The energy from a diamond

Can you imagine a breakthrough in nuclear fusion where the energy output from a fusion reaction is greater than the laser power used to initiate it? Well californian scientists found a way with diamond.


Scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California achieved a fusion reaction by aiming their 192 beam laser at a tiny diamond fuel capsule, producing more energy than the laser power used to trigger the reaction. The facility, part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has conducted similar experiments before but the recent reaction marks a significant step in nuclear fusion research.

They have created a fusion reaction that produced more energy than the laser used to trigger it, a breakthrough in nuclear fusion research. The team used a 192-beam laser to trigger the reaction in a cylinder containing a diamond fuel capsule. The ultimate goal of the research is to create power stations that use nuclear fusion to generate carbon-free electricity. One of the critical components in the research is a synthetic diamond capsule that must be perfectly smooth and contaminant-free to avoid ruining the reaction. Diamond Materials, a German company, manufactures these spheres using a process called chemical vapour deposition.

Diamond Materials, a German-based company, produces the spherical diamond capsules that are essential for the fusion experiments at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California. These capsules are crucial to the success of the experiments and must be perfectly smooth and contaminant-free. Diamond Materials manufactures these capsules through a process called chemical vapour deposition, where tiny diamond crystals are layered around a silicon carbide core and then polished repeatedly. The team discovered that even the most meticulous polishing was not enough, so they developed a process to glaze a polished capsule with a fresh layer of diamond crystals to achieve the clean, mirror-like finish required for the experiments. Each batch of 20-40 capsules takes about two months to produce.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) uses optical components extensively due to its powerful laser, and those components get damaged every time the machine is fired up. The facility’s optics are crucial for supporting the transmission, detection or utilisation of light. The capsules used in NIF’s experiments are made by German company Diamond Materials, which has to ensure the capsules are perfectly smooth and contaminant-free to avoid ruining the reaction. Once the capsules arrive at NIF, they are filled with deuterium and tritium, and then surrounded by gold, depleted uranium, and aluminum cylinders.

NIF has been working with optics manufacturers for decades to fine-tune and supply replacement parts for the most powerful laser in the world. The next challenge for NIF and its partners is to further improve the technology in order to replicate and improve the reaction. The success of December’s experiment may help foster support for further research, according to Mike Farrell. Diamond Materials hopes to invest more time in research as well, as research today leads to the products of tomorrow.

NIF in California successfully triggered a fusion reaction, a process that powers the sun, using a 192-beam laser aimed at a diamond fuel capsule. This achievement brings researchers closer to building power stations to generate abundant, carbon-free electricity. However, a considerable amount of work still needs to be done to develop the technology to make it financially sustainable. The next challenge is to replicate and improve the reaction, and much investment is needed to overcome engineering challenges that come with building a working power plant. Nonetheless, experts believe that the successful experiment at NIF is likely to give the sector a boost in terms of funding and support.

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