May 28, 2008

Corrected: Focus fusion does not have agreement with CMEF of Sweden

Previous outdated and incorrect: Focus Fusion has received funding of $600,000 with phased additional payments up to $10 million.

Correction: That funding situation did not happen and this is a link to the current funding situation

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. is raising capital from accredited investors (those with more than $200,000 in income or $1,000,000 in assets) to finance a two-year experimental effort in New Jersey to demonstrate the scientific feasibility of focus fusion. The total cost of the experiment is $750,000, of which $200,000 has already been raised and an additional $100,000 has been pledged.

UPDATE: [From a reader who is a close follower of Focus Fusion and now confirmed]

Re: CMEF, Eric responded, "This is based on years-out-of-date info. The $600,000 never actually materialized, but LPP is again at the point where we think we will have $ in hand very soon. But this time we will not say we have it until the bank tells us we do."

The most recent news postings are:
LPP has performed some computer simulations of their process.

Highly repeatable experiments have been performed

In a presentation to the Seventh Symposium on Current Trends in International Fusion research, held a year ago, but recently released on the Web, Dr. Jan Brzosko reported that in 500 shots a DPF functioning at a peak current of 0.95 MA had neutron yields that had a standard deviation of only about 15%.

A place for downloading animations and images.

Focus fusion in Discover Magazine June 2008 (item #2).

It may sound too good to be true, but the technology, called focus fusion, is based on real physics experiments. Focus fusion is initiated when a pulse of electricity is discharged through a hydrogen-boron gas across two nesting cylindrical electrodes, transforming the gas into a thin sheath of hot, electrically conducting plasma. This sheath travels to the end of the inner electrode, where the magnetic fields produced by the currents pinch and twist the plasma into a tiny, dense ball. As the magnetic fields start to decay, they cause a beam of electrons to flow in one direction and a beam of positive ions (atoms that have lost electrons) to flow in the opposite direction. The electron beam heats the plasma ball, igniting fusion reactions between the hydrogen and boron; these reactions pump more heat and charged particles into the plasma. The energy in the ion beam can be directly converted to electricity—no need for conventional turbines and generators. Part of this electricity powers the next pulse, and the rest is net output.

A focus fusion reactor could be built for just $300,000, says Lerner, president of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in New Jersey. But huge technical hurdles remain. These include increasing the density of the plasma so the fusion reaction will be more intense. (Conventional fusion experiments do not come close to the temperatures and densities needed for efficient hydrogen-boron fusion.) Still, the payoff could be huge: While mainstream fusion research programs are still decades from fruition, Lerner claims he requires just $750,000 in funding and two years of work to prove his process generates more energy than it consumes. “The next experiment is aimed at achieving higher density, higher magnetic field, and higher efficiency,” he says. “We believe it will succeed.”

From the focus fusion FAQ:

It is like a particle accelerator run in reverse. Such an electrical transformation can be highly efficient, probably around 80-90%. What is most important is that it is exceedingly cheap and compact. The whole apparatus of steam turbine and electrical generator are eliminated. A 20MW focus fusion reactor may cost around $500,000 and produce electricity for 1/20th of a cent per kWh. This is a hundred times less than current electric costs. Fuel costs will be negligible because a 20MW plant will require only twenty pounds of fuel a year.

UPDATE: [emails from a reader who has been following Focus fusion closely]
the power would be at about 0.2¢/kwh, not 1/20¢ (0.05¢). The generators would be from 5-20MW, depending on pulse rate (330 - 1320/sec.) The energy "profit" is actually from harvesting as current (via thousands of foil layers in the containment shell) the ~40% of output which occurs as X-rays. The alpha-beam pulse goes back into the capacitor bank to fire the next "shot", and the electron beam reheats the plasma.

From the multi-slide story board of how focus fusion works

1. The plasma sheet, carrying the current, is formed between the anode and cathode. It moves down the anode due to the interaction of the current and its magnetic field.

2. The plasma sheet bends inwards to the hole in the anode.
Plasma filaments are formed in counter rotating pairs.

3. The plasma sheet and filaments contract towards the center. The focus forms.
The filament pairs merge like a zipper. Energy is transferred from the outside to the central region

4. The plasma sheet and filaments continue contracting into the center

5. A rotating plasma vortex is formed in the center, carrying all the current

6. In the central vortex the filaments have formed one single rotating filament.

7. The filament forms a tight plasma helix

8. the helix starts to kink

9. And it becomes unstable and ...

10. ...knots itself up into a rotating plasmoid composed of plasma filaments.
The plasmoid, only microns across, contains the full energy that was fed into the device, in the ideal case

11. The magnetic field of the plasmoid causes it to shrink

12. The shrinking plasmoid rotates.
The electron beam that the plasmoid generates heats it up.

13. The temperature becomes high enough for some colliding protons and boron nuclei to overcome their electric repulsion

14. Protons and boron nuclei fuse and create unstable carbon-12 nuclei

15. The nucleus breaks up to form helium nuclei (alpha particles).
Energy is released as the kinetic energy of the alpha particles

16. The fast alpha particles heat the plasma and the fusion reactions occur faster and faster

17. An electric field creates a beam of fast ions (nuclei) that carry most of the fusion energy (shown in blue). An electron beam (shown in red) goes in the opposite direction

18. The plasmoid is evacuated by the beams

19. The energy in the ion beam is collected by a solenoid.
This direct conversion to electricity is very efficient and economical

Technical background on focus fusion.

Focus Fusion operates using a dense plasma focus (DPF) with hydrogen-born fuel. The fuel is in the form of decaborane (H14B10), a solid at room temperature which sublimates a gas when heated to moderate temperatures of around 100 C. As in any fusion reaction, when the hydrogen nuclei (protons) and boron-11 nuclei collide at high enough velocities, a nuclear reaction occurs. In this case, three helium nuclei (also called alpha particles) are produced, which stream off in a concentrated beam, confined by powerful magnetic field produced by the plasma itself.

Focus fusion is one of several non-Tokomak approaches to nuclear fusion

Time to Small Cost to Achieve Large scale chance
Concept Description Scale net energy Net Energy after small success Funded?

Plasma Focus 6 years $1M+ Sales X-scan 80% Y, $1.9m
Focus fusion website
Focus fusion US patent application
Working on a funded experiment with Chile 2006-2010

Bussard IEC Fusion 3-5 years $200 million 90% Y, $2m
My intro to Bussard fusion and update on prototype work

Tri-alpha Energy aka 8 years $75 million 60% Y, $50m
Colliding Beam fusion aka
Field Reversed Configuration
My review of the academic research before the funded stealth project

General Fusion aka 3-6 years $10-30 million 60% Y, $2m
Magnetized target fusion
Steam generated shock wave into spinning liquid metal

Multi-pole Ion beam
version of Bussard IEC 3-5 years $200 million 90% N
FP generation MIX IEC fusion

Koloc Spherical Plasma 10 years $25 million 80% N (self)
Attempt to create stable ball lightning plasma balls
In 2004, trying to generate 30-40cm plasma spheres


kurt said...

There is much less here than meets the eye.

If you look at the CMEF website, you will notice that it is actually a front for Eric Lerner and Focus Fusion. Also, I read on the Polywell IEC discussion board that the Swedish language on the CMEF was not written by a native Swedish person as the prose is not at all like native Swedish.

I have no idea if Eric Lerner's dens plasma focus is real or not. George Miley, who is a bone fide fusion researcher has also worked on dense plasma focus concepts and believes they could lead to fusion power. Eric Lerner's website, on the other hand, strikes me of being somewhat too fanciful.

I certainly hope that Eric Lerner is on to something real. Only time will tell.

Brock said...

I'm not a physicist, so maybe Lerner (an "independent researcher" with no degree from anywhere) knows something I don't, but I am an attorney with a decent amount of experience working with VC's and private equity investors. CMEF smells like a fake.

Have you looked at CMEF's website? The only technology they talk about investing is is Focus Fusion, and they're currently selling 1,000,000 shares in the company. I would not be surprised if they cost exactly $10 each. Moreover, there is no biographical information about CMEF's (apparently) only two employees. Any money manager looking to raise funds will post their credentials all over the place, as their experience and reputation as money-men is the only thing they have to sell. Where's the Wharton MBA?

This is purely a guess on my part (and I only have access to the same Google everyone else does), but I bet CMEF does not have the money to make this "investment." It seems more likely this is a clever way to raise more money before the Chilean Nuclear Authority pull the plug on their 3-year arrangement with Lerner.

bw said...

Focus Fusion definitely has less credible backing/backers than Tri-alpha energy/colliding beam fusion [bigger name billionaires and VCs and Goldman Sachs) and IEC (emc2) fusion (US Navy).

Vincent Page, technology officer at GE, wrote a good paper in 2005 about the economics and timeline towards moving to fusion power. He seemed to believe that Focus fusion might work.

If the ideas are bad or the people involved are not up to it then the money and effort will be mostly wasted. There should be more high risk/high payoff efforts, which means that there will be deadends and failures.

Even safer things like investing in a house can not work out. 155000 foreclosures in the USA

It is a good thing that there are 4-6+ alternative fusion ideas. Hopefully some of them pan out. If not there is still advanced fission. If it was just based on the financial backing then tri-alpha energy would be ahead in this group.

mattreynolds42 said...

I would dearly love to believe this sort of thing is real, but I don't see any evidence of it. And too many of the steps in thier illustration of how this works read like, '...and then magic happens.'

M. Simon said...

Here is what I said at Talk Polywell:

From what I have seen they have a really horrendous problem with electrode erosion.

And they claim that pulses on the order of 1,000 MJ (give or take depending on the fuel) are needed for break-even. That would be 1 MW for ~20 minutes to charge up the capacitor bank. Yet they think they can do one pulse a second in an operational reactor.


Read the whole discussion.