A Road to a Sustainable Future, The Boron Fusion Torch
William C. Gough and Bernard J. Eastlund
To sustain the ecological foundation that Nature has provided us humanity must alter the technological base that modern society has created. There exist two basic technological requirements for achieving such a sustainable modern world. These interrelated requirements are the availability of clean energy and the ability to close the materials’ cycle from use to reuse. We believe that the technological potential to achieve this goal exists today. These technologies when combined and developed into a system will permit all nations to potentially achieve material wealth without destruction of the environment. They will also enable a closed cycle economy in which the economy becomes a subsystem of ecology. At the heart of achieving a sustainable future lies a concept proposed in 1968 by Dr. Bernard Eastlund and William C. Gough that is known as the Fusion Torch. The basic idea arises from the fact that the ultra-high temperatures of fusion plasma can totally ionize all materials. Thus, the millions of chemical compounds and contaminated materials in modern society can be returned to the basic 92 elements that Nature has provided. There are four interrelated components necessary for achieving this goal: the fusion plasma (ionized gas) generator, the material ionization process, the element separation process, and the energy conversion process. The combined system is named the Boron Fusion Torch since it uses the hydrogen/boron fusion fuel cycle that produces only helium and energy. Each of these four elements of the Boron Fusion Torch will now be briefly discussed in turn.
Fusion Plasma Generator
Fusion energy is one of a number of clean energy options including solar, wind, and geothermal. However, controlled fusion has a unique property. It operates with plasma – the fourth state of matter. Most of the universe, including our Sun, consists of plasma (ionized gas). To date many billions of dollars have been spent on fusion power development in the United States. Plasma physics has now evolved into a mature science. In 1968 we were a factor of 100,000 short of the conditions necessary to achieve break even with the easiest fuel cycle (deuterium/tritium – DT). This goal has now been achieved. The $15 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is being constructed in France to reach conditions for net power generation using DT fuel.
The challenge for a fusion system using hydrogen/boron fuel (p-B11) would be to increase confinement by a factor of 15 over the goal of ITER. Theoretical research now shows that p-B11 fusion is possible. Boron fusion releases 4.7 million ev/atom compared to about 1 ev/atom from hydrocarbon combustion. Thus, even though the operating temperature for boron fusion is 2.7 billion degrees C, only a small amount of material is necessary. This can easily be accelerated to the ignition temperatures. The required plasma temperature conditions for p-B11 have already been achieved. The size of p-B11 reactors can be smaller than current DT designs. The p-B11 reaction produces only helium, hence radioactivity is eliminated as a primary design factor; and fusion has no possibility of a “nuclear runaway.” The boron fusion fuel supply is abundant and ubiquitous. The United States is a primary producer of boron. Most people are familiar with household use of Borax and boric acid; the biggest industrial use of borates is in the glass industry. Last year’s world’s output of boron was equivalent to the production of about 84 quad of fusion energy of which over 20 quad is the U.S. share. -- compared to the total U.S. energy consumption of 100 quad. For fusion the isotope B11 is needed, fortunately this isotope represents 80% of natural boron. There are now at least ten small but active p-B11 research programs in the United States. In the last five years over 13 patents on boron fusion have been issued.
In 1968 the possibility of injecting and ionizing material in a fusion plasma had not been demonstrated. This has now been accomplished and over 300 scientific papers address this technique. The challenge remaining is to do this on a large scale with multiple materials.
In 1968 many potential separation techniques existed. The plasma process is unique because it provides multiple separation options since elements can be separated by mass, charge, electronic state, or by combinations. Since 1968 at least nine different separation processes have been shown to be useful with the fusion torch after an investment of over $100 million with the issuance of many patents. If the total U.S. waste generation was recycled into basic elements via the Boron Fusion Torch it would require only 0.3 quad compared to the 100 quad total U.S. energy consumption. In addition to separating out toxic elements like mercury and strategic metals like titanium, the process would produce enough hydrogen fuel to power 56 million cars. The challenge is to handle large throughputs of mixed materials.
Many electrical generation techniques can be used with a boron fusion system. Since boron fusion releases its energy as charged particles, the possibility of direct energy conversion to electricity at 80-90% efficiency exists. This development would effectively remove the thermal pollution problem experienced by existing power plants. Since the energy can be released as electromagnetic waves portable fuel and chemical production are options. It also opens the possibility for space travel propulsion, which is currently being researched.
Near Term Applications
The road to an ecological future can be paved with important near term applications of ultra-high temperature plasma. The most important immediate ecological application would be to use electrically driven ultra-high temperature plasma with fossil fuels. For example, the flue gas from a coal power plant could pass through a fusion torch plasma to separate the carbon and other elements. Electricity could be generated by cascading the high electrical conductivity exit gas through a magneto hydrodynamic process (MHD) followed by a steam Rankin cycle. If the energy equivalent of the carbon for fuel cells is included, the production of a net energy output from the system appears possible. Gases such argon or hydrogen could be used for the fusion plasma. However, the use of a p-B11 plasma would advance the technology towards the long-term goals while adding an additional positive energy boost to the process. A similar technological approach could be used to turn other environmentally troublesome wastes such as plastics into hydrogen and carbon fuels.
The challenge that lies ahead is to solve the technological issues and integrate the components. The hope is that fusion power will be seen as a unique primary energy source with many technological options. It took the railroads years to recognize that they were in the transportation business and not just the railroad business. Our society should recognize the full potential of fusion power, and the fusion community ought to better appreciate that fusion power does not just represent an electrical source, but has great potential for addressing the ecological issues now facing the world. The Boron Fusion Torch concept, with its near term applications, can morph over time into an integrated fusion power economy. This process could provide an opportunity to build a significant corporation that initially generates income from CO2 and municipal waste recycling; and evolves into a producer of electricity and transportation fuel, while closing the materials’ cycle. The need now is to focus a large number of creative minds on the technological potentials of the Boron Fusion Torch and to evaluate the possibilities and the most appropriate R&D directions to pursue. PowerPoint presentations with background and details on the boron Fusion Torch are available.
William C. Gough and Bernard J. Eastlund
September 25, 2007
To send an email to Bill Gough click here or by phone 650-941-7462
To email Ben Eastlund or by phone 314-997-0821
Further information on this topic:
FMBR Editorial: The Fusion Torch
Bernard Eastlund's patent at PatentGenius: Method and apparatus for a large volume plasma processor that can utilize any feedstock material