Scientists have a dusty new way to create a star on Earth
- A new study by the Princeton
PlasmaPhysics Laboratory (PPPL) claims that boron powder could be the key to unlocking the holy grail of limitless energy.
- In contrast on its gaseous counterpart, diborane, boron powder is less explosive and doesn’t send physicists running from the room.
- Scientists also claim that it maximises the efficiency of nuclear reactions by eliminating tungsten.
But that may longer be true. Scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory ( PPPL) think that they’ve cracked the code with a simple solution — boron powder.
Using boron powder could finally present a way to create the heat required for electricity without producing greenhouse gases or long-term radioactive waste.
Projects that have been trying to recreate
Adding boron powder, on the other hand, not only makes the process more efficient — but it also makes it safer and more sustainable.
Making nuclear reactions more efficient
Scientists have been trying to crack the formula for nuclear fusion since the days of World War II — when Edward Teller created the hydrogen bomb for Germany. And, they’ve been using plasma to do it.
Plasma — a cloud of protons, neutrons and electrons — is commonly known as the fourth state of matter. It’s like gas because the atoms aren’t in constant contact with each other, but it can flow like a liquid and also contain solid lumps where atoms are sticking together.
The current method of utilising plasma for nuclear reactions leaves behind an element called tungsten. It makes the reactions less efficient because it cools the plasma down whereas the aim to keep it piping hot — ten times hotter than the surface of the Sun.
With boron powder, tungsten is no longer a by-product according to the study published in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Nuclear Fusion. This allows scientists to maximize the fusion reaction, which in turn maximises the heat needed to create electricity.
Nuclear explosions that are ‘safe’
AdvertisementBoron’s gaseous form, diborane, is already being used as a part of nuclear fusion. But, it’s extremely explosive.
“Diborane gas is explosive, so everybody has to leave the building housing the tokamak during the process,” said the lead author of the study, Robert Lunsford.
Using boron, on the other hand, is much safer. Where diborane gas is explosive and toxic, boron powder is inert.
AdvertisementAn unlimited, uninterrupted supply of energy
Everything diborane gas needs to be added to the plasma, the machine has to be stopped so that physicists can at least enter the room. That means the energy creation process is repeatedly interrupted.
Since boron powder isn’t explosive — it may be able to overcome that obstacle as well. According to Lunsford, it can be added to the plasma while the machine is running.
“This is one way to get to a steady-state fusion machine. You can add more Boron without having to completely shut down the machine,” he said.
This doesn’t mean that unlimited
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