Overnight the news broke that the National Ignition Facility, a US government research laboratory, was the first to achieve net positive nuclear fusion. When the lasers hit the tiny fuel pellet, it created an explosion that released more energy than the lasers delivered.
For decades, fusion energy has been at our doorstep. Is this the moment we’ve all been waiting for?
First, the details: The Financial Times reported yesterday that the NIF triggered a fusion reaction that generated 2.5 megajoules of energy, about 20% more than the 2.1 megajoules of laser energy that zapped the fuel pellet. If it stands up to scrutiny, it’s the first time that any controlled nuclear fusion experiment has produced more energy than it consumes.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which houses the facility, has so far declined to confirm the report. But three outlets — the Financial Times, Washington Post and Bloomberg — all cited sources familiar with the experiments. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Jill Hruby, the undersecretary for nuclear security, are expected to make a formal announcement tomorrow.
“If this report is true, then this is just a huge scientific achievement in pursuing fusion,” said Carolyn Kuranz, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who has performed experiments at NIF.
Investors have grown bullish on the merger in recent years, pumping $2.7 billion into startups in the past year alone. Advances in high-temperature superconductors, computing power and artificial intelligence have coincided to propel the field at a remarkably rapid pace.
Top names like Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital have made significant investments in fusion energy startups in recent years.
“There couldn’t be a bigger step towards the merger than what the NIF has accomplished,” Sacca told TechCrunch. “So today we offer those in opposition our thoughts and prayers.”