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Fusion has the potential to solve the energy crisis once and for all. By harnessing the same reaction that powers our own Sun we could create potentially limitless amounts of electricity without any of the harmful side-effects that come from burning fossil fuels.
Traditionally though fusion reactions still produce small amounts of radioactive material and despite being ‘short-lived’ they can last for almost a century.
Now though Heinrich Hora, a physicist from the University of South Wales has developed a new way to harness the power of fusion without using any radioactive materials and without creating any radioactive waste whatsoever.
How? Quite simply by using giant lasers.
By firing two almost unimaginably powerful lasers you can compress the nuclei in a hydrogen-boron reaction that generates no neutrons and therefore, no radioactivity.
In case you’re wondering why we haven’t done this before the reason has been that we simply didn’t have the ability to create lasers that were powerful enough.
The numbers involved in creating this reaction are just staggering. The temperature needed to kickstart this reaction is around 3 billion degrees Celsius or around 200 times hotter than the Sun.
If that wasn’t enough the lasers would need to be fired in pulses that last just a trillionth of a second.
Yet within that short amount of time the power of the last would be around a quadrillion watts.
In addition to being a genuinely clean form of energy production the reaction doesn’t have to rely on driving a turbine and creates electricity that can be directly harvested.
Of course the next step is turning all this into a reality, something that is closer to happening than you might think.
“If the next few years of research don’t uncover any major engineering hurdles, we could have a prototype reactor within a decade,” said Warren McKenzie, managing director of HB11, the spin-off company that now owns Hora’s patents.
“From an engineering perspective, our approach will be a much simpler project because the fuels and waste are safe, the reactor won’t need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf,” he added.