Feb 27, 2014 2:32 PM GMT
Not for at least a few decades... but it's coming... (unless it's regulated out)
The most recent of these difficulties is creating a successful fusion process that is net positive: It creates more energy than the energy that was put into it. The scientists at the NIF accomplished this late last year by shooting 192 lasers into a tiny cylinder simultaneously. This caused the hydrogen fuel within to give off roughly 1.7 times the energy put into it (as well as 2.6 times in more recent experiments), according to the published report in the journal Nature.
This is great news, of course. The drawback is that the energy created by the hydrogen fusion was roughly 1% of the energy provided to the cylinder by the 192 lasers. The biggest issue with fusion reactions is that the high-temperature hydrogen fuel must be kept under a ridiculous amount of pressure to allow for the reaction to take place. Contemporary scientists do this via either magnets (since the 1940s) or laser use (which began in the 1970s). They are capable of using both of these methods to create the reaction, but only for a short period of time and at a very expensive price.
[...] Optimism toward producing a workable process within our lifetimes is high among the scientific community as related by a recent quote in the Washington Post from Stewart Prager, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, which studies fusion using magnets:
"In 30 years, we'll have electricity on the grid produced by fusion energy – absolutely," Prager said. "I think the open questions now are how complicated a system will it be, how expensive it will be, how economically attractive it will be."