The simulations show the release of output energy that was, remarkably, many times greater than the energy fed into the container’s liner. The method appears to be 50 times more efficient than using X-rays — a previous favorite at Sandia — to drive implosions of targeted materials to create fusion conditions.
“People didn’t think there was a high-gain option for magnetized inertial fusion (MIF) but these numerical simulations show there is,” said Sandia researcher Steve Slutz, the paper’s lead author. “Now we have to see if nature will let us do it. In principle, we don’t know why we can’t.”
High-gain fusion means getting substantially more energy out of a material than is put into it. Inertial refers to the compression in situ over nanoseconds of a small amount of targeted fuel.
Such fusion eventually could produce reliable electricity from seawater, the most plentiful material on earth, rather than from the raw materials used by other methods: uranium, coal, oil, gas, sun or wind. In the simulations, the output demonstrated was 100 times that of a 60 million amperes (MA) input current. The output rose steeply as the current increased: 1,000 times input was achieved from an incoming pulse of 70 MA.
Since Sandia’s Z machine can bring a maximum of only 26 MA to bear upon a target, the researchers would be happy with a proof-of-principle result called scientific break-even, in which the amount of energy leaving the target equals the amount of energy put into the deuterium-tritium fuel.
This has never been achieved in the laboratory and would be a valuable addition to fusion science, said Slutz.