Researchers hail major fusion power breakthrough in clean energy push

Researchers hail major fusion power breakthrough in clean energy push
US scientists have made a major breakthrough in an attempt to recreate nuclear fusion, a potential source of near-unlimited clean energy.

Researchers confirmed that they had overcome a major barrier in producing more energy from a fusion experiment than they put in, a problem that has held up development of the technology for decades.

The experiment took place at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, with nuclear fusion often described as the “holy grail” of energy production. The process of fusion powers the sun and other stars, producing enormous amounts of energy.

The process produces huge amounts of energy with only small amounts of short-lived radioactive waste, producing zero greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear fusion holds potential to be the mainstay of electricity supply in the future, both in the home and in the workplace, providing a limitless source of energy that does not contribute to climate change. This source of energy has the potential to revolutionise energy production and ease fears of energy consumption and energy efficiency. 

The experiment was carried out at the National Ignition Facility in California, USA, running at a total cost of 3.2 billion Euros.

The researchers put a tiny amount of hydrogen into a capsule the size of a peppercorn, firing a 192-beam laser is used to heat and compress the hydrogen fuel.

The laser is strong enough to heat the capsule to 100 million degrees Celsius, hotter than the centre of a star, compressing it to more than 100 billion times that of the atmosphere of Earth.

The capsule begins to implode on itself, forcing the hydrogen atoms to fuse and release energy. The lab’s lasers had input 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target, which then produced 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy output.

Significant hurdles remain in the development of this pioneering source of energy, however continued investment and efforts could see a fusion power plant opening within the next few decades.

Pictured: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory target chamber where the experiment took place. Photo credit: LLNL