The preamplifiers of the National Ignition Facility are the first step in increasing the energy of laser beams as they make their way toward the target chamber. Source Lawrence Livermore.

Lawrence Livermore Claims a Near Break Even Nuclear Fusion Burn

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Inertial confinement fusion researchers have claimed a near break even experimental nuclear fusion burn, in which energy produced by the fusion reaction was comparable to the energy injected to initiate the burn.

National Ignition Facility experiment puts researchers at threshold of fusion ignition 

On Aug. 8, 2021, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) National Ignition Facility (NIF) made a significant step toward ignition, achieving a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ). This advancement puts researchers at the threshold of fusion ignition, an important goal of the NIF, and opens access to a new experimental regime.

The experiment was enabled by focusing laser light from NIF — the size of three football fields — onto a target the size of a BB that produces a hot-spot the diameter of a human hair, generating more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.

“These extraordinary results from NIF advance the science that NNSA depends on to modernize our nuclear weapons and production as well as open new avenues of research,” said Jill Hruby, DOE under secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA administrator.

The central mission of NIF is to provide experimental insight and data for NNSA’s science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program. Experiments in pursuit of fusion ignition are an important part of this effort. They provide data in an important experimental regime that is extremely difficult to access, furthering our understanding of the fundamental processes of fusion ignition and burn and enhancing our simulation tools to support stockpile stewardship. Fusion ignition is also an important gateway to enable access to high fusion yields in the future. 

“This result is a historic step forward for inertial confinement fusion research, opening a fundamentally new regime for exploration and the advancement of our critical national security missions. It is also a testament to the innovation, ingenuity, commitment and grit of this team and the many researchers in this field over the decades who have steadfastly pursued this goal,” said LLNL Director Kim Budil. “For me it demonstrates one of the most important roles of the national labs – our relentless commitment to tackling the biggest and most important scientific grand challenges and finding solutions where others might be dissuaded by the obstacles.” 

While a full scientific interpretation of these results will occur through the peer-reviewed journal/conference process, initial analysis shows an 8X improvement over experiments conducted in spring 2021 and a 25X increase over NIF’s 2018 record yield

“Gaining experimental access to thermonuclear burn in the laboratory is the culmination of decades of scientific and technological work stretching across nearly 50 years,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thomas Mason. “This enables experiments that will check theory and simulation in the high energy density regime more rigorously than ever possible before and will enable fundamental achievements in applied science and engineering.”

The experiment built on several advances gained from insights developed over the last several years by the NIF team including new diagnostics; target fabrication improvements in the hohlraum, capsule shell and fill tube; improved laser precision; and design changes to increase the energy coupled to the implosion and the compression of the implosion.

“This significant advance was only made possible by the sustained support, dedication and hard work of a very large team over many decades, including those who have supported the effort at LLNL, industry and academic partners and our collaborators at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics and General Atomics,” said Mark Herrmann, LLNL’s deputy program director for Fundamental Weapons Physics. “This result builds on the work and successes of the entire team, including the people who pursued inertial confinement fusion from the earliest days of our Laboratory. They should also share in the excitement of this success.”

Looking ahead, access to this new experimental regime will inspire new avenues for research and provide the opportunity to benchmark modeling used to understand the proximity to ignition. Plans for repeat experiments are well underway, although it will take several months for them to be executed.

Source: https://www.llnl.gov/news/national-ignition-facility-experiment-puts-researchers-threshold-fusion-ignition

I find inertial confinement fusion exciting, because in principle, unlike magnetic confinement fusion, it might be possible to scale inertial confinement down to an affordable size.

The gigantic international magnetic confinement ITER tokamak currently being constructed in France in a sense represents a brute force approach to viable nuclear fusion. The heat produced by a nuclear fusion reaction is related to the volume of the plasma, while the heat lost is related to the surface area. Simple geometry dictates that if you make the plasma volume really large, the heat generated by such a large volume of fusing plasma is more likely to overcome surface losses, leading to a self sustaining fusion reaction.

My concern with this magnetic confinement approach is that even if ITER succeeds, the sheer size and cost of the precision engineered reactor vessel will represent a formidable barrier to adoption. Nuclear fusion reactors which cost $50 billion each and take decades to construct are unlikely to contribute significantly to the global energy mix, so long as cheaper options are available.

There is also a real risk that after all these billions of dollars of expenditure and man millennia of effort, ITER’s most expensive components will simply disintegrate under the blast of radiation from a sustained fusion burn. Deuterium Tritium fusion produces a blizzard of hot neutrons, which are more than capable of causing physical structural damage to anything near the plasma. The search for structural materials which can survive such a hostile environment without collapsing into dust is ongoing.

The Lawrence Livermore facility which produced the near break even burn is large, but it is a lot less expensive than the ITER facility.

Lawrence Livermore still have a long way to go to prove that inertial confinement is a viable path to connecting an operational nuclear fusion reactor to the national grid. Although the energy produced was comparable to the energy deposited to initiate the burn, the lasers which deposited that energy are not 100% efficient. The total energy expended conducting the experiment likely vastly exceeded the fusion yield.

An inertial confinement fusion generator would have to economically perform thousands of burns per day, rather than a single exciting experimental burn. And of course we still don’t know how much a net energy producing inertial confinement fusion reactor would cost, even if such a thing is possible.

Correction (EW): h/t Eric Lerner, fixed the link and the story – I accidentally copied in an old story.

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John Tillman
August 26, 2021 6:07 pm

One burn per second would be required, ie 86,400 per day. We can’t currently recharge the lasers at anything like that level. But still, it’s progress.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  John Tillman
August 27, 2021 6:54 am

Because of several reasons, the minimum recharge time is more the 4 hours. This is going nowhere.

meab
Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 27, 2021 9:59 am

I agree that it’s going nowhere. There are several HUGE problems that just don’t have a credible solution.

1) It has already been mentioned that to produce net electricity, the efficiency to produce electricity from heat must be accounted for, that’s about 40%, so you need to make 2.5 times more heat than the electricity used by the lasers just to break even. However, it’s MUCH worse than that because the efficiency in coupling electricity to the laser power to the tiny target is only about 10%, the rest of the electricity and laser power is wasted, so you need an improvement of ~25 just to break even (called engineering breakeven).

2) It’s even worse than that because you need to recover the energy used to make the fusion target (pellet) which requires separating Deuterium and making Tritium (not naturally occurring) from capturing neutrons in Lithium, and coating the little pellet with beryllium. Another factor of up to 4, so you need an improvement of ~100.

3) Now, when each pellet fuses it is an explosion, the current design can handle a maximum explosion of 45 MJ, about 25 pounds of dynamite. To get 45 MW of heat (which is tiny), you would need one explosion per second. So to match the output of a single nuclear reactor (1300 MWe, 4000 MWthermal) you would have to scale the thing up by almost a factor of a hundred. ~100 explosions per second to match a fission nuclear plant. You would need a rapid rate of explosions to limit thermal cycling, materials can’t survive a huge number of heating and cooling cycles. You can’t make much less frequent but much larger explosions.

4) Each explosion leaves detritus in the laser chamber which would have to be cleared out for the laser to make it through to the target. You would have ~1/100 of a second to clear the chamber when it takes hours now.

5) The explosion chamber has to survive ~100 explosions per second, each of which releases a burst of very high energy neutrons (14 MeV) that damage all materials, even steel. So to match the 1 year length of time between refueling a fission reactor, the explosion chamber would need to survive 3 billion explosions, not even remotely possible.

So improvements in physics of a factor of ~100 would get you a tiny device that would have a very short lifespan compared to the 60 years a fission reactor lasts. Inertial confinement fusion for power production is a scam.

Robert of Texas
Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 27, 2021 12:47 pm

Not going nowhere, just not going to be a practical solution to fusion energy production. As far as understanding how to make smaller more efficient fusion bombs, I think this effort is going to be very useful.

Mr Lee
Reply to  John Tillman
August 27, 2021 11:05 am

One burn per second to do what?

John Tillman
Reply to  Mr Lee
August 27, 2021 6:57 pm

To keep the heat production train on the track.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 27, 2021 7:00 pm


Michi Kaku

Issues with this breakthrough.

ironargonaut
Reply to  John Tillman
August 29, 2021 8:30 pm

This guy speaks to subjects he has no knowledge of such as “polar vortex”. If he told me the ice was cold I would have to check it myself before I would believe him.

Zig Zag Wanderer
August 26, 2021 6:17 pm

Why on Earth is this referred to as a ‘burn’? Burning is basically rapid oxidisation as far as I am aware. Somebody wrote something similar in comments recently, but I didn’t bother asking. In an article I’m very surprised to see it being used.

It’s not burning, it’s fusing two atoms and releasing energy.

John Tillman
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
August 26, 2021 6:26 pm

Hydrogen “burning” is common parlance in stellar fusion physics.

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
August 26, 2021 9:03 pm

Burn is a term used to describe any exothermic reaction at high temperature

AndyHce
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
August 26, 2021 11:05 pm

Just like “burning” an CD-R or DVD-R or any transfer of information has come to be called “ripping”.
Communication to the masses quite often takes a dumbing down approach. Few people seem to want to understand more deeply or precisely.

Scissor
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
August 27, 2021 5:00 am

My “Platinum” credit card is plastic. That burns me.

August 26, 2021 6:31 pm

1.7 megajoules in. Let’s hope that some day they’ll get 2.0 megajoules out. How do we convert it to electricity?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Curious George
August 26, 2021 7:48 pm

Steam!

Earthling2
Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 26, 2021 9:42 pm

But isn’t steam only about 33% efficient, if that? They might succeed at getting more energy out than they are putting in, but then 2/3 of it is just waste heat so no real net net energy gain. I think this might still be 20-30 years away from any success of any kind.

Grumbler
Reply to  Earthling2
August 26, 2021 11:39 pm

It always has been 20 to 30 years away!

Mason
Reply to  Grumbler
August 27, 2021 8:58 am

Yep, for my 71 years always 30 years away. I looked in to the torus of the Ormak 48 years ago.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Earthling2
August 27, 2021 11:39 am

Actually, you use ‘critical water’ which is high pressure and high temperature. It has a density of 0.32g/cc, one third of the density of water at STP, but a lot denser than steam. Also it expands rapidly with pressure drop coverting to high quality steam without bubbling or phase change heat needed for an auxiliary conventional turbine without need for added conversion heat energy.

Efficiency is ~45%, so it doesn’t really change your point. Will there be a way to extract power from the plasma directly? Maybe, but they won’t want to interfere in a successful fusion process with the first gen tech.

Loren C. Wilson
Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 27, 2021 6:56 pm

The phase change heat is still there, just not obvious because you take a path that does not cross the liquid/vapor line on a phase diagram. After expansion in the turbine, the low pressure water vapor still is condensed in the cooling tower or heat exchanger (if you are using cool river or ocean water to condense it) into liquid water. Then it is compressed to a pressure above the critical point (3200 psi or 22.1 MPa), and reheated. Since the liquid water is already above the critical pressure, as you heat it the liquid cannot form a vapor phase. About the same amount of heat goes into it as a similar but lower pressure boiler.

Reply to  Curious George
August 27, 2021 6:34 pm

If the fusion products are ions, it’s already in the form of a current. To make it more usable, the fusion reaction needs to be modulated so that this current becomes time varying where useful electricity can be extracted with nothing more complicated than a transformer. Theoretically, you could even generate line frequency directly.

This is what make He3 fusion so attractive as most of the fusion energy is in the form of high speed charged particles. It’s mostly neutron fusion products that need to be captured as heat and then converted to electricity.

August 26, 2021 6:37 pm

The issue is that it is still at the lab experiment level, so the crack that fusion is twenty years away has been the claim for the past 60 years is still the case.

Reply to  Tom Halla
August 26, 2021 6:46 pm

Who is payin’ for this?…never mind….are they workin’ on warp drive too?

Reply to  Anti_griff
August 26, 2021 6:50 pm

It is still way cheaper than subsidies for wind turbines that can never work as a reliable grid power source.

Reply to  Tom Halla
August 26, 2021 6:59 pm

Well, uh, the competition would be…MSRs, no? Fusion is not complex or expensive enough and when a machine fails…and one will fail…how deep into the earth’s crust will it melt?…a mile?….and how long will it be before the failed machine is replaced and electricity can flow again.

Reply to  Anti_griff
August 26, 2021 7:08 pm

Citing a really sucky Jane Fonda movie is in quoting Alex Jones territory, in that at Fukushima Daiichi a total coolant loss resulted in only in wrecking the reactor. All other claims are characterizeable as bogus as a first approximation.

Reply to  Tom Halla
August 26, 2021 7:28 pm

Fusion has much higher temps than any reactor in use…heat for .steam for power production is maybe 700 C? What is the temp they are producing? 7000 C? I don’t know of any material that can handle 7000 C …. a little sun no less. “All other claims…” are famous last words.

Kenji
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 26, 2021 7:53 pm

You appear unaware that we have replicated the exotic alloys from the UFO spaceship hulls we have in storage down at Area 51. That material will hold up just fine …

beng135
Reply to  Kenji
August 27, 2021 11:12 am

Neutronium. Added neutrons just strengthen it.

Reply to  Kenji
August 27, 2021 1:28 pm

You speak of Unobtainium?…or Notavailabilium?

Reply to  Anti_griff
August 26, 2021 9:06 pm

Oh dear… At the very least they could sling solar panels round it….

The whole point of inertial fusion is that no material HAS to withstand that temp. It’s a small bright flash of light and some plasma…

Duane
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 27, 2021 5:30 am

If you knew anything about fission reactors you would know how dumb you sound.

Fission reactors don’t get particularly hot, but they create lots of fission products that are themselves radioactively decaying and releasing heat energy. If you don’t provide adequate cooling to a reactor after it has shut down, then the fuel and whatever contains it will likely melt … but it is not an infinite supply of heat energy, so the melting does not extend beyond the containment facility which is made of concrete.

Fusion reactors get very hot, which is why the reactions are not contained within a physical barrier, such as steel that can melt at such high temps, or even concrete that can crumble and vaporize at such high temperatures. There is no residual radioactive decay after a fusion reactor shuts down. It simply stops producing heat, immediately.

Reply to  Duane
August 27, 2021 6:51 am

Exactly…it stops producing heat…and electricity to power the lasers…the loop is broken….but in order to produce “surplus” power, this thing cannot operate on the margin shutting down frequently – it must have lots of heat produced which does not instantly disappear…the “plasma” does not go from 7000 C to zero in a few seconds. I don’t believe small units of fusion power will be economical like small units of MSRs can be made. The fusion reactor is purposely being cooled…the heat is needed for the electricity production…a lot of heat.

Last edited 1 month ago by Anti-griff
mcswelll
Reply to  Anti-griff
August 27, 2021 12:18 pm

the “plasma” does not go from 7000 C to zero in a few seconds”: Why not? I used to be the Main Propulsion Assistant on a Navy ship. Steam went from nearly 1000 F (a bit over 500 C) and 1275 psi to sea water temp and a near vacuum in less than a second because of expansion as it passed through the turbines, plus a final stage of passing over cooling tubes. If this plasma is produced in a tiny volume (which it apparently is), then expanding it to a much larger volume would cool it just as fast.

stinkerp
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 26, 2021 7:49 pm

It’s extremely difficult to sustain a fusion reaction for anything beyond a few seconds in a magnetic confinement reactor, nanoseconds in an inertial confinement reactor. They want to extinguish themselves. A “failed” machine will extinguish itself in nanoseconds. No chance of nuclear core meltdown.

MarkW
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 26, 2021 8:10 pm

The only reactor that has “melted down” was Chernobyl, and it didn’t even make it through the foundation.

Reply to  MarkW
August 26, 2021 9:09 pm

Not quite true. 3MI and Fukushima both melted down, but they didn’t even make it out of the secondary confinement, designed for that express purpose.
Chernobyl had no secondary confinement: It’s been erected there since the accident 😀

Duane
Reply to  MarkW
August 27, 2021 5:32 am

Three Mile Island also resulted in a melted reactor core, but unlike Chernoble, the secondary containment was sufficient to prevent a release of nuclear materials. The Chernoble reactor design was a very unsafe design.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 27, 2021 12:00 am

I always chuckle at “The China Syndrome” “scientists” who say that a reactor meltdown would cause the core to melt through the Earth, “theoretically” all the way to China.

Okay, if the core could melt “all the way through the Earth”, it would get as far as the center, and stop. Unless, of course, it has anti-gravity properties, and I wouldn’t put it past some “scientists” to ascribe magical properties to a nuclear material.

Even assuming the molten core had anti-gravity properties, and continued to “fall up” from the center of the Earth, why would it come out at China? The US and China are both in the northern hemisphere. There isn’t a single line passing through any point in North America, the center of the Earth, and China. So we were being alarmed by “scientists” who were ignorant of basic geography?

But then, these “scientists” had an even more ominous scenario. Instead of making it all the way to China, the molten core would “hit” ground water, and cause an enormous steam explosion, catapulting the radioactive core into the atmosphere…just like Chernobyl.

Except that the slow melt of a core penetrating the Earth doesn’t “hit” anything at any instant. Even if it did, consider: I used to help shoe horses, back in my misspent youth. The blacksmith would heat the shoes to red-heat, and work them into the correct shape on an anvil with a hammer, then quench them in a bucket of water. There was never a “huge steam explosion.” Quenching was an anticlimactic event. It was never like the Three Stooges steam events, which themselves were never the dreadful events predicted by the China Syndrome “scientists.” The whole nuclear phobia phenomenon is entirely mentally pathological.

Last edited 1 month ago by Michael S. Kelly
Duane
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 27, 2021 5:37 am

Of course even if a melted fission reactor core made it beyond the secondary containment – something that virtually all reactors, commercial and military, with the exception of the demonstrably unsafe Chernobyl reactor design, would prevent – the heat driving the melting is very short lived, measured in hours. It results from the decay of fission daughter products that continues after the reactor is shut down, and once those daughter products, whose half lives are measured in minutes or hours, have mostly decayed away, there is no more heat generated by the melted reactor core.

Not to mention that the entire core and mantle of the earth is made of radioactive materials, which is why, 4.6 billion years after the planet was born, we still have active vulcanism. All that melted rock below the crust is hot because of radioactive decay.

dmanfred
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 27, 2021 7:51 am

I believe if you went straight through the Earth from Ca you’d come out in the Indian Ocean.

DonM
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 27, 2021 11:09 am

It would accelerate as it heads toward the center of the earth because of the rotation of the earth it would miss the core and slingshot around towards China at an increased velocity.

It is a very real concern.

(edit note: This is Griff (or Tommy), I don’t know why the system is posting this as DonM)

Last edited 1 month ago by DonM
Reply to  DonM
August 27, 2021 6:39 pm

DonM,TheNewGriff,

Usually do not like to rise to your bait as your posts are so clearly sourced from the Worldwide Green Conspiracy, but this one is so sense-free I must respond. You understand that gravity is stronger than centripetal acceleration from the rotation of the Earth, which is why we are all still here and not flying off into space?

While it is true that gravity decreases slightly while sinking into the Earth this effect is negligible until one reaches the Outer Core, at which point the entire thing would have melted long since.

Did you take high school physics? Did you forget it all? Perhaps a refresher course would be in order…

DonM
Reply to  Michael Moon
August 28, 2021 2:17 pm

It is sense free, it sinks to the same level of goofy logic as a griff.

mcswelll
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 27, 2021 12:30 pm

Nobody (and certainly no scientist) ever believed in a true China Syndrome; that was a joke of sorts. Everyone knew it would encounter water first, or just stop when it had encountered enough rock to cool it.

Nor did anybody think “hit water” meant hit in an instant; maybe you don’t understand English? But it would certainly vaporize a lot of water–it would have been hotter and more massive, and therefore carried a lot more heat, than your little horseshoes. (If you don’t believe me, ask yourself how many watts your horseshoes could have developed by converting water to steam, and then ask how many gigawatts a nuclear power plant produces.) Also, your horseshoes stop heating up once they’re removed from the fire, whereas molten uranium keeps producing heat as it goes (albeit at a lower rate than when it was confined to the reactor.) Plus the resulting steam would have carried a lot of radioactive contaminants with it.

That’s (one reason) why well designed reactors have containment vessels.

There’s no reason to put the word “scientists” in quotes here. You’re just making a straw man argument, making up things that the scientists (and engineers) didn’t believe and pretending they did.

Duane
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 27, 2021 5:26 am

Fission reactors are similar to fusion reactors in the same way mice are similar to dinosaurs.

Reply to  Duane
August 27, 2021 7:12 am

I dunno….that fusion machine looks kinda like a white elephant to me.

AndyHce
Reply to  Tom Halla
August 26, 2021 11:06 pm

By how much?

griff
Reply to  Tom Halla
August 27, 2021 12:42 am

Wind turbines reliably provide a large % of power for multiple European countries.

Bill Toland
Reply to  griff
August 27, 2021 12:54 am

Griff, the power from wind turbines is not reliable. You do realise that wind turbines depend on the wind, don’t you?

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Bill Toland
August 27, 2021 10:49 am

I don’t think that word (reliably) means what he thinks it does.

Climate believer
Reply to  griff
August 27, 2021 12:57 am

Reliably unreliable is what they are.

Yooper
Reply to  griff
August 27, 2021 6:10 am

Here’s an experiment to try run a counrty, say Germany, on only wind power for any random 24 hour period and then spout off about how good it is.

Carlo, Monte
Reply to  griff
August 27, 2021 6:23 am

The Yorkshire Terrier yips in, again.

beng135
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 27, 2021 11:10 am

C’mon, anti-griff, the amount of money on this is an molecule of silicon-dioxide on the Saharan sands compared to the money wasted by the US feds where trillions are chump-change.

Kevin
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 27, 2021 6:47 pm

The facility was used as a set for one of the Star Trek movies.

August 26, 2021 6:39 pm

Your link is to a 2013 news release. The correct link is here: https://www.llnl.gov/news/national-ignition-facility-experiment-puts-researchers-threshold-fusion-ignition.
A big step forward, but total input to the machine was 400 MJ, total fusion yield 1.3 MJ, so still a ways to go for net energy. If you want compact fusion, we intend to provide it. Details at lppfusion.com

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Eric Lerner
August 26, 2021 8:24 pm

We had compact fusion devices way back in the 1970’s. Portable even. I often had a dozen ready for delivery.

James Donald Bailey
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 5:12 am

Eric, I think Mike is referring to Strategic Air Command. (Also not useful for power generation.)

Max P
Reply to  James Donald Bailey
August 27, 2021 10:27 am

I think one of those fusion devices would turn some windmill blades about a millisecond before, said blades, vaporized…

John W Braue
Reply to  James Donald Bailey
August 27, 2021 12:58 pm

Quite the contrary. Drop a fusion bomb into a cavern full of a working fluid. Use the vapor to turn a turbine. Put the whole thing on the Moon to minimize whining.

beng135
Reply to  Mike McMillan
August 27, 2021 11:18 am

Yep, Doc Brown was making them, Mr Fusions I believe.

mcswelll
Reply to  Mike McMillan
August 27, 2021 12:33 pm

Well, “portable” if you have a B52 or an ICBM or a nuclear submarine. (Ok, I’ll grant that the ASROCs could also loft one.)

August 26, 2021 6:41 pm

Nope. IFC is for weapons research. No go for power production. The experiment’s sucis important but very small as a step to using fusion for power production.

commieBob
Reply to  Lonnie E. Schubert
August 26, 2021 8:44 pm

You say whatever you must so you get funding. I wouldn’t put too much stock in what they say are their goals.

mcswelll
Reply to  Lonnie E. Schubert
August 27, 2021 12:37 pm

Two thoughts:
1) Why is it ‘IFC’ instead of ‘ICF’ (for Inertial Containment Fusion)?
2) How do you know IFC/ICF won’t work for power production?

Reply to  mcswelll
August 27, 2021 1:27 pm

ICF, yes. Over a quarter century as an engineer, and a couple of years as a materials research scientist in fusion and nuclear materials. Consider, a 2mm ball that takes extraordinary technology to create in the middle of a cryogenic room ignited by unimaginably powerful lasers. The technical accomplishments are laudable, but the system cannot be made to generate power for grid-level support. I gave a refence ( https://www.nap.edu/read/18288/chapter/6 ). Feel free to explain how the system could be scaled to appropriate levels and run continuously for power. And, there are still all those 14 MeV neutrons.

Rob_Dawg
August 26, 2021 6:54 pm

Oh good. Now practical fusion is only 10 years minus three one trillionths of a second away.

August 26, 2021 7:03 pm

That must mean that practicable nuclear fusion is only thirty years away. In other words, the goal posts keep moving–to maintain that thirty-year timeline.

Reply to  Jim Masterson
August 26, 2021 7:15 pm

Well, there are careers at stake…need 30 year projects. However, sometimes research produces the unexpected…MSR original research was for nuclear propulsion of a bomber….ICBMs were developed in the meantime and bombers no longer needed for the purpose.

Max P
Reply to  Anti_griff
August 27, 2021 10:31 am

The XB70 would be a case in point.

Reply to  Jim Masterson
August 27, 2021 7:56 am

Anthropogenic Nuclear Fusion has already been proven – in the Hydrogen Bomb – by using surrounding fission bombs to trigger the central hydrogen (deuterium-tritium) charge.
Now the task is to scale that DOWN to practical levels. The problem with the National Ignition Facility is that budgetary cutbacks shrank the lasers, practically giving insufficient power for reliable ignition. Scaling up by 10x would strongly increase probability of reliable repeatable inertial confinement fusion with energy released > light injected. Then to address the scaling issues to practical commercial power. See National Ignition Facility NIF Experiment Puts Researchers at Threshold of Fusion Ignition (llnl.gov)

beng135
Reply to  David L. Hagen
August 27, 2021 11:20 am

I’ve said it before, a mountain-size piston engine w/fusion bombs detonated at top-dead-center. 😉

Reply to  beng135
August 27, 2021 6:22 pm

the temperature at the center of an H-bomb is over ten million degrees. Likewise with the plasma of the ICF. More like a planet-sized piston engine…

August 26, 2021 7:06 pm

Fun fact: According to Manabe, Strickler (1964), one of the most profound articles on the GHE, it is a totally futile attempt. They theorized the GHE would be a cascade of IR-opaque layers radiating back to the surface, thereby amplifying the solar input with each layer. In this way the GHE would warm Earth to some 343K, which will only be moderated by convection.

A lot of people have read this paper and believe it. For instance Roy Spencer..

https://www.drroyspencer.com/2018/05/in-defense-of-the-term-greenouse-effect/

The funny thing here is, the theory reads like a blueprint for a perpetuum mobile. Just build a device with multiple layers of semi-transparent glas, minimize convection (the air is not supposed to float freely among the layers anyhow) and add an absorbing layer at the bottom. Now just add a source of energy shining in on the top, and you will get extremely high temperatures at the bottom. Use this to produce energy, feed the original source and the remaining energy to propel anything else..

Free energy all over… 😉

AndyHce
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 26, 2021 11:12 pm

Sunlight is rather energetic. It can do all sorts of things.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 6:05 am

Sure, also a greenhouse will provide higher temperatures vs. the outside. It works by the collection of solar energy there is. But with the “Manabe, Strickler device” you not only collect, but amplify the solar energy, by a factor of 100 if you want to (and as is suggested in the case of Venus!). And as the amplification would produce a lot more energy than the original input, there is not even a need to rely on the sun. Any input will do and you’ll get a lot more energy out as you put in..

Glen
Reply to  E. Schaffer
August 27, 2021 8:27 am

“…and you’ll get a lot more energy out as you put in..”

This part here might have a logical flaw in it.

By “might have a logical flaw in it” I mean it is bats^*%T stupid. Let me mansplain. You make a box that traps an enormous amount of solar energy. Lets say you convert that stored energy to heat to make steam to produce electricity.
The time it takes to extract all that solar energy could be seconds. Whereas it may have taken hours to store up that energy in the first place.
Get it? Got it? Good!

Reply to  Glen
August 27, 2021 10:28 am

Girl, you need some real man-splaining.

The “Manabe-Strickler device” is not about heating up over time, but about “back radiation” bringing additional radiative heating and multiplying that of the original (solar-) input. Try to get it..

mcswelll
Reply to  Glen
August 27, 2021 12:42 pm

Mirrors?

mcswelll
Reply to  E. Schaffer
August 27, 2021 12:41 pm

I can see amplifying solar energy, which we’re receiving for free; and in principle geothermal energy, although I imagine it’s too dilute for this to be practical. But “any input”? Including a campfire? How is that different from a perpetual motion machine?

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  E. Schaffer
August 26, 2021 8:41 pm

Isn’t this way off topic?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
August 27, 2021 6:14 am

You mean like discussing extremely complicated and expensive clean energy, which is needed due to a theory, that if correct, would provide cheap free energy anyhow, in the context of critical climate science, on a site that is all about being critical on climate science?

Um..

DMacKenzie
Reply to  E. Schaffer
August 26, 2021 8:46 pm

If it wasn’t for clouds over 65% of the Earth’s surface…variable by hourly atmospheric conditions, evaporation causing clouds, convection causing clouds, and clouds closing the outgoing IR window, but increasing reflected sunlight, Mannabe and Strickler’s 343 K would be correct. Double the CO2 doesn’t change the answer much.

RickWill
August 26, 2021 7:15 pm

The article does not mention the energy into the system. My reading indicates the system is charged to 422MJ for a shot. That puts the 1.3MJ into perspective.

It appears the gap is still significant and unlikely to be bridged through refinement alone. But then Hero’s steam engine was a long way short of what is observed today. But that was about 2000 years ago. Hopefully modern engineering practice enables the design spiral to be more expedient.

John Shotsky
August 26, 2021 7:23 pm

I delivered laser power measurement instruments for 8 inch laser beams back in the 70’s. We joked that everything was just 10 years away. That was 50 years ago…

Gary Pearse
August 26, 2021 7:45 pm

“The search for structural materials which can survive such a hostile environment without collapsing into dust is ongoing.”

They would have to exploit some very unconventional tech for “structural materials”. Possibly a “container” being a subcrustal peridotite that would make an artificial “lava” chamber from which heat could be drawn from a network of cooling pipes that would define an equilibrium solid/liquid boundary!!

Looking at more ‘conventional’ structural materials, tantalum hafnium carbide is just a few degrees below 4,000°C. I don’t know of any material with a higher melting point. Lithium metal is the best coolant. Can it remove heat from 4,000°C MP ‘piping’ fast enough to keep it solid?

A nice handy granite magma supplies a lot of heat over a million plus years with no need for fusion. Or you could melt your own existing granite intrusion at a depth of 5 – 7km. After installing a cooling shell around the fusion melter – then let ‘er go!

beng135
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 11:21 am

That’d be a REAL blast to try. A one-shot deal.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 12:11 pm

Thanks, Eric – I applaud your thoroughness in covering your subjects. Awareness of such background gives your articles a solid sense of authority over your subjects.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 27, 2021 1:33 pm

Regarding melting a chamber in a granite batholith at accessible depth, say-5km, the alkali-alumina-silicate composition is much stronger than the salt ( formation) experimented with in New Mexico. In the Precambrian, a solid granite, exposed at surface over hundreds of sqkm and 25 km thick would be more than ideal for melting a containable chamber that would develop thick glass, self-healing walls containing micro crystals. It would be a strong bottle.

With existing mining tech this is at least possible (I would say even attractive). Expecting to be able to remove heat from a million+°C plasma, fast enough to keep a structural material with a 4,000°C M.P. isnt going to happen. If you somehow succeeded in doing that, how is it possible to utilize the enormous delivery of the volume of heat involved?

Hey, I applaud the lab research, but the results have to go into other hands for realization. University profs maximize their skills in a rarified atmosphere safely away from reality.

Take a fraction of the budget from ITER and do the mining and rigging of the “container”. Build a small hydrogen bomb.

Glen
Reply to  Eric Worrall
August 27, 2021 9:10 am

I’ve heard of using bombs to boil water in huge underground caverns. I’ve never heard of melting metal then extracting that heat. Hmm. It would have the advantage of an isolated secondary loop.

MDN
August 26, 2021 7:49 pm

Long term I expect this is likely useful for studying the plasma physics of fusion far better than any other mechanism allows given the scale involved, however that also makes it extremely unlikely to ever scale up to a practical commercial power architecture.

The paradox is that we can successfully trigger nuclear fusion, but it is proving incredibly hard to do so at a useful power level somewhere between 1 megajoule as in this experiment and 1 megaton, the book end of our capability. But long term, perhaps decades and maybe a few centuries from now, I expect we will figure it out and it that will be the dawn of utopian energy.

Rud Istvan
August 26, 2021 7:49 pm

This announcement is nonsense on several grounds. First, it is NOT NIF net energy positive. Only hohlraum net energy positive. Second, there is no way it can be repeated often enough to ever be useful. See essay Going Nuclear in ebook Blowing Smoke for the details.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 27, 2021 8:05 am

Light incident on the central target was net energy positive.
Light into the hohlraum was ~70% of net energy.
This is now a matter of scaling up to lasers sufficiently strong to give reliable burns.
The greatest limitation is that budget cutbacks left the NIF lasers too small to reliably create ignition!
“Now, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) has taken a major leap toward that goal. Last week, a single laser shot sparked a fusion explosion from a peppercorn-size fuel capsule that produced eight times more energy than the facility had ever achieved: 1.35 megajoules (MJ)—roughly the kinetic energy of a car traveling at 160 kilometers per hour. That was also 70% of the energy of the laser pulse that triggered it, making it tantalizingly close to “ignition”: a fusion shot producing an excess of energy. “After many years at 3% of ignition, this is superexciting,”” With explosive new result, laser-powered fusion effort nears ‘ignition’ | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)

markl
August 26, 2021 8:03 pm

Break even is a leap forward when they get there. You don’t create anything new without taking a chance.

angech
Reply to  markl
August 26, 2021 8:19 pm

Nuclear fusion energy is already present and controllable.
Put a large mass of plasma together quickly enough so when it explodes it is constrained by a weak force like gravity instead of inertia or magnetic fields.
Move it 93,000,000 miles away and grow trees or use solar panels to modify the energy for use.

A quick look at standard physics would show anyone who cared that the amount of heat produced by any self sustaining plasma reaction or continuous sustained with outside help plasma reaction would melt and destroy any attempted restraining mechanism.
Not rocket science.
Why try?
Not for the energy but the destructive potential first and as a side effect, effective advancement of scientific knowledge.
20 years? impossible.
Never? Highly likely.

Glen
Reply to  angech
August 27, 2021 9:19 am

This ^^

Clyde Spencer
August 26, 2021 8:32 pm

… fusion researchers have claimed a near break even experimental nuclear fusion burn

I’m reminded of the quip by Mark Twain: “I’ve been on the verge of being an angel my whole life.”

Clyde Spencer
August 26, 2021 8:35 pm

LLNL is seriously over-budget and under-achieving. They apparently felt that some news was necessary to keep the funds flowing.

Jeff Alberts
August 26, 2021 8:50 pm

Well darn. Way down at the bottom of this page it says “You Missed”, and shows this article and three others I read. I guess I didn’t really read them.

August 26, 2021 9:46 pm

Eric, you hit the right points, but ICF isn’t for power. It is for fusion characterization, and it is mostly for weapons research and model refinement. You correctly point out the problems with 14 MeV neutrons. ICF uses DT, and it still has just as many high-energy neutrons.

14 MeV neutrons are true nanocannonballs. The neutron blasts into the surface and vaporizes a nanotrail. The result is rapid embrittlement. By the standards 25 years ago when I was in the field, the materials we had could have built a structurally sound facility that would have met regs for 18 to 20 months of full-power operation. The Princeton unit burned fusion for a total of several seconds, and it was allowed to cool off for two years before Battelle decontaminated, deconstructed, and hauled it out to Hanford and buried most of the equipment and much of the facility. Frankly, the physics requirements prove easy in comparison to the challenges of materials advancements.

ITER was all abuzz when I was in the field. The effort is older than is usually admitted. It will work, but it isn’t the basis of future power production. We need some breakthroughs, especially in structural materials. Some of the private efforts hold promise, but I don’t expect significant progress anywhere until ITER has been fully operational for a while, and we have the firsthand experience of accomplishing burns of substantial duration.

ICF cannot be scaled as you assume. It just cannot be. Do you know what all is involved in making those DT BBs? LLNL ICF is awesome, but it is not the path to power generation. It is good at characterizing fusion, at least laser-initiated inertial confinement fusion.

In short, fusion is 20 years away, just as it has been for nearly 70 years now. My best guess 25 years ago was 100 years. The foremost researcher in the field (probably the most cited scientist in history) thought I was overly pessimistic. He wouldn’t, however, offer a more near-term prediction. After ITER, the time to commercial fusion power generation should be reasonably forecastable.

The key is fission. We know how to do that well. We are getting better at it, and we have lots of options. Fission is essential. We will eventually use fusion to power our needs, but we will use fission first. The longer it takes to convert nearly all of our power production to fission, the more humanity will suffer overall. Fission is the only option until fusion becomes commercially viable.

I suggest the first fusion will be a Tokamak built on the moon, and it will power everything we have up there for several years. I hold out some hope for private success, but when Skunkworks backed off, well…

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Lonnie E. Schubert
August 27, 2021 9:24 am

…, but when Skunkworks backed off, well…

Could you elaborate on that? I thought that LM was still going forward with the project.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
August 27, 2021 9:33 am

Yes, your search for relevant news will show the same as mine. LM is still working their compact fusion design. I was referring to the fact that over seven years ago, Skunkworks promised a prototype compact fusion reactor within five years. It turned out the objectives were much more modest than implied in the early press releases, but not even that proved mostly unachievable. If something is achievable, Skunkworks usually delivers even more. Thus, well…

Last edited 1 month ago by Lonnie E. Schubert
Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
August 27, 2021 9:40 am

This is one of the more informative, recent articles that I was able to find after a short search:

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/29074/skunk-works-exotic-fusion-reactor-program-moves-forward-with-larger-more-powerful-design

Do you have anything more recent, Lonnie?

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
August 27, 2021 10:21 am

Nothing more recent. I knew Skunkworks wouldn’t succeed either, but I was holding out hope. It is Skunkworks, after all.

August 26, 2021 10:41 pm

“The size of a BB”
I am unfamiliar with that unit of dimension.

Yooper
Reply to  Hans Erren
August 27, 2021 6:25 am

A steel sphere 4.6 mm in diameter, usually copper coated, used in air powered guns.

Reply to  Hans Erren
August 27, 2021 6:25 am

Quoting LLNL, “The experiment was enabled by focusing laser light from NIF — the size of three football fields — onto a target the size of a BB that produces a hot-spot the diameter of a human hair, generating more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.”

Jeff Yeates
Reply to  Hans Erren
August 27, 2021 6:38 am

A “BB” is a small copper ball used in air powered rifles. Maybe 2 to 3 mm in diameter.

Barry Sheridan
August 27, 2021 12:43 am

Producing affordable energy from such a device seems so far distant as to be irrelevant, we need realistic answers on how to use nuclear processes safely to produce electricity in the near term. Fission of some sort is the answer, possibly the Molten Salt Reactor.

HotScot
August 27, 2021 1:55 am

Promising a Fusion reactor connected to the grid by 2030.

https://www.tokamakenergy.co.uk

Max P
Reply to  HotScot
August 27, 2021 10:45 am

Sure, but will the reactor be producing power for the grid or will the grid be supplying power to the reactor?

August 27, 2021 2:26 am

What is the path from this to a working power station? That can be constructed in Kazakhstan, or Mozambique?

george1st:)
August 27, 2021 4:14 am

Captain Kirk to Scotty ;
“give me warp speed 10 now ”
Scotty ” engines are at max but I’ll see what I can do “

Captain climate
August 27, 2021 5:17 am

I’ll be dead before we have working fusion power

mcswelll
Reply to  Captain climate
August 27, 2021 12:50 pm

The present generation will not [fly in the next century], and no practical engineer would devote himself to the problem now.
— Worby Beaumont, January 1900

Laws of Nature
August 27, 2021 5:33 am

What a pipe dream! Until the breakeven point is reached, the cost per KW/h is infinite, once it is reached it is almost infinite ..
BTW, in both techniques the plan is to extract the energy by moderation in water, liquids will not be damaged by neutrons. The wall materials as basically transparent for neutrons, just like the structural components in a nuclear reactor, which see similar flux and energy

D Boss
August 27, 2021 5:41 am

I think the hope from this non serious hype is a fools errand. I believe the fact gazillions of dollars and person-hours have been devoted to this and decades of work without even breaking even – suggests the theory upon which they are operating is incorrect.

Thus none of these avenues is going to work. To get electrical power output you have losses. If you assume steam turbines would be employed and then driving conventional generators – say the fusion to steam to shaft power is 45% efficient, then generators are 90% efficient you have only 0.405 of the energy produced as net electrical power. The reciprocal is then 2.47.

This means to be able to generate electrical power the so called fusion reactor needs to be 247% more output than input. A far cry from break even!

If the concepts ingrained in the dogma of the standard model and nuclear and astrophysics are wrong – then no amount of “more money” and “more power” are going to produce gainful results.

Just like how Einstein showed Newtonian physics was flawed or incomplete, one of his axioms applies to this hot fusion fiasco: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

mcswelll
Reply to  D Boss
August 27, 2021 12:47 pm

I can state flatly that heavier than air flying machines are impossible.
— Lord Kelvin, 1895

Gary Pearse
Reply to  D Boss
August 27, 2021 2:28 pm

Go with the substantial fusion tech we have and use existing mine tech. A small hydrogen bomb to melt a liquid chamber 5 – 7km down into a massive granite body, and pre-rigged with a suitably located ‘shell’ of coolant piping in the surrounding granite outside the chamber. Aim for a century of operation.

BlueCat57
August 27, 2021 6:05 am

Near only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear bombs.

That’s what we said when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.

Can we add fusion reactions?

What is near? 90% or 60%?

I find inertial confinement fusion exciting” … because of the potential to end life on earth as we know it if the experiment goes wrong?

James Donald Bailey
August 27, 2021 6:13 am

In researching what happens as this massive laser power is focused onto a small spot, they discovered that they can also be particle accelerators. At the time, the warehouse machines were PetaWatt sized, and a smaller research outfit had built a smaller ‘tabletop’ 10TW machine that also proved to be a particle accelerator.

The table was 5m x 10m. Space will be needed to stretch the pulse out in time, amplify it and then focus it in time and space. The wall to laser efficiency was 1%. It fired at 10Hz. Increasing that last was a technical challenge that no researcher was pursuing at the time. The limit at the time was the mirror that focused the beam in time and space. The lead author’s next goal was to make a ‘tabletop’ PW laser. I haven’t followed to see if that has been achieved.

I will skip the reasons why it wasn’t yet at the point where it could compete with commercial isotope producing particle accelerators. There were many papers recommending the PW laser as ideal for the source and initial accelerator feeding large research particle accelerators. Roughly the same as the only part of the SSC that was built before Congress canceled it, source and 70 MeV linac.

That 1% wall to laser power efficiency is going to be a royal pain in producing energy. So will the conversion efficiencies from fusion energy to electrical energy. And the power to run itself will need to be subtracted to consider how much energy it can deliver.

Not sure what the big machine rep rates are. At the time, one of the large European facilities scheduled 7000 shots per year. Probably better than 1/hr if you throw in maintenance and other down time.

Thomas Gasloli
August 27, 2021 6:25 am

Is there any real scientific information derived from this 70 year boondoggle? If not, then it is long past time when the plug should be pulled in this.

They will NEVER turn this into real power generation. Enough of these big toys for the unemployable surplus physicists.

mcswelll
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
August 27, 2021 12:47 pm

It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere.
— Thomas Edison, November 1895

August 27, 2021 6:37 am

The statements here help explain why inertial confinement will not provide grid-scale power production.

https://str.llnl.gov/january-2016/nikroo

“…conditions similar to those in stars and detonating nuclear weapons.”
“NIF is the paramount experimental facility in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure the continuing safety, security, and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear weapons.”

The exceptionally high level of engineering involved is astonishing. They are doing very good work. However, it is not breakthrough work for fusion power generation.

Jackie Pratt
August 27, 2021 7:19 am

The kill shot:

Although the energy produced was comparable to the energy deposited to initiate the burn, the lasers which deposited that energy are not 100% efficient. The total energy expended conducting the experiment likely vastly exceeded the fusion yield.

As in that admission should kill this boondoggle. Other commentors noted that the lasers used 400x the output. 0.25%…….

dmanfred
August 27, 2021 7:53 am

Did everyone miss this hiding in plain sight?

advance the science that NNSA depends on to modernize our nuclear weapons and production

Jim Whelan
August 27, 2021 8:22 am

generating more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.

So if we can extend that ONLY a quadrillion times longer we can get close to the energy availability of solar.

Olen
August 27, 2021 8:24 am

Not a eureka moment but worthy.
This is science at work and modernizing nuclear weapons is a good idea!

Any useful means of generating power may result with improved material to contain high temperatures is preferable to land grabbing windmills and solar panels that don’t come cheap with intermittent usefulness and short life.

Cheap clean power may not come in our lifetime or in a millennium but if we don’t lose our grip on science it will happen. Once the scientists solve it the engineers will make it useful. With the help of mathematicians and craftsmen.

Jeffery P
August 27, 2021 8:42 am

“Near break even?” That’s better than what we get with renewables. Sign me up!

Gordon A. Dressler
August 27, 2021 8:48 am

Lest we fall prey to being impressed by units of megajoules, I’ll just point out that the 1.3 MJ of “yield” in the above quoted PR from LLNL/National Ignition Facility is equivalent to heating about 4 liters of water from 20 °C to the boiling point of water (but not boiling off any of that water).

As they say, it’s a start (pardon the pun).

August 27, 2021 10:17 am

For the interested: https://www.nap.edu/read/18288/chapter/6
It is the understanding of this panel that the current program plan anticipates a demonstration of ignition sometime after the beginning of FY2013,” not even close.

Last edited 1 month ago by Lonnie E. Schubert
Rich Davis
August 27, 2021 2:31 pm

I’m not even gonna say it.

August 27, 2021 3:53 pm

The spherical tokamak being developed in the UK might be a better route to fusion power generation – if this is even possible.

Mast Upgrade: UK experiment could sweep aside fusion hurdle – BBC News

Loren C. Wilson
August 27, 2021 6:46 pm

A small step forward and a big waste of money. I would like to see my tax dollars spent on a thorium molten salt fission reactor prototype – much more likely to see some real return on the investment. Now if they could only talk about fusion as a nuclear reaction instead of burning or ignition, which are entirely different chemical reactions from nuclear fusion.

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