Fusion energy is produced when two lighter atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus which results in energy being released. In order for fusion to occur there needs to be a fuel that is held within a confined environment with extremely high temperature and pressure. This is the same process that powers the stars. In the case of our sun, the fuel is hydrogen and the sun’s gravity creates the high temperature and pressure needed to produce fusion.
In the 1920s researchers identified the basic principals of fusion and that it could be used to generate energy. In the 1950s experiments were started by various governments to create and harness fusion. Since then governments and private companies have spent millions and in the case of ITER billions of dollars designing and experimenting with fusion technologies and fusion reactors.
The problem is that it has always required vastly more energy to produce fusion reactions than the energy created from those fusion reactions. This is referred to as net energy, producing more energy than is put in, and is the current “Holy Grail” for all these organizations. The long term goal is to design a fusion reactor that is not only capable producing net energy but to continuously generate electricity from a reactor. The take away here is that while fusion on our sun has been occurring a mere eight light minutes away for billions of years, replicating it here on earth in a laboratory is not so easy. For fusion energy to be commercially viable reactors will have to produce twice the amount of energy required to run the reactor.
There are many methods to produce the required temperature and pressure but the primary methods currently in development use confinement to produce fusion. The basic types of confinement are gravitational, magnetic, inertial and electrostatic. Wikipedia has a great chart that shows not only the processes but also the devices and experiments used and in use to generate fusion. (Click here)
At Fusion Technica you can find out more about the key fusion news you need to know about and also the research, companies and the projects involved today with fusion energy.