The team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) National Ignition Facility is behind the experiment, which lasted less than a billionth of a second. The experiment involved the concentration of 192 laser beams focused into a capsule, the shell of which is made of diamond with a tiny hydrogen fuel pellet inside.
The beams compressed the hydrogen with temperatures hotter than the middle of the sun and energy was released. A fleeting star in a jar!
Nuclear fusion, unlike nuclear fission used in current nuclear power plants, doesn’t produce a lot of toxic problematic radioactive waste or greenhouse gases. Nuclear fusion combines hydrogen atoms that are readily available in seawater.
“This astonishing scientific advance puts us on the precipice of a future no longer reliant on fossil fuels but instead powered by new clean fusion energy,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said.
With more investments and development, the technology offers promise for an unlimited clean energy source that doesn’t release damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
What lead to this monumental event
This world-first was a culmination of 60 years’ work by many generations of scientists and collaborators passing on results from previous learnings and explorations.
A project of this size required several complex engineering, design and data analysis systems, including the world’s largest and most energetic laser system. Many experts collaborated to not only build this capability but also analyse results for improvements.
The successful ignition event that occurred on Monday 5 December, utilised a more robust capsule chamber leading to 3.15 megajoules of energy being produced. Although this is only enough power to boil about 15 or 20 kettles, it exceeded the 2.05 megajoules used to produce it and, in so doing, proved energy production is possible through nuclear fusion.
The future of nuclear fusion
Despite experts warning there are still many years of research ahead to make the technology commercially viable, interest and willingness to invest continues. In fact, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (NY) has announced that over US$624 million has been authorised to be spent on America’s Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program to build on the breakthrough.
Along with interest from the private sector this will hopefully yield improved, and perhaps even transformative results. Surely the allure of limitless clean energy is too high not to.