Strangely, the key ingredient in a popular cleaning product could be the secret to making fusion work.
To explain, researchers found boron powder (the main ingredient in Borax) made the Large Helical Device (LHD) reactor run hotter, Phys.Org reports. Injecting tiny grains of boron into the LHD or heliotron reduces swirls and eddies in the reactor which concentrates fuel. Concentrating the fuel makes more heat, making fusion more probable.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) researchers injected the powder into the LHD with the Impunity Powder Dropper. The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) built the LHD. The PPPL team is working at the LHD.
Will Boron make Fusion Possible?
Researchers are excited about the experiment’s results because they show boron could make stellarators more efficient.
To elaborate, a stellarator, such as the LHD, is a different kind of fusion reactor. Stellarators are twisty and weird looking unlike the more conventional looking Tokamaks. The theory is the unusual stellarator design does a better job of containing super hot plasma. For example, a Tokamak is a large metal tub while stellarators often resemble the Millennium Falcon.
However, stellarators have some drawbacks including a history of poor heat confinement. The PPPL researchers believe boron powder could correct that flaw and make stellarators practical.
Stellarators can reach high temperatures. For example, the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator at Germany’s Max Planck Institute reached temperatures of 40 million degrees Kelvin in 2018. Researchers claim the Wendelstein 7-X achieved 40% of the temperature needed to trigger a sustainable fusion reaction.
To elaborate, they need to reach temperatures of up to 100 million degrees Kelvin for fusion. Hence, adding borax powder to the Wendelstein 7-X could lead to fusion.
However, I know of no efforts to build a commercial stellarator. Hopefully, the Borax experiments at the LHD will inspire a commercial stellarator.
What is Boron?
Boron, or borax, is a combination of boron, sodium, and oxygen that forms a powdery white substance.
Borax is a popular cleaning product in the United States. For example, 20 Team Mule Team Borax has been sold as a laundry detergent booster for generations. They add borax to a variety of products including toothpaste, mouthwash, cosmetics, herbicides, paints, and glazes.
One of the main sources of Borax is California’s Death Valley where US Borax has been mining the powder for generations. The name 20 Mule Team Borax refers to the animals that pulled Borax wagons from the mines to the railroad tracks.
Products US Borax makes from Borax include ingredients for fiberglass, fire retardants, wood preservatives, and chemicals they use in glass production. US Borax claims to supply 30% of the world’s borax, or one million tons a year. US Borax is part of British and Australian mining giant Rio Tinto (RTNTF).
Hence, a humble product many people keep in their homes could make fusion possible.
Originally published at https://marketmadhouse.com on January 21, 2022.