Thursday, April 18, 2024

HB11 Energy demonstrates nuclear fusion using high-power lasers

Australia’s first fusion energy company HB11 Energy has demonstrated a world-first ‘material’ number of fusion reactions by a private company, producing ten times more fusion reactions than expected based on earlier experiments at the same facility. The technology utilizes high-power, high-precision lasers to start non-thermal fusion reactions between hydrogen and boron-11 rather than heating hydrogen isotopes to hundred-million-degrees temperatures.

This approach was predicted in the 1970s at UNSW by Australian theoretical physicist and HB11 Energy co-founder Professor Heinrich Hora. It differs radically from most other fusion efforts to date that require heating of hydrogen isotopes to millions of degrees.

Nuclear fusion powers the Sun and other stars as hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium, and the matter is converted into energy. The Sun accomplishes fusion by having a huge amount of hydrogen atoms packed into a plasma that’s superheated to tens of millions of degrees at its core. At these temperatures, the hydrogen atoms move so fast and eventually reach speeds high enough to bring the ions close enough together that they smack into each other and fuse, releasing the energy that warms our planet.

HB11 is using a different approach that takes advantage of recent advances in ultra-high powered chirped pulse amplification lasers, which can produce power levels over 10 petawatts. HB11 Energy’s first demonstration of hydrogen-boron laser fusion has produced ten times more fusion reactions than expected.

The result shows great potential for clean energy generation: hydrogen-boron reactions use fuels that are safe and abundant, don’t create neutrons in the primary reaction, so cause insignificant amounts of short-lived waste, and can provide large-scale power for base-load grid electricity or hydrogen generation.

“These findings take us one step closer to creating clean, safe, and reliable energy at better prices and in greater abundance than all the existing renewable energy sources combined,” Dr. Warren McKenzie, Founder & MD of HB11 Energy, says. “Our unique approach to large-scale clean electricity generation uses an aneutronic fusion reaction between hydrogen and boron-11 that does not use any radioactive fuels or generate uncontrollable radioactive waste. Achieving this on a large scale would be a gamechanger, but to do this locally, we will need significant investment in our sovereign capability, including having a petawatt laser in Australia.”

The company also claimed that it is now the global frontrunner in the race to commercialize the holy grail of clean energy.