Researchers at the University of Gothenburg collaborating with the University of Iceland are researching a new type of nuclear fusion process that produces almost no dangerous neutrons but instead fast, heavy electrons (muons). This is made possible by the fact that the nuclear reactions take place in relatively small laser-fired fusion reactors fueled by deuterium. They have gotten twice the energy from what they put in and believe they can get up to 20 times the energy out as put in.
They claim one considerable advantage of the muons produced by their process is that they’re charged and can therefore produce electrical energy instantly. Apparently the energy in the neutrons which accumulate in the large billion dollar hot fusion reactors like the planned European Union High Power laser Energy Research (HiPER) is their difficulty of handling because the neutrons are not charged. These neutrons are high-energy and very damaging to living organisms, whereas the fast, heavy electrons are considerably less dangerous.
Scientists have in the past claimed that, though Muon-catalyzed fusion is a well-established and reproducible fusion process that occurs at ordinary temperatures, a net energy production from this reaction cannot occur because of the high energy required to create the muon in the 1st place, their short 2.2 µs half-life, and the high chance that a muon will itself stop the catalyzing fusion. So it will be interesting to find out how they overcame these hurdles.
According to their patent application, the device makes use of a cheap iron-based catalyst that’s usually employed in the industrial manufacture of styrene, a substance used in plastics, latex, and building insulations. Over 25 million tonnes of styrene were produced in 2010 alone. The catalyst performs 2 functions, first to convert the molecular hydrogen to atomic hydrogen, and secondly, to further cause a transition of the atomic hydrogen into the ultra-dense state if need be. The researchers claim that the mechanisms behind the catalytic transition from the gaseous state to the ultra-dense state are quite well understood, and it has been experimentally shown that this transition can be achieved using various methods, including, for example,the commercially available styrene catalysts.