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You are here: > News > July 12, 2011

Top 100
In the race for fusion energy, lightning thunders over lasers

A comparison between Focus Fusion, which uses a principle of lightning in an apparatus the size of a small garage, with research costs at around $3 million, and the United States' National Ignition Facility, which uses lasers in a football stadium sized array, with research costs at around $3 billion -- 1000 times more -- while producing far more energy considering the input energy requirement and apparatus size and cost.

by Sterling D. Allan
Pure Energy Systems News

The bigger device generates more fusion overall, but the smaller achieves far more fusion relative to input energy.

LPP’s Aaron Blake holds Focus Fusion-1's central chamber in his hands (see enlarged image) within a small garage size facility. A commercial system would be on the same scale.  Research Cost: $3 million.

A worker is dwarfed within the National Ignition Facility’s 10m central chamber within its football-stadium-sized array of lasers (credit LLNL).  Research Cost: $3 billion.

Jim Murray and Paul Babcock's 4790% SERPS Presentation

Ignition Secrets DVD by Aaron Murakami 

A&P Electronic Media

Magnetic Energy Secrets, Paul Babcock, Parts 1 & 2

Battery Secrets by Peter Lindemann


As Hank Mills mentioned in a PESN story the other day, a comparison between mainstream fusion research and maverick approaches that don't get mainstream attention illustrates a typical contrast between huge, boondoggle costs for mainstream projects with completion dates decades away; versus "alternative", inexpensive, super-efficient, ultra-cheap approaches that are months away.

Today, we present another such illustration.  This time the comparison is between Focus Fusion, which uses a principle of lightning, with research costs at around $3 million, and the United States'
National Ignition Facility (NIF), which uses lasers, with research costs at around $3 billion -- 1000 times more -- while producing far more energy considering the input energy requirement and apparatus size and cost.

Focus Fusion by Lawrenceville Plasma Physics LLC (LPP) was the first technology to make it into the Top 100 Clean Energy Technologies listing back in November 2005 when I first launched the New Energy Congress for reviewing and prioritizing breakthrough clean energy technologies.  Focus fusion technology entails hydrogen and boron combining into helium, while giving off tremendous amounts of energy in the process, without any radioactive waste.

According to the interview I did with inventor Eric Lerner back in 2005, which was ruthlessly ridiculed at Slashdot, this technology could give birth to a non-polluting power plant the size of a local gas station that would quietly and safely power 4,000 homes, for a few tenths of a penny per kilowatt-hour, compared to 4-6 cents/kw-h of coal or natural-gas-powered plants. One technician could operate two dozen of these stations remotely. The fuel, widely available, is barely spent in the clean fusion method, and would only need to be changed annually. 

The size and power output would make it ideal for providing localized power, reducing transmission losses and large-grid vulnerabilities. The cost and reliability would make it affordable for developing nations and regions.

Here is the text of a press release LPP put out last night:

Middlesex, NJ – Scientists and officials from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) were rightfully proud of their fusion research progress unveiled last month at a major physics conference in Chicago. But by one key measure, the $3 billion-plus NIF project was upstaged by a New Jersey start-up whose fusion device has advanced on a budget of less than $3 million. This measure—which reflects the amount of fusion energy a device puts out relative to the energy scientists put in—is essential in gauging the race for the ultimate energy prize: A fusion machine that can produce more energy than it uses, with the excess clean power flowing to the grid. And by this measure, scientists from Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) are at least four and perhaps as much as sixty times ahead of NIF as they squeeze thunderbolts of electricity through a tiny fusion reactor that would be lost amidst NIF’s football-stadium-sized arrays of lasers.

In presentations at the gathering of over one thousand scientists—the 38th International Conference on Plasma Science—the NIF researchers reported producing an impressive 400 trillion neutrons from the fusion reactions in their best experiments. But NIF uses a lot of energy to accomplish this feat, some 422 million joules of electric energy. To understand that energy, imagine the energy of motion of 400 one-ton vehicles all moving at 100 miles per hour. Instead of actual vehicles colliding, picture that energy used to generate laser light and focus it on a pellet of frozen deuterium and tritium fusion fuel. (Deuterium and tritium, or DT for short, are isotopes of hydrogen.) That’s the energy NIF uses to generate its neutrons.

At LPP’s much more modest research facility, fusion is generated by a device called a dense plasma focus. LPP’s Focus Fusion-1 (“FoFu-1”) device uses a much smaller amount of electric energy, and instead of powering lasers, this electricity flows directly to electrodes in a central vacuum chamber where it kinks and twists itself to confine a small ball of plasma. In other words, sitting in a space the size of a small garage, FoFu-1 unleashes a bolt of lightning that lassos itself into a knot, and LPP’s patented approach appears to be much more efficient in generating those all-important fusion reactions. FoFu-1’s best experiments required less than a tenth of one-percent the energy NIF used—thirty-five thousand joules instead of over four hundred million—but still generated 130 billion fusion neutrons. 

How can we compare these large numbers? Ultimately, any fusion device that produces net energy has to produce more fusion energy than is fed in, so fusion neutrons per joule is a good overall measure of success. NIF produces just a bit less than a million neutrons per joule of energy. FoFu-1 has produced 3.7 million neutrons per joule, almost 4 times better than NIF.

A truly fair comparison is even more favorable to lightning over lasers, since FoFu-1 has the disadvantage of using pure deuterium fuel (with the reaction represented as DD), not the deuterium mixed with tritium (DT) used by NIF. Since DT is much easier to burn as a fusion fuel, this gives NIF a major advantage. If FoFu-1 achieved the same conditions with DT fuel as it had with DD, it would have achieved results some 60 times better than NIF. But LPP has even bigger plans—Instead of NIF’s radioactive tritium, the company will instead be transitioning to the fuel of regular hydrogen and the common element boron, a reaction which in itself doesn’t make any neutrons at all. This gives LPP’s technology another huge advantage, because it completely avoids the generation of any nuclear waste, while allowing for cheap conversion of fusion energy directly into electricity.

LPP scientists Eric Lerner and Murali Subramanian did not hear of any neutron per joule fusion yields better than those they presented from FoFu-1’s during the conference, which are further supported by comparable results from other dense plasma focus experiments over the past decade. NIF researchers hope to improve enough to reach ignition in a year, but LPP expects to substantially better its own results next month as major upgrades to FoFu-1 are completed. Yet, to judge from the work of most scientists at the conference, an observer might think that there were only two possibilities for fusion: NIF and the equally enormous ITER, a 100-foot tall “plasma donut” that may finish construction in France by 2025.

Even with superior results, LPP’s FoFu-1 must improve its performance by orders of magnitude to demonstrate the feasibility of net energy. In addition, if feasibility is proven, major engineering efforts will also be needed to build a working prototype generator. All this takes funding. But LPP hopes that decision makers will look beyond just two huge approaches, and instead expand both private and governmental fusion investment to include far more ideas, including a little lightning in a bottle.

Their site has a page featuring various photos of the device.

The following is taken from a story we published in 2005:

Eric Lerner, physicist, inventor

Executive Director of the non-profit, Focus Fusion.  He is also President of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc., the corporate interest bringing this technology forward.

Focus fusion is not "fission."  As stated on the focus fusion website: "A fission reactor is the type of nuclear reactor we are all used to, and these use chain reactions which can lead to meltdown. They also have problems with radioactive waste."  Focus fusion has no such problems.

Lerner has been pulling together the theoretical basis for this technology for two decades. Since 1994 he has been able to secure funding, beginning with a grant from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That initial grant enabled him to test key components of his theory. Though that funding has dried up apparently due to cuts in NASA's propulsion research, Lerner has been able to land ongoing funding to keep the research advancing.

It is no wonder that NASA would be interested, inasmuch as the modeling predicts that a craft using Lerner's technology could reach Mars in just two weeks.  The ionic particles would be escaping out the rocket nozzle at 10,000 kilometer per second, compared to the 2 km/s of present rocket propellant.

Efficiency and Safety

In the case of electricity generation, the speeding ionic particles would be coupled directly to the generation of electricity through a beam of ions being coupled by a high tech transformer into currents that are fed to capacitors, which would both pulse the energy back through the device to keep the process going, as well as send excess energy out for use on the grid.

This direct coupling is one of the primary advantages of this technology. It sidesteps the centuries-old approach of converting water to steam in order to drive turbines and generators. That process accounts for 80% of the total capital costs required in a typical power plant. By going straight from the fusion energy to electricity, Lerner's fusion process eliminates that need altogether, enabling streamlining of the process and a much smaller size to achieve equivalent power output.

And his device could be fired up and shut off with the flip of a switch, with no damaging radiation, no threat of meltdown, and no possibility of explosions. It is an all-or-nothing, full-bore or shut-off scenario. Because it can be shut off and turned on so easily, a bank of these could easily accommodate whatever surges and ebbs are faced by the grid on a given day, without wasting unused energy from non-peak times into the environment, which is the case with much of the grid’s energy at present. (Ref.)

How the Theoretical Focus Fusion Reactor Works

The proposed focus-fusion reactor involves two components: the hydrogen-boron fuel, and a plasma focus device. The combination of these into the focus-fusion process is the invention of Eric Lerner.

The plasma-focus technology has been well established elsewhere, and has a forty-year track record. Invented in 1964, the Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) device is used in many types of research. (Ref.)

As described on the Focus Fusion website, the DPF device consists of two cylindrical copper or beryllium electrodes nested inside each other. The outer electrode is generally no more than six to seven inches in diameter and a foot long. The electrodes are enclosed in a vacuum chamber with a low-pressure gas (the fuel for the reaction) filling the space between them. [Update: their outer electrodes are only 4 inches in diameter, as shown in the photos above.]


The Dense Plasma Focus device is roughly the size of a coffee can.

Next comes the fuel.  The gas Lerner plans to use in the DPF is a mixture of Hydrogen and Boron.  Their site gives an explanation of the research steps needed to use this type of fuel with the DPF. (Ref1; Ref2.)

According to their site, the way the proposed focus fusion reactor would work is as follows:

A pulse of electricity from a capacitor bank is discharged across the electrodes. For a few millionths of a second, an intense current flows from the outer to the inner electrode through the gas. This current starts to heat the gas and creates an intense magnetic field.

Guided by its own magnetic field, the current forms itself into a thin sheath of tiny filaments -- little whirlwinds of hot, electrically-conducting gas called plasma.

Picture of plasma filaments:

Schematic drawing of plasma filaments:

Photo of hot plasma vortex filaments
Hot plasma vortex filaments pinched together by their own magnetic fields in a plasma focus fusion device.

Photo taken by Winston Bostick & Victorio Nardi using an exposure time of a few nanoseconds. (Ref)

This sheath travels to the end of the inner electrode where the magnetic fields produced by the currents pinch and twist the plasma into a tiny, dense ball only a few thousandths of an inch across called a plasmoid. All of this happens without being guided by external magnets.

The magnetic fields very quickly collapse, and these changing magnetic fields induce an electric field which causes a beam of electrons to flow in one direction and a beam of ions (atoms that have lost electrons) in the other. The electron beam heats the plasmoid, thus igniting fusion reactions which add more energy to the plasmoid. So in the end, the ion and electron beams contain more energy than was input by the original electric current.

These beams of charged particles are directed into decelerators which act like particle accelerators in reverse. Instead of using electricity to accelerate charged particles they decelerate charged particles and to produce electricity.  (Ref. The above quote was slightly edited.)

Some of this electricity is recycled to power the next fusion pulse, at a frequency expected to be optimal at around 1000 times per second.  The excess energy from each pulse is available as net energy, and is output as product electricity from the fusion power plant for sale to the grid – or will be, once this is all proven and implemented.

X-Ray Shielding

While the process would not create residual radioactivity, it does give off strong x-ray emissions, which can be harnessed by a high-tech photoelectric cell for additional energy capture in a process similar to a photovoltaic solar cell.  The primary difference is in the concentration of particles.  "Solar energy is diffuse," said Lerner, explaining that the focus fusion process would be highly concentrated: 10,000 kilowatts per square meter, compared to 1 kw / m2 with solar.  So the cost-to-yield ratio would be extremely favorable in the case of the x-ray energy capture.

There will also need to be shielding from the pulsing electromagnetic fields generated by the reactor.

In addition to x-rays, the process would also yield "low energy neutrons", Lerner said.  These would not produce long-lived radioactivity, but at most would only produce "extremely short-lived elements with very short half-lives. Only 1/500th of the total energy would be carried by the neutrons."

"You could walk into the facility a second after turning it off, and would not be able to detect any radiation above background," he said. The materials of which the reactor and facility are constructed would not build up any radioactivity either, even over time.

For safety, Lerner said that a layer of lead and a layer of boron shielding surrounding the reactor would be adequate protection for the focus fusion plant.

As for possible accidents with the reactor, there is "not really anything that could go wrong," and, because of the way the reaction stops immediately, "there is [no possibility] for runaway." Lerner affirms, "It's 100% safe."

Some heat is vented into the environment, but it is not to such an extent that a generating plant could not be situated in a neighborhood, such as where substations presently are located.

About the worst thing that could happen would be a capacitor failure, but that would not even damage the building, he said.

Of course there are always the risks of electrocution, and shorting-out hazards associated with electricity, but those would be present in any power-plant situation.

Remember, with this technology, on-site personnel are not needed on a daily basis, reducing the exposure of persons to such hazards.  Maintenance would be rare.  One technician could operate a dozen facilities by him or herself.

Politics and Present Status

Imagine!  At the flip of a switch, going from room temperature (or from the temperature of boiling water in the case of the liquid decaborane fuel), all the way up to a billion degrees, and then up to 6 billion degrees, all in a fraction of a second; then with another flip of the switch, when you are done, going back down to ambient temperature.  And in the interim, you have produced excess energy from fusion -- safely, cleanly.

Part of that theoretical equation has been proven.  Part has yet to be proven. [Update: now proven.]

Lerner credits the field of astrophysics as playing a significant role in serendipitously developing much of the theoretical basis behind focus fusion, due to the parallels between neutron star research and plasma physics.

Mary-Sue Haliburton, chief editor for PESN, points out that the plasma filaments in the plasma focus are a microcosmic version of the Birkeland currents visible in the sun's corona, as well as in interstellar and even intergalactic space. (Ref - site shows photo of Birkeland current in sun's corona.)

Based on his focus-fusion research done through the grant from JPL at the University of Illinois, his subsequent research at Texas A&M University, and research done at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lerner et al. have proven the ability to attain, and even to surpass, the billion degree benchmark
. (Ref)

Coming to a Car Near You?

Lerner said that the applications of this technology will be limited on the smaller end to local power-plant-sized operations for the near future, and that putting one of these in your garage or in your car will be years yet into the future. Miniaturization is a long-term dream that is sure to be achieved as the technology takes hold, just as it has in other industries such as computers and batteries.

# # #

This story is also published at BeforeItsNews.

What You Can Do

  1. Pass this on to your friends and favorite news sources.
  2. Consider investing in LPP
  3. We at PES Network are in a real pinch right now.  Donations would be greatly appreciated.
  4. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay abreast of the latest, greatest developments in the free energy sector.
  5. Let professionals in the renewable energy sector know about the promise of Focus Fusion 



Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Inc.
40 Ridge Drive
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
Phone: (732) 356-5900
Fax: (732) 377 0381
For email, 

Related Coverage by PESN

  • Featured / Best Exotic FE: Nuclear > Fusion > Focus Fusion >
    Fission Tragedy Could be Averted - The communications industry pumps 25% of their revenue back into research. The result? Slim iPhones and androids and many amazing communications wonders. Meanwhile, we starve energy research for funds with just 0.3% of the energy budget going to R&D, and wring our hands over oil spills and meltdowns. (PESN; March 15, 2011)
  • Focus Fusion poses competition to Tokamak - Purports to be a far more feasible and profoundly less expensive approach to hot fusion, in contrast to what the international project (ITER) in France is pursuing. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is currently researching and developing the Plasma Focus Device for hydrogen-boron nuclear fusion. (PESN; Nov. 2, 2005)

See also

Resources at

Page composed by Sterling D. Allan Jan. 7, 2011
Last updated September 04, 2012 




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