His fuel of choice is one of the earth’s most common and least exotic elements: boron. It can be scooped from the Mojave Desert in California, possibly even extracted from sea water. Boron is used in the production of hundreds of products as diverse as flame retardants, electronic flat panel displays and eye drops. It’s so common that no country, company or individual could corner the market on the fuel supply.
The process Bussard hopes to perfect would use boron-11, the most common form of the element. Bussard says his experiments — which achieved fusion with deuterium, not boron — in November 2005 proved that the boron process will work.
The boron reactor would be similar to, but more powerful than, the reactor that blew up in 2005.
Bussard’s reactor design is built upon six shiny metal rings joined to form a cube — one ring per side. Each ring, about a yard in diameter, contain copper wires wound into an electromagnet.
The reactor operates inside a vacuum chamber.
When energized, the cube of electromagnets creates a magnetic sphere into which electrons are injected. The magnetic field squeezes the electrons into a dense ball at the reactor’s core, creating a highly negatively charged area.
To begin the reaction, boron-11 nuclei and protons are injected into the cube.
Because of their positive charge, they accelerate to the center of the electron ball. Most of them sail through the center of the core and on toward the opposite side of the reactor. But the negative charge of the electron ball pulls them back to the center. The process repeats, perhaps thousands of times, until the boron nucleus and a proton collide with enough force to fuse.
That fusion turns boron-11 into highly energetic carbon-12, which promptly splits into a helium nucleus and a beryllium nucleus. The beryllium then splits into two more helium nuclei.
The result is three helium nuclei, each having almost three million electron volts of energy.
The force of splitting flings the helium nuclei out from the center of the reactor toward an electrical grid, where their energy would force electrons to flow — electricity.
This direct conversion process is extraordinarily efficient. About 95 percent of the fussion energy is turned into electricity.