Quark Fusion, the hypothesized future power source could generate eight times as much energy as hydrogen fusion.
In a few decades, we might get all our power from nuclear fusion. Researchers have been working to build functional nuclear fusion reactors. These mimic the fusion reactions that occur in the sun to generate power. Once we figure out fusion power, we could use these generators to power our lives for decades.
But every technology has a lifespan, and eventually something will replace even fusion power. Thanks to new research published in Nature from Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago, we may have the first look at what that far-future technology could be: quark fusion.
Quarks are the tiny particles that make up protons and neutrons, making them sort of sub-subatomic particles, also known as elementary particles. There are six kinds of quarks which combine to form all kinds of larger particles. For instance, protons and neutrons are made of different combinations of the two lightest particles, up and down quarks.
In particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider, protons and neutrons are smashed together hard enough to split them apart into quarks. According to the researchers’ analysis, these quarks could combine together again, releasing large amounts of energy. By combining the light quarks from proton and neutron collisions with heavier quarks, quark fusion could release incredible amounts of useful energy.
An illustration showing quarks splitting and combining, releasing energy through quark fusion:
According to the researchers’ calculations, quark fusion could produce eight times as much energy as nuclear fusion with hydrogen atoms. This means even cheaper energy in the future—at least if we ever figure out how to do it. There are plenty of challenges to overcome first, such as figuring out how to reliably make the heavier quarks, keep them from becoming too unstable, and of course proving that quark fusion is actually a real physical process instead of just some math on a chalkboard.
The researchers say that the Large Hadron Collider is capable of testing quark fusion right now. However, it might be a while before the collider actually gets around to doing that testing. When it does, we may get a small glimpse of what our next-next-generation power sources will be like.