HB11 Energy Story

Hydrogen-boron 11 fusion (HB11, also known as proton-boron fusion) has always been the ultimate fusion reaction. It does not create radioactive waste and its fuels are both abundant in nature and non-radioactive.

Few researchers had studied this reaction as it was considered scientifically too difficult given temperatures required to ignite the reaction are more than 100 times higher than that of the sun.

Theoretical physicist and expert on lasers and fusion energy, Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora, explained since the 1960’s that there may be an alternate means of achieving the fusion reaction without high temperatures (tens of million degrees. C) by an approach using high power lasers. At the time, laser technology was in its infancy and the laser properties required did not yet exist.

This changed dramatically after Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou demonstrated “Chirped Pulse Amplification” (CPA) of lasers in 1985 at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. This experiment set a direction of high-power laser technology development, which has more recently reached the requirements predicted by Hora to achieve the HB11 reaction. It also won Strickland and Mourou the 2018 Nobel prize in Physics.

Since 2005, there have been several measurements of HB11 fusion reactions ignited by CPA lasers validating Hora’s prediction from the 1960’s. These results alone put the HB11 reaction ahead of most other fusion technology companies who are yet to demonstrate any reactions.

Unexpectantly, many of these experiments observed much higher reaction rates than expected which was explained as a chain or “avalanche” reaction. This is important as it is a means by which the HB11 reaction can achieve the biggest challenge amongst all fusion approaches, to achieve a net-energy gain.

HB11 Energy’s concept was first reported in a publication by Hora, Mourou and others.  It is radically different from the focus of the fusion research community for the last 70 years, which all aim to generate fusion via “thermal equilibrium,” heating the fuels to tens of millions of degrees C to achieve ignition. Challenges of using this approach have led to fusion projects involving the biggest and most complex science experiments in the world (such as NIF and ITER), excessively large investments ($10’s billions) and ever-expanding timelines. They have never achieved “breakeven”, where a higher energy output is generated than that put in for ignition.

In contrast, the HB11 concept offers a simple alternative as it does not require heating fuels to such excessive temperatures, thus, it will not encounter anywhere near the level of technical and engineering challenges faced by all other fusion approaches. As it converts nuclear power directly into electricity, plants can be much smaller as they do not need steam turbines and generators required for coal or conventional nuclear power. A patent family protects the concept/design of the reactor. The first patents have been granted in the USA, Japan and China with more jurisdictions pending.