Tomorrow, the US Department of Energy (DOE) will announce a major breakthrough in the field of fusion energy science. For the very first time, researchers have managed to create a nuclear fusion reaction that is capable of producing more energy than it consumes.
The research could ultimately help experts tap into an unlimited source of clean energy by harnessing nuclear fusion – the process used by the sun to generate energy.
According to the DOE, a fusion reaction occurs when two light nuclei merge to form a single, heavier nucleus. “The process releases energy because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei. The leftover mass becomes energy,” explains the DOE.
For decades, scientists have attempted to recreate this process in an effort to produce fusion energy. Now, experts at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have made a giant leap closer to this goal.
Using about 200 lasers, the team has demonstrated that they can create neutrons that contain a massive amount of energy, which can be extracted as heat.
“They contain the fusion reaction by bombarding the outside with lasers,” fusion expert Tony Roulstone told CNN. “They heat up the outside; that creates a shockwave.”
While the researchers were successful in producing energy through nuclear fusion, the scale remains quite small.
Jeremy Chittenden is the co-director of the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial College in London.
“It’s about what it takes to boil 10 kettles of water. In order to turn that into a power station, we need to make a larger gain in energy – we need it to be substantially more,” Chittenden told CNN.
“At the moment we’re spending a huge amount of time and money for every experiment we do. We need to bring the cost down by a huge factor.”
Despite the need for further research, Chittenden says the project is “a true breakthrough moment which is tremendously exciting.”
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