Much is said about nuclear fusion. As it is an ideal energy supply, it is incredibly efficient and does not generate waste, making it a kind of energy that respects the planet. The technological challenges of building a practical fusion reactor are great. Nonetheless, the scientific community works tirelessly to reproduce the mechanism that keeps stars alive. A new strategic advance in the instrumentation of nuclear fusion could be decisive for the planet’s future of energy.
The science and other stuff to know
Researchers and engineers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California have recently achieved energy profitability for the first time using a nuclear fusion technique, inertial confinement.
The term energy profitability refers to the fact that the mentioned mechanism could produce more energy than it needs to run. This excess energy is usable, and in the future, it could be what supplies our civilization.
The famous ITER nuclear fusion laboratory in south France uses the magnetic confinement method. The NIF facilities, on the other hand, use a technique consisting of heating a handful of tritium and deuterium atoms by illuminating them with high-frequency lasers.
The energy required to ignite the fuel with lasers is a whopping 2.1 megajoules, while the celebrated ignition generated 2.5 megajoules of energy for a short period. The lasers heat the ball of fuel until they generate a primary implosion that triggers a self-sustaining fusion reaction that releases energy. In contrast to magnetic confinement, fuel got 40 percent hotter using the lasers, and power output tripled, according to APS.
The U.S. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, announced on December 13 during a press conference. “Ignition allows us to replicate for the first time certain conditions only found in stars and the sun. This milestone brings us one significant step closer to the possibility of abundant, zero-carbon fusion power powering our society. This is what America looks like to lead, and we’re just getting started. If we can advance fusion power, we could use it to produce clean electricity, transportation fuels, power, heavy industry, and much more,” she said.
The director of the weapons design and physics program at the Livermore Laboratory (LLNL) told Power Magazine: “The fact that we were able to get more energy than we put in provides proof that this is possible. It can be built and upgraded and could be an energy source in the future.”
There is still a long way to go and challenges to overcome in this quest to achieve a sustainable and respectful energy model that preserves our planet and its inhabitants from the climate chaos on the horizon. Nevertheless, many institutions around the world encourage projects like this one that will result in the coming decades. Among them are STEP and ITER, and others.