Overnight, news broke that the National Ignition Facility, a U.S. government research lab, was the first to achieve net-positive nuclear fusion. When lasers hit the tiny fuel pellet, it created an explosion that released more energy than the lasers delivered.
For decades, fusion power has been just around the corner. Is this the moment we’ve all been waiting for?
First, the details: The Financial Times reported yesterday that the NIF had sparked 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 that holds up under scrutiny, it represents the first time that a controlled nuclear fusion experiment of any kind produced more power than it consumed.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which houses the facility, has so far refused to confirm the report. But three outlets — the Financial Times, The 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 an official announcement tomorrow.
“If this report is true, then this is just a huge scientific achievement in the pursuit of fusion,” said Carolyn Kuranz, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who has performed experiments at the NIF.
Investors have grown bullish on fusion in recent years, plowing $2.7 billion into startups in the last year alone. Advances in high-temperature superconductors, computing power and artificial intelligence have coincided to propel the field forward at a remarkably fast pace.
High-profile names like Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital have made some significant investments in fusion power startups in recent years.
“There couldn’t be a more significant step toward fusion than what NIF has accomplished,” Sacca told TechCrunch. “So today we offer the naysayers our thoughts and prayers.”