For decades, physicists have worked toward perfecting nuclear fusion technology because of the immense clean energy potential it offers.
It was reported on Tuesday that scientists have broken through a significant barrier by extracting more energy from a fusion experiment than they had initially put in.
CNN has confirmed with a person familiar with the project that US scientists working at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have created the first-ever nuclear fusion event with a net energy gain.
Officials believe this breakthrough will lead to future developments in national security and renewable power. read on to know more.
Net Energy Gain Achieved
On Tuesday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm revealed a “major scientific breakthrough” in the decades-long effort to tap into the energy source that drives the sun and stars: fusion.
The Energy Department reported that for the first time, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California generated more energy from a fusion reaction than was necessary to ignite it.
At this Washington, DC news conference, Granholm was present alongside experts from Livermore.
“This is a big step forward for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have worked their whole lives to make fusion ignition a reality,” said Granholm, adding that the breakthrough “will go down in history.”
As per AP news, Arati Prabhakar, a science adviser for the White House, said that the fusion ignition was “a great example of what hard work can do” and “an engineering marvel beyond belief.” She was there with Granholm.
Net Energy Gain Has Been Elusive As Fusion Is difficult to control
Fusion happens at such high temperatures and pressures that it is hard to control, making it hard to get net energy gain.
Fusion happens when two hydrogen atoms are pushed together so hard that they combine into helium. This gives off a lot of energy and heat. It doesn’t make radioactive waste like other nuclear reactions do.
Fusion research has been done for decades and cost billions of dollars. The results have been exciting, but only for a fraction of a second. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility, which is where the success happened, used 192 lasers and temperatures many times hotter than the center of the sun to make a very short fusion reaction in the past.
The lasers concentrate a huge amount of heat on a tiny metal can. The result is a plasma environment that is so hot that fusion may happen.
One problem is that fusion requires a lot of heat and pressure to force the elements to stick together and keep them there. So far, no experiment has been able to get more energy out of it than it took to make it work.
The National Ignition Facility in California is an experiment that costs $3.5 billion
Fusion Energy Could Prove To Be Limitless And Carbon-Free Energy
Fusion supporters hope that one day it will be able to produce almost unlimited, carbon-free energy that can replace fossil fuels and other traditional sources of energy. Fusion is still a long way from making energy that can power homes and businesses. Researchers said it was still an important step, though.
Professor Dennis Whyte, director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leader in fusion research, said, “It’s almost like a starting gun going off.” “We should work hard to make fusion energy systems available so we can fight climate change and make sure we have enough energy.”