Overturned scientific explanation may be good news for nuclear fusion

Apr 04, 2011
A hydrogen atom slams into boron to make three alpha particles. Credit: Focus Fusion Society. Click "Enlarge" for animation.

Flat out wrong. That’s what a team of Duke researchers has discovered, much to its surprise, about a long-accepted explanation of how nuclei collide to produce charged particles for electricity – a process receiving intense interest lately from scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Plasma physicists have been trying for 25 years to create electricity from the fusion of boron and hydrogen atoms.

The new study says their efforts have been based on a misunderstanding of the underlying physics – although the error could end up actually helping those looking to fusion energy as an alternative energy source.

Researchers have been developing reactors to slam hydrogen at high speeds into boron-11, a collision that yields high-energy helium nuclei, or alpha particles. Those alphas then spiral through a tunnel of electromagnetic coils, transforming them into a flow of electrons, or electricity.

“Obviously, a detailed understanding of the energy and location of every outgoing alpha particle is crucial to the development of this reactor,” says Duke nuclear physicist Henry Weller, a co-author of the new study.

Weller and his colleagues took a fresh look at the hydrogen-boron reaction at the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL) on Duke’s campus. They expected to confirm the accepted wisdom that a collision of one hydrogen particle and one boron-11 particle produces a single high-energy alpha particle -- which produces electricity well – and two lower energy alphas, which are less useful for generating electricity.

Instead, the team found the collision yields two high-energy alphas, which shoot off at an angle of 155 degrees, along with one lower-energy alpha. The existence of this second high-energy alpha could mean these kinds of fusion systems are able to produce much more electricity than expected, says Duke nuclear physicist and study co-author Mohammad Ahmed. The results appear online in Physics Letters B.

The unexpected finding appears to confirm a long-forgotten observation from physicists at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England. In 1936, they made crude, but apparently correct, estimates of the two higher-energy alphas.

Their results were “buried in history” until now, Ahmed says.

Now, 75 years later, the new insight makes the boron-fusion reaction even more interesting as a possible alternative to the nuclear fission process used in reactors in Japan and other parts of the world. A reactor based on this process could produce electricity without radioactive wastes. It also would not produce the carbon dioxide and other gases emitted by coal-powered plants.

still faces formidable challenges, one of the greatest being that hydrogen and boron only begin to fuse at temperatures close to 1 billion degrees Kelvin (nearly 2 billion degrees Fahrenheit). But building this type of reactor is realistic, says Weller, whose team is continuing to study the process at TUNL.

Explore further: Information storage for the next generation of plastic computers

Related Stories

New hope for ultimate clean energy: fusion power

Apr 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Imagine if you could generate electricity using nuclear power that emitted no radioactivity: it would be the answer to the world's dream of finding a clean, sustainable energy source.

Wave power could contain fusion plasma

Jan 10, 2011

Researchers at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion Space and Astrophysics and the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy may have found a way to channel the flux and fury of a nuclear ...

Recommended for you

How to test the twin paradox without using a spaceship

23 hours ago

Forget about anti-ageing creams and hair treatments. If you want to stay young, get a fast spaceship. That is what Einstein's Theory of Relativity predicted a century ago, and it is commonly known as "twin ...

User comments : 49

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FrankHerbert
1.2 / 5 (56) Apr 04, 2011
I believe this month the navy is due to release information on Polywell IEC fusion which ideally would use hydrogen-boron11 (pB11) fusion. Cross your fingers.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (11) Apr 04, 2011
Looks more like molecular-fission, not fusion.
LariAnn
1 / 5 (16) Apr 04, 2011
2 billion degrees F? Now that would make one HECK of a meltdown when compared to the (relative) freezing cold meltdown of a fission reactor!
Vreejack
4.3 / 5 (12) Apr 04, 2011
Meltdowns are not caused by the operating temperature (which must be artificially sustained) but by heat released from the radioactive decay of fission products that build up during long periods of operation. Boron reactors do not appear to suffer from this problem.
ClevorTrever
4.1 / 5 (8) Apr 04, 2011
It looks like a fission-fusion hybrid reaction, and inherently safer than either pure fission or pure fusion. Want to stop the reaction? Stop the Hydrogen supply. It's nice, but my money's on Thorium.
hypermach
3 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2011
Is anyone testing a liquid fuel thorium design?
Kingsix
2.3 / 5 (8) Apr 04, 2011
So, does "lost in history" here mean that mainstream science has been too confident in its past to bother rechecking their "truths" until now? I wonder where the technology would be today if those 25 years were not spent assuming wrongly.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2011
So, does "lost in history" here mean that mainstream science has been too confident in its past to bother rechecking their "truths" until now?


At least in this particular topic, yes.

Although most "mainstream scientists" have had nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Silverhill
3 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2011
Looks more like molecular-fission, not fusion.
It does involve fusion, followed by fission. After the nucleus of a monatomic molecule (of carbon-12) is formed by the fusion of a proton and a boron-11 nucleus, the carbon nucleus fissions into three alpha particles.
holoman
1.8 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2011
6.6 billion degrees is alot of heat to control.
dirk_bruere
4 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2011
Good news for Dense Plasma Focus Fusion
kaasinees
1.2 / 5 (9) Apr 04, 2011
Looks more like molecular-fission, not fusion.
It does involve fusion, followed by fission. After the nucleus of a monatomic molecule (of carbon-12) is formed by the fusion of a proton and a boron-11 nucleus, the carbon nucleus fissions into three alpha particles.

Meaning the energy comes from fission, not fusion.
In fusion you input energy for fusion. Here you input energy for fission.

Conclusion: fission.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (13) Apr 04, 2011
So, does "lost in history" here mean that mainstream science has been too confident in its past to bother rechecking their "truths" until now? I wonder where the technology would be today if those 25 years were not spent assuming wrongly.
No it mens conveniently lost so as to make practical fusion reactors harder to design, an so keep them from being built until they were needed. Like soon.

No potentially ruinous or destabilyzing technology will be allowed to emerge until the world is ready for it. Period. Economic or political collapse are not options. Unless they are Planned.
Meaning the energy comes from fission, not fusion.
In fusion you input energy for fusion. Here you input energy for fission.

Conclusion: fission.
You know, personally I would tend to defer to trained and learned plasma physicists who are obviously qualified to know which is which, rather than trying to second-guess them and look like a dimwit, you know? Anybody check the original paper?
Moebius
2.1 / 5 (12) Apr 04, 2011
As far as I know this, like all other forms of nuclear power, DOES create radioactive waste. They make all the metal used in the reactor radioactive. It isn't just the fuel that creates radioactive crap that has to be disposed of for centuries, when the reactor is decommissioned there are many tons of metal that has become radioactive and has to be disposed of as carefully as spent fuel.
beelize54
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2011
IMO the cold fusion of hydrogen and nickel can work at room temperature, because the repulsive Coulomb barrier is relevant for naked nickel nuclei only, i.e. these completely ionized one. The atom nuclei stripped of all electrons can be prepared easily at the case of lightweight atoms, like the hydrogen or hellium - but heavier atoms are surprisingly reluctant against the complete lost of their electrons. The energy (density) required for complete ionization of nickel nuclei is comparable to the energy density required for its fission - which basically means, the electrons at the bottom of nickel orbitals are forming the nearly homogeneous energetic continuum with the underlying atom nuclei. So, when the nickel atom is full of electrons, these electrons are balancing/shielding the repulsive forces of atom nuclei for tiny proton, which could literally "swim" through nickel orbitals into its core.

http://www.aether...sion.gif
Scalziand
4.6 / 5 (10) Apr 04, 2011
@Mobius

The hydrogen-boron reaction does not make the reactor significantly radioactive because no free neutrons are involved in the reaction.
beelize54
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2011
because no free neutrons are involved in the reaction
It's just a theory, because the boron-hydrogen fusion is not completely neutron-less due the various nuclear resonance processes - just the neutron flux is lowered there by factor 1:30 to 1:100. It still produces pretty high neutron flux, which would require shielding.
martinwolf
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2011
Like electricity..this reaction makes a flow happen...Its the flow of electrons that is relevent..How long does the boron 11 generate electricity before its substance is changed or electron flowability used up..either way its good to know that old science(75 years ago....)is allways relevant and worth reviewing and often repeating....martywolfofredbay
FrankHerbert
1.2 / 5 (55) Apr 04, 2011
I remember Dr. Bussard saying should his reactor work, you'd be able to eat lunch off it after it had been switched off for about 9 hours. pB11 fusion does not produce free neutrons, so there is no long term irradiation of the reactor.
beelize54
2 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2011
pB11 fusion does not produce free neutrons

It does, just in lower extent, comparable to freshly cooled Fukushima reactor. You wouldn't survive it.

http://en.wikiped..._reactor
prometeomail
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2011
Too many people have replicated the supposedly could fusion reactions. There are gaps in the quantum theory, some things are just wrong in modern physics, we just need some more empirical data and this is the kind of things that makes science to progress.
Bigblumpkin36
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2011
What exactly is boron someone?
ab3a
5 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2011
What exactly is boron someone?

The short answer is that Boron is a chemical element number 5 on the periodic table. It commonly has six neutrons, around 20% of the element has five neutrons in the nucleus. Both isotopes are stable.

The longer answer I can not relate here. This is a very fundamental question to a very detailed subject. I hope you take the time to investigate and study it further.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (18) Apr 04, 2011
The longer answer I can not relate here. This is a very fundamental question to a very detailed subject. I hope you take the time to investigate and study it further.
The shorter answer is USE GOOGLE. WTF
Wulfgar
5 / 5 (10) Apr 04, 2011
PB11 fusion would basically propel humanity into a completely new paradigm just as significant as the industrial revolution. Its worth serious investigation. As for radiation, its not a serious issue. Any harmful radioactive products very quickly decay into a benign form. Obviously you wouldn't want to be near an unshielded reactor while it is operating, but that is just a reactor workplace safety issue, not a broader public danger. And there is obviously no danger of runaway meltdown.
Scalziand
3.6 / 5 (13) Apr 04, 2011
This discussion is boron me.;P
TheChamp
1 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2011
^ lol
trekgeek1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2011
^^ Booooo! Hack! Hisssssss!
Parsec
5 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2011
Depending on the energy of the alpha particles, they also can produce unstable (radioactive ) isotopes. Staple isotopes tend to become more neutron rich compared to the proton count as they get heavier. Adding 2 protons and 2 neutrons to a stable isotope will create a new element that is probably at least somewhat unstable.

In fact, this is a great danger. Somewhat unstable isotopes tend to have long half-lives, so they stick around longer. It really depends on the elemental composition of the reactor shielding.

Fortunately, even very high alpha particle densities are absorbed by a very small amount of shielding. Neutrons really penetrate.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (7) Apr 05, 2011
Regardless of how much radiation is produced, would you not be able to use water to cool the reactors as in normal Nuclear reactors? And then, because this water has been heated, the waste heat would be transferred to another vessel via a radiator, where the second stage cooling water is shielded from the radiation. This water has now been heated significantly, and could be used as "pre-heated" water in a nearby solar power plant, OR used as "co-generative" heating water if you were in a particularly cold location, for heating a nearby building or town.

So to me, any additional reactions, and the waste heat they make, should be beneficial...

I realize fusion reactors are a lot more complicated internally than fission reactors, so maybe radioactive by-products would destroy the systems, so that might be the issue you guys are talking about, as it would clearly be too expensive to replace these systems over and over again.
savroD
not rated yet Apr 05, 2011
Yes.... the latest polywell device should be reported this month. I am optimistic!
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.9 / 5 (9) Apr 05, 2011
Regardless of how much radiation is produced, would you not be able to use water to cool the reactors as in normal Nuclear reactors?
No.
I realize fusion reactors are a lot more complicated internally than fission reactors
Look. You obviously don't know how these reactors work. Instead of taking a little time like most people to do a little research and learn something, your mania compels you to post an inane and worthless comment. STFU and get help dude.
salve
not rated yet Apr 05, 2011
to beelize54 : "IMO the cold fusion of hydrogen and nickel can work at room temperature"

Are you referring to Andrea A. Rossi Cold Fusion Generator reportedly achieved 10 kilowatts of heat power with nickel and hydrogen on January 14, 2011?
Eikka
5 / 5 (9) Apr 05, 2011

No potentially ruinous or destabilyzing technology will be allowed to emerge until the world is ready for it. Period. Economic or political collapse are not options. Unless they are Planned.


An interesting point about conspiracy theorists is, that somebody has to be in control, always. To think that the ship is sailing and nobody is at the wheel is even scarier than the idea of mysterious elites or hidden evil world governments, or aliens who are running everything behind the curtains.

And that is truly fascinating. Outside of pathological cases like paranoid schitzophrenics, I would like to know why the idea of nobody running the show is so unplausible to them that they need to see a will and a purpose where there is none?

Perhaps, in this case, the contemporary scientists didn't think much of the experiment because it was so crude, and then simply forgot about it and didn't repeat it because they became more interested in something else.
SuicideSamurai
5 / 5 (5) Apr 05, 2011
To those who claim "nuclear meltdown" issues and the like for this type of reactors: The reactors currently suffering these issues use uranium, and plutonium that is radioactively decaying to produce heat. This "fuel" is always being heated by the radioactivity being released by these two elements. This heat from the decay is what is harnessed to produce energy by heating water into steam and having it drive turbines. The form of fusion present in the article teases helium from hydrogen by hitting boron with hydrogen atoms. While radioactivity is produced neither material is in itself radioactive which is the case with the Japanese reactors. As soon as the reactor is turned off all reaction cease which is NOT the case with the Japanese reactors. Once reactions cease you are left with hydrogen and boron.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.1 / 5 (11) Apr 05, 2011
An interesting point about conspiracy theorists is, that somebody has to be in control, always.
So... without seeing my side of things, why would you conclude that nobodys running the show? Everybody seems to think somebody or something is; the rich, the CEOs, the neocons, the democrats, god... Most everybody believes in conspiracy theories but since they get their info from The New Yorker or Fox or their local synagogue then it isnt nutter psychosis. Except none of those really make sense do they?

IF YOU LOOK at history you can begin to make an extensive list of technologies and information that was sequestered until such time as it was safe to develop it. Check out the current physorg story on the ankylothera device. Add that to the great PILE of tech that mysteriously disappeared. The great alexandrian library was burned ON PURPOSE. Out of the thousands of precolombian mesoamerican books, only THREE survived. By accident. Dont be a puppet or a parrot. Use your brain. Think.
sender
not rated yet Apr 06, 2011
Finally a good reaction chamber model for induction plasma hydrogen arcs.
hush1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2011
@Erika&Otto
The world of Erikas&Ottos were supposed to find common ground.

Strange, that the greatest inspirations and motivations (for common ground?, human welfare?)comes from what humans label Nature. And not what humans label human.

To find the mutual benefits of mutual admonitions, one has to become a third party to one's own two party discourse.

That attempt was suggested:
So... without seeing my side of things


The worst case scenario or outcome to such discourse is no concession.
The best case scenario or outcome to such discourse the world has yet to see.

I'm sure Nature will always 'remind' us about knowledge that is always present. Always accessible, over and over again, despite human bookkeeping.

beelize54
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 06, 2011
Are you referring to Andrea A. Rossi Cold Fusion Generator reportedly achieved 10 kilowatts of heat power with nickel and hydrogen on January 14, 2011?
This fusion was found by Foccardi in 1992. It was publicly demonstrated at least three times from January, 2011.

http://www.lenr-c...xces.pdf

Why this finding was completely ignored for years? I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but emergence. If every person in the crowd makes only tiny step against wall, some people near wall will be always crushed.

"In a huge, grandiose convention center I found about 200 extremely conventional-looking scientists, almost all of them male and over 50. In fact some seemed over 70, and I realized why: The younger ones had bailed years ago, fearing career damage from the cold fusion stigma."

http://www.wired...._pr.html

It's the same cowardliness, which enabled Nazi power or the communistic regimes living well for so many years.
DozerIAm
5 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2011
No potentially ruinous or destabilyzing technology will be allowed to emerge until the world is ready for it. Period. Economic or political collapse are not options. Unless they are Planned.


That seems somewhat ... paranoid. Or overly ordered, at least.

Lots of things happen that are ruinous or destabilizing at all levels of civilization all the time. Sometimes, the crisis is averted, sometimes it changes everything, sometimes we read about that former civilization in history books.

It is madness (or at least madly egotistical) to try to control everything, and in the end it makes all of us less free to "the authorities" to try. Just remember, there are always unintended consequences to every action, regardless of the good intent.
Egleton
4 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2011
I love it when a good theory goes bottom side up.

Remember Mickelson-Morely and the failure of the Ether?
Only by killing our pet theories can real progress be made.

First nickel/hydrogen and now boron/hydrogen.
Things are hotting up in the basement.
bfast
1 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2011
Check out wikipedia entry "Energy Catalyzer". Energy is obsolete! This one quart reactor produces a constant 20 horsepower for 6 months. This will totally replace home power and heat, automotive power, aircraft and ship power. It solves all power equations except the very small (laptops, cell phones etc.) which will still need batteries or something.
pauljpease
not rated yet Apr 09, 2011
I've been excited about pB11 fusion since I heard of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com). The science behind pB11 fusion is real, this actually would be a game changer for human society. As noted, the problem is that this fusion reaction occurs at even higher temperatures than normal fusion (D+T, etc.), and we can't even make those work. LPP believes that a small (practically tabletop) electromagnetic device can create a self-confined plasma and achieve sufficient temperatures and confinement. They have achieved 1 Billion+ temperatures! Why don't we fund this kind of research (LPP raised private funding, I think from Google or somebody).
tkjtkj
not rated yet Apr 09, 2011
2 billion degrees F? Now that would make one HECK of a meltdown when compared to the (relative) freezing cold meltdown of a fission reactor!


High temperature does not high heat make, necessarily.

ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
not rated yet Apr 10, 2011
mean time
Rossi Cold Fusion Validated by Swedish Skeptic's Society

Yet another test of Andrea Rossi's Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat) has been performed on a 4.5 kW version near the University of Bologna. This time a new set of observers were present, one of which is the chairman of the Swedish Skeptics Society, who confirmed that Copper is being formed from Hydrogen and Nickel -- cold fusion!

http://pesn.com/2...Society/

looks like even people living in there small dark boxes of there own little minds are waking up
case in point Swedish Skeptic's Society cofirms cold fusion in Adrea Rossi`s E-cat device.
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2011
This article should make anyone who has mocked or automatically discarded LENR give a double take and think again.

This is a perfect example of how mainstream physics made an ASSUMPTION about a nuclear reaction and treated it as "law" for decades. Now the end result is shown to be quite different than the prevailing theory.

If they can be wrong about a "hot" fusion reaction they can also be wrong about a "cold" fusion (LENR) reaction.
hush1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2011
All too human am I. To remain so, endow me with assumption. Always. Until I return. To Nature. :) lol

(Variation of preventing a drop of water from evaporating)
(Return the drop to the ocean. Very unscientific. lol)

Otto's echo: Buddhistic, Philo, cladcrap. lol
Black_Betty
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2011
This discussion is boron me.;P


A guy like you should be lepton.

This gives me a Hadron.
frajo
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
Rossi Cold Fusion Validated by Swedish Skeptic's Society
By the society or by Hanno Essen, its former chairman?
This time a new set of observers were present, one of which is the chairman of the Swedish Skeptics Society,
Or rather was. See scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2011/04/chairman_of_the_swedish_skepti.php
who confirmed that Copper is being formed from Hydrogen and Nickel -- cold fusion!
Seems to be an interesting person. See "Hanno Essen, a leader without responsibility" on vetenskap-folkbildning.nu/2011/03/hanno-essen-en-ledare-utan-ansvar/
http: //pesn.com/...
Do have a look at that "Pure Energy Systems" homepage with its attractive (Iranian?) flying saucer picture.
If somebody knows Swedish, please have a look at this forum where they are discussing Hanno Essen's engagement in "cold fusion": vof.se/forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=14786 .

More news stories

Robotics goes micro-scale

(Phys.org) —The development of light-driven 'micro-robots' that can autonomously investigate and manipulate the nano-scale environment in a microscope comes a step closer, thanks to new research from the ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...