Chinese researchers are looking for a cheap and simple way to achieve nuclear fusion.
China is the world’s leading polluter, but this is also the country that invests the most in renewable energy. It performs especially nuclear fusion experiments, considered by its defenders as the tomorrow’s energy, it is infinite like the sun, and produces neither waste nor greenhouse gases.
This nuclear fusion, whose principle is already used by the explosion of H-bombs, is different from the nuclear fission – division of atoms – that operates in classical atomic power plants. The difficulty of fusion is maintaining these temperatures in a sustainable way and containing them in resistant materials.
In one of these investigations carried out in the Shanghai Shenguang II laser facility, Chinese scientists are firing powerful laser beam pulses at a small pair of gold cones in an attempt to replicate the nuclear fusion process at the heart of the sun. South China Morning Post.
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The cones, as small as the tip of a pencil, have narrow ends that face each other and emit a plasma of hydrogen. When the two streams of hot gas collide at precisely the right time and place, and in the right way, they trigger a fusion reaction, the process that could ultimately provide a inexhaustible and sustainable source of energy.
This project, the results of which have been published in the academic journal Acta Physica Sinica, has government funding of $ 156 million and is led by Zhang Zhe and his colleagues from the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
“Our goal is to achieve a sustainable fusion,” Zhang told the Post. For power generation, “the cones can be mass produced and loaded like bullets into a machine that will rotate and fire like a Gatling gun.”
Three tests have been carried out so far by Chinese researchers and another is scheduled for next month. However, research on nuclear fusion is not new to the world, but the race for fusion power heated up in August, when researchers from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) of the US achieved energy production eight times greater than ever before. While production was still lower than energy input, the breakthrough gave hope and added pressure to research teams in other countries, including China.
The NIF experiment – with a much larger budget than the Chinese project – aimed over 100 extremely strong laser beams at a single target, using some of the largest laser generators on Earth, producing enough heat to warp the mirrors but also reducing the Accuracy after repeated shots.
Instead, Chinese researchers seek a cheapest and easiest way to achieve fusion with a less powerful laser.
“We are progressing step by step. By 2026, a new generation of large-scale laser installations will be completed or near completion in China. They will take the game to a whole new level, ”said Zhang Zhe.
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Shanghai’s research budget is smaller compared to investment in other fusion projects. For example, him International Experimental Thermal Reactor in the South of France (ITER), the world’s largest fusion research project, has an estimated budget of $ 45 to $ 65 billion. (I)