File this story under “cool things the government does.” The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory plans to use the world’s largest laser to create a controlled fusion reaction it hopes will eventually result in “nearly limitless” energy.
Livermore this summer will fire a mile-long laser beam, split it into 192 smaller beams, and focus the beams on a pinpoint of deuterium and tritium — two reactive hydrogen isotopes that can be extracted from seawater. CNN reports that the fusion reaction is expected to be so intense it will actually create a tiny star.
If the experiment works – and proves lasers can create the same type of controlled fusion reactions that take place in the sun – Livermore said it could pave the way for commercial fusion power plants. One gallon of seawater could provide the same energy as 300 gallons of gasoline, according to the lab. But that won’t happen for at least another 20 years.
Livermore says there’s no danger from this experiment. The tiny, 100 million-degree-Celsius star they will create will die in 200 trillionths of a second. And spokeswoman Lynda Seaver says there’s no way it can explode: ”The [worst possible] mishap is, it doesn’t work.”
That reminds me. Large Hadron Collider, we’re still waiting for that planet-killing black hole. Don’t leave us hanging.
Federal researchers have been hard at work trying to develop alternate sources of clean renewable energy, and yesterday they announced a major breakthrough in their efforts.
Scientists from the Agriculture Department and the Energy Department’s Joint Genome Institute for the first time have sequenced the genes of a wild grass species. The research, which is published in the current issue of the journal Nature, will help researchers develop grasses specifically tailored for use as biofuel, said Molly Jahn, Agriculture’s acting undersecretary for research, education and economics.
Energy security looms as one of the most important scientific challenges of this century. This critical research will help scientists develop switchgrass varieties that are more suitable for bioenergy production by identifying the genetic basis for traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and the composition of cells.
A major stumbling block in using switchgrass or any perennial grass as a biofuel crop is the difficulty in breaking down its cell walls, an essential step in producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass, said John Vogel, a molecular biologist at the Agricultural Research Service who is leading the research effort. By mapping the genetic code of the wild grass, which goes by the scientific name Brachypodium distachyon, scientists will be better able to produce grasses with cell walls that are easy to break down.
Vogel discusses the project further in a video, posted below.