The need to power up the world
using a safe and clean method has prompted scientists to get to the
bottom of things. Enter a British-led team of researchers who may have
found the answer with the HiPER (High Power laser Energy Research
facility) project. The EU is providing up to EUR 3 million in funding
for the first part of the Preparatory Phase project — the
majority of which will be co-funded by national funding agencies. The
team will conduct research into laser-based nuclear fusion, which
produces no carbon dioxide — the greenhouse gas that has been
warming Earth — and does not result in large stores of long-lived
highly radioactive waste. Experts believe that commercial fusion could
be economically beneficial for everyone.
Nuclear fusion is the process by which atomic particles link up and
form a heavier nucleus, followed by the release of energy. Fusion,
which uses sea water as its principal source of fuel, offers five key
elements: ample fuel; energy security; clean energy; safe operation;
and complementary solutions.
next five years will be divided into a three year EU funded preparatory
phase project which will start in April 2008 and a two year Definition
phase (2011-2013).This is based on earlier research started in the US,
which uses powerful lasers to produce the millions of degrees needed to
kick-start the fusion reaction. For more than 40 years, researchers
have tried diligently to find the right method for nuclear fusion
generation. But the HiPER members noted that investment for this
research has increased, thus facilitating the development of such
projects in recent years.
HiPER targets the construction of the world's most powerful laser in an
experimental reactor and will use the "Fast Ignition" technique, a
different approach to laser-fusion than that currently used by other
laser-fusion facilities. The research team is hopeful that fusion
energy could become a commercial reality within the next 20 years.
Under the project, the researchers will fire a petawatt-pulsed laser at
a fuel pellet two millimetres across. Because the barrage compresses
the pellet to just a few microns, researchers are able to obtain the
high temperatures needed to offset the reaction. For the team, the
biggest challenge is to build a powerful enough laser that can fire
'Fusion is basically nature's solution to the energy problem,'
explained Professor Mike Dunne, project leader. 'It is how the Sun and
the stars work. We are just a couple of years away from seeing it in
the lab,' he added. 'This is not going to solve the immediate problem
of greenhouse gases, but rather it is a solution that is being designed
to provide an abundant, clean source of power to meet the long term
The HiPER project involves researchers from Czech Republic, France,
Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and the UK, as
well as a number of global institutions and industry.