19 October 2011

Progress towards Laser Energy... One small step... !

A key step to making Laser Energy a viable future power source is to create an energy-efficient laser with high power and a high repetition rate.

For HiPER, this challenge has been taken up by three expert laboratory teams, the Central Laser Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in UK, Laboratoire LULI in Paris, France and the Institute of Optics and Quantum Electronics of the University of Jena – Germany.

Individual teams are using different conceptual designs for their lasers, increasing confidence that the required 1kJ 10Hz prototype, a HiPER “beamlet” (one tenth of a full HiPER laser), will be achieved within the planned five to ten year development timescale.

Results to date are exciting. Two scaled demonstrators are already operating at the 10J level - the LUCIA laser at LULI and the DiPOLE prototype at RAL. Based on new “Diode Pumped Solid State Laser” (DPSSL) technology, these lasers meet the needs of HiPER for efficiency and repetition rate.

The next key challenge is to raise the output energy of these scaled prototypes to the pulse energy level needed for HiPER. This will be done in two further steps. The first, to 100J, is now being actively pursued by both teams, with results expected in the next two years. The final step, to 1kJ, will be taken over the following five years.

But developing these lasers is much more than a key step to Laser Energy alone. It also opens the way to a vast range of new applications. The intermediate step of 100J at 10Hz will unlock new applications, including medical techniques, industrial material treatments and semiconductor wafer processing.

Thirty years ago the first laser-based CD player was an amazing advance. Where will the new technology have taken us thirty years from now ? Will it perhaps be providing us with clean and almost limitless energy ?

To borrow a famous quote, “One small step for man ... But mastering laser fusion for clean energy will be one giant leap for mankind. ”