7 October 2008 – A significant step forward in the quest for clean energy occurred yesterday when a European collaboration of leading physicists and government officials formally signed an agreement that will ultimately demonstrate whether laser driven fusion can be a viable commercial energy source of the future.
The European research project, called HiPER (High Power laser for Energy Research), is being headed up by the UK.
Yesterday’s agreement marks the beginning of a three-year preparatory phase to establish the planning and design of a full HiPER facility.
Research into fusion dates back more than 50 years, but in recent years a number of significant advances have been made. The best-known project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power is the international ITER project.
However, unlike ITER, which uses superconducting magnets, HiPER will focus on the use of extremely powerful lasers to drive the fusion reaction and deliver carbon-free energy on the industrial scale in the long term – middle of this century.
The ‘proof of principle’ of laser fusion is anticipated in the next few years based on two large-scale lasers currently nearing completion in the USA and France.
HiPER will take the ‘proof of principle’ forwards by establishing a route to future construction of a commercial laser fusion power plant as a future energy source.
The future location of HiPER facility will be explored over the next few years, but the UK is a prime candidate.