LPP is working with New Jersey state agencies to bolster support for our focus fusion feasibility study and lay the foundation for future deployment of generators. In addition to meetings with the state Board of Public Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection, on March 7th LPP president and lead scientist Eric Lerner gave invited testimony before the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.
Testimony before the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee
Eric J. Lerner
President and Lead Scientist, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics
March 7, 2011
Chairman Chivukula and honorable members of the committee, thanks for this opportunity to testify today on the general subject of renewable energy and infrastructure in New Jersey. I am the president and lead scientist of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, a New Jersey start-up that is trying to achieve major breakthroughs in clean energy that would reduce the cost of energy and strengthen our electrical grid, while also developing valuable spin-offs that would support inspecting and maintaining our energy infrastructure.
We were sorry to hear last week of the governor’s conditional veto of A2529, which could create a more inclusive Renewable Portfolio Standard. Under A2529 my company’s technology and other technology like it could be evaluated as an “Approved Alternative Technology” for Class I Renewable Energy. I hope my remarks here today will strengthen the legislature’s resolve to revisit this issue in a way that allows a more flexible and inclusive Renewable Portfolio Standard to become law.
First, I should offer a bit of explanation about the specific technology my company is researching and its potential benefits as a Class I Renewable. Second, I’ll discuss how our experience relates to the need for greater diversity in state-approved renewable energy technology, to make sure renewables strengthen our grid and trend downward in costs. And finally, I want to share some of our recent success as an illustration of the overall benefits that come with diversity in technology development.
The clean energy technology Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is developing is called focus fusion, which is our name for the use of an advanced nuclear fusion fuel composed of hydrogen and boron in a device called the dense plasma focus. This form of fusion is called aneutronic, or “neutron-lean”, meaning less than 1% of energy is released as neutrons and there is no radioactive waste. After preliminary support from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for initial experiments at University of Illinois and Texas A&M, we constructed our own experimental device Focus Fusion-1 at our laboratory in Middlesex, NJ. Focus Fusion-1, or FF-1 for short, became operational in 2009. We have already achieved major experimental milestones, including confinement of plasma at energies equivalent to two billion degrees, high enough to fuse the hydrogen and boron fuel. In January of this year we published an overview of our research program and initial results in the peer–reviewed Journal of FusionEnergy. We have not yet demonstrated scientific feasibility—more energy out than in—but we hope to do so in the very near future.
In addition to being safe and environmentally sound, focus fusion would greatly lower energy costs. We can see how important this is at a time when the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program may have to cut support for 500,000 NJ residents, out of nearly 1 million who need that support because energy costs are already too high. In focus fusion, almost all of the energy is released in the motion of charged particles that can be converted to electricity directly, eliminating the need for steam turbines. Units could be small and decentralized, fitting into a garage while providing 5 MW, sufficient for a small community. This form of energy would be as virtually unlimited as solar, which also depends on the fusion fuel in the sun. Here on earth, the raw materials for the hydrogen and boron fuel for focus fusion are exceedingly common.
The small unit size, with generators close to the load, helps to stabilize and strengthen the grid, especially relative to the strains that are imposed by highly variable renewables. We have had initial discussions with the President of the Board of Public Utilities, in which there was significant interest in the possibility of placing distributed baseload renewable generation at key junctions in our electrical grid. This would actually make it easier for our state to add large amounts of the traditional wind and solar renewables.
But we feel that state law must lead the way towards true innovation by not being too narrow in its definitions of “renewable.” In 2006, Assemblyman Gusciora introduced bill A2731 that would have explicitly listed “aneutronic fusion” as Class I renewable energy, but that bill did not become law. Bill A2529 would also open the door to fusion being classified as a renewable source of energy, which at present it is not in NJ. Hopefully some form of this bill will now be passed, despite the conditional veto. The lack of state and federal support has definitely delayed our project. It took us eight years to raise the private funds for our facility and lack of funds continues to slow us down. The door to greater diversity in renewables needs to be opened.
I would like to conclude by sharing good news, in terms of the benefits that can emerge from diversity in technology development. Just this past month of February we were able to generate and measure in our Focus Fusion-1 device very powerful X-rays, strong enough to demonstrate the feasibility not of net energy—not yet—but of a new class of non-destructive inspection device that could lead to substantial savings for New Jersey’s infrastructure, from roads and bridges to the components of the electrical grid. I’m sure many of us here will appreciate, it is much better to provide cheap maintenance to prevent a pothole, rather than expensive road repairs after it has already damaged thousands of vehicles. This inspection capability to identify incipient faults through several inches of steel should also hold benefits for our electrical grid. This is the kind of innovation that New Jersey should be acting to accelerate.
From Thomas Edison to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, New Jersey has a strong legacy of high-tech energy leadership, and by continuing to diversify the Renewable Portfolio Standard, the Garden State may not only strengthen its grid and lower energy costs, but also achieve new fame as the “Fusion State” that led the way to a major breakthrough in the fight against climate change and energy poverty. Or the breakthrough could come from a totally new direction, thanks to the wisdom of opening the door to many more possibilities. Thanks for your time today.