Researchers at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California just made a major breakthrough for nuclear fusion by focusing 192 beams from the worlds most powerful laser on a tiny pellet of hydrogen and actually generating more energy than was absorbed by the fuel. If unlocked, nuclear fusion could supply the entire planet with a virtually unlimited source of clean energy.

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Scientists have been working towards nuclear fusion for many years. It’s the same process that powers the sun, and if it were replicated on Earth it could massively reduce the planet’s dependency on carbon-based fuels. Unfortunately, it has long been relegated to the realm of science fiction and comic books – but that could change with the National Ignition Facility in Livermore‘s new findings.

Until now, experiments have always used more power than they created – but in the facility’s latest trial the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel. This is the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world. The result was achieved by using 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser to heat and compress a small pellet of hydrogen fuel until nuclear fusion reactions took place.

The amount of energy released marks a huge milestone in the quest to achieve fusion power. However what scientists really want to achieve is ignition, which occurs when the nuclear fusion reaction generates as much energy as the laser’s supply. Currently, there are inefficiencies in the fusion system which mean that not all the energy supplied through the laser is delivered to the fuel, but give it a few years and scientists could make another massive leap towards a fossil fuel-free future.

+ Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Via BBC News

Images via Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility