SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Could a Jersey lab be the key to unlocking the sun’s energy on Earth?

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

What if there was a way to recreate the process that powers the sun and the stars, a way to bottle it on earth as a new source of energy for the world? It sounds impossible, but scientists have been working to achieve fusion energy for nearly 70 years.

New Jersey has been a leader in fusion energy since the 1950s, around the time the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory was built. An experimental fusion device is located at the lab. It’s the United States’ National Laboratory for fusion energy and is managed by Princeton University for the Department of Energy.

One of the big challenge is being able to produce more energy than it requires to run a device. Thirty-five countries including the United States are working together to build what they believe will be the first industrial scale fusion energy tokamak, a structure that produces controlled fusion reactions, called ITER. Laban Coblentz, the head of commb unications of the ITER organization, believes they will have an operational machine by 2025 and says commercial machines could start being built by the 2040s if funding keeps pace.

But not all scientists believe ITER is the best way to achieve fusion energy. Private companies like General Fusion, which is backed by big investors including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, believe they can take different approaches to get a result faster and cheaper.

LPP Fusion in Middlesex is a grassroots operation working out of a storage facility. Chief scientist Eric Lerner believes his team can create a device that generates more energy than it consumes and they hope to have it completed by 2021. Instead of using a tokamak, he’s working with a device called a dense plasma focus.

Regardless of the device, fusion is referred to as the largest and most complex science experiment with the potential to change the world.