It is the holy grail of many physicists. Nuclear fusion, the process of fusing two atomic nuclei together to form a single heavier nucleus, could turn the energy industry on its head. You see nuclear fusion everyday. Just look up at that bright ball of fiery gas in the sky and you’ll see what I mean. The process that occurs everyday on the sun is called nuclear fusion and its by-product is enormous energy. The problem with trying to replicate the process here on earth is that we haven’t been able to reach the “break even” point, which is the point where the amount of energy produced by the reaction exceeds the amount of energy it takes to start it. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have succeeded in a dry-run experiment that draws us one step closer to nuclear fusion power.
Pictured above, a cylindrical tube called a “liner” is subjected to intense electromagnetic pressure by the labs “Z” machine thereby causing it to implode. The process is called MagLIF (Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion). The tube is intended to eventually be filled with nuclear fuel called deuterium (AKA heavy hydrogen). In theory, if the liner can maintain its cylindrical integrity while being crushed by the incredible magnetic pressure, it should essentially squeeze these deuterium atoms in a manner that would create a fusion reaction. The problem is to find the sweet spot to make this happen. If the liner is too thick, then it will take too much energy to produce the reaction. If it is too thin, then the liner will be ripped to shreds before the reaction can take place. The cylindrical beryllium liners fared pretty well in the recent experiments. Researchers plan to perform a couple more MagLIF concepts in experiments this December, which will incorporate lasers to preheat the core fuel to put more energy into the experiment prior to the magnetic pulses, and additional coils at the top and bottom of the liner to keep possible fuel elements from leaking out. They hope to test the full concept by the end of 2013.
For more information, visit Sandia National Laboratories website at http://www.sandia.gov.