it follow the scientific method? Sometimes that's difficult if the work is only presented in technical journals. But in this case, our work is both available in technical form ( []) and in layman's terms ( Look at this work and judge for yourselves. If you're also interested in the Big Bang controversy, you can judge the layman's version at or get more technical information from the download articles accessible there. (The July 2 cover story of New Scientist is a good introduction, too.) People on this list who call me a crackpot or less complimentary names have the simple obligation to point to some specific scientific errors that they perceive in my work. Otherwise they are not engaging in any sort of scientific debate and deserve to be ignored. A couple of basic historical facts need correcting. NASA did not cut off our funding because they were dissatisfied with our results. The whole program that was funding our work and many others, Advanced Propulsion Technologies, was zeroed out by the administration. More or less simultaneously all NASA programs that fund any form of fusion were also terminated. So this had nothing to do with our work in particular, but did indicate a general hostility towards fusion by the administration. Also, it would be wrong to describe focus fusion as that controversial among fusion scientists. (Unlike my cosmology work, which is controversial). Many fusion scientists think that this work, along with other alternative fusion approaches, deserves funding. But scientists don't make decisions on what is funded, administrators do. I've been at conferences of top fusion researchers in which practically not a single one supported the ITER project or thought that it could work. Yet that is the project that, for political reasons, gets all the funding. Finally, I want to address two technical points that seem to come up frequently. First, the safety of the focus fusion derives in part from the extremely tiny amount of fuel that is burned in each shot. The speck that is raised to several billion degrees is only a few microns to tens of microns across. So even when all the fuel, or nearly all, is burned, the yield will be only about 20 or 30 kilojoules--the energy a 100 W light bulb burns in a few minutes. It is only by pulsing the device a thousand times a second do you get 20 MW out of it. The much-cited PhD thesis from '95 that sought to prove that all advanced fuels like hydrogen-boron are impossible makes a number of assumptions that are not true in all cases. In particular, the thesis ignores the magnetic effect that decreases x-ray emission at the very high magnetic fields attainable in the plasma focus. The effect has been known for 30 years and is widely applied in the study of neutron stars, so it is also not controversial. But it greatly improves the prospects of getting net energy from hydrogen boron. Anyway, I urge every one to look at the material we present at and judge it for yourself. Don't rely on "authority". That's not the scientific way. Eric Lerner

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984