What's new with laser fusion?
Though there have been a host of fusion-related breakthroughs in the past few years, bringing the technology to the masses remains the biggest hurdle. (Image: Pixabay/Pexels)
The push to commercialise fusion energy is stronger than ever. Since December 2022, when scientists made a breakthrough by achieving fusion ignition using lasers at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, it seems that fusion is the word on everyone’s mind.
Companies such as Blue Laser Fusion (BLF), for instance, are being funded to keep up the effort. The firm recently raised $25 million in seed funding to develop a prototype fusion reactor that it says could achieve the world’s first fusion for energy generation for power grids.
BLF says its laser technology enables a Mega Joule pulse energy laser with a fast repetition rate to achieve commercial fusion and plans to complete its first prototype in 2025, before demonstrating a commercial-ready fusion reactor by 2030.
Meanwhile, reserachers at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) are working on an alternative laser-based method for mass-producing ‘affordable’ fusion energy. The method – called dynamic shell formation – is cheaper and easier to conduct than ‘conventional’ approaches, the team says.
And at the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division at Berkeley Lab, researchers have developed a new technique for producing ultrafast laser pulses which could hold promise for advancing high-energy physics and lead to discoveries in fusion research.
The technique, developed by a team from the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division at Berkeley Lab, involves spectrally combining laser pulses operating at adjacent wavelength ranges to achieve an ultra-broad spectrum able to support very short pulses at tens of femtoseconds (fs).
The technique is intended for laser-plasma accelerators (LPAs), which pass laser pulses through plasma to accelerate charged particles up to a thousand times faster than current technologies, the team says.
The appeal of LPAs is that they're less expensive to build and operate than conventional accelerators. Again – the focus here is on affordability and commercialisation. Though there have been a host of fusion-related breakthroughs in the past few years, bringing the technology to the masses remains the biggest hurdle for scientists. For now.
As Professor Constantin Haefner, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) said ahead of the Laser World of Photonics trade fair in June 2023: “Fusion could be the ultimate energy source of the future. The stakes are high, the risks are high too, but the return on investment could be huge. It’s an exciting time for the industry.”