The latest breakthrough in nuclear fusion could mean producing energy from a truck bed. The Lockheed Martin Corporation announced Wednesday that breakthrough research performed at its Skunk Works labs could potentially lead to smaller fusion reactors available within a decade.
The project lead, Tom McGuire, said that initial demonstrations predict for a 7-by-10 foot reactor that would be 10 times smaller than current available reactors.
"We can make a big difference on the energy front," said McGuire.
Forbes reports that the difference is in the heat. Previous attempts to create fusion reactors failed to control high temperatures created during the fusion process. Lockheed Martin will use a new magnetic bottle design to contain that energy, which can measure hundreds of millions of degrees. The accomplishment of McGuire's team will be impressive if their research can solve this issue.
Lockheed's comments on the project revealed the same excitement.
"By containing this reaction, we can release [the heat] in a controlled fashion to create energy we can use. The heat energy created using this compact fusion reactor will drive turbine generators by replacing the combustion chambers with simple heat exchangers. In turn, the turbines will then generate electricity or the propulsive power for a number of applications."
McGuire and his team will begin a search for academic, government, or industry partners to support their research. Their hopes are to build a test reactor within a year and have a prototype available in five years.
Lockheed Martin also released a promotional video on their fusion work yesterday, which breaks down the science behind fusion. For information on the particular fusion breakthrough, see minute 1:30.
Alternative energy has been an increasing focus of Lockheed Martin. According to Reuters, the new technology could mean new power sources and less conflict over energy in the future. A breakthrough would less waste production, as fusion creates more energy using the same amount of fuel as fossil fuels. Other energy sources might also be harnessed in future reactors, and potentially eliminate radioactive waste, emissions, and other unsafe technologies.
Nuclear fusion is the harnessing of energy released as atoms combine into more stable atoms. The small reactor would use deuterium-tritium fuel, sourced from both the ocean and lithium deposits. Compared to fission, which is currently used on submarines and aircraft carriers, fusion creates three or four times the power without radioactive byproducts. This means less cancer and less conflict.
The announcement reveals positive outlooks for companies to solve our consumption needs, but sources remain skeptical whether this fusion breakthrough will result in usable products or leave us always looking 10 years into the future.
[Photo Source: Lockheed Martin/YouTube]