Finally, a Fusion Reaction Has Generated More Energy Than Absorbed by The Fuel


Inertial confinement fusion may have finally been "ignited," according to physicists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), who made this discovery in August. They've just confirmed it. They experimented with taking energy out of the fusion reactor beyond what was needed to fuse the material.

The event unleashed 1.3 Megajoules of fusion energy, which was 25 times more than the previous record-breaking trials from 2018 and an eight-fold improvement over the test conducted this past spring. The results are presented in the Nature journal.

For the first time in any fusion research facility, co-lead author Annie Kritcher remarked, "In these tests we produced a burning plasma state where more fusion energy is emitted from the fuel than was necessary to trigger the fusion processes, or the amount of work done on the fuel."

Inertial Confinement Fusion is the name of the fusion strategy employed at the NIF. The research being done in fusion reactors like Tokamak and Stellarators is different from this. There, the hot fusing plasma is continuously pumped with energy. Energy is extracted from distinct events instead in inertial confinement fusion. Small fuel pellets are heated and compressed using the most powerful laser in the world to ignite fusion, which releases an enormous amount of energy that can be converted into electricity.

The entire structure is the size of three football fields, but when the laser target is heated, it produces a hot spot little bigger than a human hair in diameter. The fusing pellet emits 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second in that small area.

The discovery was made possible by a far better comprehension of what is actually taking place in that small area. Models were adjusted and put to the test, laser pulse lengths were experimented with, and the hohlraum—the radiation cavity containing the pellet—was designed.

The future of fusion research is really promising, but there is still a lot of work to be done, according to Kritcher. Following this study, the researchers significantly enhanced both platforms' hohlraum efficiency by raising the hot spot pressure, which led to improved performance and the record 1.35 MJ HYBRID-E experiment.

This fusion accomplishment is a tremendous milestone, but the team only views it as a "basecamp." The next step is to enhance and expand on the current strategy in order to get even higher pressures and, thus, even higher energy released by this kind of fusion.

Reference: Nature

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