This Energy-Positive Laser Fusion Approach Is Heading Towards Commercialization

Xcimer has raised over $100 million from investors and the US Department of Energy, with the bold objective of providing humanity with limitless renewable energy.

Scientists and engineers have been trying to use fusion energy as a viable power source for more than 75 years. The tokamak, which compresses and heats hydrogen plasma to extreme pressures and temperatures far higher than those at the Sun’s core using a doughnut-shaped magnetic field, has been the front-runner to achieve fusion power. Fusion ignition, the process of generating nuclear fusion while extracting more energy than is consumed during the process, is the real problem, even though fusion itself is relatively simple.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) achieved this milestone for the first time on December 5, 2022. The NIF uses laser-driven inertial fusion, in which a sizable number of lasers are directed toward a small frozen pellet of tritium and deuterium. When two or more laser beams collide, the pellet implodes and starts a fusion process that releases more energy than the original laser beams could have produced. The NIF can produce 2.5 times the fusion energy of the laser energy required for fuel ignition.

Though this is a significant development, the main goal of the LLNL facility is not to build a workable fusion power plant but to conduct research, especially related to guaranteeing the safety and reliability of American nuclear warheads.

Now, enter Xcimer Energy, which has been attempting to turn laser fusion into a viable power source since 2022. Compared to the NIF, Xcimer wants to create a new krypton-fluoride laser installation that can produce ten times as much laser energy with ten times the efficiency and thirty times less cost per joule.

Xcimer’s laser system will generate over 10 megajoules of energy. This energy will be focused on larger, more manageable deuterium/tritium pellets, which produce more power when ignited.

The fusion chamber will utilize molten lithium salts to harness the generated energy effectively. These salts protect the chamber walls from neutron damage, reduce maintenance, and absorb and transfer the energy for power generation.

The system’s lasers, positioned 164 feet (50 meters) away, will focus their beams through small apertures to reach the target pellet. This setup is designed to ignite only a tiny portion of the fuel, igniting the remaining fuel in a chain reaction, similar to lighting a match to paper. This method is efficient and economical.

“The benefits of fusion for humanity have never been more clear or more necessary,” said Mark Cupta, a member of Xcimer’s board.

“Xcimer has developed a game-changing approach to inertial fusion and assembled a team of the brightest minds in the industry to execute it. I’m confident that with Xcimer leading us on this path, the world will see this transformative energy source finally deployed commercially.”

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