With the need for a cheap and abundant alternative to fossils fuels more important than ever before, the field of fusion energy is getting hotter. Really, really hot. 6 million degrees hot. Yes, the National Ignition Facility, the Department of Energy's pet fusion project, has finally fired up its 192 lasers and zapped something, moving us one step closer to the day of clean, nearly free, fusion energy.
Writing in the journal Science, NIF scientists describe how their lasers, which occupy as much space as three football fields in Livermore, California, heated a small gold capsule up to 5.9 million degrees Fahrenheit. Had the capsule contained the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, that temperature would have been hot enough to cause a fusion-generating implosion.
The scientists measured the record-breaking temperature by looking at the X-ray radiation emitted by the imploding gold capsule. The data shows that the lasers are hot enough, and targeted correctly enough, to proceed to the next step: actual fusion.
Currently, there's no date for when the lab will attempt to implode actual fusion fuel, but it will probably take at least a couple of months. In the meanwhile, to get an idea of the kinds of temperatures and energies the NIF scientists are dealing with, just take a look at that giant yellow thing in the sky.
wow that's really hot
Question can they contain the energy release when they reach that point , think of Tsar Bomba that was fission energy ?
Question can they contain the energy release when they reach that point , think of Tsar Bomba that was fussion energy ?
The Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories reached 6 billion degrees f several years ago. Just what was record breaking about this other than the price.
@animemaster You are off by a bit, but their numbers are still impressive.
The ultra-high temperatures reached in 2006 (2.66 to 3.7 billion kelvins)
However the Z machine does not use lasers and the output lasts only for a few nanoseconds.
This article is talking about a different sort of set up all together that will ignite and maintain these crazy hot temps to sustain a fusion reaction.
As I see it, NIF is far from a break even point, as it consumes an astonishing energy, much more than it produces. I think electrostatic acceleration is more efficient regarding energy usage, and is closer to harness the fusion power. www.crossfirefusor.com/nuclear-fusion-reactor/overview.html
It's quite a machine, but as rbrtwjohnson pointed out, it's a massively expensive research machine that's not designed to do anything other than explore fusion reactions. Sustained fusion, break-even, and how to capture and use fusion energy are not part of its mission. $4 billion seems like an awful lot for so little.
Since we're still so far away from even knowing if laser bombardment or magnetic confinement will work, it would be wise to invest seriously in other promising research as well. Robert W. Bussard's Polywell concept based on Philo T. Farnsworth's Fusor was making significant progress when initial funding ended. Hopefully the new funding will yield more bang for our buck than NIF.
We will never have free energy. The energy corps will see to that. Besides if this was discovered overnight it would cause chaos. .the worlds economy is based on oil.
I'd like to buy everyone a clue who's whining here about the uncertainty of Imminent Cs$h Profit$ from this totally badass demonstration of beautiful pure research plus bleeding edge engineering. This is no longer just a computer simulation, folks.
Seriously, they're tricking out 192 massive lasers to use their own interference as a prism to precisely align mindboggling power onto a weensy sphere... And all you all can think about is money? Must be sad.
I invented this back some years ago when I cornered my cat with several of the lasers he so aragantly thought he would catch some day. Imagine the look on his face when he realized he had been surrounded by his arch nemesis who had so cleverly rallied against him. Priceless. Needless to say he was vaporized, thus producing clean and efficient fusion.
Not impressed at all.
I have 1981 Sears Cookmaster-II microwave oven that will do the same thing.
Lots of crazy comments! Like cost? Research costs money. It will be a prototype for a fusion generator which I'm sure won't cost 4 billion. Then the comment about oil production. Who cares about wealthy arabs and american refiners who have been sticking it to you since the 60's? Then the comment about this being like Tsar Bomba? Dude! They're trying to ignite a a molecule or two of tritium or deuterium, not a few kilos of enriched uranium.
I don't understand why they just don't use thorium reactors for the time being until we find a way to get fusion.
I agree Brian P. This is a research project. If you had any idea of how much money was spent on research that didn't yield anything you'd be astounded. This is a stepping stone, one of many to come on this long path. I'm just excited that it worked, and that they learned somehting, (Which is the purpose of research by the way). I'm just disappointed that we have to wait a couple of months before we hear how it does with actual fusion. I think it will be worth the wait tho.
The cost is indeed absurd. It was not that long ago that scientific research was in the hands of industry and not government. Research focus was, therefore, directed to topics which had the potential to solve problems businesses -- and thereby humanity -- deal with every day.
If you'd like a concrete example, consider Penzias and Wilson at Bell Laboratories. Their budget was nowhere near a faction of NIFs, and yet they made a Nobel prize-worthy discovery about the universe. Why? Because they wanted Bell customers to have less static on their lines.
Could you imagine what four gigadollars would do in their hands? What about the hands of Burt Rutan? Any number of worthy startup companies? The bitter irony is that those dollars were originally in those hands. Or destined for them. Profits of industry were plowed back into internal research as well as invested into the broader market to enable new ideas to get initial traction. Now? The government seizes those dollars and we have a system which misappropriates resources in ways entirely unimaginable to earlier generations.
Research needs to be wrestled back from government and returned to industry and universities where it belongs. Curtail and soon cease government research grants. Cut taxes. The market knows better than any number of bureaucrats at the NSF, DoE, or NIH.
@dontbother - No offense, but what a bunch of hogwash. Major research has always been partially subsidized by the government in addition to that done by private industry (space program anyone). Fusion energy has the potential to benefit all and if there was more promise of an immediate return. We're still years away from sustainable fusion, but thankfully, some of those in our government have the foresight to know that the possibility is well worth the investment now. If the returns were right around the corner, you better believe that every energy company and VC firm in the nation would be pouring money into the research. To say that our government "seizes" money that companies use for research and "misappropriates" it is not only misinformed, but patently false and misleading. Heck, Microsoft's R&D budget a few years ago was $4 billion and the government didn’t “seize” that.
And one more followup... aren't a large number of universities where beneficial research is done actually government institutions? hmmm....
Unfortunately, "the market" is driven by profit. And, to borrow an image from the medical world, its often more profitable to sell someone a treatment instead of a cure. So the government should have a stake in the solutions to society's problems.
As we've seen time and time and time again in the last few decade, companies have no conscience. Their only purpose is profit and growth. Which is fine for selling consumer goods. But I don't want my well-being and my society's future to depend on an entity whose first priority is something other than my well-being or society's future.
And let me finish with a real example of my own: DARPA's MIMIC program injected half a billion dollars into the US semiconductor industry to promote the use of Gallium Arsenide in the 80's and 90's. Companies didn't want to fund this transition themselves because they didn't see any profit down the road. They were very very wrong, and DARPA's investment not only helped develop new technologies, but cemented the United States' place in the world semiconductor industry. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of jobs were created and billions (if not trillions) of dollars of profit were made because of DARPA's involvement. The market would've never (ever, ever) been able to accomplish so much and go so far because they couldn't see past the end of their fiscal year and they didn't have the desire to cooperate with their competitors on such a grand scale, even if it was for everyone's benefit.
@mitEj I suppose I should have said that the Z machine reached somewhere from 4.8 b°f to 6.7 b°f but that doesn't sound that cool. The real thing here is this was done in 2006 and sense then there has been a major upgrade increasing its power by 50% but they haven't gotten around to redoing the experiment at a higher level.
Their are some people scared that the Z machine is so cheap and effective that unfriendly groups could use it as a low cost fusion bomb. It's not likely something you can drop from a plain but you could build it in a basement and it's not made of anything that ordinary people cant get their hands on.
BTW both of these machines have the power to cause fusion in a big way, the real problem is utilizing this in a non destructive way.
i doubt they would make a fusion bomb to be use on cities and countries. the worlds has already seen the destructive power of nuclear fission bombs all ready. like xyrobiuz already said about the Tsar Bomba that was fission energy. the amount of energy that would be release from a fusion bomb would devastate the planet. thats why they made the MAD doctrine, but we are human and we are capable of stupid things.
lets hope that the world has learn from what happen at the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in japan. the Chernobyl disaster that left a entire city a ghost town. if we as a species are to survive are humanity must surpass are technology.
re: dontbother. Life is complicated. There is derision of the Government's waste of funds. Is waste defined as not making a profit? Bell Labs was able to operate with a huge budget, AND was NOT required to produce research for immediately marketable products. This was enabled by "Ma Bell's" extraordinary profits, which were possible because it was a monopoly. The government allowed that, and considered some businesses as "natural monpolies"; (it would not be productive if competing businesses were all trying to string lines from multiple telephone poles.)
Now, in today's business environment where it is mere survival to have good profits every three months, the luxury to operate a prestige laboratory, without the mandate for quarterly profits is unthinable by business. After the long legal fight by Vodaphone to permit answering machines, that crack in the monopoly led to more and more competition. AT&T, the parent of Bell Labs had exorbitant long distance rates which gave it the bucks to support the Labs. Now we have cheap long distance service but no more "pure science" labs like Bell owned by business.
The government ends up being one of the only sources of funding for pure research, be it in national labs, or university/business research projects sponsored by the Govt.
Unfortuneately, the only way to influence the government, over the long time needed to advance pure research, is to become part of government in a cooperative, positive manner, not as a childish, finger pointing way critic.
By the way, I don't like "government" either. No one has managed a better solution though. Humans will form around a leader. Warlike, religious, charasmatic, or the one eyed king in the land of the blind, whatever. We don't have any philosopher kings now, or have had in the past. You and I are not philosopher kings. We are just blathering for the sake of attention. Democracy isn't perfect, its just the best process we have ever tried. God bless us all.
There was a time in the history of science when the idea of splitting atoms for power was so insane that no one would have dared try to spend their own money to build such a device, let alone for a profit. Now the first thing we think about when someone says nuclear power is big money.
For those naysayers who wish we would channel all those research dollars to charities, a couple points. First, there are a lot of next-gen scientists who will get their phd's working on these projects, helping us maintain our nation's leadership in advanced research. Second, if the U.S. doesn't lead the way, then a potentially world-changing innovation might never be converted from dream into reality.
And now, for your moment of zen: imagine the sun, shrunken down to the size of a marble, inside a laboratory in California.
"i doubt they would make a fusion bomb to be use on cities and countries."
In fact, bombs are the only use of fusion humans have mastered. The most powerful nuclear weapons are fission-initiated fusion bombs, and they were designed precisely for using on cities and countries.
The hope is that we will be able to create a controllable, sustainable fusion reaction that actually produces more usable power than it consumes. Whether that is possible, or practical, remains to be seen.
It does no good if we can produce a fusion power plant, but the juice would cost more than 20 or 25 cents a kwh.
Isn't the standard joke that fusion is always 20 years away.
I don't understand why they just don't use thorium reactors for the time being until we find a way to get fusion.
La Z-machine à Sandia National Laboratories a atteint 6 milliards de degrés f il ya plusieurs années. Tout ce qui était nouveau record sur cette autre que le prix.