WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Scientists at three national laboratories have made a breakthrough in a fusion process that could one day provide cheap electricity from the sun and stars, the U.S. Department of Energy announced on Tuesday. Informed sources said.
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have achieved net energy gain for the first time in a fusion experiment using lasers, one of the people said.
Although the results are a milestone in a scientific quest that has been growing since at least the 1930s, the ratio of energy that goes into the reaction to yield energy at Livermore would have to be 100 times larger to create a process of commercial value. Electricity, one of the sources said.
The FT first reported the experiment.
Fusion works when the nuclei of two atoms are heated to 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit) or more.
But this process consumes a large amount of energy and the trick is to make the process self-sustaining, getting more energy than going in and doing it continuously instead of in brief moments.
If fusion is commercialized, which supporters say will happen in a decade or more, it will have additional benefits, including generating carbon-free electricity in the fight against climate change without the amount of radioactive nuclear waste produced by today’s fission. Furnaces.
Running an electric power plant off grid presents difficult hurdles, such as how to economically control the heat and keep the lasers firing. Other fusion methods use magnets instead of lasers.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on the “major scientific advance.”
A spokeswoman said the department had no information ahead of the conference.
Lawrence Livermore focuses mainly on national security issues related to nuclear weapons and how fusion testing can lead to the safe testing of a nation’s arsenal of such bombs.
But the labs’ advances could help efforts by companies hoping to build fusion-fired power plants, including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Focused Energy and General Fusion.
Investors including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and John Dore have poured money into companies building fusion. According to the Fusion Industry Association, the private industry took in more than $2.8 billion last year, a total of $5 billion in recent years.
Report by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Marguerita Choi and Richard Chang
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