Tuesday, October 14, 2008

HiP European Fusion

Europe has been bitten by the fusion bug. With ITER currently under construction France, the EU is adding another mega-project to its fusion repertoire, HiPER ( HIgh Power laser Energy Research). Last week the current phase of HiPER was officiated as participating countries signed the necessary legal documents. Although there are just a few key players (The UK, France, and the Czech Republic) participation is global, involving 26 institutions from 10 countries, our own Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in CA among them.

HiPER aims to demonstrate the feasibility of laser driven fusion. By now we've heard enough about the benefits of fusion energy that it has nearly become the poster child of clean, green power. And in many ways, it is. HiPER will use sea water as its main source of fuel while producing zero hazardous wastes (e.g. greenhouse gases and radioactive material).

Laser fusion works conceptually the same way any atom fusing technology would, by fusing two hydrogen nuclei forming helium and releasing a whole lot of energy in the process. In theory,
fusion creates more energy than it uses-but scientists haven't been able to achieve this outcome yet. All fusion attempts have put more energy into the system than received.

HiPER would use a high-power laser to compress a pellet of deuterium and tritium ( 'heavy' hydrogen isotopes) to a density 30 times that of lead. A second laser pulse would then shoot the pellet, raising its temperature to more than 100 million degrees Celsius.

Scientists already know laser driven fusion is possible, but the question remains as to whether this technique can be translated into viable commercial energy production. During the next few years, HiPER fusion scientists will be working on answering that question.


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