Fusion energy, the “holy grail” of clean energy, is a step closer to reality

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The Department of Energy plans to announce Tuesday that scientists have for the first time produced a fusion reaction that creates a net energy gain — a major milestone in the decades-old, multi-billion-dollar quest to develop technology Provides unlimited, cheap and clean energy.

The goal of fusion research is to replicate A nuclear reaction through which energy is generated on the sun. It’s the “Holy Grail” of carbon-free energy, as scientists have it Haunted since the fifties. It’s still at least a decade – perhaps decades – away from commercial use, but the latest development is likely to be touted by the Biden administration as confirmation of a massive investment by the government over the years.

Huge amounts of public and private money have been poured into the fusion race around the world, aiming to manufacture fusion machines that can bring electricity to the grid with no carbon footprint, no radioactive waste and far fewer resources than it takes to harness solar and wind power. Besides the climate benefits, promoters say it could help bring cheap electricity to poorer parts of the world.

“For most of us, it was just a matter of time,” said a senior fusion scientist familiar with the work of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where the discovery was made.

The power of nuclear fusion is closer to reality

was evolution It was first reported in the Financial Times on Sunday. It was confirmed by two familiar people with searchAnd the who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid Anticipate the official announcement. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is due to make an announcement on Tuesday In a media event described as the unveiling of a “major scientific breakthrough”.

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The department and lab declined to comment. A lab official said the researchers are still finalizing their analysis and no official results will be released until Tuesday.

The science of nuclear fusion relies on smashing two atoms together at incredibly high speeds and converting the energy from that reaction into electricity that can power homes and offices without emitting carbon into the air or dumping radioactive waste into the environment.

In the decades that scientists have been experimenting with fusion reactions, they have not yet been able to create a reaction that produces more energy than it consumes. While the achievement is significant, there are still huge engineering and scientific challenges ahead.

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Creating the net energy gain would require the involvement of one of the largest lasers in the world, and the resources required to recreate the interaction on the scale required to make fusion practical for energy production are enormous. More importantly, engineers have yet to develop machines that can affordably convert this reaction into electricity that can be feasibly deployed into the power grid.

Scientists say that building devices large enough to generate fusion power on a large scale requires materials that are extraordinarily difficult to produce. At the same time, the reaction creates neutrons that place such an enormous amount of stress on the equipment that makes them, that they can be destroyed in the process.

Then there is the question of whether the technology can be improved in time to make an impact on climate change.

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However, researchers and investors in fusion technology have hailed the breakthrough as an important advance.

“There would be great pride that this is something that happened in the United States,” said David Edelman, who leads policy and global affairs at TAE, a large private fusion energy company. “This is a very important milestone on the path to fusion energy.”

It comes as the Biden administration prioritizes fusion energy research in its climate and energy agenda. Those projects are among the vanguard of the tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and grants authorized through a major climate package that Biden signed over the summer, called the Inflation Reduction Act.

Over the past several decades, the United States, Russia, and various European countries have committed billions of government dollars to trying to perfect science, believing that if they could, it would be a boon to the world.

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