New Milestone in Clean and Inexhaustible EnergyBy Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Tue, 08/31/2021 - 10:12
After a successful experiment that attempts to mimic the process in which the sun produces energy, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced a new milestone in nuclear fusion, which could potentially open the door to an inexhaustible and clean energy production.
The experiment entailed focusing its US$3.5 billion giant array of 200 laser beams on a tiny, singular point in order to create a blast diameter no bigger than a human hair. In the 100 trillionth of a second, a mega burst of energy was released creating 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power—the “holy grail” of nuclear fusion, and bringing scientists ever closer to fusion ignition.
"This result is a historic step for inertial confinement fusion research," explained Kim Budil, director of the laboratory. Co-director of the research center at Imperial College London called it “the most significant advance in inertial fusion since its inception in 1972.”
After spending the better half of a decade on “ignition point” research, this is the first time they have come close to full fusion, which entails forcibly joining hydrogen atoms instead of splitting them. This important distinction limits the byproduct of radioactive waste, which has driven investment for decades.
Although its advancement and ultimate realization is important, it is still an imperfect process. Fusion reactions have proven very difficult to control and thus far, no fusion experiment has produced more energy than had been inputted. Even so, some scientists consider nuclear fusion to be the energy of the future, particularly because it produces little waste and no greenhouse gasses. However, until this process is refined, countries will have to continue relying on nuclear fusion; including Mexico who has only two operational facilities.
“This result opens up a fundamentally new regime for the exploration and advancement of our critical national security missions. Achieving experimental access to thermonuclear combustion in the laboratory is the culmination of decades of scientific and technological work over almost 50 years”, explain the researchers.
Overall, the realization of this experiment stands to shorten the path to break even production now that scientists have successfully met the threshold for onset “ignition”. Looking towards the future, the experts concluded by saying: “this will inspire new avenues of research and offer the opportunity to compare the models used to understand the proximity of ignition. Plans to repeat the experiments are well advanced.”