US Scientists Make Breakthrough In Nuclear Fusion, Reaction Generated More Energy Than Absorbed By Fuel

For the first time, a fusion reaction has achieved a record 1.3 megajoule energy output – and for the first time, exceeding energy absorbed by the fuel used to trigger it. Although there’s still some way to go, the result represents a significant improvement on previous yields: eight times greater than experiments conducted just a few months prior, and 25 times greater than experiments conducted in 2018. It’s a huge achievement.

The process involves fusing nuclei together, which throws off energy – which could then provide theoretically abundant energy on earth. Scientists have for decades tried to use nuclear fusion to produce electricity at a usable scale, however replicating the reaction is highly challenging, requiring vast amounts of heat and pressure. Until now, they have not yet managed to produce more energy from the reaction than it takes to trigger the reaction. 

The Financial Times reports, according to three people with knowledge of preliminary results from a recent experiment, US government scientists have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time. The federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which uses a process called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser, had achieved net energy gain in a fusion experiment in the past two weeks, the people said.

The team plans to conduct follow-up experiments to see if they can replicate their result, and to study the process in greater detail. The result also opens up new avenues for experimental research. The physicists also hope to work out how to further increase energy efficiency. “Achieving ignition in a laboratory remains one of the scientific grand challenges of this era and this result is a momentous step forward towards achieving that goal,” said physicist Johan Frenje of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center.