WASHINGTON — U.S. scientists on Tuesday will reveal a scientific advance on fusion energy which, if it can make the leap from labs to commercial generation of electricity, could help the fight to curb climate change in coming decades.
The U.S. Energy Department is set to announce the finding at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT). Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California, which focuses on national security and nuclear weapons, for the first time briefly achieved a net energy gain in a fusion experiment using lasers, sources said ahead of the announcement.
Nuclear scientists outside the lab said it seems like the achievement will be a major stepping stone in the decades-long effort to harness fusion. At Lawrence Livermore, scientists focused a laser on a target to fuse two light atoms, into a denser one releasing energy.
But there’s much more science to be done. Tony Roulstone, a nuclear energy expert at the University of Cambridge, estimated that the energy output of the experiment was only 0.5% of the energy that was needed to fire the lasers in the first place.
“Therefore we can say that this result … is a success of the science – but still a long way from providing useful, abundant, clean energy,” Roulstone said.
The electricity industry cautiously welcomed the step, though emphasized that in order to carry out the energy transition, fusion should not slow down efforts on building out other alternatives like solar and wind power, battery storage and nuclear fission.
“It’s the first step that says ‘yes this in not just fantasy, this can be done, in theory,’” said Andrew Sowder, a senior technology executive at EPRI, a nonprofit energy research and development group. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Andrea Ricci)