People have long dreamed of harnessing the power of the sun. Back in 1972, Isaac Asimov hints at the possibility of endless nuclear energy in “The Gods Themselves.” The book describes an isotope from a parallel universe that can be used to create a clean and infinite power source. Not long after, Doc Brown’s flying DeLorean in “Back to the Future” is powered by a flux capacitor equipped with Mr. Fusion. The gadget converts household waste to power, enabling the speed necessary to achieve time travel. In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Captain Jean-Luc Picard flips on his starship’s nuclear-fusion-powered impulse drive when cruising at non-warp speeds. And of course, in the blockbuster “Spider Man II,” we have Doc Ock’s famous impudent proclamation, “The power of the sun … in the palm of my hand!”
While many of these examples pertain to a distant and hypothetical future, an exciting announcement from the science community this week indicates that fusion energy has come a bit closer to reality.
The breakthrough, which is being called “one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,” comes from a team studying fusion energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. They conducted an experiment with 192 giant lasers that blasted a cylinder containing deuterium and tritium atoms, which are both hydrogen isotopes. Using 2.05 megajoules of energy from the lasers, the hydrogen atoms were fused into helium, releasing a wave of neutron particles that carried 3.15 megajoules. The bottom line is that the experiment generated more energy than it used, demonstrating the potential of nonpolluting, perpetual power.
If you're wondering how much energy fusion generates, consider this: Experts say the deuterium from a glass of water plus a little bit of tritium could power the average house for a whole year. They also note that fusion would be much eco-friendlier than burning fossil fuels and safer than current nuclear power, which splits uranium to produce energy and creates the risk of meltdowns. In addition, the main input for this new fusion reaction is hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe.
To get to a point where we could use fusion as a mainstream power source would require scaling up this experiment and making it safe outside of a laboratory setting. In addition, scientists and engineers would need to develop more efficient lasers to make the process worthwhile. Still, this is an impressive step toward clean, sustainable energy.
Watching for more
There are so many exciting innovations on the horizon all across the supply chain. ASCM’s brand new Top 10 Supply Chain Trends report highlights the key areas that we’re keeping an eye on for 2023. Topics include smart logistics, robotics and the internet of things; artificial intelligence and machine learning; and big data, advanced analytics and automation. To explore the report, register for ASCM’s 2023 Top 10 Trends webinar on January 24, 2023, at 1 p.m. Central.
Earlier this week, Senior Manager of Research Matthew Talbert also led a discussion with panelists Cara Curtland, supply chain data scientist at HP Inc.; Jit Hinchman, founder of Supply Chain Advisor; and Armand van Oostrom, senior lecturer at Hague University of Applied Science and researcher at Centre of Expertise Mission Zero. Together they unveiled the trends and discussed their implications for global supply chains. If you missed it, set your DeLorean time circuits to this past Wednesday and watch the replay.