In the high-stakes race to realize fusion energy, a smaller lab may be putting the squeeze on the big boys. Worldwide efforts to harness fusion—the power source of the sun and stars—for energy on Earth currently focus on two multibillion dollar facilities: the ITER fusion reactor in France and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California. But other, cheaper approaches exist—and one of them may have a chance to be the first to reach “break-even,” a key milestone in which a process produces more energy than needed to trigger the fusion reaction.
Researchers at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will announce in a Physical Review Letters (PRL) paper accepted for publication that their process, known as magnetized liner inertial fusion (MagLIF) and first proposed 2 years ago, has passed the first of three tests, putting it on track for an attempt at the coveted break-even. Tests of the remaining components of the process will continue next year, and the team expects to take its first shot at fusion before the end of 2013.