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Plasma Liner Experiment Making Massive Strides Toward Clean Energy

Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

I love the smell of nuclear fusion in the morning.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is conducting an ambitious experiment that, if we’re lucky, could set us on the path toward clean, renewable energy. All it takes is a big ol’ ball and a metric heck-ton of plasma.

The Plasma Liner Experiment (or PLX for short) involves a massive spherical chamber with 36 plasma guns mounted on top of it (of which there are currently 18 active). In the middle of the sphere is a gas target that serves as fusion fuel. The plasma guns, aimed at the target, launch supersonic bursts of ionized gas at the target, which compresses it and heats it up.

Most fusion experiments use either magnetic confinement or inertial confinement, but the PLX uses a little of both. By Frankenstein-ing the two processes together, you get a new fusion system that’s cheaper and less complicated. Also, since the plasma is launched as a gas and the guns are relatively far from the target, there’s less risk that the core will blow up, which means less maintenance costs on the sphere.

The researchers are hoping to get the rest of the plasma guns up and firing by the beginning of 2020, at which point they’ll really crank this thing up and try to get some industrial-grade power flowing.