input into the target system).4 This paper mentions that plans are already underway to define the laser driver for inertial fusion energy applications. However, inertial confinement fusion is not discussed in greater detail in this chapter partially because a current NRC study is specifically addressing this topic; the interim report of that study was recently released.5 Optics can also be used in isotope separation,6 but very little information is available on that subject at the unclassified level, and so it was not considered in this unclassified study. Also, optical sensors can be used to assist in oil drilling and recovery, as is briefly discussed in Box 5.1.
Solar energy is discussed here with respect to its primary use by electric utilities competing against other forms of electricity generation such as new natural gas- or coal-fired electricity generation plants. For an electric utility, sunlight can be concentrated to generate solar power in a manner potentially more cost-effective, depending on the cost of the concentrating technology, than would be possible with competing forms of electricity generation in new electric power plants. Concentrating solar power (CSP) uses a heated liquid and a turbine. The heated liquid stores energy until it is converted to electricity. This is advantageous because one of the issues with solar energy generation is the storage of energy for periods of time when the Sun is not out, such as at night and in overcast situations. Concentrated photo-voltaic (CPV) power generation involves the use of solar cells after the incoming light is concentrated. For CPV, the price of the actual solar cell is not as critical in that the area covered by solar cells can be reduced up to 2,000 times as compared
4 From Willner, A.E., R.L. Byer, C.J. Chang-Hasnain, S.R Forrest, H. Kressel, H. Kogelnik, G.J. Tearney, C.H. Townes, and M.N. Zervas. 2012. Optics and photonics: Key enabling technologies. Proceedings of the IEEE 100(Special Centennial Issue):1604-1643: “The year 2009 saw the completion of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a 2-MJ, single shot laser facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, CA) designed to compress targets to generate fusion burns and ignition of a target for energy generation. The NIF laser has now been operating for three years at close to 200 shots per year, with a greater than 95% availability rate for requested shots on targets. The goal in the near term is to achieve ignition defined as 1-MJ output energy from a fusion burn for 1 MJ of laser energy input into the target system. Plans are already underway to define the laser driver for inertial fusion energy applications.” Ibid. p. 1609: “We know that a fusion reaction works at even larger power scales. What we have yet to demonstrate is a nuclear burn in a laboratory under controlled conditions. When this is accomplished, it will be a “man on the moon” moment. Laser inertial fusion will open the possibility of amplifying the laser drive power by 30-100 times and in turn allow the operation of an electrical power plant with GWe output for 35-MWe laser power input. Based on our knowledge of the rate at which new infrastructure is adopted, we can predict that fusion energy will take 25-50 years to make a significant impact on our energy supply. By that time it will probably be known simply as laser energy” (p. 1608).
5 National Research Council. 2012. Interim Report—Status of the Study “An Assessment of the Prospects for Inertial Fusion Energy.” Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
6 Broad, W.J. 2011. “Laser Advances in Nuclear Fuel Stir Terror Fear.” New York Times. August 20. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/science/earth/21laser.xhtml?pagewanted=all. Accessed July 24, 2012.