Researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have successfully generated more energy than is used to create fusion energy.
Scientists around the world are trying to use thermonuclear fusion—the power source of burning stars—to generate energy. The problem, so far, with generating fusion energy is that it does not provide enough output relative to the inputs it requires. But now, scientists are hailing a “real breakthrough” because a fusion reaction has successfully generated more energy than was used to create it.
A group of researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has succeeded in producing more energy than the laser pulse used to heat fuel. Physicists at Imperial College London are already helping to analyze data from the successful experiment
“In order to make fusion a source of electricity we need to increase the acquisition of energy. We also need to find a way to reproduce the same effect more often and more cheaply before we it could be a power plant. It’s hard to say how quickly we can get to that point. If everything aligns we could see fusion power being used in ten years, but it could take a while. The key The thing is that with today’s results we know that the power of fusion is within reach,” said Professor Jeremy Chittenden, Co-Director of the Center for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial College London.
Fusion forces hydrogen atoms together, which produces more energy, and, importantly, limited radioactive waste. Researchers around the world use two main methods to create fusion energy. NIF focuses on inertial confinement fusion, which uses a system of lasers to heat fuel pellets that produce a plasma—a cloud of charged ions. Fuel pellets contain “heavy” versions of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—which are easier to fuse and produce more energy. However, the fuel pellets must be heated and pressurized to conditions found in the center of the sun, which is a natural fusion reactor.
Once these conditions are met, the fusion reactions release many particles, including alpha particles, which interact with the surrounding plasma and heat it up. The heated plasma then emits more alpha particles and so on, in a self-sustaining reaction—a process called ignition.