Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced a “major scientific breakthrough” Tuesday in the decades-long quest to harness fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars.
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California for the first time produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it, something called net energy gain, the Energy Department said.
Granholm was appearing alongside Livermore researchers at a news conference in Washington.
Proponents of fusion hope that it could one day produce nearly limitless, carbon-free energy, displacing fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources. Producing energy that powers homes and businesses from fusion is still decades away. But researchers said it was a significant step nonetheless.
Riccardo Betti, a professor at the University of Rochester and expert in laser fusion, said an announcement that net energy had been gained in a fusion reaction would be significant. But he said there’s a long road ahead before the result generates sustainable electricity.
He likened the breakthrough to when humans first learned that refining oil into gasoline and igniting it could produce an explosion.
“You still don’t have the engine and you still don’t have the tires,” Betti said. “You can’t say that you have a car.”