Sorry This Net Energy Gain Does NOT Mean Fusion is Close

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Researchers were able to produce 2.5 megajoules of energy, 120 per cent of the 2.1 megajoules used to power the experiment. This means more energy out versus the energy deposited on the fuel pellet. The laboratory recently conducted a “successful” experiment at the National Ignition Facility. The National Ignition Facility is mainly doing nuclear tests to help make sure our thousands of nuclear bombs will continue to work as they age.

This is a step in many steps to get to commercial nuclear fusion. However, commercial nuclear fusion would need the entire plant to generate many times more power than is put into it. This is on the order of 1000 times more net energy gain than was demonstrated. The number of 1000X net energy gain pellets would need to scale up to one million pellets per day. This would enable a gigawatt fusion reactor. They are not doing 10 pellets per second they are doing one pellet every few weeks or months.

However, the work and science was difficult and I congratulate the team for this milestone.

* In August 2021, the NIF in California produced >1.3 MJ of fusion yield with 1.9 MJ of laser drive – a 70% conversion of laser energy to fusion energy. NOTE: A little over one hear to go from 70% conversion to 125%

* Very high efficiency in laser-driven proton sources has been experimentally observed. More than 10% of picosecond laser pulse energy has been converted to a proton burst, and new techniques for fabricating cone-in-shell proton fast ignition targets are being developed.

* Lasers with many hundreds of joules of energy operating at 10 Hz can now be constructed, and 100 J pulsed lasers operating at 10 Hz have been fielded. This is only within about a factor of 10 or 20 of what will be needed for the laser beams in an operating fusion power plant.

Commercialising fusion will have significant implications for the energy sector, provide a reliable way forward to solving climate challenges, and be a remarkable achievement in science and technology.

27 thoughts on “Sorry This Net Energy Gain Does NOT Mean Fusion is Close”

  1. “provide a reliable way forward to solving climate challenges, and be a remarkable achievement in science and technology”

    For science and technology it is a great advance, if responsible scientists and plant authorities can resist commercial interests (also from funding members, or even more from venture capitalists for high on return revenue) for warming surroundings (and later) a whole planet from matter-to-energy balance on Earth energy balance considering established nature(<&humans) living conditions.
    What are the risks onto Lemarchand to Kardashev scale defined civilization stage I (2×10^16-2×10^17 Watts, what's ~1000-10000times todays power demand on Earth, that's about 10(-100) Million times a 2GW size fusion plant, with average 2.5MW each person for these days Terra's population, on the lower estimation for Type I)?

    • … given a world energy consumption of a todays_2021 ~14800Mtoe (Million tonne oil equivalent, 1Mtoe ~11.63TWh) primary energy (final consumption, ~2018 ~7050Mtoe) is ~178000TWh/a and an EROEI for (fission) nuclear power plant ~2 month (on 90% duty), a worlds primary energy needs for ~150 years is necessary for building energy for nuclear fission/fusion plants for replacing 2022 power requirements for primary energy replacement?
      What’s our responsibility with legacy oil and gas EROIE?

      IIUC, Type I civilization requires fusion energy from ~1/10 of Hydrogen contained within one km³ of water converted to Helium each year. It would have been sufficient salt water on planet Earth, since being available liquid starting from ~3.8billion years ago, for 1/3 of a km³ each year since then. In other words, salty water on Earth has a fusion energy value of ~1billion years of Type I civilization (?). Think about cooling, with early Archean Era from early Earth in mind (~1/2billion years before photosynthetic organisms appeared)?

      • Sorry for having a wrong basic premise, it’s todays yearly primary energy demand for 150-1500yrs for building a Type I civilization supplied with energy through fission(/fusion) plants, but ‘only’ 1/5th of this yearly 178000TWh for building comparable on todays standards fission(/fusion) plants for providing a ~2022based steady ~20.3TW power requirement from nuclear devices.

        Global warming comes from a todays steady ~500TW (net) power input from Sun’s insulation (what’s the difference between shortwave insulation of the solar constant being 1360W/m² and longwave radiation from Earth to space) and added a 0.6-0.9°C during 20th century on an average of 0.14°F each decade from 1880’s – now. Since 1980’s to now there’s more than a doubling in average temperature increase each decade of ~0.34°F (0.18°C).
        The average fuel power from fossil sources on 20th century was ~3.4TW (~30times higher than 19th century (?)). Some 20th century temperature rise was estimated ~1.1-1.6°F (~0.6-0.9°C).

        Kardashev scale Type I civilization would be ~200000TW (or 100times todays global warming power input from Sun if 1/4 of all generated energy (from matter) becomes heat addition on Earth – this amount of exergy irreversible transformes a system to higher entropy and increases its content of anergy, AFAIK).
        Reducing Sun’s radiation towards Earth on 500TW scale alone would require a 1Million times bigger area than Starlink ‘Megaconstellation’ (~42000 v2 satellites each ~30m² solar panels) if ~1/4 is constantly shadowing Earth and reducing irradiation to ~0W/m².

        ‘Photosynthetic for the win on global warming?’

        (thanks for reading)

  2. While These ‘Hot Fusion’ announcements always come with alot of fanfare and really cool pictures of high tech ‘stuff’, it seems to me that the folks in the ‘cold fusion’ or LENR community are way ahead. Brillouin Energy has been running net positive energy at a 1.25X excess heat ratio from power out-of-the wall, steady-state, for some time now. This could be the blackswan…

  3. “Sorry This Net Energy Gain Does NOT Mean Fusion is Close”
    “This is on the order of 1000 times more net energy gain than was demonstrated”

    Did they demonstrate net energy gain? Or was it only net power gain? Energy and power aren’t the same thing. Power is how fast energy is flowing.

    ” In August 2021, the NIF in California produced >1.3 MJ of fusion yield with 1.9 MJ of laser drive – a 70% conversion of laser energy to fusion energy. NOTE: A little over one hear to go from 70% conversion to 125%”

    Where did that figure of 125% energy gain come from? Are you assuming that energy gain equals power gain? For a pulsed system, I don’t think we can assume that, at all.

    “2.1 megajoules used to power the experiment”.

    Is that the wall-plug electrical power going to the laser? Or is it the power of the laser photons absorbed by the holraum? Or is it the power of the X-ray photons that are generated from the laser photons? Or the power of the X-ray photons absorbed by the fuel?

  4. The way I look at it is that we are a step closer to fusion pulse rocket engine. We might be able to go to the stars in a few generations.

  5. I tend to think this is major.
    It shows that it is at least within reach to have net energy gain, and not something ‘20 years away’, like fusion always was.

    It also shows we’re getting better at understanding the science, the plasma and laser physics, to the point that this was achieved.

    It makes al the other initiatives more realistic and give them also more credibility.

    Investors like that, so I would expect some more funding coming in kn this space.

  6. Were they to fire 10 times a second you would very quickly have a Gold layer over the inside of the machine which would cause some serious issues. Each day of use would deposit ~5kg of Gold in the machine?

    No I am not going to do the math. It is an obvious design flaw.

  7. I noticed the Talk-Polywell blog has ignored this announcement, suggesting they feel the same way about it as you do.

    I think Helion Energy has the best prospects at this point. There are a LOT of fusion power start-ups these days. Nevertheless, Thorium-based MSR is still the best option on the table for energy generation.

    • Most fusion approaches will never produce energy that is cheaper than say a Nuscale fission reactor. This is a very important consideration as the world is awash in expensive means of energy production that are not adopted.

      This is neat science but lets be clear NIF was all about validating physics models that are used to model and virtually test nuclear weapons (because test ban treaties prevent physical testing). NIF never was intended as a power plant and would be prohibitively expensive to run as one.

      • Yes,NuScale has the surest prospects for inexpensive low Carbon energy,but this was still a great achievement. A laser inertial confinement power plant would use 10 a second ,but NIF was never intended to do that.
        Let’s remember that NIF also does basic science like planetary conditions, what its like for Jupiter,is the Hydrogen metallic near the core.
        I like the MIT spinoff Commonwealth Energy,with the Iron Man inspired name Spark reactor, better magnets increase fusion power at the exponent of 3.
        We’ll still be burning wood for power as we did 100K years ago when we have fission and fusion power plants all working,China still builds new coal plants every couple of days.

      • I didn’t read through the article. I did not realize this is the National Ignition Facility’s laser fusion project. If so, I don’t any prospect at all for this leading to commercial fusion. And yes, the NIF is about nuclear weapons testing, not the development of fusion power. This “announcement” is a non-event.

  8. I think in the late 70’s-early 80’s a government report gave estimates of funding necessary to achieve commercial fusion in various time frames. Government funding rates have never come close to that needed for the longest gime frame.

    • Same goes for SLS. Just needs enough funding and it will be viable. Sucks that government has such a hard time funding its projects given that every one of them is a fast track to Utopia.

  9. It’s nice to see a story that the regular media hype as a tech breakthrough but media specialized in tech breakthroughs consider meh.

  10. They need to be clear that there are still many breakthroughs that need to be made to get to a commercial fusion reactor. There should be a large public/private effort towards making it happen. If everything goes well we should see a reactor in 2040-2050 imo.

    • Even if you get to engineering breakeven, a commercial fusion reactor is unlikely, IMO: Fusion is so much harder to pull off than fission, (Ore bodies have actually gone critical in the ground!) that the relative economics look terrible. A fission reactor can be built to run for decades with minimal maintenance. It’s doubtful you can do that with a fusion reactor.

      Only the fact that the watermelons picked fusion as the “best” to be the enemy of fission’s “good enough” has bolstered it, and as soon as fusion starts to look practical, it will come under equivalent assault.

      I can see working fusion reactors having applications in space, they’re probably better for rocketry applications, and where there are no conveniently concentrated ore bodies to mine. But they don’t make much sense on Earth.

  11. One step at a time, I guess.

    What I tend to roll my eyes about, is the usage of the ‘breakthrough’ label for any minor advance.

Comments are closed.