clean energy breakthrough

Clean energy breakthrough delivers carbon-free energy supply


On 5 December, scientists in the US successfully completed a nuclear fusion experiment with a net energy gain. Experts believe that this clean energy breakthrough could deliver a “clean energy source that could revolutionise the world”.

Researchers revealed at a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California press briefing that the “amazing” achievement culminated from “60 years of global research, development, engineering, and experimentation”. It could spell a future void of carbon reliance and play a crucial role in creating a green future.

This successful nuclear fusion experiment was a “scientific energy breakeven” as for the first time in history, the fusion itself generated more energy than it took the laser to drive the fusion in the first instance.

The clean energy breakthrough saw scientists deliver a 3.15-megajoules of fusion energy output. Thus they demonstrated a scientific basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE). It will be some time before IFE generation will be affordable and available to supply energy to homes and businesses.

At the press conference, LLNL Director Dr Kim Budil said:

“The pursuit of fusion ignition in the laboratory is one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity, and achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people.

“Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit — a continual process of learning, building, expanding knowledge and capability, and then finding ways to overcome the new challenges that emerged.”

Speaking to reporters, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said:

“This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery.”

How does nuclear fusion work?

In nuclear fusion, two nuclei merge into a single heavier nuclear. A large output of energy results from this process. The idea of using laser beams to bring about nuclear fusion was pioneered in the 1960s by a group of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers. Under the leadership of physicist John Nuckolls, this hypothesis kickstarted 60 years of study into lasers, computer modelling, diagnostics, experimental design and simulation, optics, and target fabrication.

In pursuit of this concept, LLNL researchers constructed powerful laser systems and built Nuclear Ignition Fusion (NIF). Situated at LLNL in Livermore, California NIF is the size of a football stadium. It uses high-power laser beams to create temperatures and pressures akin to conditions in the cores of stars and planets. In fact, nuclear fusion is the process by which the sun harnesses its energy.

Why is nuclear fusion a clean energy breakthrough?

With businesses and governments across the world trying to slow global warming, nuclear fusion could provide an infinite source of clean energy. Unlike the process of generating nuclear power during which an atom is split (nuclear fission) resulting in dangerous and long-lasting waste, nuclear fusion generates waste that decays much faster and is far less radioactive.

Hydrogen, which is in limitless supply in seawater and lithium, is an excellent substance for nuclear fusion and its supply is abundant. To make nuclear fusion an available energy source, scientists are now working on making the process readily applicable and cost-effective.


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