The April 19 issue of the online publication Asia Times reports that a potential breakthrough has been achieved in fusion energy that could greatly accelerate the realization of a long-sought source for unlimited future energy. Coming in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the temporary shutdown of the U.S. economy and the uncertain state of global oil pricing (as Col. Lang pointed out, no peak oil crisis but a severe glut and price collapse), this potential breakthrough comes at a welcome moment.
If there is one lesson coming out of this crisis, it is the need to restore the proper role of science and research as well as critical supply chain production at home or in close locations.
The author, Jonathan Tennenbaum wrote:
"The various fields of science and technology are so closely connected that a breakthrough in one area can rapidly trigger a chain reaction of breakthroughs in other areas. The `impossible' becomes possible, the difficult becomes easy. Ideas, long since abandoned as hopelessly difficult to realize, suddenly take on new lives.
"Hydrogen-boron fusion is one example. In principle, the fusion reaction between nuclei of hydrogen and boron could provide a highly efficient, radioactivity-free form of nuclear energy with practically unlimited fuel reserves. The reaction produces no dangerous penetrating radiation and no radioactive waste, but only stable alpha particles, whose electrical charge even permits a direct conversion of fusion energy into electricity.
"These advantages have long been known, but until recently the physical conditions thought necessary for a hydrogen-boron reactor – including temperatures of billions of degrees Celsius – seemed far beyond anything one might expect to achieve in the foreseeable future."
Recent breakthroughs by Nobel Prize winners Gerard Mourou and Donna Strickland in the field of chirped pulse amplification now make such a ignition possible.
I leave the technical details to the author, who provides an intelligible but detailed description of the process. The consequences of a mastery of fusion energy, which may still take years to realize, is a total revolution in future energy. This goes way beyond the issue of electricity to power a growing global economy. At the temperatures achieved uniquely by fusion, different chemical processes occur. They further open prospects for deep space travel through fusion propulsion. In other words, decades of work may realize the potential of nuclear power without the proliferation spill-over. At a time of great angst and uncertainty, this is good news for the future.
It is interesting news. Hopefully something comes of it in my lifetime. I remember being stopped in O’hare and asked to sign up for Fusion magazine back in 1980.
“With the help of CPA, it’s possible to concentrate sufficient energy into an ultra-short pulse so that it reaches powers in the range of petawatts (a million billion watts). That is more than 100 times the power of all the world’s electric power stations combined – albeit only for a tiny instant of time. ”
Sounds like one heck of a potential weapon. I wonder how many Chinese nationals are working in the field, or does the CCP just plan on doing what they did with Dr. Leiber of Harvard?
This is another “cold fusion” story. The company has been attempting to ignite fusion with lasers for twenty years and failing. It now has a new laser with a shorter wavelength and is predicting that it will work where the others have failed. It may work as they hope. And I may become 35 years old again.
Great post Harper, as you say it is a timely piece of good news.
Man’s ingenuity seemingly knows no bounds. I particularly liked the author saying that physicists call this phenomenon “extreme light”. The Creator probably had a chuckle at that.
I agree it is high time the role of science and technology (with STEM education as the enabler) regained its proper place. Many STEM graduates find lucrative careers as financial alchemists on Wall Street. But our financialized economy is no substitute for a real economy based on cutting edge technologies like this. Heck, nuclear fusion holds out the possibility of doing real alchemy by making heavier elements out of lighter ones.
AOC and the GND cultists are currently celebrating the oil shock as “..the right time to create millions of jobs transitioning to renewable and clean energy”. But even AOC’s favorite economist Milton Keynes knows that cheap (free) oil is the last thing you need to stimulate the transition away from fossil fuels.
No, the route to the brave new world is not via Socialism, rather it will come about via the innovations of smart people like Heinrich Hora and the development of profitable companies which apply them. I hope this includes HB11 Energy.
Zut alors! this is gonna knock Nancy Pelosi’s ice cream caper off the front pages. Hope this works out better than that stove-top cold fusion “breakthrough” of a few decades ago.
“AOC’s favorite economist Milton Keynes ”
Maynard Keynes. Milton Friedman. I am sure both would be amused.
“AOC’s favorite economist Milton Keynes ”
Oh. I see the source of the error. There is actually a city in England named Milton Keynes. Nothing to do with economists. The name is a corruption of “Middle town de Cahaines”. The de Cahaines were feudal lords in that area in the 12th and 13th centuries.
I live in Milton Keynes. The de Cahaines come over in 1066, part of the Norman Conquest. There is also a village called Milton Keynes in the middle of the city of Milton Keynes which some find confusing.
Been here since 1976, a really nice place to live. Its a new city built almost from scratch in roughly the shape of an equilateral triangle with 11 mile sides. Our grid road structure was apparently loosely copied from Tuscon.
more like Milton Bradley.
Usable commercial fusion power has been 10 years in the future for my entire life, and I would be willing to bet it will remain so for mine and my children’s lives.
Fusion Power. It’s the Philosopher’s Stone and news like this has been surfacing and submerging for years. I recall the “Cold Fusion” hype from years ago which (my recall is pretty vague on this point) was related to Attempts made in Germany in the thirties to derive Helium from Hydrogen by similar means because of the US embargo on Helium exports to Nazi Germany (needed for airships in the mid thirties). Containable and useable fusion is a tough nut to crack and it seems a constantly receding Horizon. I readily understand how transformative success in these endeavors would be and I hope for success. But at the same time I suspect it just won’t happen. It’s easy to achieve in a bomb and that’s great for blasting huge craters in the earth and obliterating cities, but achieving that same energy output to feed into the grid is another matter. Though Fission and Fusion are both “atomic” reactions, they are also completely different animals.