Australian fusion company secures patents for laser-boron technology

24 February 2020

Laser fusion (photo: shutterstock)Australian fusion start-up HB11, a spin-off from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, has secured patents for its unique laser-driven technique for fusion energy generation.

Unlike earlier methods, the laser-driven technique for creating fusion energy does not rely on radioactive fuel, the university said in a statement.

HB11 Energy's concept, which was conceived by UNSW Emeritus Professor of theoretical physics Heinrich Hora, differs radically from other experimental fusion projects.

The preferred approach employed by most fusion groups involves heating Deuterium-Tritium fuel to a temperature of almost 15 million degrees Celsius. By contrast, HB11's hydrogen-boron fusion is achieved using two powerful lasers whose pulses apply precise non-linear forces to compress the nuclei together.

While most other sources of power production, such as coal, gas and nuclear, rely on heating liquids such as water to drive turbines, the energy generated by hydrogen-boron fusion converts directly into electricity.

"After investigating a laser-boron fusion approach for over four decades at UNSW, I am thrilled that this pioneering approach has now received patents in three countries," said Professor Hora. "These patents represent the eve of HB11 Energy's seed-stage fundraising campaign that will establish Australia's first commercial fusion company, and the world's only approach focused on the safe hydrogen - boron reaction using lasers," he added.

HB11 Energy has secured its intellectual property rights in Japan, China and the USA.

The two-laser approach needed for hydrogen-boron fusion only became possible recently due to advances in laser technology. The lasers used rely on Chirped Pulse Amplification technology, which won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.

According to Dr Warren McKenzie, Managing Director of HB11 Energy, hydrogen-boron fusion could be the only way to achieve very low-carbon emissions by 2050.

"As we aren't trying to heat fuels to impossibly high temperatures, we are sidestepping all of the scientific challenges that have held fusion energy back for more than half a century," McKenzie said.

Together with ten colleagues in six nations – including from Israel's Soreq Nuclear Research Centre and the University of California, Berkeley – Hora in 2017 described a roadmap for the development of hydrogen-boron fusion.

HB11 describes its approach as "deceptively simple": the design is "a largely empty metal sphere, where a  fuel pellet is held in the centre, with apertures on different sides for the two lasers.

One laser creates the magnetic containment field for the plasma and the second laser triggers the 'avalanche' fusion chain reaction. The alpha particles produced by the reaction would create an electrical flow that can be channelled almost directly into the existing power grid with no need for a heat exchanger or steam turbine generator.

HB11 says its generators would be compact, clean and safe, with no nuclear waste involved, no superheated steam, and no chance of a meltdown.


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