Laser-based fusion has the potential to generate unlimited energy that is clean and safe. A team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 1 has recently made a number of advancements that could pave the way for laser-based fusion to become a reality in the future.
This article takes a closer look at the work undertaken by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and some of the wider benefits of clean energy.
How can we benefit from clean energy?
Electricity produced from renewable sources like the sun, wind and water is cleaner than the electricity generated from gas or coal. The production of electricity is the number one source2 of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Climate change is a serious issue that is more prevalent than previously thought, with potentially disastrous results for future generations. Climate scientists have estimated that the world will reach 9C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100 if current greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.
If emissions are reduced immediately and aggressively, we can push back the temperature increase by several months. However, it will take near-perfect circumstances to stop the planet warming to greater than 1C above pre-industrial temperatures. Even then, severe warming may still occur (sooner rather than later).
The best way to tackle climate change is to move away from polluting energy sources like gasoline and nuclear power and invest in clean energy research and development. One potential source of unlimited clean energy is Laser-Powered Fusion energy.
What is laser-powered fusion energy?
Laser fusion is a process that creates enormous amounts of energy3 by converting light into heat - it is mainly used in medicine and astrophysics.
For laser fusion work, two materials must be heated to relatively high temperatures - well beyond the melting point of iron - before they can fuse together. This causes the deuterium to combine with the tritium, releasing energy in the form of light.
This article will explore the types of lasers that might be able to create fusion in the lab, how much energy they can produce and how long it will take to accomplish the task.
What are the latest developments in fusion energy?
Fusion energy is created when two atoms fuse with each other, producing energy in the form of hot, dense gas. Due to its short fuse time, fusion nuclear energy can be generated at low temperatures, making it potentially more versatile than other forms of energy.
However, the technology remains in its infancy, and not all fusion energy facilities have been designed with military applications in mind.
Nonetheless, a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has successfully used an experimental fusion power technology to produce temperatures and pressures similar to those of the sun for a fraction of a second, a milestone for harnessing fusion energy.
By using NIF to focus 10 quadrillion watts of laser power onto a target the size of a BB for 100 trillionths of a second, the team was able to generate hot spots exceeding those triggered by nuclear weapons.
Analysts from Imperial College London suggest that this new energy yield is eight times better than experiments conducted in spring 2021 and is 25 times bigger than the energy yield achieved by NIF in 2018.
It is possible to use lasers to concentrate energy in plasma and create conditions where fusion reactions occur abundantly without the emission of Co2.
Moving forward, the next generation of lasers will assist in the urgent process of constructing a clean and efficient technology that, in turn, will help tackle the world’s energy crisis.
References and Further Reading
- Breakthrough: Laser-Powered Fusion Experiment Nears ‘Ignition, PowerMag,[https://www.powermag.com/breakthrough-laser-powered-fusion-experiment-nears-ignition/]
- EPA. (2021). Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. US EPA. [https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data]
- Laser-initiated fusion leads the way to safe, affordable clean energy, TechCrunch , https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/09/laser-initiated-fusion-leads-the-way-to-safe-affordable-clean-energy/amp/?guccounter=1]