The Back Story
The first functioning Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (laser) was constructed in 1960. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, a German-Australian theoretical physicist, Professor Heinrich Hora, continually researched the applications of lasers for producing nuclear fusion energy.
Hydrogen-Boron 11 fusion has always been the ultimate fusion reaction. It does not create radioactive waste and its fuels are both abundant in nature and non-radioactive. Few other researchers had studied this reaction as it was considered scientifically too difficult. The temperatures required to ignite the reaction are more than 100 times higher than that of the sun – a technical hurdle that has held back practical energy generation for decades.
However in 1978, Professor Hora explored an alternate means of achieving the fusion reaction without high temperatures. His approach suggested using laser properties that did not yet exist.
This changed dramatically after Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou demonstrated ‘Chirped Pulse Amplification’ (CPA) of lasers in 1985. Their experiment set a direction for high-power laser technology development. In recent years, scientists have reached the requirements first predicted by Prof. Hora to achieve the HB11 reaction. This work won Strickland and Mourou the 2018 Nobel prize in Physics.
A non-thermal, non-radioactive reaction that produces clean, safe and unlimited electricity
In the decade between 2005-2015, there were several successful demonstrations of non-thermal HB11 fusion using new laser technology, validating Hora’s prediction decades previously. These results alone put HB11 ahead of most other fusion technology companies that are yet to demonstrate any reactions.
Many of these experiments observed much higher reaction rates than expected, explained as a chain or ‘avalanche’ reaction. This is important as it is the means by which the HB11 reaction can achieve the biggest challenge among all fusion approaches – Net Energy Gain (where a higher energy output is generated than that required for ignition).
The HB11 fusion process is radically different from the previous focus of generating fusion via ‘thermal equilibrium’ – i.e. heating the fuels to tens of millions of degrees C to achieve ignition. The challenges of using this approach have led to fusion projects involving the biggest and most complex science experiments in the world (such as NIF and ITER), excessively large investments (tens of billions of dollars) and ever-expanding timelines. Yet they’ve never achieved Net Energy Gain.
In contrast, the HB11 concept offers a simple alternative that does not require heating fuels to extreme temperatures. We therefore don’t encounter anywhere near the level of technical and engineering challenges faced by all other fusion approaches. As our process converts nuclear power directly into electricity, we don’t need the steam turbines and generators required for coal or conventional nuclear power plants, so our plants can be much smaller and there is no risk of reactor meltdown.
NO RADIOACTIVE WASTE
Aneutronic HB11 reaction does not generate any harmful neutrons or dangerous waste.
NO RISK OF REACTOR MELT-DOWN
Reactor can be stopped by the laser and feed rate of fuel. There is no need for large scale external cooling, such as that required from fission nuclear power.
FUEL IS UNLIMITED, SAFE AND READILIY AVAILABLE
Boron-11 comprises approximately 80% of all boron found in nature and is readily available in open-pit mines. It is a stable isotope, which is non-radioactive.
LOW INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS
Inherently safe reaction means a reduced need for safety infrastructure. Early estimates predict costs will be about 1/4 that of coal-fired power.
SMALLER PLANT FOOTPRINT
Direct electricity generation from the reaction means no need for steam turbines to operate a generator, as required with all other nuclear and fossil-fuel burning plants.
So there’s no need for a battery infrastructure as with solar and wind energy.
In 2014, Prof. Hora published a scientific ‘roadmap’ and filed the first patent for non-thermal HB11 fusion. A patent family now protects the concept/design of the HB11 reactor. The first patents have been granted in the USA, Japan, China Europe and the UK, with more jurisdictions pending.
In 2019, Prof. Hora (now also an Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales) launched HB11 Energy Holdings Pty. Limited (HB11) and remains a director of the company. In 2020, a 12-month experimental program commenced at the University of Austin in Texas (US), accessing the Texas Petawatt Laser Facility. It aims to demonstrate ‘Net Energy Gain’ during a non-thermal HB11 reaction, using lasers.