A new milestone in nuclear fusion research, successfully achieving the state of “burning plasma”

2022-06-07 0 By

In that moment, nuclear fusion was a reality.Scientists have been working on fusion technology for years to create star-like energy on earth, but a team of US scientists recently achieved “burning plasma” using high-powered lasers, which in a flash can produce more energy than the total input.Nuclear fusion is basically a reaction that mimics solar energy. The sun’s core, at about 27 million degrees Celsius, fuses about 620 million tons of hydrogen into 616 million tons of helium every second, and converts 4 million tons of matter into energy. To create these reactions on earth, it would take a lot of energy to start the process.The achievement took place at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), which has been open since 2009, where scientists are working on fusion technologies to generate enormous pressures and temperatures,192 lasers emit 1.9 trillion joules (MJ) of ultraviolet energy, which is then poured into a hohlraum the size of a ball bearing to implode the fuel capsule, allowing the atoms to fuse into helium and release a huge amount of energy.This time, the fusion reaction at the National Ignition Facility successfully released 1.35 MJ joules of energy, marking the first time that the fusion process produced more energy than the total energy input.LLNL physicist Alex Zylstra says fusion experiments over the past few decades have used a large number of “external” heating systems to drive fusion reactions at high temperatures and pressures, but we have now reached the milestone of allowing fusion reactions to heat themselves for the first time.According to the team, this is known as self-heating. The fusion plasma can heat itself, and when its own heating energy exceeds that of the external energy, the plasma is in a state of combustion.Now scientists have taken a small but crucial step towards a national ignition facility.In this experiment, the scientists first fine-tuned the device, including expanding the laser energy focused on the fuel, while changing the geometry of the target and the way energy is transmitted between the laser beams, to control the implosion process of compressing and heating the fuel in an entirely new way, creating a thermoelectric plasma.According to LLNL physicist and lead author Annie Kritchey, “For the first time we have achieved a burning plasma state in a nuclear fusion research facility.”Even at nanosecond levels, it will take decades to achieve sustained, stable fusion reactions, but the team has finally taken an important step toward ignition, and still sees the ephemeral autothermoelectric plasma as an important proof-of-concept.(First image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)