Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have reached a milestone in their fusion experiments. The researchers were able to ignite a burst that produced over 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power. Scientists on the project say they have validated the laser-driven implosion techniques that have been studied at both the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics.
The breakthrough experiment was conducted on August 8. It’s hailed as a major step toward alleviating concern about the ability to ignite nuclear fuel in the lab and concerns a significantly larger laser would be needed to do it. Fusion power has been a subject of research since the early 1970s as scientists investigated the use of lasers to compress thermal nuclear material long enough and at sufficiently high temperatures to trigger ignition.
Ignition would produce an output of fusion energy significantly higher than the energy required to ignite the fuel. In the experiment, researchers focused 192 lasers on a target the size of a BB. They were able to produce a hot spot approximately the diameter of a human hair which is able to generate more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.
Researchers say the advance puts them on the threshold of fusion ignition, one major research goal. The experiment also marked the first time researchers created fusion reactions that appear to be self-sustaining. In a self-sustaining reaction, particles flowing out from the hotspot on the BB heat surrounding hydrogen atoms and cause them to fuse.
Researchers note that minor adjustments to the apparatus and fuel target could significantly increase energy yields over a short timeframe. While researchers say the breakthrough means they are near to completing their job, major hurdles are remaining. Researchers have long wanted to implement clean fusion energy, but they note proving you can make the energy is one step and putting it on the power grid is another. They believe the engineering required to connect fusion power to the grid could be a bigger task than the physics behind fusion itself.