From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Fusion Energy
Mains level : Clean energy developments
US announced a “major scientific breakthrough” in the decades-long quest to harness fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars.
What is Fusion?
- Fusion works by pressing hydrogen atoms into each other with such force that they combine into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy and heat.
- This process occurs in our Sun and other stars.
- Creating conditions for fusion on Earth involves generating and sustaining a plasma.
- Plasmas are gases that are so hot that electrons are freed from atomic nuclei.
How is it carried out?
- Three conditions must be fulfilled to achieve fusion in a laboratory:
- Very high temperature (on the order of 150,000,000° Celsius);
- Sufficient plasma particle density (to increase the likelihood that collisions do occur); and
- Sufficient confinement time (to hold the plasma, which has a propensity to expand, within a defined volume).
- At extreme temperatures, electrons are separated from nuclei and a gas becomes a plasma—often referred to as the fourth state of matter.
- Fusion plasmas provide the environment in which light elements can fuse and yield energy.
- The process releases energy because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei.
- The leftover mass becomes energy.
What did the US achieve?
- The US experiment uses a process called inertial confinement fusion.
- It involved bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser.
Why is it perceived as energy of the future?
- Carbon free: Fusion Reactions could one day produce nearly limitless, carbon-free energy, displacing fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources.
- Efficient: Net energy gain has been an elusive goal because fusion happens at such high temperatures and pressures that it is incredibly difficult to control.
- Clean: Unlike other nuclear reactions, it doesn’t create radioactive waste.
Fusion still far from reality. Why?
- Significant though the achievement is, it does little to bring the goal of producing electricity from fusion reactions any closer to reality.
- By all estimates, use of the fusion process for generating electricity at a commercial scale is still two to three decades away.
- The technology used in the US experiment might take even longer to get deployed.
India’s progress: ITER project
- International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today.
- The idea for an international joint experiment in fusion was first launched in 1985.
- In southern France, 35 nations* are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion.
- ITER is funded and run by seven member parties: China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
Click and get your FREE Copy of CURRENT AFFAIRS Micro Notes
(Click) FREE 1-to-1 on-call Mentorship by IAS-IPS officers | Discuss doubts, strategy, sources, and more