WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Energy will announce on Tuesday that scientists at a national laboratory have made a breakthrough on fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars that could one day provide a source of energy. ‘cheap electricity,’ three sources familiar with the matter said.
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California achieved a net energy gain for the first time, in a fusion experiment using lasers, one of the people said.
While the results are a milestone in a scientific quest that has been developing since at least the 1930s, the ratio of energy entering the reaction at Livermore to energy extraction must be about 100 times greater to create a process producing commercial quantities. of electricity, said one of the sources.
The FT first reported the experience.
Fusion works when the nuclei of two atoms are subjected to extreme heat of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit) or more, causing them to fuse into a new, larger atom, releasing huge amounts of energy.
But the process consumes large amounts of energy and the trick was to make the process self-contained and get more energy than is coming in and do it continuously rather than for brief moments.
If fusion is commercialized, which backers say could happen in a decade or more, it would have additional benefits, including generating virtually carbon-free electricity, which could help fight climate change. without the quantities of radioactive nuclear waste produced by today’s fission. reactors.
Running a power plant from fusion presents difficult hurdles, however, such as how to contain the heat economically and keep the lasers firing consistently. Other fusion methods use magnets instead of lasers.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is due to hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Tuesday on a “major scientific breakthrough”.
The department has no information ahead of the briefing, a spokesperson said.
Lawrence Livermore focuses primarily on national security issues related to nuclear weapons, and the meltdown experiment could lead to safer testing of the national arsenal of such bombs.
But advances in the labs could also help companies hoping to develop fusion-powered power plants, including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Focused Energy and General Fusion.
Investors such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr have poured money into companies that are building the merger. Private industry got more than $2.8 billion last year, according to the Fusion Industry Association, for a total of about $5 billion in recent years.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Marguerita Choy and Richard Chang
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