A Different Kind of Solar Power


Very cool story out of California today, where the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility is set to open. Among its functions – generate energy the same way the sun does:

Inside the building, scientists will use the world’s most powerful laser to create 192 separate beams of light that will be directed at a bead of frozen hydrogen in a violent burst lasting five billionths of a second. Each fuel pellet measures just two millimetres across but costs around $40,000, because they must be perfectly spherical to ensure they collapse properly when the laser light strikes.

The intense beams produce a powerful shockwave that crunches the fuel pellet at a million miles an hour, generating temperatures of around 100,000,000C. Under such extreme conditions, which are found only in the core of stars, the hydrogen atoms will fuse, producing helium and vast amounts of energy.

Over the coming decades, this facility may result in critical breakthroughs that deliver new clean energy technologies. But from a climate change perspective, we can’t afford to wait that long to transition to very-low-emissions energy sources. Scientists say we need to transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable power sources like solar and wind right now to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

So while fusion power may one day light up the homes of our great-grandchildren, it doesn’t change our short-term energy solutions like the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Published: May 29, 2009