Fusion Milestone At NIF

in STEMGeeks2 months ago

A recent fusion experiment got a full 1.35 MJ of energy. That’s about 70 % of the energy of the laser that ignited the capsule with the hydrogen fuel. It’s still not a 100 % or more but it’s getting closer.

Image by Eduin Escobar from Pixabay

Scientists at the laboratories of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the United States work on researching and developing fusion technologies. More specifically they fire powerful lasers into hydrogen fuel. Their goal is to achieve a state when the energy released by the fusion reaction go over the amount of energy needed to ignite the reaction.

The scientists at NIF work with Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) technology. They generate 192 high-energy laser beams that all fire into a capsule about the size of a grain of pepper. The capsule is placed in a special hohlraum vessel and includes deuterium and tritium – hydrogen isotopes. When the capsule is hit by the laser beams it gets incredibly compressed and becomes about a hundred times denser than lead and gets heated up to unimaginable 100,000,000° Celsius. That’s when thermonuclear fusion begins.

Recently, on the 8th of August of 2021 scientists at NIF performed an experiment from which they got 1.35 MJ of energy. That is about 70 % of the energy that was used by the lasers to hit the fuel capsule. To get over the 100 % mark we need about 1.9 MJ of energy. Yet, this is a huge milestone for fusion technologies and future energy production.

Why? Because the team not only beat the previous record by getting 8 times more energy than the previous record but also because they are convinced they achieved the coveted burning plasma phase. When this happens the fusion reaction sustains itself by the heat it produces. This is key to get stable fusion that would actually produce energy. They think they achieved this but there will be further analysis and simulations to confirm it.

So, what would be the next step? We need to figure out how to keep the hydrogen fuel burning for longer to get more burning plasma.


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