Sydney: Imagine if you could generate power using nuclear power minus radioactivity - it would be the answer to the dream of finding a clean, sustainable energy source. That is the hope raised by researchers who believe they have found a radical new path to the ultimate goal of solving the world`s energy crisis through nuclear fusion power.
The international team, led by Heinrich Hora, professor at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has shown through computational studies that a special fuel ignited by brief but powerful pulses of energy from new high-energy lasers may be the key to success that has long eluded physicists.
The intense laser beam would be used to ignite a fuel made of light hydrogen and boron-11. The resulting ignition would be largely free of radioactive emissions and would release more than enough energy to generate electricity.
The amount of radiation released would be even less than that emitted by current power stations that burn coal, which contains trace amounts of uranium. In another plus, the fuel source is plentiful and readily accessible and the waste product of ignition would be clean helium gas.
"This has the potential to be the best route to fusion energy," says Steve Haan, an expert in nuclear fusion at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) in California, in a news report in the Royal Chemical Society`s Highlights in Chemical Technology.
Haan cautions that the study only demonstrates the potential of the new process and that much work needs to be done to demonstrate it in practice, says a UNSW release.
"It was a surprise when we used hydrogen-boron instead of deuterium-tritium," says Hora. "It was not 100,000 times more difficult to ignite, as it would be under the usual compression process. It would be only 10 times more difficult, using the latest generation of lasers."
The new study was published in Energy and Environmental Science.
First Published: Monday, April 12, 2010, 19:37