WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Energy will announce on Tuesday that scientists at a national lab have achieved a breakthrough in fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars that could one day provide a cheap source of electricity, three sources familiar with the matter said.
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have achieved a net increase in energy for the first time, in a laser fusion experiment, one of the scientists said.
While the findings are a significant milestone in a scientific pursuit that has been developing since at least the 1930s, the proportion of energy that goes into the reaction at Livermore to get the energy from it would have to be about 100 times greater to create a process that produces commercial amounts of electricity, one said. Sources.
FT first reported on the experiment.
Fusion works when nuclei of two atoms are subjected to intense heat of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit) or higher which causes them to fuse into a new, larger atom, giving off huge amounts of energy.
But the process takes huge amounts of energy, and the trick was to make the process self-sustaining and get more energy out of the way that goes in, and to do it continuously rather than in short moments.
If commercial fusion is commercialized, which proponents say could happen within a decade or more, it would have additional benefits including generating nearly carbon-free electricity that could help combat climate change without the amounts of radioactive nuclear waste generated by current fission. . reactors.
However, operating an electric power plant outside of fusion presents difficult hurdles, such as how to economically contain the heat and keep the laser firing continuously. Other fusion methods use magnets instead of lasers.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is scheduled to hold a briefing on Tuesday at 10:00 AM EST (1500 GMT) on a “major scientific breakthrough”.
A ministry spokesman said it had no information prior to the briefing.
Lawrence Livermore mainly focuses on national security issues related to nuclear weapons and the fusion experiment could lead to a safer test of the nation’s arsenal of such bombs.
But advances in the labs could also aid efforts at companies hoping to develop fusion power plants, including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Concentrated Energy, and General Fusion.
Investors, including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and John Doerr, have poured money into the merger-building companies. The private industry took in more than $2.8 billion last year, according to the Fusion Industry Association, totaling about $5 billion in recent years.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner. Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Margarita Choi, and Richard Chang
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