(ORDO NEWS) — Thanks to 192 lasers and a temperature three times higher than in the center of the Sun, scientists have created a burning plasma. This is a critical step towards self-sustaining fusion power.
The main idea of controlled thermonuclear fusion is to use the energy that is released during the fusion of heavier atomic nuclei from lighter ones. For example, when helium is formed after the collision of hydrogen atoms, as happens on the Sun.
However, in order to bring the hydrogen nuclei close enough, in turn, a sufficient amount of energy is needed. In the so-called burning plasma , the fusion reactions themselves act as the main source of heating necessary to maintain and propagate the reaction.
Therefore, obtaining a burning plasma is one of the key steps towards the production of almost completely environmentally friendly thermonuclear energy.
In a new paper, researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF ) at Livermore National Laboratory were able to initiate a fusion reaction that briefly sustained itself. For this, scientists used a laser complex that delivers up to 1.9 megajoules of energy in pulses with a peak power of up to 500 terawatts.
In a tiny capsule, scientists placed a few milligrams of tritium-deuterium fuel, a mixture of two heavy isotopes of hydrogen, at which 192 lasers were aimed.
Together, they heated the fuel to about 100 million degrees, creating a pressure inside one and a half times higher than inside the Sun. So scientists managed to create a burning plasma for a trillionth of a second, and this was enough to consider the experiment a success.
However, the resulting amount of energy is still not enough to start the reaction, but the researchers believe they are close to the next step. When the fuel is able to “burn” on its own, it will produce significantly more energy than is required to start the initial reaction.
The results are interesting from a scientific point of view, said study co-author Omar Hurricane , chief scientist at the Livermore Laboratory. However, before the real use of thermonuclear fusion for energy production is still a long time – perhaps decades, the scientist believes.
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