Energy Crisis Lifeline: Laser and Seawater Plot Leads to ‘No Sustainable Waste’ | Science | New

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Conventional atomic energy – nuclear fission – works by firing a neutron at a large, unstable atom like uranium-235, causing it to split, releasing more energy, two smaller atoms and additional neutrons . These neutrons continue to hit and split more atoms, which release more neutrons, splitting more atoms, creating a chain reaction that releases significant amounts of energy. Although fission is very efficient, it produces radioactive waste as an unwanted by-product and has the inherent risk that an accident could lead to an uncontrolled chain reaction and a devastating nuclear reaction.

A potentially cleaner and safer alternative comes in the form of nuclear fusion, which produces large amounts of energy through the combining of lighter atoms like hydrogen isotopes rather than the breakdown of heavier elements. like uranium.

It’s the same process that operates at the core of stars like the Sun, where extreme temperatures on the order of tens of millions of degrees can force atoms to overcome their mutual electrostatic repulsion so they can come together and fuse together.

The main challenge to commercializing fusion therefore lies in creating these extreme conditions here on Earth – one approach of which is to try to contain super-hot plasma with magnetic fields.

As German investor Moritz von der Linden told The Times: “I always like to compare it to a jar of tomato sauce.

“If you put a pot of tomato sauce on your stove and turn it on full blast, the sauce starts to heat up and starts to move.

“The problem is, if you leave it on full throttle, it’ll end up on your ceiling.”

Mr. von der Linden’s latest venture – Marvel Fusion, which was founded in 2019 – takes a different approach when it comes to pioneering atomic fusion.

Their approach is to fire short but powerful pulses of laser light, each lasting 30 quadrillionths of a second, at a dense pellet of hydrogen and the isotope boron-11.

This causes the atoms to fuse together, producing three positively charged helium atoms that repel each other, flying away at almost a third of the speed of light.

The energy of this “explosion” can then be captured by technologies such as heat exchange or an electrostatic field.

In theory, because each repeated reaction is so short, it’s self-sustaining – meaning the team’s fusion energy concept doesn’t need the elaborate magnetic confinement setups that have hampered previous attempts to bring fusion energy to reality.

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The promise of Marvel Fusion’s approach, however, has already attracted tens of millions of euros of investment from companies such as Siemens Energy and French engineering conglomerate Thales – as well as interest from Professor Gérard Mourou. , who shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on ultrashort-pulse, high-intensity lasers.

Other organizations are also investing in the merger. Last February, the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor in Oxfordshire announced that it had achieved a record 59 megajoules of sustained fusion power in about five seconds.

Mr von der Linden, however, explained that he would like to see European officials invest more in fusion to ensure energy security in the future.

He said: “Our hope is that European governments will see the need to take an open approach to the technology needed to solve the current energy crisis.

“While wind and solar are welcome, they will not be enough to meet long-term energy demand.”

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