11 December, 2021

Call Me When You Can Do This at Room Temperature

They’ve been telling us for about 70 years that reliable fusion generation is “a generation or so away”. The truth is that there are about 100 technological breakthroughs that have to occur to make that possible. We’ve accomplished about 60 of them.

But this is a big one.

Finally, a Fusion Reaction Has Generated More Energy Than Absorbed by The Fuel (sciencealert.com)

For the first time, a fusion reaction has achieved a record 1.3 megajoule energy output – and for the first time, exceeding energy absorbed by the fuel used to trigger it.

Just exceeding doesn’t amount to much. We need to exceed by some pretty significant margins to make it worthwhile. Still, this is huge.

"This result is a historic step forward for inertial confinement fusion research, opening a fundamentally new regime for exploration and the advancement of our critical national security missions. It is also a testament to the innovation, ingenuity, commitment and grit of this team and the many researchers in this field over the decades who have steadfastly pursued this goal," said Kim Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"For me, it demonstrates one of the most important roles of the national labs – our relentless commitment to tackling the biggest and most important scientific grand challenges and finding solutions where others might be dissuaded by the obstacles."

One of the other hurdles is getting this to happen at reasonable temperatures. We may never cross that one. But even if we can do it at fission-like temperatures that might be enough to start getting use out of it.

Then, 192 high-powered laser beams are blasted at the hohlraum, where they are converted into X-rays. These X-rays implode the fuel capsule, heating and compressing it to conditions comparable to those in the center of a star – temperatures in excess of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit) and pressures greater than 100 billion Earth atmospheres – turning the fuel capsule into a tiny blob of plasma.

How do we contain a large scale reaction occurring at 180 million degrees? We don’t. And if we can’t contain it, we can’t sustain it.

So, this is great news, but there’s still a way to go. Next time someone tells you that fusion is a “generation or so” away, you might actually be able to believe them.

But to do that, we need more people in STEM, and far fewer people worried about whether or not math is racist.

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