In December of 2022, scientists from the NIF managed to create a source of pure and infinite energy during the experiment.
The scientists engineered a fusion reaction that produced 54% more energy than it used.
The process that has kept the sun glowing for billions of years is thermonuclear fusion.
It can also put an end to oil and coal consumption and even stop climate change.
But in early 2022, a completely different project was closest to a breakthrough in the field of thermonuclear fusion.
The Chinese experimental thermonuclear fusion reactor, “East,” was even called the “artificial sun.
” A team of scientists working on it could hold the super hot plasma, where thermonuclear fusion took place, for a record-long time.
But how did scientists even manage to create this artificial star?
The pressure in the nucleus of our sun reaches 260 billion atmospheres.
For comparison, diamonds are formed out of carbon at a pressure of only 55,000 atmospheres.
As a result of fusion on the sun, deuterium and tritium nuclei merge with each other, releasing a tremendous amount of energy.
It’s impossible to recreate solar pressure on Earth, but scientists at the Chinese experimental thermonuclear fusion reactor “East” found a workaround.
They heated up nuclear fuel to temperatures many times higher than solar ones, up to 100 million degrees Celsius, for the reaction not to be interrupted and the plasma not to burn the reactor along with the scientists.
A tremendous magnetic field holds it together.
At the beginning of 2022, the “East” reactor managed to maintain the right conditions for thermonuclear fusion for a record 17 and a half minutes.
This is a huge breakthrough, but so far the reactor is more like a car that you can start for a moment, but it’s simply not possible to drive it yet.
Meanwhile, 35 countries invested 20 billion euros in constructing the “Eater” fusion reactor, which will be larger and more powerful than “East”.
For the record, that’s nearly all of NASA’s budget.
At the same time, Chinese scientists have still been unable to obtain more energy than is spent on heating plasma and maintaining magnetic fields.
And in 2040, they plan to launch the demo nuclear fusion reactor.
But thanks to the recent breakthrough at the NIF, the American company “Helion Energy ” plans to produce pure energy by fusion as early as in 2024 using only 500 million dollars of investment.
Unlike NIF, which uses a powerful and energy-consuming laser, the “Trenta” reactor will consume much less energy than it produces during the experiment.
NIF managed to generate a little over three megajoules of energy while spending two.
The thing is that the NIF laser, the largest laser in the world, spends 99% of its energy on heating pellets with fuel.
Although this fusion method has shown revolutionary results for the industry, it’s still unsuitable for commercial use.
For nuclear fusion energy production to become profitable and massive companies like “Helion Energy ” need to find a way to extract hundreds of times more energy from the reaction.
And it seems that the seventh generation of “Helion’s” “Trenta” reactors will be able to do that.
Helium-3 and deuterium will be used as fuel for the reactor.
Under the influence of a powerful electromagnetic field, they’ll collide in a vacuum and turn into plasma.
Two flasks with plasma are located in different parts of the reactor.
The plasma rings formed in them will move towards each other at a speed of over a half million kilometers per hour.
When they collide, the temperature will rise to five and a half million degrees Celsius.
In the synthesis process, new helium-4 atoms are formed with an additional hydrogen atom, and a tremendous amount of thermal energy is transmitted through fiber optic cables.
The seventh generation generator will be able to produce thermonuclear fusion at a frequency of several times per second.
At the same time, even though the generator itself will become 25% larger and its construction will be more expensive, it’s still the cheapest and most compact on the market.
After all, “Helion Energy” isn’t the only private company working on a fusion reactor.
According to the Fusion Industry Association, at least 33 companies are engaged in nuclear fusion, and in just one year they’ve attracted almost three billion dollars of investment.
In the U.S., the Department of Energy has announced grants of up to 500,000 dollars to 10 nuclear fusion companies working on their projects with universities and national laboratories.
And this is a real breakthrough because new, safe energy sources are vital for us right now.
Why is burning fossil fuels literally killing us right now?
For city folk, all energy is in sockets, but 90% of this energy comes from coal, oil, and gas.
When coal is burned, soot micro-particles reach the air.
They can get into our lungs and cause thrombosis, strokes, and even heart attacks.
In fact, hundreds of thousands of people die from fossil fuel burning products every year.
And over 10 years, coal-fired power stations emit 55,000 tons of uranium and thorium impurities into the atmosphere.
This is more than all the spent nuclear fuel in the world.
And if coal seems outdated to Well, its smoke poisons tens of thousands of people, but this fuel is still relatively clean compared to your usual firewood.
That’s right, while we’re asking Alexa to microwave the toast, millions of people are still cooking food on wood fires.
Fires and carbon monoxide take another 3 million lives every year.
But no matter what we do, atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions are growing steadily.
Over the past hundred years, they’ve increased by 1.5 times.
The problem will be solved once we switch to thermonuclear power plants that will only emit harmless helium as a byproduct, but it’ll take 20 years before you can finally charge your phone from a Fusion Energy socket.
And we need to do something about it now.
And there might just be another thing that can save us.
What energy sources can replace thermonuclear Fusion?
In just an hour, the sun could give us our annual energy supply, but solar panels are almost useless in cloudy weather and at night.
To get enough energy, we need entire fields of them, and batteries tend to wear out and lose their efficiency.
Wind turbines are also not a very good option.
They’re expensive to build and maintain.
Birds die because of them, and if it’s not windy outside, you won’t even be able to charge your phone.
But there is another quite unusual source that’s often forgotten.
I’m talking about geothermal power plants that use the Earth’s internal energy.
Even just 1% of the energy from the Earth’s crust is 500 times more than what we could get from burning all the oil and gas in the world.
But here’s the problem: drilling wells in seismically active areas leads to new cracks in the crust, provoking potential earthquakes.
In general, the primary concern of alternative energy sources is that their efficiency highly depends on natural conditions.
So, does this mean that only thermonuclear Fusion will help us escape the suffocating embrace of coal and gas, and which might only be possible in 20 years?
Luckily, there’s a way out, and it’s not in the fusion of nuclei but in their well-known division.
Why can nuclear energy be more efficient than the fusion kind?
Nuclear energy is really badly promoted.
When people hear about Chernobyl or Fukushima, they don’t think about a bright future but about that bottle of iodine pills sitting at home.
What if it’s just this fear that prevents us from adequately appreciating the benefits of nuclear power?
Well, if we consider the most crucial point – performance – the fusion method has the upper hand.
A fusion reactor produces 4 times more energy than a nuclear one from a kilogram of fuel.
That’s 1 to 0 for Fusion in terms of fuel.
Deuterium and tritium can be found in seawater, which is in abundance on Earth, but at the same time, there’s also more than enough uranium as used by nuclear power plants to operate them for quite some time.
The score is 2 to 1.
Next, the waste from thermonuclear power plants seems dangerous for the next 150 years.
In contrast, nuclear waste products decompose in 500 years.
1 point for the fusion team.
But in defense of nuclear energy, its waste can at least be reused.
But what about their safety?
The fusion reactors are highly valued for their automatic shutdown mechanism in case of the slightest mishap.
However, today’s nuclear reactors also have such technology.
Besides, it was the human factor that played a critical role in all those terrible nuclear accidents of the past.
Each team gets one point here.
In the final round, we’ll talk about the benefits.
With all its advantages, the fusion method has two main flaws: reactors are costly, and there’s a high risk of a breakdown because they’re really complicated.
In turn, nuclear power isn’t as expensive as it used to be, and it’s also much, much easier to maintain.
But the most important thing is that the nuclear power plant infrastructure already exists.
Whereas it’ll take 20 years to reach mass thermonuclear energy, and given all the technical and financial challenges, it might forever stay 20 years away from us.
And here’s the crucial difference.
It should be pointed out that right now, good old nuclear energy definitely outdoes trendy thermonuclear Fusion, but that certainly won’t make us give up on the artificial sun dream.
The day for thermonuclear energy may come when we start to colonize exoplanets around other stars.
After all, they’ll definitely be water, which is the source of thermonuclear fuel.
So, the main thing for humanity is not to screw everything up right now.