Mini star can solve Earth’s energy woes

Monday, November 15, 2010

LONDON - Scientists are planning to build the world’s first sustainable fusion reactor by creating a miniature star on Earth.

Fusion, the process by which atoms combine, could potentially produce the energy equivalent of 300 gallons of petrol from only a gallon of seawater, and fuel equivalent of two tonnes of coal from 50 cups of water.

Following a series of experiments over the last few weeks, the 2.2 billion pound project has inched a little closer to its goal of igniting a workable fusion reactor by 2012.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) team in Livermore, US, fired up 192 lasers beams at the centre of the reactor and aimed them at a glass target containing tritium and deuterium gas, reports the Daily Mail.

The resulting release of energy was of a magnitude of 1.3 million mega joules, a world record. The peak radiation temperature measured at the core was approximately six million degrees Fahrenheit, according to an NIF statement.

For a direct comparison, the temperature at the sun’s core is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit.

NIF officials estimate that a prototype power station version of the fusion reactor could be operational by 2020 and that by 2050, almost a quarter of US’ energy requirement could be supplied by fusion power.

“The results of all of these experiments are extremely encouraging. They give us great confidence that we will be able to achieve ignition conditions in deuterium-tritium fusion targets,” said NIF director Ed Moses.

“Deuterium is extracted from seawater, and tritium is derived from the metal lithium, a common element in soil,” said an NIF spokesperson.

“A fusion power plant would be carbon free, as well as produce considerably lower amounts and less difficult-to-store radioactive byproducts than current nuclear power plants,” he added.

Filed under: Science and Technology

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