Can crowdfunding give us safe fusion power by 2020?


May 18, 2014

A group of scientists are turning to Indiegogo to fund fusion power research (Image: LPP Fusion)

A group of scientists are turning to Indiegogo to fund fusion power research (Image: LPP Fusion)

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A group of researchers at New Jersey-based LPP Fusion is turning to crowdfunding to demonstrate net power gain from a nuclear fusion reactor. The scientists plan to do this using a technique which is relatively little-known, but which they claim is scientifically sound and only relies on well-established science. Given enough funding, the researchers say they could design a US$500,000, 5 MW reactor that would produce energy for as little as 0.06 cents per kWh, all by the end of the decade.

You'd be excused for doubting that research into fusion power could successfully be crowd-funded. ITER's tokamak, which is being built in the south of France, is requiring a collaboration of seven countries and has seen several delays, with costs now expected to exceed the €10 billion (US$13.7 billion) mark. Barring further difficulties, the ITER project is slated to begin operations in 2027 at the earliest.

According to LPP Fusion chief scientist Eric Lerner, the vast majority of the financial resources have been allocated to ITER's approach to fusion power, while other avenues, such as the one being pursued by his team, have been largely neglected, despite being much cheaper. Using an approach he calls "focus fusion," Lerner says his team can obtain a crucial electrode for $200,000, demonstrate net power gain with $1 million, and solve the final engineering problems, leading to a functioning fusion reactor with just $50 million in funding.

How it works

In a standard nuclear fusion approach, the idea is to capture the plasma and make it stable, which is technically extremely challenging (and expensive). The Focus Fusion approach is not to fight those instabilities, but to instead harness them to concentrate the plasma in a very small area.

The plasma focus device, the heart of the fusion reactor, can be as small as just a few inches in diameter (see above). The device consists of a central hollow cylinder made out of copper, the anode, surrounded by an insulator (in white), and an outer electrode, the cathode, a circle of copper rods. The device is enclosed in a vacuum chamber filled with the fusion fuel and attached to a powerful capacitor bank.

A strong current pulse generates plasma between the anode and the cathode of the plasma focus device (Image: LPP Fusion)

In only a microsecond, the capacitor bank pulses a current of over a million amps from the cathode to the anode. This ionizes the gas, turning it into a plasma. At this point, parallel currents run along each other inside the plasma, generating a magnetic field that forces dense plasma filaments to attract and twist around each other, concentrating the plasma over a small area.

The magnetic fields focus the plasma filaments into a donut-shape plasmoid that is only millimeters across and quickly compressing. When the plasmoid gets dense enough, radiation from the center of the plasmoid starts to escape, and that causes a sudden fall in the magnetic field, accelerating a beam of electrons on one end and a beam of ions on the other end. As they leave, the electrons in the beam interact with the electrons in the plasmoid and heat up the area to over 1.8 billion degrees Celsius, which is enough to get fusion reactions.

Natural instabilities briefly concentrate plasma into a donut-shaped plasmoid (Image: LPP Fusion)

The record temperatures achieved in this way are hot enough for fusing a boron and a hydrogen atom briefly into a carbon nucleus, which immediately breaks apart into three helium atoms and a large amount of energy. Unlike the deuterium and tritium used in other approaches, this reaction is aneutronic, which means the end product is charged particles, and no dangerous radioactive waste. In fact, the end products have a half-life just over 20 minutes, meaning that radiation inside the reactor will be back to background levels after only nine hours.

Moreover, because the end product of the reaction is moving charged particles, those can be converted into electricity directly, which is both more efficient and, according to the researchers, up to 10 times more cost-effective.

The final reactor would harvest electricity directly, for better efficiency and vastly reduced costs (Image: LPP Fusion)

Electricity would be generated in two ways. A good 60 percent would come from the ion beam shooting out of the plasmoid, which would be fed to a metal coil, where the rapidly changing electromagnetic fields would generate a current which is then fed into a capacitor with 80 percent efficiency.

The remaining 40 percent of the electricity would be harvested from the x-ray pulse generated by the reaction, which would be collected by a stack of thousands of extremely thin metal foils that will capture electrons into a fine electric grid.

The impact

A full-sized focus fusion reactor, says Lerner, would cost $500,000, which is much cheaper than a standard nuclear reactor, and would be safe and small enough to fit in a garage or a shipping container. It would provide 5 MW of power, which is enough for about 3,500 homes, for as cheap as 0.06 cents per kWh – a twenty-fold improvement over current costs.

With 20 percent of the world's population having no access to electricity, this technique has the potential to offer cheap, clean and decentralized energy that could be deployed even to remote areas.

According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, which financed part of Focus Fusion's research, a functioning reactor could also double as a rocket engine, allowing us to reach Mars in as little as two weeks. Currently, rockets take six months for the trip in the best-case scenario.

The next step

Lerner and colleagues say they have already achieved two out of the three conditions they need to demonstrate a net energy gain: they have heated the plasma to 1.8 billion degrees and confined it to a tiny area for tens of nanoseconds. The third, remaining condition is to achieve a plasma density 10,000 times higher.

The researchers say they know how to do it, and that they could achieve it by using higher-quality beryllium electrodes, employing heavier gases, and switching from deuterium-tritium to hydrogen-boron as fuel.

If the researchers can raise $200,000 for beryllium electrodes, they say they will be able to show that a commercial fusion reactor is feasible and ready for commercial application by the year 2016. By then, it would be much easier to secure the $50 million needed to solve the remaining engineering problems and build a prototype reactor over the following three or four years.

You can find out more on the Indiegogo campaign set up by the researchers. The video below illustrates how the reactor would be able to harness plasma instabilities to generate energy fusion energy.

Source: Focus Fusion

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion. All articles by Dario Borghino

If the concept is sound, they would not have any problem sourcing US$500,000 from even a fairly large private company or any decent government.


I second what thk said. If all they are after is $500k, there are plenty of investors out there who would be all over this. I suspect that it is not as simple as buying the electrodes they are after to demonstrate their prototype as described in the article. Don't get me wrong, it would be fantastic if these guys were idealists (in not wanting to lose control of their ip) and didn't want 'the man' to suppress their amazing discovery. Having been heavily involved in R&D funding I would say in the right hands they would have access to so much more than even the $50M they aspire to IF they could even do something so simple as putting together a straightforward development pathway with clearly identified expenditure and milestones.


Mobil Oil (or any private industry) isn't going to give us fusion. DARPA isn't either. What can it hurt to try croudsourcing?


I'll have to disagree with SamB and thk. Investors shy away from fusion projects thanks to projects like the failed tokamak research where billions have been invested with near zero results for half a century.

Government funding is based on laziness. If the energy research team is given $15B they prefer to fund one big ITER style project rather that 1000 or so LPP Focus fusion or IEC projects.

So unless these guys bring an investor a 100% comercialized reactor they are unlikely to recieve funding from so called "certified investors".


When Nikola Tesla allowed that humanity could have access to free, unfettered energy, Mister Westinghouse quickly nixed this. Electricity = Money. This concept has not magically gone away. The infrastructure for energy is well matured. There is much invested in the current --pun-- set up, countless jobs depend on it staying much as it is now.

Rest assured that a sudden cheap energy development would gain the attention of those who either work in this HUGE field, and those that profit greatly from the status quo.

That said, it is a guess that the most interested party to this development will be entities like The Military. If you look at upcoming weapon systems, you see a kind of Star Wars, Trek type weapon platforms that use a huge amount of energy. I could easily see this being used on an aircraft carrier, or cruiser... and for anti ballistic missile defense in the air or on the ground.

Mister Westinghouse has never really, "Left the room." Eventually however, this "Genie" will get out of the bottle, just don't hold your breath.


Good luck to them.

Kip Siegle had the concept back in the early 70's of building small local power plants. He had sold all of the businesses he owned and dumped every cent into KMS Fusion. He truly believed that this would be our energy salvation.

When he died in 1975 he was spending all his time getting additional funding to keep the effort going.

At that time KMS felt they were getting really close and that it would only be a few years to get to fruition. And so the dream continues.

Mr E

I want to see these guys get an opportunity to run their experiment. Crowdfunding this science is a great idea! I hope they can do it. They've definitely got my support.


Think of this a "Nuclear Make Work" project that will keep these scientists busy for a while trying to get enough data to interest yet more R&D money to be spent trig to make Nuclear pitiable to the masses!

Solar (of all flavors):

... Is faster to install,

... Costs less to install

... Is ready for 24/7 power with storage

... Requires no decommissioning costs that takes decades

... And has no Nuclear RISK...


I too was skeptical at first but I think this is a compelling idea - crowdfunding has been at the forefront of every industry so why not energy? Especially with so much corruption in the corridors of investment/government/finance etc. There are publications listed on the campaign that look pretty good to me (admittedly not a scientist, just an enthusiast). Worth my $50 or $100 anyday.


cool idea. worth investment. makes sense that government isn't into it - they waste money haha


I'd have to say I'm with CaptD. Maybe they can use those thousand tiny x-ray collecting foils to somehow capture the sun's energy during cloudy conditions.


I agree. Definitely worth an investment . Gotta route for the underdog! (especially considering billions are being wasted on the alternative)


This is another in a long chain of well thought out scams in my opinion. This time Crowd Funding will provide the cover for accountability. Dream merchant will get paid...

Douglas Murphy

Large investors all want a large piece of the pie, croud fundng prevents this so if and when it does work (which after some careful reading, I actually think it will) this might even see the light of day. I mean who really thinks that cars fuel economy hasn't got any better because we can't do it, you only have to Google Tom Ogle who removed the carburetor, tripped over a patent then got shot to understand how the system really works.

Anything that threatens the energy companies either gets bought out and hidden or not funded and the most effective aren't usually cheap.

Andy Gee

After watching a lengthy YouTube video about the research these guys are doing and the way they are going about it vs. "Big Science" approach, I have been compelled to put my money where my mouth is. I gave $100 usd. A pittancem yes, but if enough chip in... I really hope they get this working, one small and carefully executed step at a time.



Jeff Kunkler

CaptD, check out their projections, solar will be quite stressful to the environment because of the enormous amount that needs to be built and very low energy density. There are problems with storage and the current battery technologies are even more stressful to the environment because of the materials used. Also it seems you are mistaking this approach for regular nuclear. This is aneutronic fusion which means: 1. No radioactive waste - no chance of accidents or meltdowns 2. Abundant - The fuel can be harvested from plain seawater 3. Very high energy density - this could potentially be even cheaper than Coal 4. Straight conversion to electricity without losses + 5. Distributed - because of the straight conversion they wouldn't need any steam turbines -> reduced size -> really compact devices 6. No need for storage, could run 24/7 without storage

In my view this approach is nothing short of revolutionary. Please do some research before posting comments like that.

To your argument about making nuclear industry look good, I don't think that these guys have anything to do with current nuclear industry which advocates huge centralized and risky power stations (5MW compared to current 500MW). Fission also involves hazardous mining and the end products can be used for nuclear weapons production. Fusion involves none of that.


lwesson, the story of Tesla is very compelling and is a great example of how powerful interests have a strong tendency for self-preservation. It seems to me that the answer would be to redesign systems and policies so that they reduce centralization of power. Maybe in the future communities will once again become more self-supported.

Aneutronic fusion could also be beneficial in this sense as due to scaling laws it should work more efficiently in smaller sizes. Who knows, maybe it could be even made so compact as to fit into a car's engine room. This kind of approach would also be ideal for space industry as a means of general energy supply (life-support) and propulsion.


What an amazing idea, I hope crowdfunding can make it happen!

Justin Long

This is the only thing could bring us to stars! Right now. Even TOKAMAK systems would successful they anyway will have cumbersome and heavy steam energy conversion systems. But here we have already extremely fast particle jet's , space engine on such principles will have huge specific impulse. Sure our home energy demands may be covered by harnessing an solar energy, but on Mars and beyond the Sun too weak and Focus fusion may power us. The Earth already too crowded and we must start to colonize other worlds. Let's help it happen.

Sergey Sukhotskiy

This was attempted 35 years ago, but lost funding because all the fusion energy project's concentration was an the Tokamak ( sound familiar?)

Trisops was an experimental machine for the study of magnetic confinement of plasmas with the ultimate goal of producing fusion power. The configuration was a variation of a compact toroid, a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) structure of plasma and magnetic fields with no coils penetrating the center. It lost funding in its original form in 1978.

The configuration was produced by combining two individual toroids produced by two conical θ pinch guns, located at either end of a length of Pyrex pipe with a constant magnetic guide field. The toroidal currents in the toroids were in opposite directions, so that they repelled each other. After coming to an equilibrium, they were adiabatically compressed by increasing the external field.

DIsclosure: I was an author on the paper and the author on the Wikipedia article


AnalyticalIon - Having some thing work for a very tiny fraction of a second in a lab is not the same as having it ready to deploy in the real world...

I'm all for science and testing but while that is happening it is now past time to shift away from using (traditional) Nuclear and Coal ASAP. Every dollar used for R&D of nuclear just make it harder to convince people that nuclear is not the answer... Have you considered donating money to those doing R&D for Solar and/or battery development?

BTW: If this concept had real promise then industry would be testing it already, if they are not doing so right now.

Yes, I'm big on renewables because for most applications they NOW offer a clean path forward for mankind that will prevent resource wars and they will only become more efficient if we increase the funds allocated for their research and development.

When the new electric refrigerators were first introduced, those selling ice for the iceboxes all pooh-pooh them as a new fangled device that would not catch on because ice was cool... We are now at a similar period of time when technology is driving change and the answer is not smaller better insulated more efficient ice trucks... Said another way, it is past time for US to to stop funding "old" technology and push for new renewable R&D.


Interguru - Thanks for your comments and Disclosure! I look forward to reading more comments from you.

Question: Has anyone written a history of Fusion R&D? This would be very helpful for both experts and laymen since they could better follow what is being done to explore this potential pathway toward Energy generation!


Sergey Sukhotskiy - RE: "This is the only thing could bring us to stars!"

I think you are thinking too far ahead of where mankind is now; we are just starting to use the ISS and current politics is even making that noble effort difficult!

The "trick" for mankind will be to make it through the next 20 to 50 years, since by then if we have not had more Fukushima's and or regional conflicts that have resulted in more radioactivity being released into the atmosphere and or Oceans we will be well on our way toward a much safer future, since by them ever more of the Earth's people will be in a position by virtue of improved health and education to demand better from their Leaders!

When we do consider going into Space, these books will be most helpful:

The High Frontier by Gerard K. O'Neill, Colonies In Space by A. Heppenheim­er. The Third Industrial Revolution by G. Harry Stine The Space Enterprise by Philip Robert Harris Mining the Sky by John S. Lewis


Interguru, really interesting concept, would be interested to know was this approach influenced by the early DPF research?


In 2009, this idea was closer to achieving unity then the tokamak was in 2009 yet it received at least 40 times less funding. If anything, the reason we don't have fusion already is because the tokamak has taken all the funding away from far better ideas. The tokamak should really be dropped but no one wants to admit it is a failed idea since they have already invested so much into it. It is because of this they keep on dumping money into it.


CaptD, I agree with you on many aspects but not with your argument about putting all of the funding towards renewables.

I think we should opt for parallel R&D in many technologies so that we don't end up with a situation like we have now - where many promising fusion technologies have been cut out of funding because of political games. And I can't see any feasible route to replacing the current need of oil for transportation with renewable technologies in the short term. Therefore I think it would be wise to also route some of the funding towards alternative technologies like aneutronic fusion and hydrogen production. Hydrogen and aneutronic fusion would accompany each other nicely as we could just optimize the already existing combustion engines to burn hydrogen and we could use the cheap electricity from aneutronic fusion to extract the hydrogen from water.

I'm all for R&D of new and better battery technologies but I think that due to the current boom in solar (thanks to Germany and China) the industry is thriving right now. We can't say the same about fusion research which has run against the wall. The mindset is "why should we fund something like that when we already have this massive concentrated effort and huge industry has already been created to back it up." It doesn't matter any more if it isn't the best possible approach - too many jobs and careers are dependent of it.

"BTW: If this concept had real promise then industry would be testing it already, if they are not doing so right now."

Catch 22? This concept was originally funded by Nasa whose funding was seriously cut during Bush's administration. They have original quantitative theory that has been quite successful in estimating the achieved fusion yields. It's one and only of it's kind and I think that it is the most important reason why they haven't yet been able to raise the money that's needed. Remember that they are currently still conducting the scientific phase of the experiment and I think that once the science is proved, investors and governments will be more than willing to fund the next phase.


Been following this for years. 'Grats on a comprehensive and accurate write-up, perhaps the best I've seen!

Except that the device not only "can" be made small, it must be small; the size is part of the "secret sauce".

One of the main reasons it has not attracted gov't funding is that it is not (up front) a big jobs project. Private investors have been put off by Lerner's refusal to sell controlling shares, only participating (profit-sharing) ones. He is (rightly) paranoid about yielding control which would end up in the hands of the highest bidder.

Analyticallon; This would render both hydrogen and renewables irrelevant, economic roadkill. It thus gores many oxen, and would put many easy riders out of work. That's a lot of enemies.

Brian H

Brian H, you are definitely right - in the long term, but what I'm concerned about is that the current energy mix (cheap oil is running out and the extraction costs increasing) will soon leave us with dysfunctional world economy. We don't have cheap enough altenative to replace current fuels used in trucks that take care of most of the goods in our economies moving from place A to B. Manufacturing enough new electric trucks or replacing current combustion engines with electric ones don't seem to be realistic solutions. It would take decades and the environmental consequences would become too huge to bear.

This is why we would need hydrogen or some advanced synthetic fuel that could be used to extend the lifespan of the technology that's already in use.


Godzilla just grossed over $100 million on its first weekend...

Society can afford $200K so that LPP can investigate the next step.

Renewables are good, but we don't yet have energy storage. Clean aneutronic fusion would open up baseload, space, and transport applications that renewables can't.

The (speculative) cost estimates are very very cheap. Cheap energy enhances human welfare, and facilitates resource recycling.

I've given to this cause. I'll be buying popcorn, waiting to see if the next episode comes out, and how the story pans out. It's bound to be more entertaining than Godzilla, and even if the odds of success are tiny, a much more productive place to put our money.


AnalyticalIon - RE: "CaptD, I agree with you on many aspects but not with your argument about putting all of the funding towards renewables."

Lets review what is possible in the near future:

You can be sure that nuclear R&D will continue to get funding because much of it comes from the Pro Nuke supporters who are have powerful friend in Gov't. and the Military.

Big Coal will push for more "clean" coal R&D, which looked promising when oil was much less expensive, but no large Coal Group wanted to help fund R&D, since they did not need to.

Big Oil will resist all shifts away from depending upon using Oil, Gasoline and/or Diesel because that is their bread and butter and they donate big time to Congressional decision makers.

Big Natural Gas and the Frackers can sell all the NG they can Frack, so they are only interested in producing it more efficiently.

That leaves Big Solar (aka Big Renewables) which are seen as a threat to all the traditional BIg's and that is why I say we need to push funding for Renewable R&D!


Douglas Murphy, i've been following Eric's team's reports over more than a year, I and others have been thrilling at reading the regular updates to the researchs. it s definitly not a scam. maybe it wont work, maybe once they pass the actual step of reducing plasma impurities with the new electrode, they ll find another problem. or maybe it will work as they plan. dont know, but what i know is that it s not a scam.

Arnaud Viguié

This clean energy technology using nickel and hydrogen will be emerging onto the market this year or next. According to it will energy "too cheap to meter." It is a silver bullet solution to cutting emissions, because people will switch rapidly to this clean energy technology, not because we dictate to them to cut emissions, but because the technology will save them money big-time. Here is a primer (I have much more material, but this is just an introduction for the sake of space):

Check out this third-party verification of a LENR reactor that will soon hit the market: "Given the deliberately conservative choices made in performing the measurement, we can reasonably state that the E-Cat HT is a non-conventional source of energy which lies between conventional chemical sources of energy and nuclear ones." (i.e. about five orders of magnitude more energy dense than gasoline, and a COP of almost 6).

Brad Arnold

CaptD, you are mistaking theoretical and scientific work done on fusion to the R&D that conventional nuclear companies are doing on fission. Pro Nuke is too narrow a term to use in this context.

I'm pro Fusion because it could be environmentally sound and safe way of producing energy for the whole mankind. This is the way we could get rid of resource depletion, wars and energy poverty without leaving any radioactive waste whatsoever for the future generations. Now, I don't want to see any more Fukushima Daiichis, Chernobyls or corruption that is rampant in the current (fission) nuclear industry and as I already stated it is going to be too slow and take too much raw materials to replace the high energy density fossil fuels with low energy density renewables.

I think that it should be of paramount importance to make sure that the gems such as aneutronic fusion are thoroughly studied and checked because the potential is just too great to miss.


Arnaud Viguié, why do they need beryllium electrodes? What are they using now? I would think carbon or boron electrodes would work as well as beryllium (especially boron, since any 'contamination' would be fuel).


Focus Fusion able to solve another problem - space junk. Now our planet surrounded a swarms of fragments of old satellites and each year situation became worse. I think jet's from Focus Fusion devices could easily burn this particles even metallic or change it's orbit. Helium ion's jet not only extremely hot but care a big mechanical impulse - more than powerful laser beam, because ions much more massive.

Sergey Sukhotskiy

There was a proposed technique of making Inertial Confinement Fusion using a Tesla Coil about thirty years ago.

It never had a chance with all the research money going to the flawed Tokamak design, or course.

The idea was to use a 12 Million Volt Tesla coil to ionize the fuel mix in the Reactor chamber and then hit it with a laser barrage to heat it to fusion levels.

The hope was that it would be self-sustaining.

By not circulating the plasma, the major problem of the Tokamak is avoided. The magnetic confinement doesn’t have to be anywhere near as strong to hold an onion-shaped ball of plasma that doesn’t move.

Helium would be the by-product, and of course it would percolate out of the plasma ball to be extracted.

But I like THIS idea.

Every time I’ve thought about how to achieve Fusion (without Helium Three), the term “Pinch Fusion” has floated out of my subconscious.

But I couldn’t quite imagine any material strong enough to resist the pressures of forcing the fuel mix into a “pinch” tight enough to cause fusion.

Maybe this is THE solution we’ve looked for, and for sure, it would make a good spaceship drive.

If the power/weight ratio is sufficient perhaps we can even build a Shuttle that can take off like an airplane.

You’d need, what, ten of these?

Use the electricity produced to run air-turbines and the ion jet as a rocket thrust.

William Carr

@MBadgero They say they need berillium because it's more resistant to neutron bombardment.

Angel Lacal
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