Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have achieved a net energy gain in a nuclear fusion reaction for the second time since their historic breakthrough in December 2022. The experiment was conducted in the National Ignition Facility (NIF) on July 30th, and the results are still being analyzed.
Nuclear fusion is the process of smashing together light elements such as hydrogen to form heavier elements, releasing a huge burst of energy in the process. This approach, which gives rise to the heat and light of the sun and other stars, has been hailed as having huge potential as a sustainable, low-carbon energy source. It raises the prospect of plentiful clean power, as the reactions release no greenhouse gases or radioactive waste byproducts. A single kilogram of fusion fuel, which is made up of heavy forms of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium, provides as much energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel.
In December 2022, Lawrence Livermore achieved a net energy gain in a fusion experiment using lasers. That experiment briefly achieved what’s known as fusion ignition by generating 3.15 megajoules of energy output after the laser delivered 2.05 megajoules to the target. In other words, it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.
The US Department of Energy called it “a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power” . However, scientists have warned that the technology is far from ready to turn into viable power plants and is not about to solve the climate crisis. Nevertheless, the latest breakthroughs are evidence that the power of the stars can be harnessed on Earth.
The Latest Breakthrough
The recent experiment conducted in the National Ignition Facility (NIF) on July 30th produced a higher energy yield than in December 2022, according to a Lawrence Livermore spokesperson. Final results are still being analyzed.
The Potential of Fusion Energy
Fusion energy has the potential to one day accelerate the planet’s shift away from fossil fuels, which are the major contributors to climate change. While it might take decades for fusion to reach its full potential, the recent breakthroughs are a significant milestone toward a clean energy future. The greater fusion output from the facility will produce more data “that allows us to maintain the confidence in our nuclear deterrent without the need for further underground testing,” said Dr. Herrmann.
Scientists have warned that the technology is far from ready to turn into viable power plants. The facility was all built with 20-year-old technology, and if they were to rebuild it today, they would use new technology that is a lot more efficient, could shoot at much higher rates, with higher efficiency and very high precision. The nuclear-fusion field has been mainly divided into those that use lasers to spark ignition like a series of firecrackers, and those that deploy magnets strong enough to lift an aircraft carrier to control streams of plasma flowing around a doughnut-shaped machine called a tokamak.
The recent breakthroughs in nuclear fusion energy are a significant milestone toward a clean energy future. While the technology is far from ready to turn into viable power plants, the potential of fusion energy is enormous. The greater fusion output from the facility will produce more data that allows us to maintain the confidence in our nuclear deterrent without the need for further underground testing. The recent breakthroughs are evidence that the power of the stars can be harnessed on Earth.