Generating infinite zero-emission energy by simply decomposing hydrogen atoms has been somewhat of a pipe dream for decades. Scientists may now be able to step up to the feasible power of synthesis thanks to a futuristic experiment and dozens of plasma guns.
Eighteen of the 36 plasma rifles are in place of the machine, which could turn the power of synthesis into reality. These weapons are key components of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (PLX) Plasma Liner Experiment, which takes a new approach to the problem. PLX, if it works, will combine two existing methods to disperse single-proton hydrogen atoms together to form two-proton helium atoms. This process generates huge amounts of energy per cup of fuel, much more than the separation of heavy atoms (fission). The hope is that the PLX method introduced will teach scientists how to generate energy efficiently enough to be useful for real use.
The promise of merger is that it produces tons of energy. Each time two hydrogen atoms merge into helium, a small amount of matter is converted to all energy.
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The problem with synthesis is that no one figures out how to generate this energy in a useful way.
The principles are simple enough, but implementation is a challenge. There are currently many hydrogen fusion bombs in the world that can release all their energy in an instant and be destroyed (and everything else for miles). The casual kid even manages to build a tiny, inefficient fusion reactor in his playroom. But existing thermonuclear reactors pump more energy than they generate. As yet, no one has been able to create a controlled, sustained synthesis reaction that releases more energy than is consumed by the machine generating and containing the reaction.
The first of the two methods that PLX combines is called magnetic restriction. This is what is used in thermonuclear reactors called tokamaks that use powerful magnets to suspend superheated, super-dense plasma of thermonuclear atoms inside the machine so that it continues to ignite and not escape. The largest of these is the ITER, a 25,000 ton (23,000 metric ton) machine in France. But this project faces delays and cost overruns and even optimistic projections suggest that it will not be completed by the 2050s, as reported by the BBC in 201
The second approach is called inertial restriction. Lawrence Livermore's National Laboratory, another unit of the energy facility, has a machine called the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that takes this path to synthesis. Essentially, NIF is a very large system for launching super-powerful lasers into tiny fuel cells containing hydrogen. When the lasers hit the fuel, the hydrogen is heated and, trapped in the fuel cell, merges. NIF is operational, but generates no more energy than it uses.
The PLX, according to a statement from the American Physical Society (APS), is slightly different from either of these two. It uses magnets to contain its hydrogen, such as tokamak. But this hydrogen is brought to the temperatures and pressure of fusion by hot-shot plasma shotguns fired around the device's spherical chamber, using guns instead of lasers, such as those used in the NIF.
The PLX project physicists have made some early experiments with the 18 pistols already installed, according to APS. These experiments provide researchers with early data on how plasma jets behave when they collide inside a machine, and researchers presented this data yesterday (October 21) at the annual meeting of the APS Plasma Physics Division in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These data are important, the researchers said, because there are conflicting theoretical models of exactly how plasma behaves when it encounters this type of collision.
Los Alamos stated that the team hoped to install the remaining 18 guns in early 2020 and conduct experiments using a full 36-plasma battery by the end of the same year.
Originally published on by Live Science .