Scientists working with the most powerful laser in the world at the U.S. National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California say that they are on the verge of a massive breakthrough in nuclear research. The goal of the NIF is to achieve fusion ignition and they believe that they are coming close to accomplishing that goal. If successful their work could have enormous implications for the future of clean energy, though practical use for fusion energy will still be years away.
Clean energy breakthrough
The NIF, which was completed in 2009, is devoted both to pursuing fusion energy and to ensuring that America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons remains safe and reliable.
National security concerns have generally been the focus of the NIF since its founding but the dream of achieving nuclear fusion, an ambition pursued by scientists for decades, has always been alive at the facility.
Fusion, which is the process through which stars produce energy, would provide near limitless clean energy if it could be harnessed by humans.
Along with the fact that it hasn’t actually been done yet, the difficult for harnessing fusion energy would come from the massive investment of time and resources which would be required initially.
Still, the work being done now to achieve fusion could be enormously consequential in the coming decades and the NIF is positioned at the center of it all.
The key breakthrough occurred on August 8, when the massive laser was fired at a tiny capsule containing two different hydrogen isotopes.
Scientists reach fusion milestone
The laser subjected this capsule to a heat which exceeded the center of the Sun; the results of this experiment exceeded the wildest expectations of scientists researching fusion.
Fusion energy requires the fuel to yield more energy than it receives. In this case, it must emit more power than what was delivered to it by the laser.
The latest experiment resulted in a yield which was 70% of what was delivered by the laser. This is eight times the yield of the previous record achieved by the NIF earlier in 2021 and 25 times the yield achieved in experiments in 2018.
This is closer than the NIF has ever been to successfully harnessing fusion energy and progress at the facility is clearly being made rapidly.
The next step for scientists is to reproduce the results of the experiment to ensure that they are capable of reaching such a high yield again.
It might be many years before the world begins to see fusion power put to practical uses as a source of renewable energy, but the progress being made at the NIF may be bringing that dream significantly closer.