Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have reached a key milestone in the course toward generating clean and renewable energy from nuclear fusion by demonstrating for the first time a “burning plasma” in a lab experiment.
The burning plasma regime marks a key step in making fusion reactions become self-sustaining, LLNL said Wednesday.
“Fusion experiments over decades have produced fusion reactions using large amounts of ‘external’ heating to get the plasma hot. Now, for the first time, we have a system where the fusion itself is providing most of the heating,” said Alex Zylstra, a physicist with the national lab and one of the study’s lead authors.
Vice reported that scientists at the National Ignition Facility – the world’s largest laser at the national lab – directed 192 lasers at a small capsule containing the thermonuclear fuel, which is composed of two hydrogen isotopes – deuterium and tritium.
They were able to create the self-heating plasma by developing a strategy to control the implosion process that compresses and heats the fuel through mechanical work and modify the capsule’s spatial scale.
“This is a key milestone on the way to even higher levels of fusion performance,” added Zylstra.
The study was published in the journal Nature.