A team working on nuclear fusion in China claim to have discovered a more cost-effective method that relies on weaker laser beams.
The team, working ath the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physics kicked off their fusion experiments at the Shenguang II laser facility last year.
With a ‘small’ budget of only £116 million over six years, the team had to figure out more cost-effective ways of doing things. ( The fusion reactor at the International Thermal Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France has a budget of £33 to $48 billion! ).
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The idea was to improve on research already conducted by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the summer. That saw the most fusion energy output ever in a lab.
The NIF team had used 100 high powered lasers focused at a single target … however their experiment melted the mirrors they relied on which reduced their accuracy.
The Chinese team wanted to do the same, on a budget, with less powerful lasers.
To do this they looked at a process developed over 20 years ago by renowned Chinese physicist Zhang Jie.
Zhang Jie’s method was to use weaker laser beams fired at two tiny gold cones. By doing this the cones start to emit hydrogen plasma at each other… and with the right level of precision, this can cause a fusion reaction occurs.
The downside of the method is that the pair of gold cones are vaporized but that is a small cost ( both figuratively and literally ) to pay if the method can be used to run a whole power plant. In fact, a tiny grain of gold can be used to make a thousand of ignition cones.
Of course, the team reported several issues with their experiment and the technology is a long way away from reliable everyday fusion but it is another step forward to achieving fusion power.