Monday, November 13, 2017

On the Eve of Fusion Power

          By Brian Orlotti

Curiosity and politics enable science, but sometimes the science is so obviously useful by itself that commercial interests step in to expedite the commercialization process.

An example would be LPP Fusion (LPP), a private New Jersey-based firm, which has begun another round of crowdfunding for its alternative fusion reactor technology.

Building on the success of a previous crowdfunding effort, the company has built a device that has achieved several key milestones. LPP is now seeking more funds to refine and commercialize its technology.

The company, incorporated in 2003 and led by US plasma physicist Eric Lerner, was an outgrowth of alternative fusion experiments performed in collaboration with the University of Illinois in 1994 and Texas A&M University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2001.

In May 2014, after years of steady progress, LPP launched a crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo supported by a global blitz on social media, print media and television interviews. The effort was a great success, with LPP raising over $180,000 USD ($230K CDN).

The 2014 Indigogo funding campaign for the LPP "Focus Fusion" technology peaked out at 90% of its stated goal, but fundraising continues. As outlined in the November 10th, 2017 Next Big Future post, "LPP Fusion raising $1 million via equity crowdfunding," the current goals are more ambitious. Screenshot c/o Indigogo/ LPP Fusion.

The traditional approach to developing nuclear fusion is centered around the idea of containing super-hot gas (called plasma) and stabilizing it, which is both technically challenging and expensive.

LPP instead utilizes a technique called  "focus fusion" in which a plasma's instabilities are harnessed in order to concentrate the plasma within a very small area.

Focus fusion is done via a device called a Dense Plasma Focus (DPF). The DPF consists of a thick, hollow central anode surrounded by a ring of cathodes that are about the size and shape of candles.

Using electromagnetic acceleration and compression, the device produces a short-lived plasma that is hot and dense enough to cause nuclear fusion and the emission of X-rays and neutrons.

Earlier this year, LPP claimed to have set a world record temperature for fusion plasma of over 2 billion degrees kelvin. LPP’s paper documenting this claim is currently under peer review, having been submitted to the peer reviewed journal Physics of Plasmas.

LPP shares its research results with both investors and the public. The company has also formed a network of focus fusion researchers in other nations in order to share knowledge and accelerate progress.

LPP's effort, centered around a small and lean team contrasts with massive government-funded fusion research programs, most notably the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) now under construction in southern France. ITER, a joint effort of seven nations, has been marred by over a decade of delays as well as doubts over its long-term economic viability.

ITER's cost is expected to exceed the $13.7Bln USD mark and won't begin operations until at least 2027.

LPP Fusion's current Wefunder campaign at, as of 4pm EST, November 13th, 2017. The purchasing of shares in LPP Fusion is now available to both US and non-US citizens. Graphic c/o Wefunder/ LPP Fusion.

As for LPP, only time will tell whether it can surpass its previous fundraising success and moves forward to create the promised new source of clean, cheap and ecologically safe energy.

But such a success would enable the company to finally fulfill fusion power’s earthshaking promise and free humanity from the dirty, blood-soaked cost of fossil fuels.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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