“The attractiveness of a low power, low capital cost, and a ‘clean’ fusion power reactor system is worthy of continuing the research at a much higher funding level.”
That is the key recommendation of an “Evaluation of LPPFusion Dense Plasma Focus Research”, a new report by a committee of leading fusion technology experts. The committee, chaired by Dr. Robert L. Hirsch, former director of fusion research for the United States government’s Atomic Energy Commission and Energy Research and Development Administration, concluded that “LPPFusion has made an impressive effort to address DPF physics and engineering issues given the limited number of personnel involved,”but that the “program is vastly underfunded and merits a much higher funding level.”
The evaluation was requested by LPPFusion’s largest investor, The Abell Foundation, and Abell invested the funds to pay for the committee members’ time. LPPFusion asked Dr. Hirsch to assemble the committee and to chair it. The report was based on a day-long meeting on June 14 via Zoom with LPPF Chief Scientist Eric Lerner and Research Scientist Syed Hassan, as well as on extensive preceding written questions and answers from the committee members, and on their reading of LPPFusion peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition to Dr. Hirsch, the committee members were Dr. Gerald L. Kulcinski, former Director of the Fusion Technology Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Prof. Dennis Papadopoulos, Co-Director, East-West Space Science Center, University of Maryland, College Park; and Dr. John Santarius, Associate Director for Alternate Applications and Concepts of the Fusion Technology Institute.
The committee’s report noted the advantages of LPPFusion’s basic approach, using the dense plasma focus device with hydrogen boron (pB11) fuel: Pursuit of the p11B fusion fuel cycle is highly desirable, because that cycle does not directly emit neutrons, which greatly complicate concepts based on other fusion fuel cycles. … In principle the DPF has a number of attractive aspects as a fusion reactor. Included are relative simplicity and small size.” The committee also pointed to the Quantum Magnetic Field (QMF) effect as “an attractive and innovative aspect of the DPF aneutronic fusion” approach. The QMF effect, which is important only at the high magnetic fields that the DPF can achieve, reduces cooling of the fusion plasma by X-ray emission, allowing much faster fusion burn and higher fusion energy production.
Dr. Hirsch and two of the other committee members had taken part in a 2013 evaluation of LPPFusion’s work and in the new report the committee recognized important achievements since that review. Two involved records for fusion research: “LPPFusion has increased the confined mean ion energy from 150 keV to over 250 keV. This is currently the highest confined ion energy of any fusion device.” the report stated. In addition, “Using beryllium electrodes, LPPFusion achieved the highest purity plasma reported in any fusion experiment.”
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At the same time, the report objectively pointed out the significant challenges that still lie ahead for LPPFusion’s R&D effort. Despite the simplicity of the dense plasma focus design, “The physics of the DPF is extremely complicated. While LPPFusion has done an admirable, first-cut analysis of the related physics, much remains to be done to develop a good understanding of the physics and to advance to the point where the physics understanding is fully capable of being a useful predictable vehicle.” Of course, LPPFusion is not alone here, the report goes on: “However, no other fusion concept can be said to be completely understood either.” In addition, “the margins for error in each aspect of the DPF are relatively small.” That is, we really need to hit the bull’s eye!
To meet these and other challenges, the committee emphasizes the need for “greatly expanded funding”. This would enable LPPFusion to simultaneously fund several experimental DPF devices, in addition to FF-2B, and to make significant improvements in diagnostics—the instruments we use to study the fusion plasmas. The discussions with committee members led to some specific suggestions for new instruments, which we’ll be detailing in future reports.
The full Evaluation Of LPPFusion DPF Research is available here or as a PDF download here, with additional biographical information on committee members. LPPFusion hopes that the circulation of the report will help lead to making its recommendations into reality.
This piece is part of the July 1, 2021 report. To download the report click here.