The world Tuesday received a truly historic announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on a breakthrough in fusion energy. For the first time, scientists actually succeeded in making cold fusion work.
Cold Fusion – long thought of as nothing more than a pipe dream – is a way to produce clean energy. But not just clean – the process produces more energy than it takes to perform. Imagine if you had a machine that could produce 2 or more watts of electricity for every single watt that it consumes. This is the idea. But is it possible?
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Similar to how the sun produces energy, fusion is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy. So, fusion fuses two or more atoms together.
The world is looking for new sources of energy to combat climate change. Solar and wind power technologies are constantly advancing. These are clean renewable energies that are expected to soon replace fossil fuels as the source for creating electricity. But they also come with their own issues, and require a great deal of energy to be produced themselves, and the world is a long way away from seeing wind and solar power take over.
But the experts are now saying cold fusion could be a reality within a decade.
DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced the achievement of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)—a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power. On December 5, a team at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to reach this milestone, also known as scientific energy breakeven, meaning it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.
LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE). Many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to achieve simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses, and DOE is currently restarting a broad-based, coordinated IFE program in the United States. Combined with private-sector investment, there is a lot of momentum to drive rapid progress toward fusion commercialization.
The DOE said that what it called a historic, first-of-its kind achievement in cold fusion will provide “unprecedented” capability to support NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and will provide invaluable insights into the prospects of clean fusion energy, which would be a game-changer for efforts to achieve President Biden’s goal of a net-zero carbon economy.
“This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting our world-class scientists—like the team at NIF—whose work will help us solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, like providing clean power to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.”
For now, however, the cold fusion process produces little energy and requires great cost. The researchers need to find a simplistic cheap way to produce cold fusion energy in order to make this a truly viable alternative.