Skip to comments.Scientists Say Their Giant Laser Has Produced Nuclear Fusion
Posted on 02/13/2014 1:12:49 AM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
Researchers at a laboratory in California say they've had a breakthrough in producing fusion reactions with a giant laser. The success comes after years of struggling to get the laser to work and is another step in the decades-long quest for fusion energy.
Omar Hurricane, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says that for the first time, they've produced significant amounts of fusion by zapping a target with their laser. "We've gotten more energy out of the fusion fuel than we put into the fusion fuel," he says.
Strictly speaking, while more energy came from fusion than went into the hydrogen fuel, only about 1 percent of the laser's energy ever reached the fuel. Useful levels of fusion are still a long way off. "They didn't get more fusion power out than they put in with the laser," says Steve Cowley, the head of a huge fusion experiment in the U.K. called the Joint European Torus, or JET.
The laser is known as the National Ignition Facility, or NIF. Constructed at a cost of more than $3 billion, it consists of 192 beams that take up the length of three football fields. For a brief moment, the beams can focus 500 trillion watts of power more power than is being used in that same time across the entire United States onto a target about the width of a No. 2 pencil.
The goal is fusion: a process where hydrogen atoms are squeezed together to make helium atoms. When that happens, a lot of energy comes out. It could mean the answer to the world's energy problems, but fusion is really, really hard to do. Hurricane says that each time they try, it feels like they're taking a test.
"Of course you want to score real well, you think you've learned the material, but you just have to see how you do," he says.
Over the past few years, NIF has been getting a fat "F." For all its power, it just couldn't get the hydrogen to fuse, and researchers didn't know why. The failures have led NIF's critics to label the facility an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars. In 2012, the government shifted NIF away from its fusion goals to focus on its other mission: simulating the conditions inside nuclear weapons.
But the fusion experiments continued, and Hurricane says researchers now understand why their original strategy wasn't working. In the journal Nature, he and his colleagues report that they've finally figured out how to squeeze the fuel with the lasers. By doing a lot of squeezing right at the start, they were able to keep the fuel from churning and squirting out. The lasers squeezed evenly and the hydrogen turned into helium.
The new technique can't reach "ignition," which is the point at which the hydrogen fusion feeds on itself to make more. Even so, JET's Cowley says, this is still a big moment for NIF.
"I think it's still a very important step forward, they reached fusion conditions, they made some fusion happen, and that's not been done before [with a laser]," he says.
Hurricane says no one knows for sure whether NIF can really reach the point of ignition. "It's not up to me; it's up to Mother Nature," he says. "But we're certainly going to try."
But ponder the planet Jupiter whose core is metallic hydrogen.
Wow... and we owe it all to Darwin and the evolutionary scientists. Oh wait...
Now if we can strap 4 wheels on it, we’ll have something less efficient the than Volt...
I joke... cool news.
Only took 60 years to reach this “milestone.”
World wide, I’ll guess that commercial fusion R&D has passed $100 billion, adjusted for inflation.
Perhaps the laser research and magnetic confinement technology will pay off at some point.
But in terms of energy output, I think we might have been in much better shape if we had invested that money in photo voltaic and hydrogen technology instead.
“Omar Hurricane “?? Are Buck Rogers and Dr Zarkoff working there too? And where is Ming the Merciless?
Don’t be silly. Those three are working at Sandia National Laboratory. Omar works with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.
“But in terms of energy output, I think we might have been in much better shape if we had invested that money in photo voltaic and hydrogen technology instead.”
Not at all in the long run. Economically practical fusion reactors, whether hot or cold fusion, have the capability of making a greater difference in human technologies and adaptation for survival than the discovery of fire. The economic and practical application of fusion energy production makes possible the desalination and purification of water, virtually perpetual electrical power in abundance, the recycling of garbage by breaking it down to the fundamental elements, revolutionizing the chemical industries, and so much more. No hydrogen powered battery can remotely compare in its beneficial applications. It is just going to require extraordinary innovation, time, nad money to discover how to achieve what is certainly available to the people persistent and innovative enough to discover it.
If its on National Public Radio they must be hoping for a way to heavily regulate it.
I am not impressed.
I you heat something hot enough you get fusion, but it took more energy than it produced.
Back in the days of Fusion Magazine, the Russians were in a leadership role in fusion research. I wonder if they have any current resources engaged in the fusion effort. I would guess all the old researchers are dead and gone
Actually they didn’t but they took a step in the right direction.
All I had to do was hit it with this flamethrower and...
His brother, Rock You Like A Hurricane, has had more success in the field of weather control at DARPA
Yup, that’s my concern. I’m just not sure we can achieve fusion without the hundreds of billions or trillions of tons of raw materials that stars use.
Fusion, so easy a red dwarf can do it.
Perhaps it’s “look, we NEED to show some results or the money train is over”
But, if true, Cool.
FYI, a much larger facility for fusion research is being built in France, which the US is also contributing to.
One of these days I think we are all of us going to see a huge wall of combustion stretching across the entire horizon heading towards towards us. Just before I’m consumed I hope I have the time to think “Hey, somebody got something to work really well this time...”
No, Breeder reactors would be the preferred transition to await fusion power.