Physics

Nuclear Fusion Energy Breakthrough: Ignition Confirmed in Record 1.3 Megajoule Shot

Cryogenic Target Fusion Ignition

On the one-year anniversary of achieving a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility, the scientific results of this record experiment have been published in three peer-reviewed papers: one in Physical Review Letters and two in Physical Review E. This stylized image shows a cryogenic target used for these record-setting inertial fusion experiments. Credit:James Wickboldt/LLNL

After decades of inertial confinement fusion research, a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ) was achieved for the first time on August 8, 2021. This put scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the threshold of fusion gain and achieved scientific ignition.

On the one-year anniversary of this historic achievement, the scientific results of this record experiment have been published in three peer-reviewed papers. One paper was published in Physical Review Letters and two in Physical Review E. In the Physical Review Letters paper, more than 1,000 authors were included to recognize and acknowledge the many individuals who have worked over many decades to enable this significant advance.

“The record shot was a major scientific advance in fusion research, which establishes that fusion ignition in the lab is possible at NIF,” said Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for LLNL’s inertial confinement fusion program. “Achieving the conditions needed for ignition has been a long-standing goal for all inertial confinement fusion research and opens access to a new experimental regime where alpha-particle self-heating outstrips all the cooling mechanisms in the fusion plasma.”

The results from August 8, 2021, are described in detail in the papers. They also include the associated design, improvements, and experimental measurements. LLNL physicist Alex Zylstra, lead experimentalist and first author of the experimental Physical Review E paper, noted that in 2020 and early 2021 the Lab conducted experiments in the “burning plasma” regime for the first time. These set the stage for the record shot.

“From that design, we made several improvements to get to the August 8, 2021, shot,” he said. “Improvements to the physics design and quality of target all helped lead to the success of the August shot, which is discussed in the Physical Review E papers.”

This experiment incorporated a few important changes, including an improved target design. “Reducing the coasting-time with more efficient hohlraums compared to prior experiments was key in moving between the burning plasma and ignition regimes,” said LLNL physicist Annie Kritcher, lead designer and first author of the design Physical Review E paper. “The other main changes were improved capsule quality and a smaller fuel fill tube.”

Since the experiment last August, the researchers have been executing a series of experiments to attempt to repeat the performance and to understand the experimental sensitivities in this new regime.

“Many variables can impact each experiment,” Kritcher said. “The 192 laser beams do not perform exactly the same from shot to shot, the quality of targets varies and the ice layer grows at differing roughness on each target. These experiments provided an opportunity to test and understand the inherent variability in this new, sensitive experimental regime.”

Although the repeat attempts have not reached the same level of fusion yield as the August 2021 experiment, all of them demonstrated capsule gain greater than unity. They have had yields in the 430-700 kJ range, which are significantly higher than the previous highest yield of 170 kJ from February 2021. The data gained from these and other experiments are providing crucial clues as to what went right and what changes are needed in order to not only repeat that experiment but also exceed its performance in the future. The scientists are also utilizing the experimental data to increase understanding of the fundamental processes of fusion ignition and burn. They’re also working to enhance simulation tools in support of stockpile stewardship.

Looking ahead, the research team is working to leverage the accumulated experimental data and simulations to move toward a more robust regime – further beyond the ignition cliff – where general trends found in this new experimental regime can be better separated from variability in targets and laser performance.

Efforts to increase fusion performance and robustness are underway via improvements to the laser and improvements to the targets. Additionally, they’re working on modifications to the design that further improve energy delivery to the hotspot while maintaining or even increasing the hot-spot pressure. This includes improving the compression of the fusion fuel, increasing the amount of fuel, and other avenues.

“It is extremely exciting to have an ‘existence proof’ of ignition in the lab,” Hurricane said. “We’re operating in a regime that no researchers have accessed since the end of nuclear testing, and it’s an incredible opportunity to expand our knowledge as we continue to make progress.”

References:

“Lawson Criterion for Ignition Exceeded in an Inertial Fusion Experiment” by H. Abu-Shawareb et al. (Indirect Drive ICF Collaboration), 8 August 2022, Physical Review Letters.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.129.075001

“Experimental achievement and signatures of ignition at the National Ignition Facility” by A. B. Zylstra et al., 8 August 2022, Physical Review E.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.106.025202

“Design of an inertial fusion experiment exceeding the Lawson criterion for ignition” by A. L. Kritcher et al., 8 August 2022, Physical Review E.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.106.025201

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  • That is really not much energy. Discharging a capacitor at 120V through a wire with a resistance of 0.01 ohms will result in the same amount of power released. Power = V(2)/R.

    • Congratulations, you can do basic math. The point here is that they achieved a significant positive output.

    • Power is not energy. The energy in a capacitor is 1/2 C Vsquared. If your 120V was on a 1000 uF capacitor you'd have 7 joules, still enough to be dangerous. The fusion experiment is impressive because it might sustain itself.

  • I just can't imagine what it will take for the scientific community to finally realize that fusion is never going to work. The reason this goose chase happening is because the Big Bang "theory" is now the Big Bang "law". Scientists had no choice but to assume fusion is the ultimate energy because that's all the Big Bang gave them to work with. The universe was "born" made out of "quark-gluon plasma", that cooled to hydrogen and some helium, and then what? There are cold clouds of hydrogen everywhere with no ability to turn into stars.
    That's when the ad-hoc theory of fusion was forced upon science. Gravity was forced to be the "free energy" that would energize the harmless clouds into stars. That gravity would "squeeze" the clouds until the hydrogen fused together. Unfortunately, there is no room in science for such an ad-hoc'd theory and my statement has the proof since fusion has never worked.
    So, as long as the big bang theory remains a fact, trillions will continue to be wasted because of a horrible, useless theory. What science is looking for is called quark plasma that uses quarks and the dark matter of space, that causes the force of gravity, as the endless catalyst. This is the plasma black holes are made of. Quark plasma is going to do everything that scientists think fusion is supposed to do. Fusion will never do anything because it is merely a conservation of energy and mass. All other nucleosynthesis requires energy to propagate so why would nucleosynthesis of hydrogen create energy? Why is the scientific community unable to look at the laws of physics and compare them to the fusion reaction? The scariest thing about this situation is how long this farce could continue. Will scientists still be trying 20 years from now with the same results? In 40 years? What will be the point where the theory that makes fusion a fact come into question? The same theory has produced dark matter, dark energy, the inability to explain quantum gravity, the inability to explain black holes, the muon wobble problem, the W boson heaviness problem, the corona problem, and countless others. Fusion is just another problem thrown on the pile. It is getting flat out ridiculous. Who is responsible for keeping the Big Bang theory a truth? How was the scientific method ever used for this theory? How could someone with a scientific mind ever think the Big Bang theory is plausible?

    • "Computers will never work." "We'll never break the sound barrier." "Heavier than air flying machines are physically impossible." "There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States." "“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable." That last one was from Albert Einstein.

    • You are absolutely right, fusion will never work! It is not the Big Bang that is the problem, it is Relativity and all that nonsense Einstein spouted.

      If you can understand that Matter and Energy are disparate and distinct and are NOT transmutable, one to the other, then all the those anomalies you mention, cease to be anomalies. There are no mysteries.

      The Big Bang was the instant that Matter and Energy first came into contact with each other and Black Holes are just leftover Matter that never got energized.

      These so-called scientists keep adding more and more energy to matter, which is exactly what they do to create the nuclear explosion known as fission. Why would any fool expect to do the same thing over and over and expect the completely opposite result?

      The whole thing is a swindle.

    • Congratulations! You win the prize for "tell me that you don't understand science without telling me that you don't understand science, using 200 words or more" contest.

      • I'm not American so I'll take you on any day of the week! You on the other hand have never seen a Physics textbook...

      • Anyone that uses the phrase "word salad" is obviously someone that is going to stand by the worst theory in science history called the Big Bang theory. You have no earthly idea how to apply the laws to the event that happened 13.8 billion years ago. You have no ability to explain where the matter came from or why it is expanding. You have no idea how any of it works yet you have the nerve to ridicule someone trying to make sense of problems you don't even know exist or, at least, you simply ignore because you don't want anything to contradict your precious theory. It is ridiculous how compromised your thought process is because conventionalism tells you the Big Bang theory is a fact. So, you need to stop acting like everything is ok in physics and astrophysics when it isn't even close. You need to focus your attention on all the massive flaws that your theory possesses. Can you?

  • @Mike Pollack: You ought to start a University with a Church beside it. You would do as well as the other very-sure-of-themselves Preachers. Do you have a theory to replace the one(s) you are throwing out?

  • And then do they need to do 4 years of repairs and rebuild of the reactor? It seems every test, it's down for years to rebuild.

  • The laser system requires over 400 MJ of electrical energy to fire a shot. They got 1.3 MJ of thermal energy out. The only breakthrough is the amount of press and hype for such meager results.

  • Ok, why are they still even working this theory when scientists on the East Coast are using a mag bottle type set up to get a sustained fusion reaction. They are currently building a set of superconducting magnets to increase the efficiency of their reactor to generate more ectricity that It takes to sustain.

    • Nobody is producing fusion, sustained or otherwise and any suggestion that anyone has is pure propaganda!

      • When they "ignited" the fusion, it had nothing to do with fusion at all. What they managed to do was break the atoms into quarks. When this happens, the massive amounts of electricity ceases to be the catalyst and the dark matter of space becomes the endless catalyst a reaction that is supposed to be the ultimate energy of the universe is supposed to possess. What good is it using human-created electricity for the catalyst? It gets turned off and so does the reaction.
        It is quark plasma scientists seek. This is what black holes are made of. All this plasma emits are gamma rays which is why black holes are optically invisible. Eventually, they start creating visible light as they form neutrons on their surfaces. The creation of all the other elements, including the fusing of hydrogen to create helium, follows as the mass uses the beta minus decay reaction which uses neutrons to create heavier elements. The energy needed for all these reactions is built into every mass as quark plasma. We live on a planet with a quark plasma core. This plasma does what science has always assumed fusion can do but never has. That's because fusion is absolutely nothing but a conservation of mass and energy that is not made to create energy.

  • 1.6 MJ is 400 Wh, or .4kWh. About 10-15 cents of energy. No big deal. The fact it was released in such a small time means they are going to have feed those BBs in faster. Much much faster! Congrats on the new record!

    • Fred, you're kidding, right?
      The Big Bang theory was created by a priest. It "creates" the universe 13.8 billion years ago. Nobody knows where all the matter came from. Nobody knows what happened to create what we see.
      Don't you realize that you believe in the most religious explanation of our universe that exists? How do you not see that? Edwin Hubble, and many of his peers, rejected Lamaîtres magical interpretation of Hubbles discovery.
      The non-religious theory is very simple Fred. Everything was already here 13.8 billion years ago. Doesn't that sound less religious? Our universe turned itself into a gargantuan particle collider just like all the ones you read about on Earth. Colliders create quark plasma shrapnel and our universe created quark plasma shrapnel as the expanding galaxies. The collision created an anisotropic expansion of matter that will appear to be an accelerating expanding universe if it is assumed the entire universe is expanding.
      It is truly staggering how one priest destroyed astrophysics and physics. Now, go pray for the Big Bang theory because it is getting ready to be obliterated.

By
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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