A breakthrough in the field of fusion energy? Major announcement expected from American scientists

A breakthrough in the field of fusion energy? Major announcement expected from American scientists

A breakthrough in the field of fusion energy? Major announcement expected from American scientists

According to a Financial Times report, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory may have reached a remarkable new high point for fusion reactions, generating more energy than was pumped out in a recent experiment.

The publication suggests that scientists “knowing the preliminary results of a recent experiment” have discussed the result and analysis is underway. A major announcement is scheduled at LLNL on Tuesday, December 13. It is scheduled to be broadcast live by the Department of Energy around 7 a.m. PT.

The National Ignition Facility operates an “inertial confinement fusion” experiment that sees nearly 200 lasers fired directly at a tiny hydrogen capsule. According to Nathan Garland, a physicist at Griffith University in Australia, the lasers create a plasma around the capsule that eventually triggers an implosion – these are the conditions that allow fusion reactions to take place.

Fusion is the reaction that powers our sun and it works by smashing two heavy atoms together. It requires extreme pressure and extreme heat, but trying to recreate the conditions in a lab is “super difficult,” Garland noted.

The energy released by the fusion of the two atoms is massive and, above all, does not release carbon. Unlike fission – the splitting of atoms – used in nuclear power plants, fusion also leaves no radioactive waste, nor is there any risk of meltdown. In short, if we could harness the power of fusion, it would revolutionize energyallowing us to produce clean energy without releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If the FT report and social media chatter are correct, LLNL scientists could have achieved a “fusion energy gain” which is denoted by the letter Q. In a fusion experiment, if Q > 1, then we are on the way to a real energy breakthrough, the one that scientists have long dreamed of achieving. “That’s definitely a big deal, if that’s true,” Garland said.

But, as with any science, it is good to be careful and not to exaggerate results that have not yet been fully analyzed. We’ve been here before, after all. In 2013, reports were circulating that the NIF had achieved this feat. This was not the case.

More recently, however, the NIF has made great strides towards achieving its goal. In August 2021, the researchers reported that they had, for a brief moment, recreated the power of the sun in a self-sustaining reaction. That’s a good pedigree, and one that makes us here at CNET Science a little more confident in the rumors.

A spokesperson for LLNL told CNET “our analysis is still ongoing, so we are unable to provide details or confirmation at this time” and provided a link to the media advisory – which, in capitals suggests a “MAJOR SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH”. “

The result will not mean that we suddenly have an unlimited supply of energy. It is likely that the reaction that took place at the NIF lasted only a fraction of a second or even less. But it is the first step in a journey towards fusion energy as a viable and serious technology to power our world. It provides proof of concept that fusion experiments like this can achieve Q > 1.

So while we’re always careful to throw around the word “breakthrough” when reporting on cutting-edge science – particularly in the field of fusion energy – it seems like it might be justified here. We will have to wait and see.


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