Does The Fusion Breakthrough Live Up To The Clickbait?
Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Lab for the first time produced more energy from a fusion reactor than was put into it. Sort-of. It’s a big deal… Just not THAT big of a deal.
You might have heard the news earlier this month about the new big fusion breakthrough. I know a lot of you heard about it because I got about a million requests to talk about this.You might have heard the news earlier this month about the new big fusion breakthrough. I know a lot of you heard about it because I got about a million requests to talk about this.
My favorite is the one that says, “Your silence is deafening.” Like it’s some kind of hate crime. That was sent literally like 6 hours after it was announced by the way. But hey the people have spoken so I actually pushed a video into January to talk about this – seems like a good way to end the year.
Because it is an interesting topic, and there’s been a lot of exaggeration and misinformation out there like always so let’s get to the bottom of this. Was this a big deal? What does it mean? And how close are we to cars that run on Mr. Fusion. Which should have been around 7 years ago. Let’s talk about it.
So when I make videos on topics like this, I tend to operate on the assumption that some people in the audience might have no previous understanding of the topic when they come into it. I try to present as high level view as possible.
But for this video I’m going to assume you have at least some understanding of what fusion energy is all about because I’ve done a video on fusion that covered all those basics, I’ll link it all around here, there’s no need for me to repeat it.
Plus, it’s got one of my favorite little funny bits where I said that the terms Tokamak and Stellerator would be great names for metal bands. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZm_mpbKX5c
Let’s start with why fusion is a big deal Plentiful fuel, massive energy, no harmful waste
Every energy source has some kind of drawback
– global warming
– radioactive waste
Solar and wind
Fusion would be a steady, baseload solution with no downside.
The only downside is… it doesn’t exist.
So there’s a lot of institutions working on fusion and now commercial entities.
I’ve done a video on many of these guys that you can watch but they approach them from different angles:
Tokamak/Stellerator plasma confinement designs
The one with the syringe looking things in the sphere around Laser confinement like the Lawrence Livermore labs did
Inertial fusion vs Magnetic confinement
It’s basically various ways to force hydrogen atoms to smash together and turn into hydrogen.
This last type was the kind being done at Lawrence Livermore. Which brings us to the big news that came out recently.
Inertial Confinement Fusion Experiment
Took place on December 5th at 1am at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore Labs
Blasted a small pellet of hydrogen encased in a diamond shell with 192 lasers. These lasers bounced off the walls creating a shock wave of X-rays that crushed the pellet down and created a plasma. For literally like a billionth of a second.
The big breakthrough is that in that chamber, those 192 lasers contained 2 megajoules of energy and the plasma created 3 megajoules. To be more specific, it was 2.05MJ goes in – 3.15MJ comes out
This is a first. Nobody has ever produced more energy in that chamber than was put into it. So, yes, this was a big deal.
Here comes the asterisk.
The NIF laser that was used in this experiment actually requires around 300 megajoules of energy. It was then split over and over and bounced through dozens of mirrors, producing losses along the way before it entered the chamber.
So, technically they used 300 megajoules of energy to create 3 megajoules of energy.
The stats around this laser are insane by the way.
According to Jean-Michel Di Nicola, Chief Engineer for NIF Laser System, the NIF laser is the most powerful laser in the world.
Size of 3 football fieldsproduces 2 million joules500 trillion watts For that billionth of a second, it uses more power than the entire U.S. power grid.
So… I talked about this in a recent OLF podcast, anything can be a first if you put enough qualifiers on it.
This is the first time I’ve recorded this video. This is the first second coffee I’ve had today. (That’s a lie, this is my third coffee)
So technically this is the first time they produced more energy than went into it, but when you account for the entire system… they only got out 1% what they put in.
So is this all overhyped?
Look, it’s something to celebrate. I don’t know about you but I need all the good news I can get these days. It’s a breakthrough. But it’s one of about a million breakthroughs that need to happen before the promise of fusion energy is fulfilled.
But that’s not a headline that’s going to get people to click is it?
I think it’s also worth mentioning that renewables are getting so much cheaper that even if we do manage to crack fusion energy, the cost will be so high that it won’t be able to compete with solar and wind.