Fashioning Fusion: Villanova Professor Explains Clean Energy Breakthrough

Fashioning Fusion: Villanova Professor Explains Clean Energy Breakthrough

December 19, 20222 min read

On December 13, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a breakthrough that could change the future of clean energy. The long-awaited achievement of nuclear fusion was accomplished by researchers and, if harnessed on a larger scale, fusion energy could provide an energy option without the pollution of fossil fuels and without the radioactive waste of nuclear energy.

A new world running on clean energy may not be imminent, but the state of ignition achieved is an important first step. Villanova University professor of mechanical engineering David Cereceda, PhD, received a U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Award from the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences for his research on fusion energy materials—and has worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located in California.

"Ignition means that a nuclear fusion reaction becomes self-sustainable," Dr. Cereceda said. "The experiments performed at NIF [National Ignition Facility] last week reached for the first time in history a condition called scientific breakeven, meaning the scientists produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it."

The breakthrough discovery was made when 192 lasers focused on a cylinder the size of a pencil eraser. That container was filled with a small amount of hydrogen that was encased in a diamond. The resulting reaction that occurred was brief but significant, as this important step has proved allusive to researchers for decades.

"Those who criticized fusion said that fusion was always five decades away. That's not true anymore," Dr. Cereceda remarked. "I'm not surprised about the announcement. It finally arrived after decades of hundreds of brilliant scientists and engineers carefully working on it."

Still, the national laboratory says much work still lies ahead. Scientists will continue to push toward a higher fusion output and are looking at more efficient ways to produce ignition.

Researchers also believe they may still be decades away from making fusion energy a mainstay and usable for the general public.

"In my opinion, some of the most important challenges that remain on the path to commercial fusion energy are related to structural materials, tritium breeding blankets and laser technology, among others," mentioned Dr. Cereceda. "Multiple challenges remain to making it a commercial energy source, but this recent and historic breakthrough was a critical milestone."

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