A breakthrough at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on December 13, 2022, could reshape the future of the energy industry. Scientists announced that during an experiment on Tuesday, they could generate net positive energy from a controlled fusion event.
“We have taken the first tentative steps toward a clean energy source that could revolutionize the world,” stated Jill Hruby, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s head administrator. If the team’s experiment is replicable at a large scale, it could eliminate humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels. It could provide nearly limitless energy at an extremely low cost.
Fusion energy is a form of nuclear energy that is produced when two elements undergo a process that results in them becoming a single element. This is the energy that radiates out of stars. It is remarkably “clean” compared to alternatives like fossil fuels and nuclear fission.
Nuclear fission, the process by which one element becomes two, creates a significant amount of energy and radioactive byproducts that prove troublesome to discard. Fusion leaves behind matter that is not radioactive, making it theoretically dramatically more sustainable than fission energy.
Scientists have been capable of causing nuclear fusion to occur for decades. However, the team’s success on Tuesday was remarkable because their fusion efforts yielded more energy than it cost them to start the process. This is something that scientists in the field call “ignition.”
It proves that this process can, in fact, become a net positive source of energy for humankind.
“Reaching ignition in a controlled fusion experiment is an achievement that has come after more than 60 years of global research, development, engineering, and experimentation,” Hruby told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
If researchers can scale up the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s findings and create a stable source of net energy gains using fusion, it could result in a revolutionary shift in the energy industry. In a few decades, fusion could completely replace fossil fuels. This would help humanity avoid disastrous future events like irreparable climate change and the depletion of natural resources.
In the distant future, this form of energy could power machines we can’t even imagine right now. The idea of humanity as a deep space-faring race becomes much more plausible with the power of fusion. This is likely one of the most meaningful scientific breakthroughs in a generation. And, it proves that alternative energy sources can work. This means the future is bright for our species as a whole. We’ll be able to do so much more than we ever thought possible.