Atoms can generate energy in two ways: divide or unite; fission or fusion. In 1924, physicist Arthur Eddington theorized that nuclear fusion must be at the heart of the sun’s radiant energy. Unwittingly, he set off a scientific quest to create the power of a star with a fusion reactor. Since then, millions of experiments have been tried, well over $100 billion invested, and no one came close to succeeding. Until recently, that is.
In June 2015, Tri Alpha Energy (TAE) announced it had achieved one-half of the nuclear fusion equation, nicknamed “long enough.” Long enough refers to the ability of a fusion reactor to contain and control plasma, an ionized gas that is virtually impossible to sustain—but vital.
TAE chose hydrogen-boron as their fuel because of safety, practicality, and availability. Hydrogen-boron fusion produces three to four times more energy per mass of fuel than nuclear fission, with no risk and virtually no waste.
What’s next for the maverick company? The other half of successful fusion: hot enough, a temperature of 5.4 billion degrees Fahrenheit. Achieving that could herald clean, safe, affordable energy generation to take the world beyond fossil fuels.
gallon of gasoline…prehistoric biomass: Dukes, Jeffrey S. “Burning Buried Sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy.” Climatic Change 61, no. 1 (2003): 31-44.
“inflection point in human history”: Grossman, Lev. “Inside the Quest for Fusion, Clean Energy’s Holy Grail.” Time. October 21, 2015.
private enterprise entered the field: Clery, Daniel. “Fusion’s Restless Pioneers.” Science 345, no. 6195 (2014): 370-375.
2015…half of the Holy Grail: Clery, Daniel. “Mystery Company Blazes a Trail in Fusion Energy.” Science. June 2, 2015.
Hydrogen-boron fusion…no waste: Rothrock, Ray. “What’s the Big Idea: A Venture Capitalist Takes on Fusion Energy.” Issues in Science and Technology 32, no. 2 (2016): 55-60.
requires…5.4 billion degrees Fahrenheit: Clery, Daniel. “Secretive Fusion Company Claims Reactor Breakthrough.” Science. August 24, 2015.
plasma state…indefinitely sustained: Binderbauer, M. W., T. Tajima, L. C. Steinhauer, E. Garate, M. Tuszewski, L. Schmitz, H. Y. Guo et al. “A High Performance Field-Reversed Configuration.” Physics of Plasmas 22, no. 5 (2015); Guo, H. Y., M. W. Binderbauer, T. Tajima, R. D. Milroy, L. C. Steinhauer, X. Yang, E. G. Garate et al. “Achieving a Long-Lived High-Beta Plasma State by Energetic Beam Injection.” Nature communications 6 (2015).
Large Hadron Collider: McKie, Robin. “The Large Hadron Collider Sets Its Sights on Dark Matter.” The Guardian. January 4, 2015.
Full models and technical reports coming in late 2017.