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A historic day for clean fusion energy

Metal Tech News - December 14, 2022

National Ignition Facility achieves landmark fusion energy breakeven.

For the first time in history, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility have achieved one of the most significant milestones in energy research by attaining scientific energy breakeven through nuclear fusion.

What this means is that for the first time ever, the output energy from the fusion reaction was more than the energy used to ignite the reaction.

"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," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

Under the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, LLNL announced this major breakthrough decades in the making.

"We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous," said Arati Prabhakar, the President's chief advisor for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Today's milestone shows what we can do with perseverance."

On Monday, Dec. 5, the team at NIF successfully ignited a stable fusion reaction, delivering more than 2 million joules through 192 laser beams into a tiny fuel pellet; the result was nearly double the input.

"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," said LLNL Director Kim Budil. "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."

With countless congratulations from heads of state, academia, and scientists alike, this unprecedented moment will be recorded in history as the first official moment that fusion truly began since the earliest days of atomic research nearly 100 years ago.

Perseverance to success

Just months after achieving a record-breaking 1.3 million joule input, the NIF team rocketed forward past the 2 million mark.

You can read about the previous success, and more in-depth detail on nuclear fusion at Nuclear fusion breakthrough confirmed in the August 17, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.

Surpassing the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target, the output energy climbed as high as 3.15 megajoules, demonstrating for the first time a fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE).

This is the same process that powers the Sun and has allowed life to thrive on Earth.

More scientifically, it is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, with a byproduct of releasing a large amount of energy.

In the 1960s, a group of pioneering scientists at LLNL hypothesized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in a laboratory setting.

Led by physicist John Nuckolls, who later served as LLNL director from 1988 to 1994, this revolutionary idea became inertial confinement fusion, kicking off more than 60 years of research and development in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target fabrication, computer modeling and simulation, and experimental design.

In pursuit of near-infinite clean energy, LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems, leading to the eventual creation of NIF, the world's largest and most energetic laser system.

Located in Livermore, California, and roughly the size of a sports stadium, NIF uses close to 200 powerful laser beams to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars and giant planets.

While many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to achieve that simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses, DOE is currently restarting a broad-based, coordinated IFE program in the U.S. to jumpstart this process. Combined with private-sector investment, there is now a lot of momentum to drive rapid progress toward fusion commercialization.


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