Fusion breakthrough makes scientific history, NC State professors react

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
NC State professors react to Fusion breakthrough
Scientists announced that they have for the first time produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- In what's never been done before, scientists in California have successfully generated a fusion reaction between two hydrogen atoms and have maintained a desired reaction. The result will now allow scientists to better grapple with climate change in a way that's now considered to be a first.

"Think of it in terms of improving fuel efficiency in an automobile," said NC State University professor Steven Shannon. Shannon serves as a professor of engineering for the Wolfpack. "Back in the 60s, you had to have an engine that worked great, but what gets you 10 miles a gallon. And as you improve the engineering and manufacturing of that engine, you're able to get higher efficiencies and better fuel economy and a little more power and everything else to where you now have things in the 21st century."

The experiment was successfully conducted at the National Ignition Facility on the campus of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

NC State University assistant professor of engineering, Florian Laggner, said to think of it as compressing a basketball into your hand and maintaining its shape or form.

"If you think of me trying to do that with my fingers, the more I squeeze the material is going to squeak through my fingers," said Laggner. "And this would give me a less efficient fusion process. So what they've managed to do over at the NIF is effectively close off those escapes so they can get good compression and they can get fusion to occur more effectively."

It's never been done before and there's already excitement brewing around duplicating the effort on a larger scale. Although that could take years.

Scientific 'breakthrough' in nuclear fusion could launch new era of clean energy

"One of the things that's really exciting is that for years the fusion effort has been primarily an academic or Department of Energy effort," said Shannon. "And what you're seeing in the last few years is that it's grown into a more commercial effort of startup companies. You have venture capital that's flowing money into the fusion effort. And there's been a lot of breakthroughs in the past few years where people are starting to see this as a viable commercial product, which is really exciting. We haven't been there in a long time."

The news comes as the US Department of Energy, and others around the world, are actively fighting climate change and striving for advancements in cleaner energy.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced a "major scientific breakthrough" Tuesday in the decades-long quest to harness fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars.

"We share the excitement of achieving nuclear fusion ignition at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. It is an important milestone that may provide great potential as an energy source in our clean-energy future," said a Duke Energy statement provided to ABC11. "We are tracking nuclear fusion along with other emerging zero and low-carbon technologies. We are excited to hear more about this development and how it may impact the electric utility industry in the coming decades."

Laggner and Shannon are working on behalf of NC State with staff at General Atomics's DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego to advance efforts in North Carolina.