Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page
Thomas Friedman writes on the New York Times Op-Ed page about an intriguing possibility: using precisely tuned laser energy to initiate a fusion reaction. The process potentially could be used to generate electricity, as Friedman puts it, with “the reliability of coal, without the carbon dioxide, all the cleanliness of wind and solar, without having to worry about the sun not shining or the wind not blowing, and all the scale of nuclear, without all the waste.”
I began my tour there [at the National Ignition Facility] with the N.I.F. director, Edward Moses. He was holding up a tiny gold can the size of a Tylenol tablet, and inside it was plastic pellet, the size of a single peppercorn, that would be filled with frozen hydrogen.
The way the N.I.F. works is that all 192 lasers pour their energy into a target chamber, which looks like a giant, spherical, steel bathysphere that you would normally use for deep-sea exploration. At the center of this target chamber is that gold can with its frozen hydrogen pellet. Once one of those pellets is heated and compressed by the lasers, it reaches temperatures over 800 million degrees Fahrenheit, “far greater than exists at the center of our sun,” said Moses.
More importantly, each crushed pellet gives off a burst of energy that can then be harnessed to heat up liquid salt and produce massive amounts of steam to drive a turbine and create electricity for your home — just like coal does today. Only this energy would be carbon-free, globally available, safe and secure and could be integrated seamlessly into our current electric grid.
Wow! Sounds great. Really. My inner geek is in Nirvana.
I have just one question: where does the energy to create the frozen hydrogen pellets come from? The freezing point of hydrogen is roughly -258°C, or just 14° above absolute zero.
Oh, and finding the energy to fire 192 high-power lasers isn’t trivial, either.
Great idea. But practical?