As we continue to hurtle through space and time, our species will be asked by whatever cosmic force you believe in to evolve or die. This is the law of the land, the other golden rule for mankind.
And as such, we are currently trying to conjure solutions that could lead us out of the mess we’ve made in terms of fossil fuels and inconsistent energy costs. The holy grail of this pursuit has always been the Newtonian “impossibility” of “free energy”.
This week, American scientists got their first sip from the proverbial cup.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion on Tuesday that puts the world one step closer to harnessing an abundant energy source free from carbon emissions and long-lived radioactive waste.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm confirmed that scientists achieved a reaction that created more energy than was used — known as a net energy gain — at the federally-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
“Last week at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, scientists at the National Ignition Facility achieved fusion ignition,” Sec. Granholm said. “It’s the first time it’s ever been done. … Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century.”
The “free energy” provided in the experiment could one day be used to power everything, from our homes’ heat to our everyday commute.
Scientists have been working to achieve sustained nuclear fusion since the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory was founded in the 1950s, but replicating the conditions found within the massive cores of stars in labs on earth has proven to be a seemingly intractable problem.
One difficulty has been in running the reaction long enough to ignite a chain of reactions. Another related challenge has been unleashing larger amounts of energy.
Experts say that nuclear fusion releases 4 million times more energy than burning oil or coal. Put another way, a pickup truck filled with nuclear fusion fuel has the equivalent energy of 2 million metric tons of coal or 10 million barrels of oil. And it produces that energy without the drawbacks of other sources, namely climate change causing carbon emissions and lasting hazardous waste.
Experts seem to agree that this isn’t going to transform planet Earth overnight, but have suggested that it will remake the energy landscape in just a generation or two.