Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have been struggling to create nuclear fusion using lasers. Nuclear fusion is the process by which the Sun generates electricity and the researchers have been trying to replicate it since 2010 with little success until recently.
On February 12th, 2014, Dr. Omar Hurricane published a report that stated his teams’s success in the near impossible task of creating nuclear fusion without the detonation of a nuclear warhead. Harnessing this energy has been something that scientists have been trying to achieve for a long time, with nuclear fusion being called the holy grail of green energy. There are labs that have produced short sporadic events of laser powered fusion to work, but the procedures always required more energy than they produced.
Dr.Hurricane and his colleagues changed all of that by using the laser at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). A total of 500 trillion watts of laser energy was focused into a container through an aperture the size of a pencil and resulted in the first instance of a nuclear fusion reaction that produced more energy than it consumed, in the history of mankind. While this story sounds like we might have free energy in the very near future, there is some bad news. The resulting reaction was not only brief, but the final step which causes the reaction to last (where the reaction feeds upon itself to create energy on its own), did not take place. Another point worth noting is that while the fuel generated more energy than it absorbed, only a small fraction of the lasers’ energy was absorbed, making the process still energy negative.
It may still be a long time till our homes are endlessly powered by lab-born stars, but by fusing hydrogen into helium, we are certainly one step closer to the ultimate goal. Dr. Hurricane is uncertain if the NIF is capable of reaching ignition, but the latest achievement has certainly inspired him to carry on.