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Possible breakthrough in the merger: "It could herald an era of green and inexhaustible energy"

Possible breakthrough in the merger: “It could herald an era of green and inexhaustible energy”

It hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, but there are many indications that US researchers will make a breakthrough in fusion power. For the first time in a controlled fusion, more energy is extracted than invested. The professional world is impressed, but there are also reminders.

Energy is humanity’s biggest problem. You can’t do without it, but things aren’t going so well with it either: after all, the massive use of fossil fuels has set in motion climate change with uncertain consequences. A message from the US comes at just the right time: At the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, researchers are said to have succeeded for the first time in controlled nuclear fusion to generate more power than they put in. On it. The solution to the energy problem?

According to a report from “Financial Times” used 2.1 megajoules of laser energy to start a fusion reaction that released 2.5 megajoules. The newspaper refers to two anonymous employees of the institute. The US Department of Energy has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday to present a “scientific breakthrough.”

Reactions in the professional world so far have been positive, even if reference is made to the major hurdles that still stand in the way of nuclear fusion as a usable energy source. According to the Science Media Center (SMC), Jeremy Chittenden, Professor of Plasma Physics at Imperial College London, calls the report a “real breakthrough that is incredibly exciting” as long as it is confirmed that the experiment released more energy than was intended. was used for the experiment. Plasma generation was required. “It proves that the long awaited goal, the ‘holy grail’ of merger, can in fact be achieved,” Chittenden said.

However, to be able to use fusion as a power source, the energy yield must increase further, Chittenden says. “Also, before we can realistically turn this into a power plant, we need to find a way to reproduce the same effect much more often and much cheaper.”

Still a long way from the power plant

But there are caveats: “While this is good news, this result is still a long way from the actual power gain required to generate electricity,” Tony Roulstone, professor of nuclear power at Cambridge University, told SMC for consideration. This is because the lasers had to be powered with 500 megajoules of energy for the experiment. “So even though they got 2.5 megajoules, that’s a lot less than the energy they used for the lasers in the first place,” Roulstone said.

In other words, according to Roulstone: “Energy production, mainly in the form of thermal energy, was still only 0.5 percent of the input.” However, a technical goal for fusion would be to recover much of the energy used in the process and achieve an energy gain of twice the energy required by lasers. Although the result of the NIF is a “scientific success”, it is still a long way from generating useful, abundant and clean energy.

If the California results prove true, it would mark a “remarkable point in human history,” Mark Wenman, senior professor of nuclear materials at Imperial College London, told SMC. This could even “herald an era of green, safe, and essentially inexhaustible energy in a compact form without long-lived nuclear waste.” In his opinion, the possible success of the NIF should also contribute to “more funds flowing towards nuclear fusion research and the time when we can connect a fusion power plant to the electric grid is getting closer.” .

“These are great results”

“These are excellent results, for which we would like to congratulate our NIF colleagues,” said Sibylle Günter, scientific director of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP), when asked by “For the first time, the fusion reactions released more energy than the laser irradiated.” However, the efficiency of lasers in converting electrical energy to laser energy was not taken into account when calculating energy gain.

However, according to Günter, the technology used in California is probably too inefficient for a power plant because the fuel must be directly irradiated. “Furthermore, you would have to ignite such a pellet in a power plant at least ten times per second. These and many other technological questions still need to be cleared up before one can think of building a power plant.”