Fusion has the potential to produce enormous amounts of clean energy with few inputs, little fuel, and little carbon dioxide emissions. A fusion plasma that has been “ignited” will keep burning as long as it is kept in place. However, fusion reactions have proven difficult to control, and no fusion experiment had previously produced more energy than had been put in to get the reaction going.
For over seventy years, scientists have been attempting to harness thermonuclear fusion – the power source of stars – to generate energy. In a new study, scientists have hailed a ‘true breakthrough’ as a fusion reaction has successfully generated more energy than was used to create it. They achieved this holy grail at the National Ignition9 Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US- by producing more energy than the laser pulse used to heat the fuel.
The laser pulse had a 2.05-megajoule energy output, the same as two Mars chocolate bars or the energy required to boil six kettles of water. In comparison to the energy of the laser pulse, the energy from fusion reactions was 50% higher. Neutrons with high energy were released as a result.
Professor Jeremy Chittenden, Co-Director of the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial College London, said: “Everyone working on fusion has been trying to demonstrate for over 70 years that it’s possible to generate more energy from fusion than you put in. This is a true breakthrough moment, which is tremendously exciting. It proves that the long sought-after goal, the ‘holy grail’ of fusion, can be achieved. This brings us closer to generating fusion power on a much larger scale.”
“To turn fusion into a power source, we’ll need to boost the energy gain further. We’ll also need to find a way to reproduce the same effect much more frequently and more cheaply before we can turn this into a power plant. It’s hard to say how quickly we might be able to get to that point. If everything aligns, we could see fusion power in use in ten years, but it could take far longer. The key thing is that with today’s results, we know that fusion power is within reach.”
Professor Steven Rose, also Co-Director of the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial, said: “This wonderful result shows that inertial fusion works at the megajoule scale, which gives a huge impetus to its development for a power source and as a tool for fundamental science.”
Dr. Brian Appelbe, a Research Associate in the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial, said: “As well as being a significant step towards fusion power, this experiment is exciting as it will allow us to study matter at temperatures and densities never previously reached in the laboratory. All sorts of interesting Physics can occur under these conditions, such as the creation of antimatter, and the NIF experiments will give us a window into this world.”