Nuclear fusion is about bringing the almost inexhaustible energy of the stars down to earth. For around 100 years scientists have been working on replicating this solar process of energy generation here on earth. After all, the sun shines brightly because of continuous nuclear fusion in its core. The experiment at NIF, a facility of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), similarly brightens the faces of those involved. The Laser Fusion breakthrough took place on December 5th, 2022. Also, an alternative technology concept currently being researched around the world with the same goal is magnetic fusion .
The first hurdle has been cleared
The experiment at NIF has cleared an important first hurdle on the path to energy generation with nuclear fusion. But it must be understood in the right context: Light pulses from the world's most powerful laser succeeded in igniting nuclear fusion and generating energy of 3.15 megajoules - a new record. The laser energy input was "only" 2.05 megajoules for the ignition. Essentially, fusion produced more energy than was put into the experiment. But to provide the energy input of 2.05 megajoules at this crucial moment, 300 megajoules of electrical energy had to be drawn from the power grid to operate the laser system. Thus, the laser's efficiency was just under 0.7 percent, still a relatively small value.
Although the lab's achievement is a significant step for the science community, laser fusion still has a long way to go before becoming a usable, commercial energy source. Nevertheless, the direction is correct: the major goal is the wall-plug efficiency (overall system efficiency) of more than one - thereby achieving net energy gain. Only then can this method of green energy production be ready for the commercial market. Currently, the large number of interdependent parameters that need to be fine-tuned make this goal a challenge.