Publishing little and with no website, but apparently sitting on a cash pile in the hundreds of millions, the [mysterious] Foothill Ranch, California–based company has been the subject of intense curiosity and speculation … last month Tri Alpha lifted the veil slightly with two papers revealing that its device, dubbed the colliding beam fusion reactor, has shown a 10-fold improvement in its ability to contain the hot particles needed for fusion over earlier devices at U.S. universities and national labs.
“They’ve improved things greatly and are moving in a direction that is quite promising,” says plasma physicist John Santarius of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Tri Alpha’s device relies on a plasma phenomenon called a field-reversed configuration (FRC), akin to a smoke ring of plasma. Because plasma is made of charged particles (electrons and nuclei), the swirling particles in the FRC create a magnetic field that acts to hold the ring together, potentially long enough for fusion to get going. Tri Alpha’s 23-meter-long device has at its heart a long tube with numerous ring-shaped magnets and other devices along its length. It creates a plasma smoke ring close to each end and fires them toward the middle at 250 kilometers per second. At the center they merge, converting their kinetic energy into heat to produce a high-temperature FRC.
In earlier attempts to create long-lived FRCs, turbulence in the plasma caused heat to leak away as hot particles migrated to the edge and escaped, causing the smoke ring to shrink and fade away. And although FRCs proved more stable than other ways of confining plasma, the ring-shaped plasma did tend to tilt or lose shape, causing it hit the tube wall and disintegrate. As a result, researchers couldn’t push the lifetime of high-temperature FRCs beyond about 0.3 milliseconds. “They had trouble getting parameters to what was needed,” says Santarius, who in the past has worked with Tri Alpha researchers and received funding from the company.
Researchers had theorized that an FRC could be made to live longer by firing high-speed ions into the plasma. Michl Binderbauer, Tri Alpha’s chief technology officer, says that once the ions are inside the FRC, its magnetic field curves them into wide orbits that both stiffen the plasma against instability and suppress the turbulence that allows heat to escape. “Adding fast ions does good things for you,” says Glen Wurden of the Plasma Physics Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. __Science
Elsewhere on the small fusion front:
University of Washington fusion researchers receive grant from US DOE to develop “sheared flow stabilized Z-pinch” technology for plasma confinement and control
The “dynomak” also from University of Washington researchers, is another approach to controlled fusion
Research on small fusion and small fission reactors is proceeding as quickly as it can obtain funding. Safer, cleaner, more affordable, more scalable nuclear reactors (both fusion and fission) are likely to eventually power mini-grids for islands, seasteads, undersea colonies and industrial operations, space settlements / colonies / asteroid mining / generation ships etc., and remote villages / stations in Alaska, Siberia, Canada, Antarctica, and perhaps parts of Africa and Central Asia. They are likely to provide mainline scalable power for Europe and the Anglosphere, East Asia, and perhaps Russia.
If LENR ever proves out for commercial use, it can join the crowd. The more the merrier.
In the meantime, there is plenty of hydrocarbon energy to go around. Now that we can see that the climate catastrophe bandwagon has been a hoax all along, we can feel free to use all the hydrocarbons we wish — as long as we clean the actual pollutants from the effluent.