Chinese scientists claim to have discovered a cheaper way to achieve nuclear fusion.
According to The South China Morning Post, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Physics started their experiments into fusion power last summer at the Shenguang II Laser Facility. The government provided $156 million for the team to carry out their experiments over six years. This is a small amount compared to the budgets of fusion reactors such as the ITER in France (which has an estimated budget between $45 and $65 billion).
Researchers also sought to improve research at the National Ignition Facility, (NIF), which produced more fusion energy than any lab had ever seen. The experiment involved the use of 100 lasers to target a single target. This eventually caused the lasers to deform the mirrors that were used to create them and decreased their accuracy.
The Chinese team needed to achieve fusion while also finding a way to do it with less powerful lasers and on a tight budget. They eventually settled on a process that Zhang Jie, a well-known Chinese physicist, had originally developed in 1997.
This method used weaker laser beams to aim at two small gold cones that emit hydrogen plasma at one another. A fusion reaction is possible when it occurs with the right parameters.
Zhang Zhe, the lead researcher on the experiment, said that while the gold cones will vaporize following fusion, the final cost of future power plant operations will be "extremely low, if not negligible". A small amount of gold can produce thousands of cones.
Zhang said that although they did have some difficulties with their experiments, the team was able to make significant progress. Zhang hopes that the team can scale up their research using more advanced tools and facilities that will "lift the game to a new level."
The team may have a fusion reactor capable of rivaling the ITER's capabilities at a fraction the cost.
This is another exciting step in the race for fusion power. It could provide unlimited clean energy and help to eliminate fossil fuels. It's important to note that fusion energy is unlikely to be unlocked by one country, but rather by all countries.
"It's difficult to predict which approach or country will win at this stage. "There are too many uncertainties ahead," a anonymous nuclear fusion scientist said to the SCMP. "But, in the end, different technologies and different nations may have to unite to bring fusion dream to reality.
READ MORE: Chinese scientists win race to nuclear power [The South China Morning Post]
Continue reading: Scientists Excited at First Step towards Practical Nuclear Fusion
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