With the ecosystem-threatening levels of climate change going on on our planet caused by fossil fuels, it’s only natural that we intensify our search for a sustainable source of alternative energy. So of course multiple teams around the world are trying to come up with the best solutions to provide it.
Since stars use a process called fusion, through which they superheat hydrogen atoms into helium atoms, a team of researchers thought to try to make a mini-sun as alternative source of unlimited energy. And it was mostly working with the exception of one issue.
Tiny laboratory star
Based on fuel extracted from water – hydrogen – the procedure would allow the production of energy levels far superior to those generated by uranium-based nuclear fission, and would generate far less long-term waste. By employing the same process going on inside stars, the team of scientists was hoping to create a long-term energy source to be used on Earth.
This works by taking hydrogen atoms from water, heating them into plasma that is ten times hotter than the center of the sun, all the while keeping the whole thing enclosed in powerful magnetic fields. The issue is that because of some reason, the plasma dissipates before the fusion process can take place.
Finding the flaw
This is what had gotten the researchers stumped. They couldn’t think of an explanation as to why this was happening. But as with most things science, progress will happen inevitably. So, researchers got the nuclear fusion plasma dilemma solved treating it as liquid.
Zhisong Qu, researchers with the Australian Naional University and Dr. Michael Fitzgerald from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the UK are the ones who solved the dilemma. Instead of looking at the plasma as individual atoms, Qu suggested that they look at it as a liquid.
Even though the issue isn’t yet fixed, the team is getting there. This because seeing the plasma as liquid, the researchers can now use intuition and previous knowledge to figure out the issues.
Aside from providing an extremely powerful source of energy, capable of running entire cities, the technology also has more specialized applications. Not only will it provide a long term energy solution for the planet, but it will also help develop the field and open doors to new types of research.
Also, Associate Professor Michael Hole, the lead researcher in the group, has slightly less earthly plans for the technology. Considering himself a trekkie (Star Trek fan) at heart, Professor Hole is planning on starting work on a fusion reactor to power a space ship after his current work is done.
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