California-based developer TAE Technologies said it completed an experiment using hydrogen-boron fuel in nuclear fusion energy.
The milestone comes from a three-year research collaboration between TAE and Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS), with outcomes outlined in a paper published by Nature Communications.
The paper describes producing the conditions necessary for hydrogen-boron fusion in NIFS’ Large Helical Device (LHD) plasma and TAE’s development of a detector to make measurements of the hydrogen-boron reaction products: helium nuclei, known as alpha particles.
TAE said its mission is to enable cleaner fusion reactors with hydrogen-boron, aa fuel also known as p-B11 or p11B. The company said hopes to license its technology on the way to connecting the first hydrogen-boron fusion power plant to the grid in the 2030s.
“We know we can solve the physics challenge at hand and deliver a transformational new form of carbon-free energy to the world that relies on this non-radioactive, abundant fuel,” said Michl Binderbauer, CEO of TAE Technologies, in a statement.
Multiple groups are pursuing nuclear fusion energy around the world. These approaches vary from the style of reactor configuration to the type of fuel the future reactors will rely on. But most fusion efforts are focused on combining hydrogen isotopes deuterium-tritium (D-T) to use as fuel, and the donut-shaped tokamak machines commonly used in fusion concepts are limited to D-T fuel.
TAE said its compact linear design uses an advanced accelerator beam-driven field-reversed configuration (FRC) that is versatile, and can accommodate all available fusion fuel cycles, including p-B11, D-T and deuterium-helium-3 (D-He3 or D3He).
With the FRC, TAE said it is advancing a modular and easy-to-maintain design that will have a compact footprint with the potential to take advantage of a more efficient magnetic confinement methodology, which will get up to 100x more power out, as compared to tokamaks.
Scientists in Nature Communications wrote: “While the challenges of producing the fusion core are greater for p11B than D-T, the engineering of the reactor will be far simpler. Stated simply, the p11B path to fusion trades downstream engineering challenges for present day physics challenges. And the physics challenges can be overcome.”
Proponents of nuclear fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars, hope that it could one day also produce nearly limitless, carbon-free energy, helping accelerate the planet away from fossil fuels.
Commercial nuclear fusion energy is expected to take decades to become economically viable.
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California hit a breakthrough in December, producing more energy in a nuclear fusion reaction than was used to ignite it, a long-sought accomplishment known as net energy gain.
The extremely brief fusion reaction, which used 192 lasers and temperatures measured at multiple times hotter than the center of the sun, was achieved Dec. 5.
TAE said while its recent hydrogen-boron reaction did not produce net energy, it demonstrated “viability of aneutronic fusion and reliance on hydrogen-boron.”
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