The novel idea with the pyroelectric approach to fusion is in its application of the pyroelectric effect to generate the accelerating fields. This is done by heating the crystal from −30°C to +45°C over a period of a few minutes.
A UCLA team, headed by Brian Naranjo, conducted an experiment demonstrating the use of a pyroelectric power source for producing fusion on a laboratory bench top device in April 2005. The device used a lithium tantalate pyroelectric crystal to ionize deuterium atoms and accelerate the ions towards a stationary erbium dideuteride (D2) target. Around 1000 fusion reactions per second took place, each resulting in the production of an 820 keV helium-3 nucleus and a 2.45 MeV neutron. The team anticipated applications of the device as a neutron generator, or in microthrusters for space propulsion.
A team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, led by Dr. Danon and his graduate student Jeffrey Geuther, has confirmed and improved upon these experiments using a device using two pyroelectric crystals and capable of operating at non-cryogenic temperatures.
Nuclear D-D fusion driven by pyroelectric crystals was proposed by Naranjo and Putterman in 2002. It was also discussed by Brownridge and Shafroth in 2004. The possibility of using pyroelectric crystals in a neutron production device (by D-D fusion) was first proposed in a conference paper by Geuther and Danon in 2004 and later in a publication discussing electron and ion acceleration by pyroelectric crystals. The key ingredient of using a tungsten needle to produce sufficient ion beam current for use with a pyroelectric crystal power supply was first proposed and demonstrated in the 2005 Nature paper although in a broader context tungsten emitter tips have been used as ion sources in other applications for many years.
This development is not related to earlier claims of fusion having been observed during sonoluminescence (bubble fusion). In fact, the leader of the team behind this development was one of the main critics of these earlier prospective fusion claims.