While still a long way from being commercially available, nuclear fusion is still being pursued as one of the most promising energy sources for mankind. While we may be rapidly depleting the worlds resources of oil, gas, coal and more, the earth could easily provide us with the resources to meet energy demands for billions of years! So it’s easy to understand why billions of dollars millions of man hours and 60 years of development have been poured into nuclear fusion research.
This week Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researches announced that they’ve reached a major milestone in nuclear fusion research, creating fusion in their reactor that is capable of producing more energy than was required to initiate fusion!
Nuclear fission works by splitting atoms, this is what we use in current nuclear power stations, but fusion is a much better power source and works by fusing two atoms together. Fusion is what happens in our sun, and of course other stars in our universe. When two nuclei fuse together an incredible amount of energy is released, much more than you would typically find in nuclear fission.
Using 192 lasers to heat a cylinder that measures just 1cm across to millions of degrees, heating up a tiny plastic pellet which contains two forms of hydrogen plasma (the fuel) on the cylinders interior to the point where it is so hot it produces x-rays that cause the pellet to explode and compress its internal gasses. If this happens enough then a chain reaction will occur and fusion becomes self sustaining, like our Sun. That self sustaining reaction is known as ignition and while this has yet to be accomplished, the latest test output 2.6 x more energy than was used to create that energy.
The next major step will be ignition, something that requires hundreds of millions of degrees and pressure that is thousands of times greater than was what achieved in the latest tests, but after 60 years this is still a huge advance for the technology even though it may still be billions more in investment and decades before it is on a commercial scale.
Thank you Gigaom for providing us with this information.
Image courtesy of Gigaom.