Scientists achieve nuclear fusion with giant laser
A successful nuclear fusion process could help solve the world's energy problems
Computerworld - Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Wednesday said they've achieved a first: A nuclear fusion system has produced more energy than it initially absorbed.
While that may seem a small victory, it is the first time scientists have been able to replicate, to a small degree, the same process that the Sun and stars use to create their massive amounts of energy.
The research, published in the peer reviewed journal Nature, involved a petawatt power laser used to try to ignite fusion plasma fuel in a confined space. Each pulse of the laser, which delivered peak power of 1,000,000,000,000,000 watts, lasted less than 30 femtoseconds, or 0.00000000000003 seconds.
The laser squeezes hydrogen atoms together producing helium atoms, and in the process a massive amount of energy is released.
A fusion reaction is markedly different from fission reactions that are used in today's nuclear reactors. Instead of splitting atoms as fission does, fusion bonds atoms.
With fusion, only a tiny amount of fuel is present at any given time (typically about a milligram), according to Mike Dunne, director for Laser Fusion Energy at Lawrence Livermore Labs.
The laser, known as the National Ignition Facility (NIF), uses 192 beams 300 yards long that focus on a fuel cell about the diameter of a No. 2 pencil.
While powerful, the laser has not yet been able to ignite the plasma fuel. When and if it does, the fuel would begin to burn in a self-sustaining reaction to such a degree that it will produce a megajoule of energy.
Producing that staggering amount of energy could help to solve the world's energy issues.
"Think of it like the gas in the piston chamber of your car, where the idea is to ignite all the fuel to produce an efficient burn. So it is 'self-sustaining' but can never be 'run-away.' In the case of laser fusion, the burn time is incredibly short - typically a few tens of picoseconds," Dunne said in an email to Computerworld.
The researchers' latest victory marks the accomplishment of a key goal on the way to plasma fuel ignition: the project generated energy through a fusion reaction that exceeded the amount of energy deposited into deuterium-tritium fusion fuel and hotspot during the implosion process, "resulting in a fuel gain greater than unity," the team stated in the Nature article.
- Shifting Gears: The Value of Customer-Driven Quality in Manufacturing In today's competitive manufacturing market, the customer must be the center of the quality universe. This paper details how manufacturers can improve customer...
- Aberdeen Group: Marketing Analytics for Manufacturing: Forging Customer Insights There are no recalls for poor marketing. Manufacturers need to get their customer intelligence and messaging right the first time. Learn how.
- Unlocking the Promise of Demand Sensing and Shaping through Big Data Analytics Many organizations have limited insight into big data. These limitations have significant opportunity costs and can have a negative effect on identifying and...
- The Brave New World of Customer-Centric Manufacturing The Unique Opportunity for Manufacturers to Better Understand their Consumers
- LIVE EVENT: 5/7, The End of Data Protection As We Know It. Introducing a Next Generation Data Protection Architecture. Traditional backup is going away, but where does this leave end-users?
- On-demand webinar: "Mobility Mayhem: Balancing BYOD with Enterprise Security" Check out this on-demand webinar to hear Sophos senior security expert John Shier deep dive into how BYOD impacts your enterprise security strategy... All Emerging Technologies White Papers | Webcasts