US lab hits fusion milestone raising hopes for clean power

US lab hits fusion milestone raising hopes for clean power

US scientists on Tuesday unveiled a breakthrough in fusion energy that could one day help curb climate change if companies can scale the technology to a commercial level within the next few decades.

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California on December 5 achieved the first net increase in energy in a fusion experiment using lasers, according to the US Department of Energy. The scientists focused a laser on a fuel target to fuse two light atoms into a denser atom, releasing energy.

Lawrence Livermore director Kimberly Bodill told reporters at a Department of Energy event that science and technology hurdles mean commercialization is probably not five or six decades away, but sooner. “With focused effort and investment, decades of research into the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant,” Bodhill said.

Scientists have known for about a century that fusion powers the Sun, and for decades they have sought to develop fusion on Earth.

The experiment briefly achieved what is known as a fusion ignition, producing 3.15 megajoules of energy after the 2.05 megajoules laser hit the target, according to the Energy Department.

Arathi Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who heard about the merger at Livermore when she briefly worked at Livermore in 1978 as a teenager, said the experiment represents “a wonderful example of what persistence can achieve.” .

Nuclear scientists outside the lab said the achievement would be a big step, but more science needs to be done before fusion becomes commercially viable.

Tony Rolston, a nuclear energy expert at the University of Cambridge, estimated that the energy output of the experiment was only 0.5 percent of the energy needed to launch the lasers in the first place.

“So, you could say it’s the result of … a success for science — but it’s still far from providing usable, abundant, clean energy,” Rolston said. To be commercial, a plant must generate enough energy to power the lasers and achieve continuous combustion.

“It’s a single-use combustion (fuel) capsule,” Bodil said of the test. “To get commercial fusion power, you have to be able to produce many fusion ignition events per minute.”

The power industry cautiously welcomed the move, though it stressed that fusion should not undermine efforts to build other alternatives, such as solar and wind power, battery storage and nuclear fission, to achieve energy transition.

“It’s the first step that says, ‘Yes, this is not just a fantasy, in theory it can be done,'” said Andrew Souder, chief technology officer at EPRI, a nonprofit energy research and development group.

Debra Callahan, who worked at Lawrence Livermore until the end of this year and is now a senior scientist at Focused Energy, said the lab results will help companies figure out how to make lasers more efficient. “Everyone is excited about what has been achieved and what is to come.”

Focused Energy is one of dozens of companies working to commercialize fusion power that have raised nearly $5 billion in private and public funding, more than $2.8 billion in the 12 months ending in June of this year, according to the Fusion Industry Association. Is. Several, including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, are looking to use powerful magnets instead of lasers.

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