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article imageA startup may have cracked the secret to fusion energy

By Karen Graham     Jun 26, 2018 in Science
In the world of physics, commercially viable fusion energy has been "just on the horizon" for nearly eight decades. Now, a new Washington-based startup, Agni Energy Inc., may have cracked the secret to nuclear fusion - bringing it closer to reality.
Demitri Hopkins is the Co-Founder of AGNI Energy Inc., a startup company out of Olympia, Washington. And according to Forbes, the 25-year-old Hopkins is "something of a physics and mathematical savant."
Back in high school, Hopkins and two like-minded seniors, Forrest Betton and Eric Thomas, built a fusion energy device, a two-month project they were invited to show President Barack Obama during his visit to Intel’s Hillsboro campus in 2011.
During one experiment under the supervision of Michael Mauck, a Portland State University research associate, the seniors were able to sustain a 15-second fusion reaction before it became too unstable. The team of young scientists won the top prize at the Science Fair.
View of plasma after injection of a frozen deuterium pellet inside the tokamak fusion test reactor a...
View of plasma after injection of a frozen deuterium pellet inside the tokamak fusion test reactor at PPPL.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Agni Energy's fusion reaction
Founded in 2017, Agni Energy Inc. is using a unique beam-target technology - seeking to help solve one of the world's most pressing challenges and to contribute new scientific data to the fields of Plasma and Nuclear Physics.
The company says the AGNI Fusion Engine, utilizing the benefits of beam spin-polarization, Alfven waves, and multi-fuel reactions may be revolutionary in its ability to address the fields of fusion energy and transmutation.
In a fusion reaction, atoms are joined together, as opposed to a fission reaction where atoms are split. With a fusion reaction, atoms are literally slammed together - releasing energy. And this energy release is the very thing that has held up the further advancement of the energy source.
Agni Energy says its  beam-target  reactor focuses and controls the elements needed to achieve nucle...
Agni Energy says its 'beam-target' reactor focuses and controls the elements needed to achieve nuclear fusion more efficiently than other designs.
Agni Energy
Scientists are now able to create fusion energy, but only for a short time. They need to develop a fusion reactor - one that creates more energy than is put in, or in other words, one the produces sustainable energy.
The two fusion methods in use today either heat plasma to extreme temperatures using lasers or ion beams - or the plasma is squeezed with magnets to an extremely high density. Hopkins says both methods have their drawbacks. With beams, a lot of energy is required to feed the system, while energizing plasma with magnets runs the risk of the atoms not remaining stable enough to contain all the energy.
Agni's beam-target fusion
Hopkins' design incorporates the best elements of the two methods - basically focusing a beam of ions onto a solid fuel target using both electric fields and magnetic fields. This so-called beam-target fusion doesn't try to fuse atoms from one source. But by beaming the atoms at a solid target, you get the atoms from the beam fusing with the atoms from the target.
An ion beam of deuterium and helium-3 is shot into a Lithium BoroTritide target. Here atoms fuse tog...
An ion beam of deuterium and helium-3 is shot into a Lithium BoroTritide target. Here atoms fuse together, releasing energy in the process.
Agni Energy
Now the beam consists of deuterium (heavy hydrogen ions with one neutron). The target consists of tritium ions (a heavy Hydrogen with two neutrons.) Hopkins says they use Hydrogen because the lightest elements produce the most energy.
In deuterium-tritium fusion, as featured in the Agni Energy reactor, the atoms come together for a single instant as helium-5, before immediately decaying into the more stable helium-4 and a neutron.
In a written statement, according to the UK's Daily Mail, a spokesman for Agni Energy said: 'AGNI is expected to achieve 16 million times the efficiency of coal, 10 times the efficiency of nuclear fission, and produce no waste and zero emissions.
Interestingly, the beam-to-target fusion method was first proposed in the 1930s but was thought to be nonviable because it uses more energy than it produces.
Agni Energ
"This was originally discarded as a path to fusion energy because it radiates out a lot of energy [that's not usable]. It scatters too much when it hits the target," Hopkins told Live Science. "Too much energy is lost that way, and that was sort of the end of the [idea]."
And this problem is solved by "tweaking" or tilting the atoms "just so" and altering their spin-polarization. Spin polarization refers to the way the particles are rotating. This minimizes the extent to which atoms scatter, increasing the energy collected, says Hopkins.
The question everyone is asking is "Can they do it." Hopkins says, "People have been saying they're close to fusion for the last 80 years. Eventually, someone's going to crack it."
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