New Hydrogen-Boron Reactor May Solve Fusion Problem

In this week's energy production-themed "Wait, what?" news, Popular Mechanics reports some fairly outlandish, but potentially game-changing claims from Australia. It appears that a startup called HB11, which consists of scientists who came together at the University of New South Wales, is in the process of applying patents for a brand new method of fusion, and has so far received them in at least China, Japan and the good, old U.S. of A. 

To be fair, we understand perfectly why they're in such a rush to patent their new invention. After all, they say they're able to completely eschew the use of radioactive materials in creating a fusion reaction. What they use instead is ... lasers and luck. Yes, really. 

Boron's not so boring after all

All right, so there are a few other elements involved — namely, hydrogen (you know hydrogen) and boron, which Live Science tells us is a complicated multi-purpose element that plants use as a nutrient, but that's also commonly used in the nuclear industry. HB11 has developed a process that uses a high-tech laser to "speed up" hydrogen until it collides with boron and starts the fusion reaction. The element of luck comes at play because the laser-accelerated hydrogen is by no means a homing missile. As Warren McKenzie, HB11's managing director, puts it: "You could say we're using the hydrogen as a dart, and hoping to hit a boron, and if we hit one, we can start a fusion reaction." Should the reaction happen, it "throws off" positively charged helium atoms, and the charge is collected as electricity

Despite this rather ... less than convincing description, the idea was developed by Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora, who says he has been investigating laser-based boron fusion for over 40 years, so he probably has at least some idea of what he's talking about. Besides, McKenzie notes that HB11's oddly luck-based approach is actually "more precise" than heat-based fusion designs, seeing as those basically just heat everything and "hope that something will collide." So, there's a thing we all learned today: Apparently, words like "luck" and "hope" play a surprisingly large part in energy production.