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Explainer: The Science of Nuclear Fusion

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Explainer: The Science of Nuclear Fusion

The Science of Nuclear Fusion

U.S. scientists at the National Ignition Facility, part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), announced a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion this week.

For the first time ever, scientists successfully produced more energy from a nuclear fusion experiment than the laser energy used to power it.

In the above infographic, we describe nuclear fusion and illustrate how this discovery may pave the future for a new form of clean and sustainable energy.

What is Nuclear Fusion?

Nuclear fusion powers the Sun and the stars, where immense forces compress and heat hydrogen plasma to about 100 million degrees Celsius. At this temperature, the lighter particles fuse into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy.

Nuclear fusion is a fairly clean energy source as it does not produce harmful atmospheric emissions and only produces a small amount of short-lived radioactive waste.

Scientists have been trying to replicate it on Earth for almost 70 years, using isotopes of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—to power fusion plants.

Since deuterium is found in seawater and tritium is attained through irradiating lithium (a common element used in batteries), the accessibility of these isotopes means that fusion could become a major source of energy in the future.

The amount of deuterium present in one liter of water, for example, could produce as much fusion energy as the combustion of 300 liters of oil.

Fusion fuel can replace these fuels

However, the real challenge is ensuring fusion power plants generate more energy than they consume.

The Challenge of Fusion Ignition

Fusion ignition is the term for a fusion reaction that becomes self-sustaining, in which the reaction creates more energy than it uses up. Up until now, scientists were only able to break even.

The National Ignition Facility used a special setup called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with lasers to achieve fusion ignition.

LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Can Nuclear Fusion Energy Be Commercialized Soon?

In recent years, fusion technology has been attracting the attention of governments as well as private companies such as Chevron and Google. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that the fusion market will eventually be worth $40 trillion.

Besides energy generation, fusion is expected to be used in other markets like space propulsion, marine propulsion, and medical and industrial heat.

However, according to the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kim Budil, it will take “probably decades” before nuclear fusion energy is commercialized.

During the breakthrough announcement, she noted that it was necessary to produce “many many fusion ignition events per minute” as well as have a “robust system of drivers” before fusion can be commercialized successfully.

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Energy Shift

Visualized: The Growth of Clean Energy Stocks

Visual Capitalist partnered with EnergyX to analyze five major clean energy stocks and explore the factors driving this growth.

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This line chart shows the growth of clean energy stocks and hints at their cumulative five-year returns.

The Growth of Clean Energy Stocks

Over the last few years, energy investment trends have shifted from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable energy sources. Long-term energy investors now see significant returns from clean energy stocks, especially compared to those invested in fossil fuels alone.

For this graphic, Visual Capitalist has collaborated with EnergyX to examine the rise of clean energy stocks and gain a deeper understanding of the factors driving this growth.

Sustainable Energy Stock Performance

In 2023, the IEA reported that 62% of all energy investment went toward sustainable sources. As the world embraces sustainable energy and technologies like EVs, it’s no surprise that clean energy companies provide solid returns for their investors over long periods.

Taking the top-five clean energy stocks by market cap (as of April 2024) and charting their five-year cumulative returns, it is clear that investments in clean energy are growing:

CompanyPrice: 01/04/2019Price: 12/29/20245-Year-Return %
First Solar, Inc.$46.32$172.28272%
Enphase Energy, Inc.$5.08$132.142,501%
Consolidated Edison, Inc.$76.55$90.9719%
NextEra Energy, Inc.$43.13$60.7441%
Brookfield Renewable Partners$14.78$26.2878%
promotional graphic with a button and wheel that promotes the EnergyX investment site

But how does this compare to the performance of fossil fuel stocks?

When comparing the performance of the S&P Global Oil Index and the S&P Clean Energy Index between 2019 and 2023, we see that the former returned 15%, whereas the latter returned an impressive 41%. This trend demonstrates the potential for clean energy stocks to yield significant returns on an industry level, sparking optimism and excitement for potential investors.

A Shift In Returns

With global investment trends moving away from traditional, non-sustainable sources, the companies that could shape the energy transition provide investors with alternative opportunities and avenues for growth.

One such company is EnergyX. The lithium technology company has patented a groundbreaking technology that can improve lithium extraction rates by an incredible 300%, and its stock price has grown tenfold since its first offering in 2021.

promotional graphic that promotes the EnergyX investment site
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Visualized: A Decade of Clean Energy Investment

In this graphic, Visual Capitalist has partnered with EnergyX to explore the growth of global clean energy investment.

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Visualized: A Decade of Clean Energy Investment

Global energy investment is growing every year. But recently, investments in clean energy have been significantly outpacing investments in fossil fuels.

For this graphic, we partnered with EnergyX to explore how global energy investment has changed and learn how investments in clean energy are starting to pay off for their investors.

The Rise of Sustainable Energy Investment

Propelled by various climate initiatives such as the Paris Agreement and the widespread adoption of EVs, global investment in sustainable energy surged to over $1.7 trillion in 2023, the highest ever, and the IEA projects that this growth could continue:

Energy Product20202021202220232030F
Clean Electrification$0.97T$1.05$1.21T$1.34T$1.65T
Low-Emission Fuels$0.01T$0.01$0.01T$0.02T$0.05T
Energy Efficiency$0.28T$0.35$0.39T$0.38T$0.49T
Clean Energy Total$1.26T$1.41T$1.61T$1.74T$2.19T
Natural Gas$0.26T$0.27T$0.31T$0.32T$0.35T
Oil$0.42T$0.48T$0.52T$0.55T$0.60T
Coal$0.16T$0.16T$0.18T$0.18T$0.11T
Fossil Fuel Total$0.84T$0.91T$1.01T$1.05T$1.06T
Total Energy Investment$2.10T$2.32T$2.62T$2.79T$3.25T
promotional graphic with a button and wheel that promotes the EnergyX investment site

Between 2020 and 2030, global investment in sustainable energy could increase by 74% to nearly $2.2 trillion, compared to just 26% additional investment in fossil fuels, with a forecast total of $1.06 trillion. This shows that sustainability is the future of energy investment.

Sustainable Investor Success Stories

While the growing investments in clean energy show that the world embraces sustainability, energy investors will still look for decent returns. Now, in 2024, clean energy investments are beginning to bear fruit. Here are just a few examples:

  • Between 2019 and 2023, Tesla had a cumulative return of 1,073%
  • NextEra Energy’s quarterly dividend increased by over 10% as of February 2024
  • Investors in EnergyX have 10x’ed their investments since the company’s first offering in 2021

Lithium plays a critical role in powering electric vehicles (EVs) and facilitating the transition to sustainable energy. EnergyX has patented technology that enhances lithium extraction rates by up to 300%, contributing to meeting the growing demand for lithium and fueling the EVs of the future.

promotional graphic that promotes the EnergyX investment site
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